A Bible Reading on Matthew 16:13-17:18 at Poole, 1980
“When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ. From that time forth began Jesus to show unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom. And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, and was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elijah talking with him. Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah. While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid. And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid. And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only.” (Matt. 16:13-17:8)
F.W. My reason for suggesting this passage for discussion in the Bible reading is that it is helpful for our hearts to be engaged with what the Lord Jesus is building at the present moment, and what is so precious to His heart, that is, His assembly, and then to see the pathway of those who belong to this company, their place of rejection in this world, but to do this in the light of the coming kingdom when rewards will be enjoyed for faithfulness.
Matthew’s Gospel presents these things in a very attractive way, the Lord Jesus Himself being the centre of all that he says. Nothing can be more precious to our hearts than to belong to the Lord Jesus and to look forward to the time when we shall be with Him and be conformed to His image. If we properly appropriate this then it will give us the desire to be found here in the pathway of discipleship and to suffer reproach for His pleasure and glory. These are the simple thoughts I had in mind for the Bible reading.
Down through the years there has been much speculation as to the Person of Christ (and there still is), but those who have benefited from divine revelation can say with Peter “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God”. It is upon this great testimony that the Father has given concerning the Son that the church is built. It is an impregnable foundation and is very precious to all the hearts of those who love the Lord Jesus.
Rem. It is good at the outset to be firmly established as to who this blessed One is. Men have various ideas as to who He is, and we are faced with these thoughts, ‘Oh, he was a great man’, or ‘He was the first Socialist’, and so on, but we say “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” and we should be amongst the company who are established in this fact as to who He is and also be resonant with the thoughts of God Himself expressed in the latter part of the Scripture we have read together “This is My beloved Son”.
Rem. It is helpful to see how the Lord draws out the confession from His disciples. Going to the coasts of Caesarea Philippi may not seem much, but He withdrew from Bethsaida and undertook a journey of about 50 miles. He went to a place where He could draw His disciples quietly apart and challenge their hearts, saying to them “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man am?” There were many possible answers, many thoughts, but the Lord was not so much concerned with what men were saying but “Whom say ye that I am?”. He would draw out this great confession of Simon Peter, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God”.
F.W. If what the others had said of Him were true He was one amongst many. John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets were all in the same mould, they were all servants of the Lord, but when it comes to the Father’s revelation He stands alone, unique, and nobody can take a place beside Him, He is “the Christ, the Son of the living God”.
Rem. It is upon this truth that the church stands. There is a certain company that has gone astray by thinking that Peter was the first pope because he acknowledged the truth of the Person of Christ, but it is upon this truth that the assembly stands.
F.W. If any company of Christians go astray in regard to the Person of Christ it will not be long before corruption follows.
Ques. What is involved in being “the Son of the living God”?
F.W. The living God is a title that we find often in the Old Testament and in the New. I have often thought that it is in contrast to the numerous ideas in the world, dead idols, dead gods, unable to accomplish anything, but the living God gives one the sense of a God who is possessed with illimitable resources, power and blessing and for the Lord Jesus to be called “the Son of the living God” puts Him beside God in essence, in substance, in power and in blessing. What did you think yourself, brother?
Rem. I was thinking that it shows that God has been revealed as living, and if it is connected with Christ as “the Son of the living God” being the Head of the assembly, then the whole assembly system takes character from God Himself and it should be marked by life.
Rem. The Lord said in Revelation, “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore” (1:18).
F.W. This title is often in the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 8 Paul says there are many gods of the heathens but they are nothing, they are dead, “But to us there is but one God, the Father” (v. 6), and He is the living God. Christ is here said to be the Son of the living God, not the prophet of the living God, not the servant of the living God, although He is that, but the Son of the living God and this indicates to us that unique character, the unique glory, the glory of deity, of the Person of whom Peter was speaking.
Ques. Does it mean that God is now revealed?
F.W. Yes, God, in His fullness, was revealed in the Son, no prophet was competent to do that, but “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (John 1:18). The Spirit is not mentioned here (we find the Spirit’s portion in other Scriptures), the Lord says “Blessed art thou Simon Bar-Jonah, flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee but my Father which is in heaven, and I say also unto thee”, in other words, ‘the Father has spoken to you Peter, and I, the Son of the living God, am speaking to you also’.
