How can we be sure about God? Christianity makes claims that can be hard to believe in the 21st century – for example, its exclusiveness, its supernaturalism and its age.
To say that Jesus is the only way to God appears to be very narrow-minded. Further, the story of Jesus is woven around miraculous events – a virgin birth and a resurrection. And it all happened more than two thousand years ago.
In John 17 we find the record of a prayer Jesus prayed on the night he was betrayed and arrested. The greater part of the prayer was for his disciples, revealing the unique role they were to play in building on the foundation that Jesus himself was laying.
In Jesus’ words to God the Father, we discern the importance of the disciples in God’s big plan: “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.
The disciples were to be the link between Jesus and the rest of humanity. Much will depend on their understanding of Jesus as the Christ – the Messiah – and their courage and loyalty to him.
In verses 2 and 3 Jesus had prayed: “Since you have given him (that is, he, Jesus) authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, so that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
The ministry of his disciples would be essential if men and women were to benefit from God’s gift of eternal life. If the disciples failed in their task, if they gave in to hostile pressures and denied the truth they had been given to speak to, Christianity would have been still-born.
So Jesus prays that the Father would give each of the disciples eternal life. He also prays that the Father would protect them (17:11), keep them from the powers of evil (17:15), and make them holy in the truth (17:17). He also prayed that the love that God the Father has for the Son, would be true for them as well (17:16).
Jesus knew the road the disciples would tread would not be easy. Yet he didn’t pray that they would be taken out of the world. Rather, he prayed that they would be kept faithful and guarded from the powers of the evil one.
Furthermore, Jesus went on to pray for everyone who would come to faith: “I ask not only on behalf of these but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, …” (John 17:20).
At the heart of the disciples’ ministry would be the ministry of ‘God’s Word’ – preaching and teaching. The content of their word would be Jesus the Messiah.
From the time of Pentecost the disciples, now apostles (sent ones), began preaching, urging their hearers to turn to Jesus as the Messiah in repentance and faith. Over the following fifty years, thousands turned to Christ through their word ministry.
Furthermore, it was during those years that the apostles and others who had been uniquely trained, equipped and commissioned by Jesus, wrote the Gospels and Letters for the churches.
In 2 Peter 1:16-18, we read: For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.
Peter is saying that he and the other apostles did not pass on a cunningly invented myth. Jesus really is God in the flesh; he really did rise from the dead. ‘I have the evidence of my own eyes,’ Peter says. ‘Our testimony is true.’
Furthermore, in 2 Peter 3:15 we read: …Count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother, Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. Paul’s Letters also were acknowledged as God’s Word.
Significantly, in John 14:25 we read Jesus’ promise that he would send his Spirit to his disciples, to give them accurate recall and right interpretation of all he had said and done.
What we often overlook is that these men, and others with them, overturned the Roman world not by armed revolution, but by the example of their lives, their testimony, and teaching. Can you imagine that those disciples of Jesus constructed a monstrous lie? We can be confident that their testimony is true and trustworthy.
© John G. Mason