On to Galilee

When the first women came to the empty tomb, they met an angel sitting on the entrance stone. "Go quickly," he said, "and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going before you into Galilee, there you will see Him" (Matthew 28:7). A couple of Jesus’ reasons for eventually sending the apostles to Galilee come to mind. An obvious reason would be that these disciples were in danger of arrest in Judea, and that Galilee would be a much safer haven. An additional possibility is that the apostles were all from Galilee, and this would give them a little time with their families and friends before they began carrying out the great commission, beginning from Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. And a third consideration would be that the travel time to and from Galilee would help the apostles keep a better focus by being occupied during the forty days of waiting from the time of the resurrection until the coming of the Holy Spirit. It was, it is to be remembered, on a mountain in Galilee that Matthew’s rendition of the Commission was given. The apostle John references an event in Galilee, at the Sea (which he styled "Tiberias," since it had already renamed with its Roman designation), opening with these words: "After these things Jesus manifested Himself again to the disciples as the Sea of Tiberias, and He manifested Himself in this way" (John 21:1).

Up to this point, Jesus had to appear very recognizable to the apostles to convince them that He was indeed risen from the dead. He had set the stage, however, for the next upgrade in their comprehension of His being the revelation of God, paralleling His earlier call to the fishermen disciples on Galilee’s shore to accomplish His purpose.

Character Recognition

"Jesus Christ," said the writer of Hebrews, "is the same yesterday and today, yes, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). One of the major reasons Jesus came to earth was to reveal the character of God, to expose to the view of man the nature of the invisible God. The goal of God, then, was to have men come to an understanding of His unchanging character, to come to an understanding of His love, mercy, and wrath. Of the therefore unchangeable Son it was written that although the Creation would be discarded like an old worn-out garment, "You are the same, and Your years will not come to an end" (Hebrews 1:12). Thus if the Lord could get the apostles now to recognize His unchanging character without being able to visually distinguish Him, they would be prepared for His leaving earth, while His character would still be recognized through the events which His hand would orchestrate.

It was the character of the Lord that confronted the disciples on their fishing excursion. It was this confrontation that caused John to recognize Him, and what caused Peter to clothe himself and jump overboard. Jesus intelligently accomplished His purpose in a comparatively natural way, and the apostles were in the process of being prepared for the exhibition of His character following His ascension to glory. Therein would the ascended Christ be "the exact representation" of the Father’s nature, and the complete communication of His character.

The Lord’s Provision

God created the original plants and animals out of nothing. The Lord fed millions of people for forty years in the wilderness with quail from the air and manna from the dew of the ground. Jesus fed, successively, five thousand men and four thousand men from a few loaves of bread and a small number of fish. The point should be clear: the Lord can provide! While He was approaching the Garden of Gethsemane, He tried to impress this point upon the minds of the apostles, even as the soldiers under the guidance of Judas were preparing to arrest Him. "When I sent you out without purse and bag and sandals," He queried, "you did not lack anything, did you" (Luke 22:35). How did He know where the fish were when He first called Peter and John? How did He know there would be exactly the right coin in the first fish that Peter would catch at a later point, enough to pay both Peter and Jesus’ temple tax? And how, in His resurrected body, did He know that if they threw the net over the right side of the boat, that they would find a catch? Yes, the Lord can provide.

The apostle, in recording this event along the Sea of Galilee, undercut the developing Gnostics, many of whom were maintaining that Jesus never had a body, much less a resurrected body. The Lord not only can make provision for physical welfare, but also anticipated the need for documentation concerning His bodily resurrection from the dead; He makes doctrinal provision also! "This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples [that is, the majority of the eleven, having appeared twice earlier in the shut-up room], after He was raised from the dead" (John 21:14). Case closed.

Tending the Sheep

"I am going fishing," Peter had said. There is nothing wrong with going fishing, per se, but, in Peter’s case, there was a hidden danger. Peter — indeed all the apostles — had been called to become fishers of men. But fishing for men is much more difficult that netting fish, and Peter was dangerously heading back to his former lifestyle, choosing the easy way rather than the right way. Each of the seven, conscious of this application to their own lives, ate a silent breakfast, quietly challenged by the presence of the Lord as they stood around the early morning fire.

The Lord, however, is not idle, nor does He sleep. Knowing the great possibility of His plan of reaching the world through these key seven being scuttled, He acted positively, working specifically on the apostle Peter.

Christians, and children of Christians (who are some of the most important to make disciples of), are regarded as sheep and lambs. Later in life, Peter would call himself one who shepherded the sheep, and would term Jesus as "the Chief Shepherd" (I Peter 5:1-4). Tending and shepherding the sheep of God is obviously a critical factor in the forward movement of the church of God; the sheep need much guarding and guiding to be protected from the dogs, the wolves, and the roaring lion.

How Peter Would Die

Jesus knew ahead of time how He personally would die. It had been prophesied in the Old Testament that He would suffer, and die by crucifixion. And, as a prophet Himself, He received revelation concerning His expiration, repeatedly informing the apostles that He would go to Jerusalem, suffer many things from the hands of men, and then be killed. "Nevertheless I must journey on today and tomorrow and the next day," said He, a bit enigmatically at one point during His earthly sojourn, "for it cannot be that a prophet should perish outside of Jerusalem" (Luke 13:33). But His prophetic ministry did not cease with His death on the cross. Following His bodily resurrection, He continued, Luke informed us, "speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3). Jesus, following His resurrection from the dead, could and did prophesy while still on earth.