Rem. In chapter 12 of this Gospel the Lord has been rejected by Israel, and here He is about to bring His disciples out from the Judaistic system into an entirely new one which was not a continuation of the old but was to be built on the firm foundation of God, namely Himself.
F.W. This is very, very important to see. It had not existed before, it is not an addition to Judaism, it is something entirely new “I will build”. Unfortunately, Judaism and Paganism have crept into the professing body, but what we want to get into our souls is that the foundation of the church is Christ, the Son of the living God, and it is built upon this wonderful foundation and will never be overthrown. The church is said to be “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:20), but it does not mean those person, but the service of those persons, the Person whom they presented, that is, Christ, the Scriptures goes on to say “Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone”. Paul, for example, upon conversion immediately preached that Jesus was the Son of God (Acts 9:20). When he went to Corinth he preached that Jesus was the Son of God (2 Cor. 1:19), and in his epistles again and again he refers to this great wondrous truth, that Jesus is the Son of God (e.g. Eph. 4:13, Gal. 2:20). All his ministry is built upon this great and glorious Person.
Rem. Anything less than that will inevitably be schismatic.
F.W. Yes, we would desire that this great truth would be more in evidence in our meetings, in our conversation and in our thoughts, because it is so easy to lapse into a congregational idea, and to get more occupied with the company than the Person. In Psalm 2 we get two thoughts presented, “I have set my anointed upon the holy hill, Zion”, that is the Christ, (Christ means ‘anointed’), but God also speaks about the Son, “thou art the Son this day have I begotten thee”. This is in a context of putting down evil through absolute power and eventual triumph over those who are against God, so for the Jew to think of the Messiah being God’s Son and eventually overcoming was not anything new, but this church is something new, that that same Christ, the Son of the living God is going to build it, not on the basis of overcoming, but by dying. That is why it had to the subject of divine revelation.
Rem. The importance of this would be emphasised by the Spirit of God ensuring it was some sixty years after the death of Christ that John’s Gospel was written “that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:31).
F.W. Yes, it is quite amazing how early in the church’s history this great truth was attacked; and it is still under attack today, and always will be under attack, because it is the central pillar upon which all rests.
Rem. There is a tendency in our society for Christianity to be put on the same level as the other religions that are now around us, that it is one of many, instead of being unique in this respect.
F.W. This is extremely important. We read and hear of great church meetings of an ecumenical character, and they are quite happy to have Jewish dignitaries there, and even Buddhist monks. The whole trend is towards this one faith, the thought that we all get to God in the best way that we can, that there is something good in us all in this way— but in this way the unique Christ is pushed into the background. Men are beguiled by so called charity towards others. We are told that we must not be so exclusive as to think that only we possess the whole truth, and therefore we can include other religions, but God says, ‘This is My beloved Son, I do not want any tabernacles built to Moses or Elias, or anyone else, I want Him to stand alone, unique in all His glory’.
Rem. We are responsible to guard this revelation and the privileges of the place we have been brought into.
F.W. When Peter’s eyes were opened, the Lord said, ‘Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jonah, you are infinitely blessed, you are in a position of extreme honour and blessing in that your eyes are open to know that I am the Son of the living God’. We can quite understand that the truth of the Lord’s Sonship is under attack today because Islam will not accept the Lord as the Son of God, neither will Judaism, so, if there is going to be any ecumenical movement with those other bodies, the ‘Christian elements’ must get rid of the truth of the Lord’s Sonship. We should be concerned about this very much, we should preserve this precious truth in its unique and glorious character, that Christ is the Son of the living God.
Rem. We get a picture of what you are saying about the ecumenical movement in the way the Philistines put the ark alongside Dagon in their temple, they thought it was just another god, as we might say.
F.W. Yes, the Philistines put the ark beside the fish-god and when they went in the next morning the fish-god was lying on its face. ‘Oh’, they said ‘we must prop our god up’, and so they replaced him on his pedestal again. The poor god had to be lifted up, and the next morning when they came in he was shattered to pieces. God will not tolerate anything beside His Son.
