For the proclamation of the Gospel and the edification of the Body of Christ
Divine Life Before Time
Probably no apostle knew the Lord Jesus Christ as intimately as John, because, as Paul was chosen to know and reveal the mystery of Christ in the church, John was selected to know the mystery of God in Christ. Further on we shall see how both truths form only one indivisible reality; however, the revelation given to John is the foundation of the truth revealed through the apostle Paul, because the objective of the beloved disciple is to take us to the beginning, to the unchangeable foundation on which the church rests.
The beloved disciple
This principle, John tells us, is found in God Himself. He is the source from which life proceeds. Nothing else in all the creation possesses in itself that genre of life, except God.
Certainly, many kinds of life do exist: vegetable, animal, human and angelic. But these are only metaphors, pale shadows of the original life that God alone possesses, from which all forms of life derive their existence. But the Divine life is beyond comparison, unimaginably higher than all other life forms.
Notwithstanding, that is precisely the life that God desired for man since eternity past. The apostle tells us that the life was with the Word in God and furthermore, that it was the light of men. That was the life Adam lost in the garden and a flaming sword hid it from his eyes (Can we see how terrible our loss was?).
But, there came the day (and John was a witness of this) in which that heavenly life descended from God's holy dwelling place to dwell among men. "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory" (John 1:14). John wrote telling us about this event. Through days, months, and years, this disciple was a privileged spectator of the most transcendental event of history.
Nobody, had ever seen or experienced anything like it! Because the Word, Jesus Christ, dwelt among men, living a life that was so completely different, real, intimate and marvelous that, progressively, the heart of his coarse disciples was captivated, awed, transfixed and, finally, transformed due to being in contact with that heavenly life.
And to John, more than to all the other disciples, it was given to understand the mystery of that life. For that reason, in his writings, he always refers to the most profound and essential aspects of the work of God. He is not concerned, like Paul in some of his letters, about the more outward matters of the church (like for example, the gifts, the gatherings, the offerings, etc.) but instead, he always remits us to what is fundamental. To that which sustains everything, which existed before the beginning and remains unchangeable: life. And this because the church is, in essence, Christ Himself expressed in a different way.
How did John come to the knowledge of this truth? The answer to this question is very important, because it reveals to us a practical model regarding how the church is established and edified. The goal of the apostle is to show us that before gifts, evangelism, doctrine, ministry, and any other visible and exterior work, life is found. If life is present, then everything else is assured; but, if life is absent, everything is in danger of being lost.
The great tragedy of Christianity in our days is found precisely at this point. On the outside, it seems that much is happening. There is great activity out there and believers run here and there busy with numberless urgent tasks. Campaigns are organized, power seminaries, congresses, missionary movements, interdenominational ministries and all the time it seems that the work of God is growing at a fast pace. But, is it really growing? Are the objective results the irrefutable proof that God is validating our work? And, what is the deepest source of all that activity? What is hidden behind all that coming and going? Is there not a deficiency in all that?
Nevertheless, we are not here trying to judge the work that others do for God. We are only establishing what is essential, because, as the apostle Paul tells us, there will come the day in which God will test the quality of our work.
Let us see what the beloved disciple tells us about this matter:
"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (for the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;" (1 John 1:1-2).
This is, according to John, the Genesis of the church. John tells us that the church began at the very beginning of everything, before men walked on earth; before mountains and oceans of the world were formed; and even before the sun, stars, and the innumerable galaxies would scatter their light around the universe; before time itself... far, far away, in the intimate Trinitarian life of God.
To accede to that intimacy is, certainly, a matter that surpasses all our possibilities. However, divine grace has granted us the way to get there. How can this be possible? Because life, the apostle writes to us, was manifested and we have seen it! The very same Divine life, eternal and inaccessible, descended down to our level, to make Himself visible, enabling us to gaze upon Him, in the rustic panorama of Galilee.
There, among its arid hills and small villages, John found Jesus Christ. When he wrote his letter he was already an old man, but surely he could still vividly remember the day when Jesus crossed his path.
