He “Loved Them to the End”
JOHN, the apostle, enjoyed a very fine relationship with Jesus. He was the one “whom Jesus used to love,” as referred to in his Gospel. At the final “evening meal,” John reclined next to Jesus, and it was he to whom Jesus, when on the torture stake, gave the special privilege of taking Jesus’ mother, Mary, into his own home and caring for her as if she were his own mother.—John 13:23; 19:25-27; 20:2; 21:20.
This mutual bond between Jesus and John did not arise out of physical attraction. Nor was John a sentimentalist, as some have concluded, though it is true he spoke much about love. Actually, true and sincere Godlike love is a strong, pure quality, closely linked with loyalty. In all his writings, John manifested a strong love and loyalty toward Jesus Christ and Jehovah. Jesus, who “knew what was in man,” greatly appreciated this, and so a deep attachment was formed between them.—John 2:25.
When we think of that last evening that Jesus had with his followers, it is difficult to put ourselves in their position. None of them, not even John, had any clear idea of what was going to happen to Jesus that night. When it came to the point of Jesus’ saying, “All of you will be stumbled in connection with me on this night,” and Peter’s strong rejection of any such thing’s happening on his part, still less of his denying his Master, then “all the other disciples also said the same thing.” (Matt. 16: 21-23; 26:31-35) What a tremendous shock it must have been when things turned out exactly as had been predicted! To them, that evening meal had started as one more memorializing of the original Passover supper. To Jesus, however, it had the greatest possible significance, as shown by all that Jesus told his disciples and expressed in prayer to his Father, especially when, “after he had the evening meal,” he instituted the memorial of his own death. We can learn much about this by reading chapters 13 to 17 of John’s Gospel.
That detailed account was written about 65 years after those events had taken place, and this surely verifies Jesus’ words respecting the operation of “the helper, the holy spirit”: “That one will teach you all things and bring back to your minds all the things I told you.” (John 14:26) Yes, the beloved John had become well taught, and we can imagine his depth of feeling and appreciation when he wrote concerning Jesus:
“Now, because he knew before the festival of the passover that his hour had come for him to move out of this world to the Father, Jesus, having loved his own that were in the world, loved them to the end.”—John 13:1.
John must have often reflected on the wonders of that unfailing loyal love shown by Jesus, conveying a wealth of undeserved kindness. Those disciples had been so sure of themselves; yet they were weak and failed when the test came. Not that they were bad at heart. It was just human weakness, of which Satan took advantage, but only for the time being.—Luke 22:32.
“KEEP DOING THIS”—WHY?
We are now approaching the anniversary of Jesus’ death on Nisan 14, 33 C.E., and another celebration of the “Lord’s evening meal.” This will be observed on Monday, March 31, 1980, after sundown, in all congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses. So, what thoughts are uppermost in our minds? Why did Jesus, after first passing the loaf and then the cup to his disciples, repeat the words: “Keep doing this in remembrance of me”?—1 Cor. 11:20, 23-26.
That Jesus himself knew what all of this meant is shown by what he said a few days earlier, when he gave this simple, yet forceful, illustration, likening himself to a grain of wheat: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains just one grain; but if it dies, it then bears much fruit.” (John 12:24) His next words show that he fully anticipated not only the agonizing suffering and shame connected with his death on the torture stake but also the wonderful and far-reaching effects of that supreme example on his part of self-sacrificing love. Jesus therein expressed his heartfelt desire to glorify his Father’s name, and at that very moment Jehovah responded to his Son’s appeal, for “a voice came out of heaven: ‘I both glorified it and will glorify it again.’”—John 12:25-33.
Jesus exemplified the same kind of love that his Father had, as he mentioned early in his ministry: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.” Yes, he was the “man, Christ Jesus, who gave himself a corresponding ransom for all.” He ‘tasted death for every man.’ (John 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:4-6; Heb. 2:9) He actually took the sinner’s place, as vividly described at Isaiah 53:4-7, 10, and the apostle Paul, at Philippians 2:5-11, confirms how that sacrificial “death on a torture stake” worked out gloriously for mankind. It would be good for all of us to read these passages in full, and to ponder over them, as the Memorial season approaches.