Rem. “He is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the pre-eminence” (Col. 1:18).
F.W. A structure was going to be reared that would be superior to all the forces of evil against it, it must therefore have a sure foundation; and what better foundation than the Son of the living God? Not poor Peter—what a terrible foundation he would have been, good man though he was, giant of a man though he was, but he would not have been good enough to be the foundation of the church.
Rem. Peter failed many times, but there was One in whom was no failure.
F.W. While Peter failed, I do not think he failed as much as we have failed. His failures are recorded for us to read, but what if our failures were recorded? Would we like the brethren to read them? Certainly not! Further, we have two beautiful letters written by Peter that have been a tremendous source of comfort and joy to the saints of God throughout all ages.
Rem. We also have, in his words, on the day of Pentecost, one of the finest gospel preachings. It is a model for every gospel preacher.
Rem. Peter’s failures that are recorded are only put there to show the grace and the love of God to him and to us in similar circumstances. In Matthew 16 we see Peter prominent in an excellent way once (v. 16), and then he immediately fails (v. 22). The Lord does not refuse him.
F.W. It was a very severe rebuke that the Lord gave to Peter, “Get thee behind me Satan”, a moment before that, “Blessed art thou Simon Bar-Jonah”, the object of the Father’s revelation.
Rem. If we are clear and treasure the thought of the Person of Christ, who He is, we should also be concerned as to what He is doing, the building; is that what you had in mind?
F.W. Yes, because what He is doing must be infinitely greater than anything anyone else is doing, it must be perfect because of who He is, He cannot make mistakes. He uses the very best material, and this structure that He is rearing will be for His own pleasure and the glory of God. This is a marvellous thing.
Rem. When you consider how precious what He is building is to Him, we should all apply ourselves to understand what it is.
F.W. I am sure this is true. This is one of the reasons that 150 years ago exercised people left the systems which they believed were very good in some respects, but very bad in others in that they ignored divine teaching as to the structure and function of the assembly. They were not criticising the people who were in those systems, they were criticising the structure of the systems themselves. This is something we always have to keep in mind, we do not want to lapse back into these systems. We want to carry on with the truth that has been revealed to us as to the functioning of the assembly, as to its structure and its composition, the main thing being the glory of God in Christ upheld and maintained by the Spirit.
Rem. Although the light of this only perhaps dawned on the souls of many 150 years ago, that is not to say it was not there before that, the divine thought has always been there.
F.W. At that time there was a tremendous upsurge of faith and energy because these were people who were exercised. The reason why there has been so much declension since then is because much of the truth was held without exercise.
Rem. We shall not be able to maintain it unless we see it in its divine heavenly character.
F.W. Mr. Darby in his translation draws attention to the fact that the pronouns ‘ye’ in verse 15 and ‘thou’ in verse 16 are emphatic. The Lord is interested in what others think of Him but He is more interested in our appreciation of Him and for Peter to use the same emphasis “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” indicates that he was the subject of divine revelation and was able to express it in this attractive way.
Ques. Is the thought then not only to hold the truth but to express it, to actually say it?
F.W. Are you thinking particularly of the Lord’s supper?
Rem. Yes, either at the supper or at a meeting such as this. It would be no good our coming together if nobody were to say anything!
F.W. The church is a sphere where there is testimony borne to greatness of the Son, and the response that is commensurate with it.
Rem. So the truth that really gripped the saints in the early days of the revival is what we need to get hold of today, that there is a Man in heaven and the Spirit on earth. These are two very important things.
F.W. Yes they are, because when we lose sight of them we fall back upon human arrangements. If Christ is the Head of the church, if He is the builder of the church (and Scripture says He is), then it is right that He should be given the honour that belongs to such a position and the opportunity to express Himself amongst His people instead of us adopting human arrangements; and if the Spirit is the power, then again we do not want human arrangements or human sentiment either. It is incumbent upon those who come together to wait upon the Spirit to be told as to what is needed today to build us up and to appreciate more the things of the Lord. Exercise is needed in these matters. For example, one of the most trying meetings is the prayer meeting. One would think there was nothing to pray about sometimes. We come together and there are long silences, and there are sometimes prayers which are only generalities where brothers ask for many things without asking for anything specific. Now if we were really exercised then it seems to me that we would have something specific to ask the Lord about and we would express it simply. Paul has many prayers in his epistles and they are worth studying to see the concise way in which he states things. But I am convinced of this, that we come to our prayer meetings with very little exercise, otherwise there would be more specific prayers.
