One of them, [John] the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. (John 13:23 NIV)
When I [John] saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. (Rev. 1:17 NIV)
WHAT A DIFFERENCE ASCENSION INTO HEAVEN MAKES!
Two radically different views of the apostle John, the apostle generally known as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”
The first image is at the Last Supper; the second image is much later, after Jesus has been crucified, resurrected from the dead, and ascended into Heaven. In this second view, from the book of Revelation, John is in his later years and sees a vision where the Holy Spirit takes him into Heaven.
There He sees the risen Lord, seated on His heavenly throne, surrounded by heavenly hosts, and John falls prostrate on the ground, afraid of looking. Such holiness is beyond his ability to take in.
Yet, when the Lord walked the earth, John was His buddy. In fact, one day John and his older brother, James, approached Jesus with their mother and requested preferred seating when Jesus became king, thinking that Jesus would become an earthly king, and the two former fishermen naturally would become his top ministers.
“When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left” (Mark 10:37 NLT).
WHO COULD FORGET this description of the Last Supper when Jesus was reclining at the table surrounded by His 12 disciples and announces “one of you is going to betray me.”
John’s gospel tells us the disciples began asking one another what their Master could possibly have meant, when Peter, yes, that Peter — Peter the bold, Peter the impetuous — motioned to John and said, “Ask him [Jesus] which one he means.”
Well, of course, Peter would ask John for the inside scoop. John was sitting the closest to Jesus. In fact, John tells us in his gospel that he was “leaning back against Jesus” when he relayed Peter’s question, asking the Lord to identify the betrayer (John 13:21-25 NIV).
In this scene at the Last Supper, John casually leans against the earthly form of the Creator of the Universe, innocently oblivious of who He really is; later, in the scene depicting divine revelation, John sees who He really is and falls flush against the earth after seeing a heavenly vision of “someone like a son of man … [whose] face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance” (Revelation 1:12-16 NIV).
Before Jesus was crucified and resurrected, even His closest disciples, John and Peter, could not fathom that this man they lived with for three years, for whom they gave up their livelihoods and everything they knew to follow, was … well … who He was and is.
After Jesus was resurrected and ascended into Heaven to be with the Father, and the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles (Acts 2:1-4), they realized they had walked with God incarnate!
Big big difference.
When John was “in the Spirit” (Rev. 1:10 NIV) and saw Jesus in His Glory, this was way beyond the time when the two of them were buddies and they dipped their bread in the wine and talked about who might betray Him. This was a time for worship!
But Jesus, ever loving, ever gentle, ever merciful, “placed his right hand on [John] and said, ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever!” (Rev. 1:17-18 NIV).
WHEN WE SEE THE TWO VIEWS of John in his relationship with Jesus, we catch a glimpse of the majesty of heaven and a smidgeon of the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalves.
Paul says it this way, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to cling to, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8 BSB).
This concept of the divine-become-human was too much for Jesus’ contemporaries — His mother and siblings, His disciples, His followers, even His enemies and betrayers — to comprehend.
The Roman authority, Pontius Pilate, looked Him straight in the eye and “said to him, ‘What is truth?’” (John 18:38 ESV).
Indeed, what is truth?
Truth is Jesus, and Jesus is Truth.
Jesus told us in John 14:6 NIV, “I am the way and the truth and the life” and again in John 18:38 NIV: “In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth.” In His prayer for us in the garden, He again said God’s Word is Truth, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17 NIV).
The Bible doesn’t tell us stories and give us images to entertain us; it does so to instruct us, and so we see here in the two scenes of John and the Messiah something about our own relationship with Jesus.
We hear God’s call for our lives because our earthly minds can comprehend a loving Teacher who beacons us to follow Him since “He is gentle of spirit and we can learn from Him,” but once we accept Him in our hearts as Lord and Savior, we get a glimpse of heavenly glory, and when we do, we are stunned that such divine holiness could want fellowship with us.
God wants it so much, in fact, that He would come looking for us, from that walk in the Garden of Eden when He called out, “[Adam,] where are you?” (Genesis 3:9 NIV) to the bold statement that He came into the world that man “may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV) to the glorious invitation to enjoy fellowship with Him, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20 NASB).
Yes, there’s an amazing transformation between Jesus the God-Man who walked the earth to establish a New Covenant with man—His prized creation—and Jesus, the resurrected Son of God and Second Person in the Trinity, to whom God has given “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18 NIV).
As much as we love the Jesus of the Gospel, so much more we love the Divine Jesus who sent us the Holy Spirit. As recorded in John 14:16 (NASB), Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever.”
In our earthly form, we can perhaps understand, and envy, the close familial relationship the apostle John enjoyed with Jesus, but we stand in awe of the risen Jesus, who in His glory, caused John to fall onto his face in worship …
… and then, in grace and tenderness, reached down to bid him “Welcome.”
PRAYER: O Lord, our God and Father, we are in awe. Your majesty overwhelms us. Your grace exceeds our understanding. Your love is more than we can imagine. Lord, we thank You for wanting us to be with You so much that You sent Your Son to take our punishment and then to demonstrate, through His resurrection, the hope that awaits us of eternal life with You. In Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen