15-6 The Twelve Disciples As Children
Yet the Lord was so positive about those dear men. A nice picture of
the Lord's perception of the disciples is found in the way He said that
the little boy who came to Him, responding to His call (Mt. 18:2) represented
the " little ones" who believed in Him (Mt. 18:6). 'Little ones'
is a title of the disciples in Zech. 13:7; Mt. 18:3; Jn. 21:5; and it
is disciples not literal children who have Angels in Heaven (Mt. 18:10).
The context in Mt. 18:11,12 speaks of the spiritually weak, implying the
'little ones' were spiritually little as well. Christ's talking to them
while he knew they were asleep in Gethsemane and the gentle " sleep
on now" , spoken to them whilst they were asleep (Mk. 14:41,42),
sounds as if He was consciously treating them as children- especially
fitting, given their spiritually low state then. His father-like care
for them is seen also in His promise in Jn. 14:18 RVmg. that He would
not leave them “orphans”, but He would come to them. The disciples were
not orphans- because they had a true and real Father-figure, in the Lord
Jesus. But the disciples were the Lord's children. John records in his
Gospel only once how Jesus described His disciples at the Passover meal
as “My little children” (Jn. 13:33). The Lord Jesus was acting as the
father of the family, instructing his children as to meaning of the Passover.
But the same phrase occurs seven times in 1 John. He had dwelt upon that
phrase of the Lord’s, and it clearly came to mean so much to him. Our
child-father relationship with the Lord Jesus likewise needs sustained
meditation. In this sense, the Lord Jesus was manifesting the Father,
and thus leading the disciples to the Father through Him.
Yet despite this discouragement, our Lord overcame by the totality of
His personal dedication to the goal ahead of Him. His commitment ultimately
did not depend upon the inspiration of His fellows, and His endurance
of the loneliness of the cross is the supreme example to us in this.
The infinite encouragement to us in our weakness is that Christ derived
such comfort and strength from men of such limited spiritual perception.
His fondness for them is indicated by the tears of Mary moving him to
weep too (Jn. 11:33). And an essay in unquestioning loyalty to the Lord
and Master is found in Lk. 22:49: " When they which were about him
saw what would follow (i.e. arrest and attack), they said unto him, Lord,
shall we smite with the sword?" . That grim faced band of men standing
in a protective circle around their Lord knew that they had no chance
of victory against the mob with Judas, armed to the teeth as they were.
Yet they were willing, to a man, to heroically sacrifice their lives-
the inevitable result of starting a fight- as a token of loyalty to a
man who humanly speaking was a lost cause, and whose demise seemed so
unexpected to them compared to their hopes of a glorious Kingdom being
established there and then.
Christ's love for us, His Father's spiritual house, was typified by His
being likened to the poor slave under the Law who perpetually dedicated
himself to serve his master's house. An extension of this idea is revealed
by a connection between the Lord saying " Ye have the poor always
with you; but me ye have not always" (Mt. 26:11) and Dt. 15:11 "
For the poor shall never cease out of the land" . Thus Jesus is associating
himself with the " poor man...of thy brethren" of Dt. 15:7.
Note how Jesus calls himself a " poor man" , especially on the
cross: Ps. 34:6; 35:10; 37:14; 40:17; 69:29,33; 70:5; 86:1; 109:22; 113:7
cp. 2 Cor. 8:9- an impressive list. Christ exercised the rights of the
poor to glean in the cornfield on the Sabbath (Lk. 6:1); Dt. 15:7 warned
the Israelites not to be hard hearted and refuse help to such a poor brother.
Christ is alluding to this passage by saying that the disciples should
not be hard hearted by stopping Mary give her rich ointment to Him, the
poor. The following Dt. 15:12-17 is also concerning Jesus. Thus Jesus
was spiritually poor and hungry, and was so grateful for Mary's encouragement.
The command to " open thine hand wide" unto the poor brother
(Dt. 15:8) is possibly picked up in Mt. 25:35-37, where Jesus tells the
unworthy that when He was poor, hungry and naked they did not feed Him.
Apart from referring to His manifestation in his poor brethren, it is
quite likely that he was referring to a sense of spiritual poverty / need
in His life, which apparently needed His followers to help. If He could
derive help from the disciples with all their limitations, surely He can
see the travail of His soul in us and be satisfied, or encouraged (Is.