Rem. Epaphras was “always combating earnestly for [the Colossians] in prayers” (Col. 4:12).
F.W. Yes, the exercise must be both collective and private.
Ques. Is the danger that we do not see the truth of the assembly in its universal character and all that it involved in the saints passing through this world?
F.W. Yes. We should be intelligent as to what is going on in particular companies that we are connected with. I am not being sectarian when I say that, but we occupy a certain position in faith and exercise, and our whole being ought to be alive to it. We are very thankful for exercises that we know about amongst other Christians and we can pray for them too, but we have sources of information, we have circulars which come out every month containing items of information about different assemblies and needs for prayer, we have a magazine that tells us of extensive missionary efforts in many parts of the world and it also has continual appeals for prayer. First of all we know local needs for prayer (or at least we should). If we carry these burdens then there is plenty to pray about in the prayer meeting, but if we are too busy reading newspapers and other things then we will not have the information that is necessary.
Rem. Maybe a part of the danger lies in thinking that the prayer meeting is a kind of calendar engagement, and we do not adequately appreciate that it puts us in touch with God through the high priestly service of Christ and through the service on our side of the Holy Spirit. It really is an immense privilege to come together to pray.
F.W. In Matthew 16 Christ is the builder and His glory is presented. In other Scriptures the prayers of the saints are important in connection with the church’s function and maintenance. Paul, the great servant that the Lord raised up to minister the truth of the mystery and things pertaining to the assembly, said “pray for us” (1 Thess. 5:25, 2 Thess. 3:1). In praying for Paul in his service they were praying for a continuation of what the Lord had in mind in that assembly.
Rem. Does Christ take us up in a service of intercession before God continually?
F.W. Yes. We are very thankful that the intercession of the Son and the Spirit are continual. At the beginning of the church’s testimony in Acts this is one of the things they continued steadfastly in along with the apostles’ teaching, breaking of bread and fellowship; praying was continual. And it is not only at the prayer meeting where brothers can pray audibly, but also at home where sisters can also pray audibly. Sisters pray too in the prayer meeting, I believe, although not audibly. There is a tremendous scope for prayer.
Rem. You are suggesting a constant state of dependence.
F.W. Exactly, and exercise. This is what exercise means, you are concerned, and because you are concerned you pray, and pray intelligently.
Rem. Our brother referred earlier to the word “living”. Anything which is living is constant and is growing all the time. Truth which might have been propagated 150 years ago was applicable then and, if it is truth, then it is still truth now, and the blessed Holy Spirit of God will draw our attention to it. The Lord reveals truth from Scripture alone. That is the only source. Many of us have been involved in systems in which authoritative ministry was recognised and this is one of the most dangerous things that can happen.
F.W. Yes, one would draw the distinction between ministry and truth. Truth is absolute, you cannot add to it or take from it, truth stands alone; ministry can be defective because of the ministers failure to understand what truth is in all its parts.
Rem. But it cannot be authoritative.
F.W. Not unless it is backed up by Scripture.
Rem. True ministry is the application of divine principles to circumstances prevailing at that time.
F.W. Yes. In John’s third epistle we see much about truth, walking in truth, loving in truth, caring in truth. As you say, truth is the application of God’s mind in any given circumstance, but Christ Himself is the truth, and all that we prize in relation to truth must find its centre in the Son of the living God.
Ques. So you are saying that the prayer meeting is an outlet for the local expression or exercise regarding this building, the church?
F.W. Yes, and while we are reading this historical incident, which it was, the importance of it comes down to us today just as it was in that day, it never decreases. I was in a certain area and a sister told me she was connected with a company of Christians where one hundred and fifty were in fellowship but when they came together for prayer there were only three. How can you imagine a company of believers maintaining any kind of testimony or producing any kind of food and warmth when they come together when only three can turn up in connection with prayer?
