“I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.”
WHAT WILL A PERSON DO if he knows that he has only a few days to live? Each one’s answer to this question depends to a large extent upon his general outlook on life and on what his understanding of the hereafter may be. An atheist who, even in the face of certain death, continues to believe that the moment of death is the end of everything, might easily decide that in his last few days of existence he should obtain as much enjoyment as possible. Hence he will likely spend those days in revelry. One who adheres to the false teaching of the Dark Ages concerning the doctrine of eternal torment for the wicked will probably do all he can to make sure he escapes such a horrible fate at death. A faithful footstep follower of the Master, however, having no dread of death, simply desires to make sure that nothing is left undone in his life concerning his covenant to do the Heavenly Father’s will. This was the attitude of Jesus, and he is our perfect example.
It is not given to many of the Lord’s consecrated people to know specifically when they will finish their course of self-sacrifice. Therefore, it behooves all of us to live each day as though it were the last. We should zealously make use of each opportunity of service, and courageously accept and discharge every responsibility which God’s providence may place upon us. Paul wrote, “Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.”—Heb. 4:1
Jesus did know when he had reached the final days of his earthly ministry. He knew the prophecy of Daniel which foretold that the Messiah would be “cut off” following the sixty-ninth symbolic week from the time a decree had been issued authorizing the Jewish exiles to return from Babylon to “restore and … build Jerusalem.” (Dan. 9:25,26) He knew, furthermore, that it would be in the “midst” of the seventieth week of the prophecy that his “sacrifice and … oblation,” or offering, would “cease.” (vs. 27) Jesus understood that the middle of the seventieth week would fall at the Jews’ Passover season in the spring of the year. Most importantly, he was aware that he was the antitypical Passover “Lamb of God,” and that it was the Father’s will for him to die for the “sin of the world” on the date appointed for the slaying of the typical Passover lamb, which was the 14th day of Israel’s first religious month.—John 1:29; Exod. 12:1-14
For clarification, we note that this year, most in the Christian world kept a special remembrance of Jesus’ death on Good Friday, March 25th. Indeed, it was proper on that day to keep in mind the death of our precious Redeemer, as it would be on any day of the year. However, in the Jewish calendar reckoning, the 14th day of the first month in 2016 is the twenty-four hour period beginning after sundown on Thursday, April 21st. This day will correspond to the slaying of Israel’s typical Passover lamb, but most importantly, to the anniversary of Jesus’ death as the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” (Rev. 13:8) Thus, we see the appropriateness of presently considering the final days of the Master’s earthly life.
Since it is apparent that Jesus knew the exact day he was to die, it is both enlightening and inspiring to observe how he conducted himself during those last few days, and what his chief concern was. Our opening text beautifully summarizes his viewpoint: “I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” Throughout the Master’s ministry his great objective was to glorify his Heavenly Father. He knew that the only way to accomplish this was by faithfully doing the work which had been assigned to him by his Father.
Having been faithful to his Heavenly Father throughout his ministry, when the Master came within a few days of the end of that faithful service there was no need for him to change his course of action. To be fully faithful, even unto death, it was necessary that he continue in the same course he had been following, and that he keep doing the things he had been doing. It is in this that we see the perfect example of Jesus’ life. From the inception of his ministry, Jesus “went about doing good,” unselfishly using his time, his strength, and his talents for the blessing of others, and in this way glorifying his Heavenly Father.—Acts 10:38
JESUS ENTERS JERUSALEM
The last days of the Master’s earthly ministry were crowded with activity, beginning with his triumphal entry into Jerusalem and being acclaimed King of the Jews. In all that he did Jesus was very careful to conform to the instructions which had been recorded for him in the Old Testament scriptures. Earlier in his ministry, he noted that a large group of sympathizers desired to take him by force and make him king, but he did not permit it at that time. (John 6:15) Now, however, he recognized that the time had come when a certain prophecy of the Old Testament had to be fulfilled. He gave his disciples instructions to procure an ass, and in keeping with that prophecy, rode through the gates into the city, being enthusiastically hailed king by a multitude.—Zech. 9:9; Matt. 21:1-9; Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:28-38; John 12:12-15
Jesus’ enemies objected to the loud commotion and asked him to have it stopped. In reply, he explained that if the people did not shout, the very stones of the Temple would cry out. (Luke 19:39,40) What great faith was thus manifested! Jesus knew that he would not then actually be made king. This show of honor, while enthusiastic for the moment, was not born of deep-rooted conviction in most cases. Indeed, not many days hence “all the people … said, His blood be on us, and on our children.” (Matt. 27:25) Nevertheless, the Master understood that the apparent triumph as he entered Jerusalem was one of the experiences through which he was to pass, and a necessary part of the Father’s arrangements for him. Jesus was so confident of this, and so sure that not a single detail of prophecy should go unfulfilled, that if necessary, the stones would cry out to acclaim him king.