From the first moment he was captivated by His warmth, His wisdom, His depth, and that inexpressible something that pulsed in each one of His deeds. There never was somebody so human as Jesus, yet... there was in Him an ineffable secret, something more than human from whence all the glory of His life seemed to flow.
John perceived this from the moment he met Him, and leaving behind all his previous life, his personal dreams, ambitions and projects, he launched out, together with many others, into the uncertain adventure of following this Jesus.
In that way, he came to be one of the many disciples of the Nazarene. There were no promises, only an unforgettable moment when Jesus fixed His eyes upon him. He never forgot those eyes looking deeply into him. Neither could he forget those words that kept resonating in his ears: Follow Me! Probably for quite some time he was already following Him and listening to His words as one more among the multitude. But that day, while he was mending his fishing nets on the beach next to his brother James, the Master unexpectedly stopped in His steps in front of him, spoke directly to his heart and changed his life forever.
From that moment on, John lived to know Jesus.
In each one of us the Lord's call takes a distinctive expression. The way He deals with each, takes us through unique paths of knowledge and experience, because He seeks to make us useful instruments in the edification of His house. He is making us workers that will have something specific and unique of Christ to contribute to the growth of all the Body.
In John, his call was expressed, from the very beginning, as a profound and incessant desire to know Him and His mystery. From then on, during the three years that followed his call, John was exclusively dedicated to follow the Lord. At some point during those three years, he was separated, together with other eleven, to live a more intimate experience with Jesus.
That was the way in which, during those glorious days he was with Him and the eleven in every possible human circumstance. Walking on the dusty roads of Galilee or sleeping by the warmth of an improvised campfire, after sharing a scant ration of food. But also listening in the midst of the multitude, when His words descended as a fresh rain on dry parched land. Or during those tiring travels, when the Lord healed hundreds of sick people and drove demons out of them.
These experiences transformed him completely. When he began to follow Him he was a youth full of ambitions, distrust and fears. At one moment we find him requesting fire from heaven to fall on a Samaritan city. Later on he is hiding behind his mothers skirt as she requests a place of prominence for her children in the kingdom of God.
Certainly, like all the rest, John was a difficult case. But, progressively those experiences of life with Jesus began to produce their fruit. His hidden motives were exposed, his fears came to light, his weakness and failure became evident. And, simultaneously, while his life was being dealt with by exterior circumstances, his heart was beginning to understand the mystery of Christ and His life.
The secret of Christ
Beyond the veil of the flesh, John could see that the Lord walked and breathed by means of a superior life. He seemed to dwell in a constant and intimate dependence and fellowship with Another, Who constituted the source of all His existence. Probably His disciples did not notice it at the beginning, and His constant mentioning of that Other One seemed strange to them, because the Jews never had known that Other One by the name that Jesus used to call Him.
But at last John understood. He Who was in the midst of them was more than a teacher or a prophet. This Jesus was far greater than all the great leaders of the past. What was being manifested in the midst of them was the same Divine life, preceding time and history, because they were truly gazing at the eternal Son of God, and through Him, they were perceiving His most profound secret: the Father.
Because Jesus Christ was living by means of the life of the Father, the disciples knew in Him the highest life form, the Divine form of life.
Precisely, He had come with the mission of revealing to us that Divine life as it is experienced in intimacy with God. He came to expand that life to us, making us in that way, to be partakers of that life. "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly". (John 10:10).
That is the kind of life that John describes to us, after gazing at it manifested in the Lord Jesus Christ. Way back in eternity past, in the intimacy of God, the Father gives everything He is, the totality of His life and essence, to the Son, who receives that life of the Father as His own, to then return it completely to the Father in an act of ineffable love. Thus, the Father is the source of everything the Son is. There is nothing in the Son that does not proceed from the Father. The Son does not have more life than that life that the Father gives Him. And the Father gives Himself completely to the Son, so that everything that is His may also belong to the Son. The Son receives that life of the Father and then returns it to the Father as a love offering.
Give, receive, restitute what was given, is the essential principle that operates in the bosom of the Divine life. This principle can be defined by one single word: love. That is why John tells us that God is love.