Rem. When the testimony came to Europe at Philippi Paul and his companions went to a place “where it was the custom for prayer to be made” (Acts 16:13).
F.W. I had not planned that the subject of our reading should be this matter of prayer, but if it is the Lord’s mind then it will be worthwhile. I have often been encouraged that two of the most important features of prophecy came to light in the life of Daniel as a result of prayer. When they were in difficulties Daniel and his three friends prayed and God gave to them the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream as to the times of the Gentile, its beginning and conclusion. Then when Daniel was on his knees in prayer in relation to his people, and Jeremiah’s prophecy that after 70 years a company would return to Jerusalem, God gave to him the vision of the seventy weeks. These are the two most important features of prophecy and they were revealed to a man in the attitude of prayer. We often say ‘We cannot understand the book of Daniel, it is too difficult’, perhaps we do not pray enough.
Rem. This attitude of prayer must start in the homes of the Lord’s people.
F.W. I am sure this is right. I have just had the privilege of being in the West Indies for six weeks and I was struck by the humble dependent attitude that marked the believers there, how ready they were to pray at all times. That is a very good sign. If there are difficulties (and there always will be difficulties as long as we are here) let us pray about it.
Rem. The Spirit says “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).
Rem. The prayer meeting in Daniel 2 was very specific, the need was extreme.
F.W. Yes, and I am sure they did not pray about generalities, they prayed concisely and definitely for what they wanted God to do.
Rem. Paul said to the Philippians, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7). We might say ‘God knows the things we require anyway’, but He says, ‘Let your requests be made known to Me”, in other words, God is waiting to hear us say something.
Rem. Might we just ask the simple question ‘What is prayer?’ It is not a one way communication. When we stand up in a prayer meeting we address divine Persons and we have a sense that we are in Their presence. The Lord says “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20). This is something tangible which should occur in a prayer meeting.
F.W. What a wonderful thing to stand up and to know that what you are saying is being heard by a God who can do the most wonderful things. I have asked the Lord for many things and that in itself is an acknowledgement that the One whom I am asking to do these things is able to do them. If I ask someone else to do a thing I might have a grave doubt in my mind as to whether he is either willing or able.
Rem. This is because we are able to say along with the apostle, “for I know whom I have believed” (2 Tim. 1:12). We know that Person.
Rem. Would you like to tell us your thoughts on the Lord’s words in verse 19 “I will build my church”, and then His giving power to Peter?
F.W. Peter opened the door to the Jews on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), and he opened the door to the Gentiles in the home of Cornelius (Acts 10). What Peter had been given was administration here upon earth. We find in the Acts of the Apostles that persons who were counterfeit were refused. Peter had power to discern what was right and wrong. This is the attitude of those who form part of this building, it is not that Peter had received authority, rather he received administration in connection with the church upon earth.
The kingdom of the heavens is a term which is peculiar to Matthew, we do not find it anywhere else in the Scriptures. It indicates the rejection of the king and His rule from heaven rather than the rule upon earth that the Jews look forward to. The Jews look forward to their king in their midst reigning upon earth and overcoming their enemies, but that was impossible when they refused their Messiah, so the king went to heaven and He rules now from there. That is why we get this aspect of the kingdom of the heavens. This is seen in the Old Testament also when the glory was withdrawn from the Temple in Ezekiel. God ceased to rule from the midst of the cherubims as He had done formerly, and from that time on we get references to the God of the heavens. We get that term often in Daniel and even in the other prophets. The throne that we see in Ezekiel 1 is the transfer of God’s rule from earth to heaven, but this does not mean that those who claim to be the successors of Peter have the authority that he was invested with, or that it passed on to others. There was apostolic authority but it died with the apostles. The only apostolic authority that we would own today is the authority which is connected with their writings which they have left, inspired by the Spirit. Today there is no apostolic authority invested in men.
Verse 21 marks a very distinctive statement by the Lord. From the time that the Lord would build His assembly He began to speak about His death, He had not spoken about it in specific terms before. In the parables we have a suggestion of it. The man looking for goodly pearls sold all that he had in order to obtain the one pearl of great price, and the one who found the treasure in the field sold all that he had to purchase the field with the treasure in it, but here is the first specific reference to His death because He has announced the building of the assembly. It could only begin after His death and resurrection and ascension to glory.