The Lord’s Patience
The Lord’s patience with the disciples as children, His awareness of
their limitations, His gentleness, His changing of His expectations of
them according to their weaknesses, all provides powerful comfort to the
latter day disciple. So many times He didn’t correct their evidently wrong
ideas, as one doesn't with children, but patiently worked with them to
bring them to truth. His approach to demons is the most common single
example. When He had them go with Him unto Lazarus, they mistakenly thought
He meant ‘let us go and die too’ (Jn. 11:12-16)- and yet He graciously
didn’t correct them, but let events take their course. And we can take
a lesson from this, in how we relate to others we may see to be ‘in error’.
It’s not really about direct confrontation, which ends up proving us right
and them wrong, without actually bringing them to a personal conviction
of the truth in question.
Put together the following passages:
- The disciples’ return to Galilee after the resurrection was
a result of their lack of faith (Jn. 16:31,32)
- But the Lord went before them, as a shepherd goes before His
sheep, into Galilee (Mt. 28:7). Even in their weakness of faith, He
was still their shepherd, they were still His sheep, and He led them
- The Lord told them to go to Galilee (Mt. 28:10). He accepted
their lower level of faith. And He worked through that and led them
The return to Galilee is seen in an even worse light once we reflect
on the circumstances surrounding the first calling of the disciples, nearly
four years earlier. John’s Gospel implies that they were called at Bethany;
whereas the other Gospels say they were called whilst fishing at the sea
of Galilee. This is usually, and correctly, harmonized by concluding that
they were called as John says in Bethany, but they then returned to their
fishing in Galilee, and the Lord went there to call them again. So returning
to their fishing in Galilee had already been shown to them as being a
running away from the call of their Lord. And yet still they did it. And
yet John’s inspired record is so positive; he speaks as if the disciples
were called at Bethany and unwaveringly responded immediately. The point
that they actually lost their intensity and returned home is gently omitted
from specific mention. And even then, He saw them as more ‘converted’
than they were. He had asked them earlier to be converted and become as
children (Mt. 18:3); but there by the lakeside, where they were still
not believing nor understanding properly, He calls out to them with the
very same Greek word: “Children, have ye any meat?” (Jn. 21:5). Considering
that they were not literally children, this was a strange and purposeful
form of address to them. Although they still hadn’t fully converted, the
Lord counted them as if they had. And likewise He counts us as more spiritually
developed than we are; and bids us do the same in our relations with His
brethren. Indeed it seems to me that when John in his letters addresses
the believers as “little children” (1 Jn. 2:13,18), he may not necessarily
have in mind young people or immature believers, but may simply be using
the form of address which he had recorded Jesus using- for all believers.
The disciples are described as sleeping for sorrow, not believing for
joy (Lk. 24:41). Both their unbelief and their sorrow and failure to support
the Lord in His time of need are not really excusable by either sorrow
nor joy. And yet the Lord generously imputes these excuses to His men,
such is His love for them. They are described as being “glad” when they
saw the risen Lord (Jn. 20:20). Yet actually they didn’t believe at that
time- for Lk. 24:41 generously says that they “believed not for joy”.
And they assumed that Jesus was a phantom, not the actual, concrete, bodily
Jesus. Placing the records together doesn’t give a very positive image
of the disciples at this time. And yet the record is so positive about
them. The confused women are commended by the Angels for ‘seeking the
Lord’ (Mt. 28:5)- even though that seeking was deep in their subconscious.
Yet the record notices that even incipient faith and understanding in
those women, and counts it to them. Would that we would be so generous
in our perception of others. Indeed, the generosity of the Father and
Son to humanity is awesome- so eager are they for our repentance. God
so pleads for Israel to return to Him in Hosea and Isaiah that He almost
takes the blame onto Himself, cooing over His people as having been tossed
and afflicted- when it was His own judgment of them that caused it. And
I think this explains the difficulty of Acts 3:17-19, where Peter appeals
to the Jews to repent, because they had murdered the Lord Jesus "
in ignorance" . The Lord's own parables explained that they did what
they did with open eyes- " this is the heir, come let us kill him!"
. Yet in God's passionate desire for their repentance, He appears to view
their awful sin in the most gracious possible light.