It is somewhat difficult to wade through the legendary and relic-driven traditions concerning the apostle Peter. But the story of the upside-down crucifixion of certainly fits with the words of Jesus concerning Peter’s death, his being girded and carried where he did not wish to go, with outstretched hands. When John wrote his gospel account, as near as can be determined, Peter was dead some twenty years. Thus the early Christians knew the story of his death, and would have their faith strengthened in knowing that Jesus had anticipated that type of death for Peter. Many others passed on to their reward, apparently, in the same prison as Peter. "It is said that the number of Christians that perished within this diabolic cell is beyond computation—such is the glory of Rome." Only a faith that is worth dying for is a faith worth living for!

Follow Me

Peter and John were tightly bound to one another as apostles. Before being called by Jesus, they were business partners, and they were first disciples of John the Immerser together. Later, if Jesus separated three disciples from the others for special instruction or participation, those set aside were Peter, James, and John. It was John who made it possible for Peter to get into the courtyard of the high priest during Jesus’ Jewish trial, and it was Peter and John together who healed the crippled man at the Beautiful Gate of the temple in Acts three. It is not surprising, then, that John’s accounting of the life of Jesus on earth would close with the Lord’s interaction with these two men.

"If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me," Jesus had said. To follow Jesus means to leave the world behind, and to follow the upward call of God. If a person chooses earth, it will cost him heaven; if he chooses heaven, it will cost him earth, just as Jesus gave up His earthly life for heavenly reward. "And where I am, there shall My servant also be; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him" (John 12:26). There is great reward in following Jesus, through suffering persecution, and earthly martyrdom, if necessary. The words of the Lord to Peter ring true for all disciples: If He wants someone else to remain until He comes again, what difference does that make for the disciple? "You follow Me!"

The Longevity of John

There is a Great Hand which moves in the affairs of men. This Hand determines where each person is born, and at what time. This Hand is involved in the decisions of each life, and ultimately determines when each person dies. Thus it was that James was the first of the apostles to pass, being "put to death with a sword" at the hand of Herod Agrippa I in 44 AD (Acts 12:2). Peter, however, was preserved at that time, his death being set for some twenty years later in an upside-down crucifixion. The Great Hand was determining how and when each of these would die.

None of the above negates the free wills of any of the individuals involved. Herod Agrippa I was choosing to put James to death, tried to put Peter to death, and then tried to push himself off as a god on the crowds, having the "rent-a-mob" of the day cry out, "The voice of a god and not of a man!" (Acts 12:22). He was eaten by worms as a result of his free will choices.

Secular history is pretty sketchy in regard to the lives and deaths of the apostles, the scriptures themselves being silent for the most part. As near as we can tell, most of them were dead by the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, some scattered as far as India. But the apostle John was the exception, living another 30 years or so, long enough to write his gospel account, his letters, and the Revelation.

The language of John’s record of Jesus’ life on earth shows that his account was written after the other three accounts, the "synoptic gospels." The apostle explained the meaning of the words "Rabbi" and "Messiah." He mentioned that the Sea of Tiberias was formerly called Galilee, and he used Roman time for the hours of the day rather than the Jewish accounting. These and other signals indicate that John was writing in the 90 AD time frame, and thus he was an old man, having lived long after the other apostles had passed to their reward. Rumors, scripture indicated, spread that John would not die.

The Lord had told Peter that the time would come when they would carry him where he did not wish to go. Peter then directed his attention toward the apostle John, saying, "Lord, and what about this man?" Jesus’ response was that if He wanted John to remain until His second coming, that was none of Peter’s business; Peter was to follow the Lord. "This saying," John noted, "therefore went out among the brethren that that disciple [John] would not die; yet Jesus did not say that he would not die, but only, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?’ " (John 21:23). John knew that he would die, and used this section of the his accounting of Jesus to discount the spreading rumor, clarifying the statement of Jesus that apparently others of his day were aware of.

Why was it so necessary for John to live long after the other apostles had gone on? The gifts of the Holy Spirit, extant during the early years of the church, passed on only by the laying on of hands of the apostles, would die out with the death of the apostles. In conjunction with the passing of the gifts, the New Testament writings would be completed. The existence of one apostle, then, would be necessary to tie up those loose ends, complete the 27 books of the New Testament, and close out the written revelation from God. His eyewitness account of physically handling Jesus during His earthly sojourn and following His resurrection from the dead, as well as his accounting of the blood shed on the cross, were critical elements in countering the developing Gnostic heresies. Thus, by the Hand of God, John lived until his mission was completed somewhere around 96 AD.

That Which Is Written

Societies without written documentation for their histories end up being awash in the swaying surf of legend and tradition. Unable to document their activities, and unable to communicate their expertise in written form, they remain primitive and subject to their superstitions. The great God, then, wishing to preserve His people Israel, and to establish an accurate record of their history in anticipation of the coming Messiah, selected Moses, "educated in all the learning of the Egyptians," as well as a prophet, to record the beginnings of mankind and the development of Israel as a nation. From that point on the writings continued to accumulate, establishing a basis and a people from which God’s plan to save the Gentiles of the earth could be executed. As the centerpiece of this great movement, Jesus would be the One about whom the records would focus, and His life too would be recorded so that all might study, examine, and heed the message connected with His teaching.

John’s presentation of the life of Jesus is conclusive for anyone with an honest heart. Jesus came from glory to be the Lamb of God, to take away the sins of the world. He was bodily resurrected, and in the process of His appearances to the selected witnesses, He was clearly established to be God. He turned water to wine, healed on the Sabbath, taught in the Temple, and raised the dead. The Christ orchestrated events so that His entrance into Jerusalem received maximum exposure, and His crucifixion and subsequent resurrection took place on schedule. He focused especially on the coming Holy Spirit, pointing out that from the innermost being of every true believer — Jew or Gentile — those rivers of living water would flow. The Gnostic heresies of John’s day were obliterated in the accounting of the life of Christ in the flesh, and the truths of Jesus were clearly delineated. "These have been written," is the reminder, "that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name."