There is a lesson in this for all who endeavor to follow the example of Jesus. If we are faithfully proclaiming the Truth as the Master did, and in connection with this service manifest the same spirit of sympathy and kindness toward those to whom we minister, we may at times have a considerable measure of appreciation shown us. We may to some extent, and temporarily, be honored. However, we should not allow such experiences to divert our minds and hearts from the course of sacrifice for which our covenant with the Lord calls. We should remember that if today some may honor us, tomorrow the Lord may permit that we experience prejudice and opposition.
It was thus with Jesus, although he could have had it otherwise had he chosen to follow a course less faithful to his Heavenly Father. Present exaltation is a test to the consecrated, and especially when viewed in contrast with dishonor, shame, suffering, and death. This test came to Jesus just before it was time for him to be arrested and put to death. He possessed a marvelous personality, and great persuasive abilities. Thus, even at this late date, although his enemies were already plotting to kill him, if he had swerved from his course of loyalty to God and agreed to work with them, he could have become a prominent leader in Israel. Worldly acclaim always presents a temptation to please men in order that more honor might be attained, but Jesus did not yield to this temptation.
After riding into Jerusalem in such kingly style and receiving the enthusiastic plaudits of so many people, Jesus went to the Temple. There he performed an act which increased the antagonism of his enemies—he drove out the moneychangers from the Temple. In connection with this, he denounced those responsible for having turned God’s house of prayer into a den of thieves. (Matt. 21:12,13; Luke 19:45,46) Jesus then began to teach in the Temple, and although the religious leaders “sought to destroy him,” they could not find an opportunity, “for all the people were very attentive to hear him.”—Luke 19:47,48
While in the Temple on this occasion, the blind and lame came to Jesus and “he healed them.” (Matt. 21:14) For more than three years he had been healing the blind and lame, so this was no new experience. However, it emphasizes that although Jesus knew he had but a few days to live, he was still willing to use his time and strength to help others. He took joy in extending to them the blessings which, although only temporary now, his death would make available permanently for all mankind when he actually became king of the whole earth. Jesus did not feel that he had a right to devote even those few remaining days of his life to his own interests. He was still to do his Father’s work and thus to glorify him.
Jesus’ service at no time was an obligatory one based on merely duty. He truly loved the people, and worked tirelessly to help them to the very end. His interest and zeal were genuine, and could not have been more even if he had expected to convert all Israel, or the entire world, at that time. This is evidenced by the fact that earlier in the day, as he rode into Jerusalem, he looked out over the city and wept, saying, “If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes.”—Luke 19:41,42
As the eventful day drew to a close, Jesus knew that his enemies were in Jerusalem seeking the first favorable opportunity to seize him. He was not afraid of this, but the exact day in his Father’s plan for him to die had not yet come, so he did not risk remaining in the city overnight. Instead, he and his twelve disciples went to Bethany and there spent the night. (Mark 11:11) None of the Gospel accounts inform us where in Bethany Jesus and his disciples stayed that night, but it may have been at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. It is evident that they were entertained by these special friends the night before, which was stated to be six days before the Passover. (John 12:1,2) We recall it was on that occasion that Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with the costly ointment and wiped them with her hair.—vs. 3
BACK IN THE TEMPLE
The next morning, Jesus and the twelve returned to the Temple in Jerusalem. On the way, Jesus saw a fig tree which had leaves, but no fruit. He spoke to the tree, saying, “Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward,” and the “fig tree withered away.” (Matt. 21:18,19) Jesus spoke to the fig tree not because he was angry with it, but because he knew that in Scripture it is symbolic of the nation of Israel. (Jer. 24:1-7) The fig tree he passed “in the way,” having no fruit on it, represented Israel’s condition at that time—their unfruitfulness and rejection of him, which would soon result in their being cast off and withering as a nation. We recall that later, Jesus gave as one of the signs of his return and Second Presence, the budding of a fig tree—picturing a return of favor to Israel, and finally their acceptance of him as their Messiah.—Matt. 24:32
Arriving at the Temple, Jesus again started to teach. Shortly after he began, “the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him,” and demanded to know by what authority he was doing “these things,” referring evidently to his teaching and to his driving out the moneychangers the previous day. (chap. 21:23) From here to the end of chapter 22, the Master provides a notable array of instructions, directed mostly to the Jews’ religious rulers who had come to question him.
