What are you prepared to be persecuted for?
Perhaps for the defence of a loved one? For the sake of the underdog? To uphold a principle?
As Christians the call to face persecution can feel harder. Jesus commanded his followers to face persecution for the sake of His words1. So I’m encouraged to stand up for all of the red text in a “Red Letter Bible”.
But what about the words of his followers? What about the apostles’ testimony, which seems in places to extend beyond the realms of Jesus’ commission? Must we really stand up for what John wrote? Need I face opposition because of the ‘outdated views’ expressed in the book of 1 Timothy?
Where we’ve got to
My last post began looking at a part of Jesus’ final conversation with His disciples before He died. He had just been explaining why it’s to the apostles’ advantage that he goes away: The Spirit will come! And He’ll solve the world’s spiritual blindness.
But as alluded to already, it’s more than that. The Spirit coming is brilliant news for Christians, partly because He will bring conviction, but also because He will bring revelation.
The Spirit brings revelation
At the moment we’ve reached in John’s gospel, there are 16 chapters’ worth of revelation from Jesus – that’s a lot to be going with! But for God’s final revelation2 to conclude at 16 chapters seems devastatingly meagre.
The extraordinary promise in John 16:12-15 is that Jesus has more revelation for us than He had given at the moment of His death. After all of the teaching He gave during His life was finished, there was more to say, and He promised to those in the Upper Room that evening that the Spirit would bring it all to them.
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
In other words, the Apostles were given a specific promise that they’d be given more of Jesus’ words after He had died3.
In other words, what we hold in our hands as we clutch the New Testament is nothing less than the complete words of Jesus – the things that the disciples could bear before He died, and also ‘all the truth’ which the Spirit told them after He died. Before Jesus died they had extraordinary revelation. After He died, the Spirit finished bringing that revelation, which we couldn’t have enjoyed before Jesus left.
A letter from beyond the grave
There are numerous examples on the internet of those who have prepared for their departure by leaving messages to be delivered beyond the grave. They’re always moving, not least because of the finality of the message and the compassion of the one who, in the face of death, chooses to prepare for their loved ones in this way.
But Jesus’ preparation for His departure isn’t soppy – beautiful and compassionate though each of these stories are. Jesus isn’t sharing mere sentiment. His words that the Spirit is to deliver are those things which at first would have been ‘unbearable’ – too much for the apostles to have received at once.
The revelation which Jesus promised after His departure was nothing less than the completion of “all truth” – all of the revelation that God has designed to make known. True, there would be many things that the apostles would never know; they, like I, never understood quantum theory. But all the truth which God has chosen to reveal concerning Himself has now been made known – as Jesus explicitly promised, the apostles were guided into ‘all the truth’ (v12). And in God’s mercy, they recorded it for us.
Red Letter Bibles
So the “Red Letter Bibles” we see everywhere, which suggest Jesus’ words are limited to portions of just a few books of the New Testament, are wrong. I’d prefer a Bible whose whole content were printed in red letters, to better reflect its divine inspiration!
Mark 8:38, John 16:12 and 1 Timothy 1:1 are all Jesus’ words. They are the testimony of the apostles, who recorded the words of Jesus’ as delivered to them by the Spirit of Jesus – the words He spoke while He was alive, and the words He spoke after His departure.
God has delivered His final revelation in Jesus4. And we have the entirety of that revelation, as it was completed with the apostles, in the Bible.
What will you suffer for?
When Jesus told His apostles that they’d bear witness about Him, He promised that persecution would come as a result – and indeed that their persecution comes from ignorance of the Father and the Son (John 16:3). But the reality is that I’m much happier standing up for something Jesus spoke than something His apostles have taught.
When the apostles teach counter-cultural lessons about gender and sexuality, it is tempting to step back. Can’t I just stand by the things that Jesus said? Well, independent of the fact that Jesus said plenty on this5, the words of Paul, Peter and John are the words of Jesus.
It is hard to stand against the tide of our culture, especially when they’re so vocally positive about Jesus and negative about His apostles. But the apostles wrote the words of Jesus. So instead of limiting my backing to the ‘red letters’, let me be unashamed of all of Jesus words.
Oh, let me side with Jesus in all that He said!
- Mark 8:38 ↩
- Hebrews 1:1-3 suggests that Jesus is God’s final revelation ↩
- Notice the language of 16:12 and 16:14, which imply the further revelation is still Jesus’ words ↩
- See Hebrews 1:1-3 ↩
- See, for example, Jesus’ affirming in Mark 10 the context for sex and the creation order that is described in Genesis 2 ↩