Besides the far-reaching effects just discussed, there were some important immediate effects that Jesus had especially in mind when instituting the memorial of his death. It is true that on one occasion he spoke of himself as “the living bread that came down from heaven,” and then said: “For a fact, the bread that I shall give is my flesh in behalf of the life of the world.” (John 6:51) However, after an interruption by some Jews who were listening, Jesus continued to speak on the same theme, with a deeper significance for those involved. He had already spoken about eating of this symbolic “bread,” but now he went on to say:
“Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. He that feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has everlasting life, and I shall resurrect him at the last day . . . He that feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood remains in union with me, and I in union with him.” (John 6:53-56)
Remarkable words these! They stumbled even “many of his disciples . . . [who] would no longer walk with him.” What is the explanation?—John 6:60-66.
Jesus knew that the world of mankind, referred to in the previous scriptures, would have the opportunity of receiving the benefits of the ransom sacrifice at the time of his kingdom, when there would be “a new heaven and a new earth” and even ‘death would be no more.’ (Rev. 21:1-4; Luke 23:42, 43) But he also knew that it was his Father’s good pleasure for some of earth’s sin-stricken human family to share with him in his heavenly throne as kings and priests with him. (Luke 22:28-30; Rev. 3:21; 20:6) He knew that while he, “who is Christ,” was primarily Abraham’s seed, yet these others of the Christian congregation “in union with Christ Jesus,” making up the spiritual “Israel of God,” would also be “really Abraham’s seed, heirs with reference to a promise.” (Gal. 3:16, 28, 29; 6:16) This was indeed an expression of “undeserved kindness upon undeserved kindness.”—John 1:16.
The 11 faithful apostles with Jesus that night, Nisan 14, were the first to be invited to eat of that loaf of unleavened bread and drink of that cup of wine, which, as Jesus said, represented his sinless flesh and his lifeblood. (1 Cor. 11:23-26) Others would follow who, as Jesus said, would be “putting faith in me through their word.” (John 17:20) In connection with these believers, notice the frequent repetition of the words “in union with” that are used only with reference to Jehovah and Christ Jesus and those of the anointed Christian congregation, as shown at John 6:56; 10:38; 14:10, 11, 20; 15:4-7; 17:21-23, 26. An American Translation uses both the phrase “in union with” and the phrase “united to (with) me.”
The members of this congregation are dealt with in a special way, though not because of any merit on their part. (Eph. 2:5; 1 John 2:2) They are begotten by God’s spirit to a heavenly hope, the hope of sharing with Christ in his heavenly resurrection, provided that they first prove faithful, as Paul said, in “sharing in his sufferings, submitting . . . to a death like his,” a sacrificial death, giving up all hope of life on a paradise earth. (Phil. 3:10) This sacrificial course commences from the time when one is chosen by God as a member of that Christian congregation, making up “Christ’s body,” as explained at Matthew 16:24 and; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. These members are brought into the “new covenant,” validated by Christ’s shed blood, and share in its ministry.—1 Cor. 11:25; 2 Cor. 3:6; 4:1-7.