Let us again recall that Jesus knew he had but a few days to live, yet we find him continuing to let his light shine, witnessing to those to whom he had little hope of being a real blessing at that time. However, his Father had given him a mission, and he was determined to be faithful to it. In addressing these religious leaders who had rejected him and plotted to kill him, Jesus took occasion to point out the exact position in which they stood as opposers of God’s plan.
It is in this discourse that Jesus gives the parable of the two sons. One of these, when asked to work in his father’s vineyard, refused, but later repented and went to work. The other agreed at first to work, but failed to live up to his agreement. The chief priests and elders agreed that the son who at first refused and later repented was the one pleasing to his father. Then Jesus applied the parable, telling them that publicans and harlots—represented by the son who repented—would go into the kingdom of God before they would. Their position, he explained, was that of the son who agreed to serve, then failed to do so. Only those who do the will of the Heavenly Father—not merely make profession—shall enter into the kingdom.—Matt. 21:28-32
Jesus followed with the parable of the householder, who “planted a vineyard.” (vss. 33-41) In the Old Testament, we are told that the “vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel.” (Isa. 5:7) In the parable, Jesus said that the householder closed in the vineyard, dug a winepress in it, and built a tower for its protection. The householder then entrusted its care to husbandmen, while he went to a far country. Later, the householder sent his servants to gather fruit from the vineyard, but the husbandmen “beat one, and killed another, and stoned another.” Then he sent more servants, but “they did unto them likewise.” Finally, the son of the householder was sent, but the husbandmen killed him also, hoping that they could thus inherit the vineyard. Jesus explained that when the householder came to the vineyard he would “miserably destroy” those husbandmen who had been so unfaithful to him.
After giving these two parables, Jesus asked the chief priests and the elders if they had read in the Scriptures about the “stone which the builders rejected” that would become the “head of the corner.” He explained that those who “fall on this stone shall be broken,” and those upon whom the stone “shall fall, it will grind him to powder.” (Matt. 21:42-44; Ps. 118:22,23) The lesson in this illustration was that the kingdom of God would be taken from these religious rulers who, until now, were recognized by him, and be given to “a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.” This would be the “royal priesthood” and “holy nation” later described by Peter.—I Pet. 2:9,10
This was not a personal denunciation of the Jews’ religious rulers, for Jesus had no bitterness in his heart toward them. It was simply a plain statement of fact, and a witness to them of their wrong course and its certain result. When they “heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them.” However, their hearts were not softened. Rather, they would have immediately seized the Master, but they saw that the crowd was sympathetic toward him, so they held back, waiting for a more favorable opportunity.—Matt. 21:45,46
Jesus did not fear those who were now his enemies. His life was in the hands of his Father, so he continued with another parable. A king made a marriage feast for his son, but the invited guests would not attend. Then servants were sent out “into the highways” to find others to fill the vacancies. (chap. 22:1-10) Thus, the religious leaders were again reminded that because of their unfaithfulness, others would take their places at the “marriage supper” of the King of kings.—Rev. 19:7-9
Not daring to lay hands on Jesus while the majority of his audience was friendly, his enemies sought to entrap him by “catch questions.” By so doing, they desired to reveal their own superior wisdom, and possibly show that Jesus was not a safe teacher. This, they doubtless hoped, would turn the people against him, allowing them their long awaited chance to seize him. In this also they failed, to the extent that they “left him, and went their way.”—Matt. 22:15-22
Later that same day, the Sadducees came to Jesus with a question based on their disbelief in the resurrection of the dead. They propounded to the Master what they thought was an ironclad argument to prove that there could not be a resurrection, because it would result in chaos among the human race. The hypothetical question was about a woman who had seven husbands in this life. “In the resurrection whose wife shall she be?” Again, the wisdom of this world failed, for when the people heard the Master’s answer, “they were astonished at his doctrine.”—vss. 23-33
