The Training of the Twelve
Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47-53; Acts 1:1-8.
From Galilee the disciples, of their own accord or by direction, found their way back to Jerusalem, where their risen Lord showed Himself to them once more, and for the last time, to give them their final instructions, and to bid them farewell.
Of this last meeting no distinct notice is taken in the Gospels. Each of the synoptical evangelists, however, has preserved some of the last words spoken by Jesus to His disciples ere He ascended to heaven. Among these we reckon the closing verses of Matthew's Gospel, where we read: "All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world."[30.1 Of this last word Mark gives, in the close of his Gospel, an abbreviated version, in these terms: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation."[30.2 In Luke's narrative the words spoken by Jesus on the occasion of His final appearance to the eleven are so interwoven with those which He spoke to them on the evening of His resurrection day, that, but for the supplementary and more circumstantial account given by the same author in the Book of the Acts, we should never have thought of making a distinction, far less have known where to place the boundary line. On comparing the two accounts, however, we can see that words spoken at two different times are construed together into one continuous discourse; and we have no great difficulty in determining what belongs to the first appearance and what to the last. According to the Book of Acts, Jesus, in His last conversation with His disciples, spoke to them of their apostolic duties as witnesses unto Himself and preachers of His gospel; of the promise of the Spirit, whose descent was to fit them for their work; and of what they should do till the promise should be fulfilled. Now these are just the topics adverted to in the verses cited from the last chapter of Luke's Gospel. There is first the apostolic commission to preach repentance and remission of sins in the name of Jesus among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem; and a virtual injunction laid on the disciples to be faithful witnesses to all things they had seen and heard in their Lord's company, and especially to His resurrection from the dead. Then there is the renewal of this promise, here called the "promise of my Father." Then, finally, there is the direction to wait for the promised blessing in the holy city: "But tarry ye at Jerusalem until ye be clothed with power from on high."
All these sayings bear internal evidence of being last words, from their fitness to the situation. It was natural and needful that Jesus should thus speak to His chosen agents at the hour of His final departure, giving them instructions for their guidance in their future apostolic labors, and in the short interval that was to elapse before those labors began. Even the business-like brevity and matter-of-fact tone of these last words betray the occasion on which they were uttered. On first thoughts, we should perhaps have expected a more pathetic style of address in connection with a farewell meeting; but, on reflection, we perceive that every thing savoring of sentimentality would have been beneath the dignity of the situation. In the farewell address before the passion, pathos was in place; but in the farewell words before the ascension, it would have been misplaced. In the former case, Jesus was a parent speaking His last words of counsel and comfort to His sorrowing children; in the latter, He was "as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch;"[30.3 and His manner of speech was adapted to the character He sustained.
And yet the tone adopted by Jesus in His last interview with the eleven was not purely magisterial. The Friend was not altogether lost in the Master. He had kind words as well as commands for His servants. What could be kinder and more encouraging than that word: "And, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world "? And is there not an accent of friendship in that utterance, in which Jesus, now about to ascend to glory, seems by anticipation to resume the robe of divine majesty, which He laid aside when He became man: "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth"? Why does He say that now? Not for the purpose of self-exaltation; not to put a distance between Himself and His quondam companions, and, as it were, degrade them from the position of friends to that of mere servants. No; but to cheer them on their way through the world as the messengers of the kingdom; to make them feel that the task assigned them was not, as it might well seem, an impossible one. "I have all power," saith He in effect, "in heaven, and jurisdiction over all the earth: go ye therefore [30.4 into all the world, making disciples of all the nations, nothing doubting that all spiritual influences and all providential agencies will be made subservient to the great errand on which I send you."
Jesus had kind actions as well as kind words for His friends at parting. There was indeed no farewell kiss, or shaking of hands, or other symbolic act in use among men who bid each other adieu; but the manner of the ascension was most gracious and benignant towards those whom the ascending One left behind. Jesus moved upwards as if lifted from the earth by some celestial attraction, with His face looking downwards upon His beloved companions, and with His hand stretched out in an attitude of benediction. Hence the eleven grieved not for their Lord's disappearance. They marvelled indeed, and gazed eagerly and wonderingly towards the skies, as if trying to penetrate the cloud which received their Master's person; but the parting left no sadness behind. They bowed their heads in worship towards the ascended Christ, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, as if they had gained, not lost a friend, and as if the ascension were not a sunset but a sunrise--as indeed it was, not for them alone, but for the whole world.