There are still some on earth who are “in union with Christ Jesus” and have the witness of God’s spirit of being ‘God’s spirit-begotten children’ and “joint heirs with Christ.” (Rom. 8:1, 14-17) They will have these precious truths very much in mind when they come together for the “Lord’s evening meal.” However, the great majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses who will meet that night do not have that heavenly hope. They know they are not of the “little flock,” but identify themselves with the “great crowd” of “other sheep” that Jesus spoke about. (Luke 12:32; John 10:16; Rev. 7:9) They, too, exercise faith in the shed blood of Jesus. (Rev. 7:14) They have the hope of ‘inheriting the Kingdom,’ in that they will enjoy its blessings of everlasting life on earth, as Jesus promised at Matthew 25:31-40. They also enjoy the close association with Christ’s “brothers,” mentioned in that illustration. Compared with the spiritual Israelites, as “foreigners” they greatly appreciate the privilege and responsibility of sharing with them in producing Kingdom fruits. (Isa. 56:6, 7; 61:5; Matt. 21:43) Some have even died because of their faithful stand for the truth and their fearless proclamation of the Kingdom message. However, though they may die a martyr’s death, they do not die a sacrificial death like Jesus and those who are “joint heirs with Christ” in the heavenly kingdom. Realizing this distinction, they do not partake of the emblems of unleavened bread and the cup of wine that signify not only receiving the benefits of Christ’s death but a sharing with him in the same sacrificial course.
Though the great majority of those today who make up the “one flock, [under the] one shepherd” appreciate this distinction, the question might arise with some as to how a person knows if he has been invited to the heavenly calling. This can no longer be determined by any external evidence as when the miraculous gifts of the spirit were given in the early days of the Christian congregation. Of even greater value than those gifts was the glorious hope of gaining the heavenly inheritance given to those who were “called children of God” and were “partakers of the heavenly calling.” (Heb. 3:1; 1 John 3:1-3) There was then only the one hope, but today, when that part of God’s “administration” is about complete, the gates of the Kingdom are swinging wide open with an invitation for a “great crowd” to gain earthly blessings, as already mentioned. Especially has this been true from 1935 onward, when the “great crowd” was clearly identified as an earthly class with hope of endless life in a paradise earth.—Eph. 1:10; Rev. 7:9-17.
Is it left to the individual to choose as to which hope he will entertain, whether heavenly or earthly? No. Before any personal hope can be entertained, the step of unqualified dedication and baptism must be taken by the person’s agreeing henceforth to do God’s will, not his own will. God causes His will to be done by the operation of his holy spirit. How that spirit operates with those chosen by God as prospective members of the “little flock,” quickening within them a heavenly hope, is explained at Romans 8:14-17. Those Christians had unmistakable evidence within themselves that they had been called to the heavenly kingdom.
Do those dedicated servants accepted by God as members of the “great crowd” also receive God’s spirit? Definitely yes, similar to those faithful servants of God in pre-Christian times, such as Moses and John the Baptizer, who had no heavenly hope. (Matt. 11:11) God is dealing with each and every one of his dedicated servants today, cultivating in them a hope of life in his kingdom. Paul told those early Christians that they were being “saved in this hope,” the heavenly one. He also spoke of the hope for “creation,” the rest of the human family, who were “waiting for the revealing of the sons of God” with the prospect of themselves enjoying “the glorious freedom of the children of God” as his restored earthly children.—Rom. 8:18-25.
So each one has to be saved in a certain hope. It should be an absorbing hope and should be very real to you. If, after an honest examination, you feel there is any degree of uncertainty, or if you recognize it was strong emotional feelings that led you to conclude that you had received the heavenly calling, or perhaps that such a calling in some way set you apart as distinct and somewhat superior to the others, entitling you to special treatment and respect, then you have good cause to reevaluate your position. In sincerity and humility, do not hesitate to ask God for wisdom and guidance and for help to do his will. He will not reproach you. “God is dealing with you as with sons,” whom he loves.—1 Cor. 11:28; Heb. 12:4-11; Jas. 1:5-8.
All true sheeplike ones who attend the “Lord’s evening meal,” whether as observers or partakers, delight to be present “in remembrance” of all that Jesus did in proving his loyal love for his Father, also for everyone exercising faith in him. As Jesus “loved them to the end,” may we show the same spirit of endurance and loyalty to the end. John spoke of Jesus’ followers as being “in the world.” For our encouragement, Jesus agreed with this, and added: “In the world you are having tribulation, but take courage! I have conquered the world.” (John 13:1; 16:33) So may all of us, as Paul exhorted, daily “keep the festival. . . with unfermented cakes of sincerity and truth.”—1 Cor. 5:8.