Furthermore, the incessant flow of fellowship of life between the Father and the Son, is then fulfilled in the third Divine person, the Holy Spirit. The Father loves, gives, speaks, listens, reveals and commands. The Son receives, loves, gives, worships, listens, speaks and obeys. And all this happens in the profound and ineffable fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
Let us see some verses to this effect:
"The Son can do nothing of himself, but what He seeth the Father do: for what things soever He doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. For the Father loveth the Son and sheweth Him all things that Himself doeth" (John 5:19-20).
"For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath He given to the Son to have life in himself" (John 5:26).
"I can of my own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge" (John 5:30).
"As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father John" 6:57).
"And He that sent me is with me" (John 8:29).
The passages quoted above allow us to see how Christ attributes the cause of all His words and works to the Father. He does not act nor speak by His own initiative. On the contrary, His whole being only moves by the will of the Father.
His relationship with the Father can be described as an intimate and vital dependence. The Father dwells in Christ constantly giving Him His life and direction. The Son lives and breathes every second in the presence of the Father. All the glory of His life consists in living and expressing the life of His Father (the Father who lives in me, He does the works).
Certainly, nobody will ever be able to understand the unfathomable mystery of His relationship with the Father, since in Him exists a dimension that will always be beyond the reach of our small understanding. Nevertheless, as we have said before, the aspects of His life that He has wanted to show us in His incarnation have a concrete purpose.
And the Word was made flesh (John 1:14) John tells us, which means that He fully took upon Himself our human condition to become the first man of that heavenly race that God wanted to have at the beginning.
Therefore, He had to learn as a man what He already knew since eternity past as the Word of God: how to live the life of His Father in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. During 30 years the Father taught Him to live that life in the most common of contexts: the home and workshop of a humble Nazarene carpenter. The Lord Jesus did not receive an academic or specialized preparation. He simply learned to live the Divine life through all the ups and downs of a common average human existence. His life was not formed in the synagogues, seminaries, or temple, but in the home and workshop. Doesn't this show us something? Because we must understand that His life on the earth is the source and model from which God is to give form to all His children made conformable to His image (the image of His Son).
The kind of life that Christ manifested is, necessarily, the only possible life for the children of God, because He is both the source and the model of life for the church.
For that reason, it is not enough to consider Christ as only a model to be imitated (for example, the school of: what would Christ do in my place?). Such comprehension would fail completely, not discerning that to fulfill the works of Christ it is indispensable to possess the same life as Christ, the Lord. And only He is that life.
This is a central point that so many Christians ignore or seem to ignore. They think that merely the human effort and capacity are enough. But the human life will never be able to imitate the Divine life. It is a matter of nature, because what is born of flesh, is merely more flesh.
The best and most accomplished effort of human nature will never be able to produce one single ounce of Divine life, because, as the Lord taught, you don't harvest figs from a thorn bush, nor do you harvest grapes from weeds.
But wasn't Jesus human? Certainly, but with a great difference. Christ was truly human, in a sense that nobody before Him ever experienced. Nevertheless, remember that man was created to contain a higher life than his own, destined to be the center of his existence. But Adam, the first man, chose to detach himself from that superior life and tried to live by the power of his merely human life. Thus, he became the fallen man, or in the words of Paul, the old man.
However, Christ entered the world to repair the damage caused at the beginning. He, in contrast to Adam, refused to live by the power of His human nature, which means, that He refused to have a life of his own, separated from God. From this we see that the temptations of the devil always aimed to detach Jesus from the Divine life. Satan's intention was to tempt Him to act autonomously. That is why the enemy's words: If thou be the Son of God (Matthew 4:3), in other words, if you really are Divine you would do this or that on your own, without consulting anybody (which incidentally demonstrates to us the absolute incapacity of Satan to understand the Divine nature). But all the devils effort became vain. The old serpent was completely defeated, because Christ was to live until His death, by means of the Father. All His human faculties, His intellect, emotions and will, were surrendered without limitations to the action of the Divine life that was abiding in Him.
In this way, in Him human nature at last found the sense for which it had been created: to be an instrument for the full expression of this heavenly life in the visible orb.