Rem. That is why “the gates of hades cannot prevail against it”.
F.W. Yes, it would be a terrible thing to think that anything that the Lord builds can be overthrown. That would indicate that He is not supreme in power and glory. Because He is the builder and, because He has built the church in such a wonderful way upon the foundation of His death, resurrection and ascension, it cannot be overthrown.
From verse 24 we find the Lord Jesus saying to those who would eventually form part of this building that there was a pathway to follow and it was the pathway that He was following, and they would need to follow this pathway of rejection, shame and opposition. The time of glory is coming (this is what we see in figure in chapter 17), but between the time of glory and the formation of the assembly there is a pathway of rejection.
Rem. It is not put as a commandment, it is an invitation, “If any man will come after me let him take up the cross and follow me”. The Lord does not make it compulsory. It is possible (but not advisable) to walk a different pathway, to avoid the path of rejection.
F.W. Yes, this alternative is not the pathway of spiritual progress, it is not the pathway of spiritual joy.
Rem. God Himself would be robbed of a great deal of response to Himself if we were to adopt such a pathway.
F.W. It is a challenge. The Lord says, ‘If any man comes after me, if any man desires to walk this pathway, he must take up him cross and follow me and deny himself’ because he has something better in His mind and in chapter 17 He has something better in prospect.
Rem. The Lord walked here as One who was heavenly and was going back to heaven. Similarly, the assembly is heavenly in origin and heavenly in destiny.
F.W. Yes, we should be heavenly in character. If we had been living in that day and we saw a man carrying his cross we would have said that that man had no more interest in this world, he was going to his death, he was finished. So if we take up our cross and follow the Lord, in principle, that is what it means, that we are living for Him, we have our eyes on a better world, we are conscious of a greater association than anything the world can offer us.
Rem. It gives us a present enjoyment of the Lord’s company and approval.
F.W. Yes, we all know from practical experience that any dabbling with the world blunts our appetite for divine things, it destroys the distinctive joy of fellowship with the Lord and His people.
Rem. There is a great depth of exercise in these very familiar words.
F.W. If brethren take a concordance and search it out they will find this statement, “For whosoever shall save his life shall lose it and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall save it” is mentioned six times in the Gospels, four times in a different context. When the Lord makes such a request there is always a very great blessing for obedience. To lose ones life for the Lord’s sake is surely to find the very best that one can obtain and the more we are occupied with Christ the more desire we will have to please Him and to follow Him. However, we are always reminded of Peter in this context, one moment he was the recipient of a divine revelation and the next moment he spoke his own (or Satan’s) thoughts. How vigilant we have to be all the time.
Rem. When we are on the peak of the mountain and we are in the full enjoyment of God’s blessings (although we will not truly enjoy them until we are in the eternal scene) we are at our most vulnerable because it is then that the enemy would seek to rob us of them, not only because he would seek to rob us of our enjoyment, but his main desire is that he should rob God of a response which is rightly His due.
Rem. Would you make some observations on this subject as to how it affects us practically in our day, and especially in view of the fact that in the Western world the saints generally suffer very little in the way of outward persecution.
F.W. This is something that each must prove in their own life as to how far he or she can overcome the terrific power of materialism in the affluent society in our own country, as to how we can curb this in our own exercise and provide more time for the Lord’s things. I would hesitate to legislate but I would suggest that it would involve sacrifice and denying oneself.
Rem. Is there anything for us in the lives and experiences of the two men who appear on the Mount of Transfiguration with Christ, Moses and Elijah?
F.W. I am sure that is a very good observation because one knew what it was to sacrifice and the other knew what it was to be despised. We often think of the Lord’s rebuke to Elijah, that He had seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal, but had it not been for Elijah standing out forthright against the evil and his remark to the Lord we would never have known about them. He was prominent with God’s testimony and his stand against Jezebel and Ahab. Whilst others did not bow the knee to Baal they were not there in forthright testimony with him.