Of that miraculous event, by which our High Priest passed within the veil into the celestial sanctuary, we may not speak. Like the transfiguration, it is a topic on which we know not what to say; an event not to be explained, but to be devoutly and joyfully believed, in company with the kindred truth declared by the two men in white apparel to the disciples, who said: "Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing into heaven? This same Jesus, which was taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven."[30.5 Wherefore we pass from the ascension to make some observations on the great commission given by the Lord to His apostles for the last time, just before He was taken up into glory.
That commission was worthy of Him from whom it emanated, whether we regard Him as Son of God or as Son of man. "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation." Surely this is the language of a Divine Being. What mere man ever entertained a plan of beneficence embracing the whole human race within its scope? and who but one possessing all power in heaven and on earth could dare to hope for success in so gigantic an undertaking? Then how full of grace and love the matter of the commission! The errand on which Jesus sends His apostles is to preach repentance and remission of sins in His name, and to make a peaceful conquest of the world to God by the word of reconciliation through His death. Such philanthropy approves itself to be at once divine and most intensely human. And mark, as specially characteristic of the gracious One, the direction, "beginning at Jerusalem." The words indicate a plan of operations adapted at once to the circumstances of the world, and to the capacities and idiosyncrasies of the agents; but they do more. They open a window into the heart of Jesus, and show Him to be the same who prayed on the cross: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." Why begin at Jerusalem? Because "Jerusalem sinners" most need to repent and to be forgiven; and because Jesus would show forth in them at the outset the full extent of His long-suffering, for a pattern to them who should afterwards believe, in Samaria, Antioch, and the uttermost parts of the earth.
It was in every way a commission worthy of Jesus, as the Son of God and Saviour of sinners, to give. But what a commission for poor Galilean fishermen to receive! what a burden of responsibility to lay upon the shoulders of any poor mortal! Who is sufficient for these things? Jesus knew the insufficiency of His instruments. Therefore, having invested them with official authority, He proceeded to speak of an investment with another kind of power, without which the official must needs be utterly ineffectual. "And, behold," He said, "I send the promise of my Father upon you; but tarry ye at Jerusalem till ye be clothed with power from on high."
''Power from on high:" the expression has a mystical sound, and its sense seems difficult to define; yet the general meaning is surely plain enough. The thing signified is not altogether or chiefly a power to work miracles, but just what Jesus had spoken of at such length in his farewell address before His death. "Power from on high" means: All that the apostles were to gain from the mission of the Comforter--enlightenment of mind, enlargement of heart, sanctification of their faculties, and transformation of their characters, so as to make them whetted swords and polished shafts for subduing the world unto the truth; these, or the effect of these combined, constituted the power for which Jesus directed the eleven to wait. The power, therefore, was a spiritual power, not a magical; an inspiration, not a possession; a power which was not to act as a blind fanatical force, but to manifest itself as a spirit of love and of a sound mind. After the power descended, the apostles were to be not less rational, but more; not mad, but sober-minded; not excited rhapsodists, but calm, clear, dignified expositors of divine truth, such as they appear in Luke's history of their ministry. In a word, they were to be less like their past selves and more like their Master: no longer ignorant, childish, weak, carnal, but initiated into the mysteries of the kingdom, and habitually under the guidance of the Spirit of grace and holiness.
Such being the power promised, it was evidently indispensable to success. Vain were official titles--apostles, evangelists, pastors, teachers, rulers; vain clerical robes, without this garment of divine power to clothe the souls of the eleven. Vain then, and equally vain now. The world is to be evangelized, not by men invested with ecclesiastical dignities and with parti-colored garments, but by men who have experienced the baptism of the Holy Ghost, and who are visibly endued with the divine power of wisdom, and love, and zeal.
As the promised power was indispensable, so it was in its nature a thing simply to be waited for. The disciples were directed to tarry till it came. They were neither to attempt to do without it, nor were they to try to get it up. And they were wise enough to follow their instructions. They fully understood that the power was needful, and that it could not be got up, but must come down. All are not equally wise. Many virtually assume that the power Christ spake of can be dispensed with, and that in fact it is not a reality, but a chimera. Others, more devout, believe in the power, but not in man's impotence to invest himself with it. They try to get the power up by working themselves and others into a frenzy of excitement. Failure sooner or later convinces both parties of their mistake, showing the one that to produce spiritual results something more than eloquence, intellect, money, and organization are required; and showing the other that true spiritual power cannot be produced, like electric sparks, by the friction of excitement, but must come sovereignly and graciously down from on high.