A GENERAL WITNESS
In Matthew, chapter 23, four days before his death, is recorded a message which Jesus gave to “the multitude, and to his disciples.” The religious rulers still sat “in Moses’ seat” as the representatives of God on behalf of the nation. Jesus therefore admonished his hearers to obey these rulers—that is, “observe” their teachings of righteousness, but do not follow their “works” of unrighteousness.—vss. 1-3
Jesus made it very plain in this chapter that “woe”—an exclamation of grief—would ultimately come upon these “blind guides.” (vss. 13-35) They were to be punished, as well as the whole nation, and this would not be in the dim and distant future. He said that this woe “shall come upon this generation.” (vs. 36) Then Jesus gave that momentous, fateful decree to Israel, “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. … Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.”—vss. 37-39
PROPHECY OF HIS SECOND PRESENCE
Jesus was about to leave the unbelieving nation of Israel, not for eternity, but until the time when they would be ready to accept him as the Messiah, sent of God. The rulers were plotting to kill him, but Jesus recognized in this that his Father’s time for him to “finish the work” assigned to him was fast coming to an end. While he had uncompromisingly pointed out the sins of Israel’s religious leaders, he rejoiced that although they were about to kill him, the time would come when he could bless them.
With this assurance of blessings to come, Jesus and his disciples left the Temple. His work of witnessing to Israel was finished. He now wanted an opportunity to instruct and encourage his own. He told his disciples that the Temple would be destroyed—“There shall not be left here one stone upon another.” Retiring to the mount of Olives, the disciples came to him “privately” inquiring, “When shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming [Greek: parousia, meaning presence], and of the end of the world [Greek: aion, meaning age]?”—Matt. 24:1-3
They had just heard Jesus tell the people that they would see him no more until he came again. He had told them that the Temple would be destroyed, so they were anxious to know more about these events. When will these things be, and how will we know when you return? It was in response to these questions that our Lord’s great prophecy pertaining to the ensuing age and his return near its close was given. Previously he had said little on this subject, for it would have been untimely. Not having the Holy Spirit, the disciples had difficulty in grasping much that Jesus said to them. Had they, prior to this, been confronted with the fact that his kingdom was not then to be established, and that there was to be an intervening age during which he would be away from them, they would have been confused and disheartened.
Now, however, truths which previously may have injured them were necessary for their encouragement. They had learned from the Master’s own lips that the Temple was to be destroyed, and that he was going away, and would come again. This upset their calculations as to when he would be enthroned as king and they would be reigning with him. It told them that his acclamation as king the day before was not to be ratified by the Romans, nor meet with the approval of Israel’s religious rulers. If the disciples’ faith in Jesus as the Messiah was to be maintained, they needed to know more about his going away and returning again.
Still not begotten of the Holy Spirit, however, it is doubtful that the disciples grasped the real meaning of what Jesus told them in answer to their questions. In God’s providence, nevertheless, these circumstances afforded the Master an excellent opportunity to outline an impressive array of events which would serve as signposts to his people when the due time would come for them to see and understand these things. (Matt. 24:4-51) His prophecy, moreover, has served to lead those who “watch” to a proper harmonizing of his words with those of Old Testament forecasts. By this means, and later through the writings of the apostles, the “spirit of prophecy” has guided the Lord’s consecrated people throughout the night until “the day dawn, and the day star” has arisen in their hearts.—Rev. 19:10; II Pet. 1:19
The outlining of these dispensational truths was a part of the work which the Heavenly Father had given the Master to do, and while death was near, he was more concerned with completing this work than with the suffering he knew would be involved in consummating his sacrifice. Jesus could have given the disciples a much shorter answer to their questions, but he went beyond what they asked. He outlined the work of the Messianic Age, that portion of his Second Presence which would follow the calamitous world events which would constitute some of the first signs of his invisible return.