Rem. Elijah is recorded in James as a man who prayed, and he had his prayers answered, “he prayed earnestly” (“prayed with prayer” - J.N.D.) (5:17).
Rem. Philippians 3:17 bears this out. Paul has to say of some that he wept that they were enemies of the cross of Christ and minded earthly things, he said to them “be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an example”.
F.W. Satan is not concerned as to how the saints fail as long as they fail. We read in magazines about the persecution of the saints in Russia and other Communist countries and we praise these saints for their fortitude and their courage in the face of such persecution, but he does not use those tactics in Britain, instead he says ‘It is a fine night and you have plenty of resources to enjoy yourself, miss the prayer meeting or the Bible reading tonight’, or ‘You are a bit busy so do not have any prayers tonight’, and he achieves the same end that he achieves by persecution. It may be that the saints in Russia need to pray for us, for the power of materialism is a very strong one.
Rem. Do we not get a picture of that in the two and a half tribes who asked for their portion east of Jordan (Num. 32)? They wanted what suited themselves, good pastures and they got them.
F.W. Yes. That was never part of the divine territory. They enjoyed the lushness of the grass there for their cattle and sheep and they refused to go over into the land God had promised them. They made good promises but it was not very long before they were overcome by the enemy.
Rem. John sums it up when he says, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world” (1 John 2:15). If we can think of the opposite of that “the love for Christ” we will not love the world because we will realise that the world rejected Him and crucified Him. On the mount they spoke of His decease. Moses was the one to whom God gave the law, and Elijah who in righteousness administered the law in so far as he prayed for famine, but Christ was the One by whom grace and truth came.
F.W. Yes, it is a beautiful picture. The last verse of the sixteenth chapter, “there will be some standing here who will not taste of death till they see the Son of man come in his kingdom” shows that this picture is that of the coming kingdom with the Lord supreme and His followers in different features and blessings surrounding Him. He is about to come in the glory (v. 27), this is not the rapture but His public appearing to set up His kingdom in power and glory. It is then that the rewards will be given to those who have been faithful to Him here. We are not told to love the rapture, we are told to love His appearing (2 Tim. 4:8), because it will be the public display of the glory of the Man who suffered at the hands of the world. We would desire that surely above all else, the One who was rejected by the world should be publicly acclaimed by it.
Rem. We are to arrive at this point where we see “Jesus only”.
F.W. Yes, the prominent place He has in the affections of the saints should come to light as we gather to His name to remember Him. It should come to light in conversation, and in ministry also. We are thankful for that if it does, it is the fruit of the Spirit’s ministry which He has maintained for so long, “He shall glorify me”.
Rem. The thought of God Himself is that we should be occupied with Christ alone. He demonstrates it here in this portion.
F.W. Yes, because Moses and Elijah (great men though they were) were only men, and men who were subject to failure (and they did fail), but Christ, not only because He was so perfect and holy, but because of who He is, the Son of the living God, the Son, coequal with the Father and the Spirit although in this place in Manhood, is entitled to this place of unique glory, it belongs to Him and Him alone.
Rem. “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith being rooted and grounded in love may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, length depth and height and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God” (Heb. 3:17).
F.W. Paul says in Ephesians 1:6 that we are “accepted in the beloved”. There is only one Beloved and the statement at Jordan and on the Mount of Transfiguration and other statements in the Gospel by John state definitely whom the Beloved is.
Rem. In His presence we are not to stay on our faces. They fell on their faces but Jesus touched then and said ‘Stand up’.
F.W. He would have us beside Him in restful conditions. We often think of Joseph in this respect. When he said to his brethren “I am Joseph” that put him in his unique place, but when he continued “your brother”, it brought them near to himself, not that we should call the Lord our brother, but I am using that as an illustration. In “I am Joseph”, he stands alone, he is the prime minister of Egypt, but when he says “I am Joseph your brother come near to me my brethren” that is a different thing. The Lord would have us near Himself as His brethren. Brethren, time has gone.
The meeting was closed with a hymn, the first verse of which is given below, and a prayer.
“Christ’s glory fills eternity,
Eternity which was and is;
And all eternity to be
Will shine with His undying praise;
To Him who lives but once was slain
Be honour, power, and praise, Amen.”