The secret of His church
The secret of Christ was in the source that fed His life. His exterior and visible works flowed from an inner life that proceeded directly from the Father. Nevertheless, while Jesus was on earth, He was the only man that possessed that kind of life. In other words, in Him the Divine life was confined by the physical limitations of His humanity. Up to that time, only Christ had the image of God. But the man that God was looking for at the beginning was not a single individual that could not be replicated, but a more ample and articulated reality. The Father desired that His Son would be the Head of a Body constituted by many men that would be conformed to become one with Him; or in other words, a corporate man that would live by means of Him.
How would the Lord attain His objective? Well, He referred to this on at least two opportunities. The first, when He spoke of Himself as the Bread that descended from Heaven. His words were, "As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me" (John 6:57). In other words, Jesus said that, as the Father is the Life, the very center of my being, I will come to be the Life, the very center of the church.
We shall never be able to emphasize this too much. The Father is the source of everything Jesus Christ is; and Jesus is the source of everything the church is.
Herein lies the importance of what John is teaching us. His purpose is, as we have seen, to be a dual practical revelation. On the one hand, He seeks to reveal to us the eternal and unshakable foundation of the church. On the other hand, the practical form of its relationship with Christ, its foundation, because the church is to be related to Christ in the same way that He is related to the Father.
Its practical meaning is that the church can only obtain life, power, instruction, direction, wisdom and strength in Christ. This means, in practical experience, to live by means of Him. Because, just as Christ walked, lived and breathed by means of the Father, we (His church) are to walk, live and breathe by means of Christ. This was the secret of Christ, and this is also the glorious and ineffable secret of the church. I in them and Thou in me, said Jesus referring to this fundamental truth, that so many Christians seem to ignore or almost completely ignore, for without me ye can do nothing (John 15:5).
The second opportunity in which the Lord referred to the birth of the church is found in the parable of the grain of wheat: "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit" (John 12:24).
In this passage, the Lord Jesus speaks to us about the meaning of His soon coming death, comparing it to a grain of wheat. While its exterior remains intact, the life that abides inside cannot multiply itself. For this to happen, the grain of wheat has to be buried and die, in other words, its exterior covering has to be broken, so that from its innermost part, life will grow and multiply, as a stalk of wheat loaded with hundreds of new grains.
And precisely that is what happened. Before dying, only the Lord Jesus possessed the life as the Only Begotten of God. But, because He accepted to die on the cross, it was possible for that life to be liberated and expanded toward us. Thus He became the first begotten among many brethren (Romans 8:29). In this way, He gave birth to the church which is flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone. And God, at last obtained the corporate man that He sought from the beginning, the One Paul also calls the new man (Ephesians 2:15).
The death of the Lord Jesus, then, had a double objective: on the one side, in its negative aspect, to rescue us from sin, liberating us from Satan and death. On the other side, in its positive dimension, He consummated the eternal purpose of Father God, giving life to the church, the heavenly race that carries within the very image of God.
This is the eternal and unshakeable foundation revealed to John and to the rest of the apostles during those glorious years: Christ, the Son of God. Without Me ye can do nothing (John 15:5) was His most important lesson for those that later would have to face the immense task to give historical form to such a church. But, the work was done, and the foundation established. God Himself laid the foundation. "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 3:11).
Can we see, now, how absolutely Christ-centric God's work is and--in the same token--how Christ-centric the ministry of those that serve Him has to be? God's objective, precisely during the years that Jesus spent together with the apostles was to establish this unshakable foundation in their lives, because finally, after living with Him 24 hours a day, for about 1,100 consecutive days, they came to know Him in a profound, intimate and real way.
His character, methodology, tenderness, compassion, and patience, as well as His way of dealing with people, His unlimited dedication, His ardent love for Father God and God's Will, were finally adhering to every fiber of His disciples, bonding them and penetrating them to the marrow of their existence. And, simultaneously, that Life was irradiating itself among them, kneading them together, intertwining them, soothing sharp bristles and rough corners, creating indestructible knots of love, care, patience, tolerance and forgiveness.
The long years that followed were going to test those bonds in a colossal way. But it is a perennial tribute to the Master Who made them, that, even during the most severe trials, those bonds were never destroyed.
And that was the historical matrix of the church, although its origin, as we have seen, can be traced back into eternity past.