“SIMON Peter said unto him, Lord, whither goest thou? Jesus answered him, Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards?”
There is a vast difference between the understanding of truth possessed by people of God before the resurrection of Christ from the dead and that which they have had since his resurrection. During all the time that preceded the resurrection of Christ, from the days of Adam to the end of the legal dispensation, even though holy men spoke and wrote as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, yet none of them had full and complete understanding of the things they said and recorded. It is much like the case of the blind man whose eyes Jesus anointed, and asked him if he saw, and the man replied, I see men as trees walking. This man, after the first anointing which he received, had his sight, but not clearly. He could not discriminate; trees looked like men and men like trees. His vision was not clear, nor did he possess the gift of adequate discernment. Again Jesus anointed his eyes, and asked him if he saw, and he then said, I see clearly. The second anointing gave him perfect vision. There is this great difference in the understanding which the disciples had prior to the descent of the Holy Spirit at the time of Pentecost, and that which came unto them as the result of the coming of the Holy Spirit at that time. During the lifetime of Jesus here on earth those with him had received the first anointing, but not the second; the second anointing came, as we have said, at the coming of the Holy Ghost as recorded in the second chapter of the Acts. By this second anointing Peter was able to preach the gospel and to interpret the prophecies and the Psalms of David, something that no man up to that time (excepting Jesus) had ever been able to do. We are told in the first verse of the thirteenth chapter of John that Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world. While Jesus knew that he was born to die, and that without death and the shedding of his blood there could never be any remission of the sins of his people, yet the disciples, though they loved Jesus and believed sincerely in him, could not understand the necessity of his death, and did not comprehend how that the whole of the law and all the prophets showed forth beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow. Jesus showed unto his disciples that he must go unto Jerusalem, suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, be killed, and raised again the third day. This the disciples never understood until the Holy Ghost came and took of the things which Jesus had said and revealed unto them their true meaning. Peter even rebuked the Savior for thus declaring beforehand his sufferings and death. We suppose Peter thought the idea of suffering and death to be inconsistent with his belief in the perfection of Jesus. At any rate, whatever was the idea in Peter’s mind that caused him thus to rebuke Jesus, the Savior rebuked him, and said, “Get thee behind me, Satan; thou art an offence unto me; for thou savorest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” Three verses ahead of our text Jesus had said, “Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you.” He meant that none but he, and he alone, could tread the wine-press of the wrath of God, none but he could pay the great price of their redemption, none but he could drink of the cup that he was to drink to the very dregs. All the judgments of God against the sins of the elect were to be visited upon Jesus because he was the eternal Security and covenant Head of the church of God. He, who knew no sin, therefore was made sin for his people
in order to make them the righteousness of God in himself. It was not possible for any of his people to go with him in that journey down into, and through, and up from, death: the wages of sin which Christ had to pay for his people’s salvation. None could ever be able to suffer what Jesus did and live through it or come out of it alive. He had power to lay down his life and to take it again. This does not at all contradict the doctrine of the eternal vital unity· of Christ and the church. As members of his body, in a mystical and spiritual sense, they were in him when he died, and in him when he arose from the dead. But what is meant in the thirteenth chapter of John is that as men and women, and as individuals, not one, nor all, of the Lord’s people could ever be able, nor shall they ever be required, to die the death he died, nor to suffer the extremes of agony endured by him.
Evidently Peter, nor any of the rest, understood what journey Jesus meant when he told them he was going away from them. Possibly Peter thought the Savior was simply going into some other town or country, and Peter saw no reason why he could not accompany him. When Jesus told him, “Thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards” it was all Greek to Peter, for he understood not at all what Jesus meant. The disciples might follow him to the cross and witness his terrible death, but further they could not go at that time. However, they had the promise from Jesus that he would come again unto them and receive them unto himself, that so they should be together. This he verified afterward, after his rising from the dead. He appeared unto them, spoke to them, called them by name, showed them his wounded hands and side, opened to them the Scriptures, ate with them and finally was received up in a cloud out of their sight, having told them to wait in Jerusalem until power from on high should come upon them. He did come again unto them, then, receiving them up unto himself where he was. When he had gone from them unto death he and they all were then under the condemnation of the law; when he came unto them after his resurrection he was free from condemnation and the sentence of death, and so were all his people. All that was needed was for them to be made aware of his victory, that they might come unto him in that liberty wherewith he had made them free. It was after Jesus’ resurrection that he spoke to Peter and showed him how he was to follow him, commanding him to feed the sheep and lambs of God. Peter’s following Jesus had been interrupted by the death of Jesus, into which Peter nor any one else could follow him. In John xxi. 18, Jesus shows Peter how his following is to be resumed, and to continue as long as Peter shall be on earth: “When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.” Some think that Jesus meant here to show Peter that he was eventually to be crucified and to meet his death in that way. We do not think so, but Jesus showed him what kind of death it was to be through which Peter was to glorify God, not a physical crucifixion, but that Peter was to find his work in the vineyard of the Lord to be such that he would continually be going where his own natural inclinations would never lead him, that his work in the ministry was to be opposed to the human nature of him. Therefore Peter was to be crucified for Christ’s sake, not so much actually as spiritually and experimentally. The apostle Paul knew something about being crucified with Christ, and so did Peter, and so does, we believe, every God-called servant in the vineyard of Christ. In other words, the Spirit of Christ was to take Peter and bind him and carry him wheresoever it listed, without any say-so of Peter whatsoever.
In Revelation viii. 1, it says, “There was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.” We understand this half-hour of silence in the church to mean the period elapsing between the last breath of Jesus upon the cross and his coming forth from the tomb very early in the morning of the first day of the week. This was a time of complete silence, in that, so far as we have any record in the Bible, there was not a single spiritual emotion in the heart of any single soul. The hearts of the women were stirred to go down to the tomb, and this emotion in them was coincident with Jesus’ rising from the dead. Not until he had arisen had they had any such inclination. Of course the women themselves did not know that their wanting to go to him was the effect of his resurrection power already manifest in them. But every spiritual feeling or thought is based upon Jesus’ resurrection. There could be not a spark of spiritual vitality in any soul had Jesus not arisen. Thus the death of Jesus eclipsed all spirituality in his people; his resurrection revived them. The truth will never be eclipsed again as long as time lasts. We may get terribly discouraged at times; if we do not, others may, but total darkness, amounting to utter despair, shall never overtake the church as long as God is on the throne.
Written by request. L.
Elder H.H. Lefferts
Signs of the Times
Volume 87, No. 19
October 1, 1919