If we knew that we had only a few days to live, we would probably be so concerned with ourselves that we might give little thought to helping others by informing them of events far in the future. Jesus, however, not only preached a marvelous sermon of prophetic forecast, but having shown that Satan’s world would be destroyed as a result of his Second Presence, he revealed that this would be followed by a new world order. In the parable of the sheep and the goats, he describes a time during which “all nations” will be given an opportunity to return to God and “inherit the kingdom prepared” for them “from the foundation of the world.”—Matt. 25:31-34
FINAL MESSAGE TO THE DISCIPLES
Jesus was with his specially chosen disciples the final evening before his death. A portion of that time was spent in the “upper room.” We refer our readers to the two-part article, “The Upper Room Experience,” found in the current and prior month’s issue of The Dawn, for a detailed consideration of those vitally important events.
After departing the upper room, as they walked toward Gethsemane, Jesus gave his final message to the disciples—recorded in John, chapters 14-16—knowing that in only a few hours he would be taken from their midst. How precious were those things which he said! “Let not your heart be troubled.” “I go to prepare a place for you … ; that where I am, there ye may be also.” “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” “He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.” “Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do.” “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” “The Father … shall give you another Comforter, … even the Spirit of truth.” “He that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.”—chap. 14
“I am the vine, ye are the branches. … Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit.” “These things have I spoken unto you, … that your joy might be full.” “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.” “These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended.” “The Spirit of truth … will guide you into all truth.” “Your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.” “The Father himself loveth you.” “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”—chaps. 15,16
THE WORK FINISHED
John’s Gospel then records the wonderful prayer which Jesus uttered as they neared Gethsemane. (chap. 17) The work the Father had given him to do was now finished, and through it all he had glorified his Father. How fitting that at the conclusion of his work he should invoke his Father’s blessing upon those who would represent him after he had gone. Jesus was concerned about his disciples, so he prayed that they “may be one” as he and the Father were “one”—in purpose and desire. He prayed that God might “sanctify them” by the Truth, and that they might realize that the Father loved them even as he loved him.—vss. 22,17
In his prayer, Jesus also did not forget the world. He extended his petition to the ultimate purpose of the redemption work—“that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (vs. 21) It was after Jesus had spoken these words of comfort to the eleven, and of prayer to his Father, that “he went forth with his disciples over the brook Cedron” and entered Gethsemane, where he was betrayed by Judas, and arrested.—chap.18:1-12
For Jesus, the “night … , when no man can work,” had begun. (John 9:4) He would now bear the mental and physical suffering which his enemies would heap upon him. He was fully satisfied to endure whatever would glorify his Father—“Not my will, but thine be done.” (Luke 22:42) His work was finished, but still he did not hide the light of truth. When asked by Pilate if he were a king, Jesus replied, “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world,” explaining, nevertheless, that his kingdom was “not of this world.”—John 18:36,37
As Jesus was hanging on the cross in agonizing pain, one of the thieves requested to be remembered in his kingdom. Jesus gave yet another witness, saying to the thief, even on that dark day of ignominy and death, “Thou shalt be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43) He knew that although he was being crucified by his enemies, he would be raised from the dead and exalted to be King over all the earth. The result of his reign would be the restoration of paradise, and the thief, as well as all mankind, would be there. They would be given an opportunity to believe on him, obey the laws of his kingdom, and live forever. Knowing all this, Jesus was glad to use his fast-ebbing strength to say so, speaking in full harmony with Peter’s words which would be spoken just a few weeks hence concerning “the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.”—Acts 3:20,21
In his final moments, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46) Actually, this was a quotation from Psalm 22. It may have been through meditation on the prayer recorded in the remainder of this psalm, in which mention is made of other incidents that Jesus saw taking place before him, that his faith lifted him out of this moment of despair. Fully confident in his last, dying breath, he said, “It is finished”—wholly finished—“Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,” my life.—John 19:30; Luke 23:46
Jesus is our great pattern. While none of us today is able to know just when we may enter our final days, it is believed among most truth-enlightened Christians that the time is short—perhaps shorter than we think. How are we using our time? Are we thinking of self, and of how we can be sure of our own position in the kingdom? Are we content, rather, to leave that in the hands of our Heavenly Father while we, like Jesus, redouble our efforts to do the works of him who has called us?
Remembering how Jesus gave his strength to serve his disciples because he loved them, are we loving our brethren as he loved us? Are we laying down our lives for them, as he did for us? These are sobering questions which all consecrated believers should ponder carefully and prayerfully during this season, when shortly we will memorialize the death of the Lamb of God. Let us consider him, follow him, and die with him—believing his promise that if we are faithful unto death we shall receive from him the “crown of life.”—Rev. 2:10