Last words are always important, particularly if they are the last words of those dear to us. They can sometimes shape the course of our life. We love to meditate on the last words of significant figures in the Scriptures. Our attention is called to the last words of David and we note the legacy of a life lived for God: “Now these be the last words of David. David the son of Jesse said, and the man who was raised up on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel …” 2Sam.23.1. We are moved at the last words of Rachel as she bore Benjamin and died in child-birth: “And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing, (for she died) that she called his name Benoni: but his father called him Benjamin” Gen.35.18. Jacob’s last words are prophetic to his sons on his death bed: “And Jacob called unto his sons, and said, ‘Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days’ … And when Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people” Gen.49.1,33. Moses’ last words are also profound: “And this is the blessing, wherewith Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel before his death” Deut.33.1. We wonder about the impact on those who heard these words.
But what about the last words on earth of our blessed Lord Jesus before He returned to His Father in heaven? Surely, we should pore over and treasure these words above all. His last instructions to us must be precious to us. We would want to keep them and act upon them, more than anything else. Before He left He said (in the words of the parable), “Occupy till I come” Lk.19.13. What else is there to do?
There are five key sections of Scripture which record the last words of Christ: in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and Luke’s second account, in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. In each of these passages the author, by the help of the Holy Spirit, concentrates on a particular aspect of the last words of Christ.
Mark ensures we understand that we must preach the gospel to all the world and conversion will result in a demonstrable impact in the life. The Lord’s last words of commission in Mark, Mk.16.15-20, underscore the need for a real demonstration of the reality of the salvation enjoyed: “believeth and is baptized” and “signs shall follow them that believe”. The Gospel of the busy Servant says true spiritual service must be seen, and that the Lord will be “working with [us]” right until the end “confirming the word”.
In Matthew, the last words of the Lord Jesus tend to focus on discipleship. We are to make disciples of ‘‘all nations” teaching them about baptism and all things that He has “commanded”. The Lord is clearly teaching that he expects us to preach the Word, and to teach and disciple new converts. The Gospel of the King expects to see His commands taught and obeyed by His subjects in His kingdom.
Luke, on the other hand, emphasises that the Lord expects us to depend entirely upon Him until He returns. The last words of Christ in Luke are words of dependency, diligence and development. He showed Himself “in all the scriptures” and then instructed His followers to find Him in all the Scriptures and teach people these things. We need to learn to enjoy Christ in His Word and depend upon Him if we are ever to be used in the service of others. The Gospel of the dependent Man requests that His followers depend upon Him for everything. He then shows the development of this Word in the account in the Acts: after waiting upon Him He will make us witnesses to Him, moving radially out from Jerusalem and Samaria to the Gentiles, and then throughout the whole earth.
John, finally, tells us that the last words of Christ were about devotion: shepherding and love. He says three times to Peter, “lovest thou Me?” and then requests that he “feed My sheep”. He expects devotion to Himself and devotion to God’s people.
There is also a development in time as we trace the last words of Christ in the Gospels:
Mark’s record of the Lord’s last words is at the start of the Church age: in the period of miracles as the Jews are brought to realise that the King has come, and they have crucified the Messiah.
Luke is interested in the development of the kingdom as we advance into the Church period. Luke represents the next generation and he is keen to see the truth passed on intact and in an orderly manner. In the Acts account, Luke sees the development of the Church period in three key stages: Jerusalem, Samaria and the ends of the earth: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” Acts 1.8.
John focuses on the end of the Church period when the Saviour returns for His people, the Gospel ending with those amazing words “till I come” Jn.21.22,23.
Matthew promises the Saviour’s presence with His people throughout the Church period. Interestingly the presence of Christ appears to go even into the Tribulation period and promises to be with His remnant people even until the day of His manifestation: until “Thy kingdom come” Matt.6.10.
- In Mark’s Gospel – Words of Commission and Demonstration
- In Luke’s Gospel – Words of Comfort and Dependency
- In John’s Gospel – Words of Care and Devotion
- In Matthew’s Gospel – Words of Command and Discipleship
“And He said unto them, ‘Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe’ … So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, He was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen” Mk.16.15-20.
“Go ye” – the Mandate
The last words of Christ in Mark are clearly teaching us that we should go and preach the gospel. It is as if our Lord is saying, “I am leaving but I have left you as My servants”. This is His mandate for all His followers: go and preach the gospel. Are we doing it? Or is that someone else’s job? Is that what we do on a Sunday night for an hour? Or is this the focus of our life? Whatever else the Lord Jesus has asked us to do, we are requested by Him that in His absence we preach the gospel. This will not always be on a public platform. It could be outside in an open-air service, a conversation, sharing the gospel informally with neighbours, friends, families and colleagues, or even in tract form, adverts in papers and on trailers. But are we going into all the world to preach the gospel? This is His request. Never has a section of God’s Word been less popular or explained away so much. The attitude of hearts can be: “I cannot do that”; “It is different in our day”; “No one listens”. This is the Gospel that starts with the Saviour calling Peter and Andrew and saying, “Come ye after Me, and I will make you to become fishers of men” Mk.1.17. He fits us; He “makes” us to do what we feel we cannot do: catch others for Christ. The Gospel ends as it starts, saying to all disciples of Christ, “Go ye”. We know that rejection is hard, but this is still His last request to us all. Will we do it?
“Preach” – the Method
The last words of Christ in Mark are clearly teaching us the method we should adopt for propagating the gospel: preaching, that is, using words. We might think that mime or music is a very effective tool, but He never asked us to use these. The Romans and Greeks were famous for their drama and plays but He never asked us to dramatise the gospel. Music is moving, and there are many marvellous gospel hymns but this is not the prime focus of our gospel activity. In Christendom in general, music outreach events have replaced clear preaching of the Word. The Scriptures are clear about the centrality of preaching:
Rom.10.14,15— “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!’”; 1Cor.1.17— “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect”; 1Cor.1.21— “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe”; 2Tim.4.2— “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine”; Titus 1.3— “But hath in due times manifested His word through preaching, which is committed unto me according to the commandment of God our Saviour”.
The book that starts with the words “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God” Mk.1.14, ends with “preach the gospel”. Let us not change the method.
“The gospel” – the Message
It is quite clear that the Saviour commanded us to preach the gospel. The way the preaching is normally referred to is the “preaching of the gospel”: Lk.4.18; Acts 16.10; Rom.1.15; 10.15; 15.20; 1Cor.1.17; 9.14,16,18; 2Cor.10.16. That is why we should have no real problem with calling a meeting arranged to fulfil this great commission, a ‘Gospel Meeting’. Gospel means “good news” and so we should remember this, that as we preach we preach with joy and bring good tidings to all people. We “preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things” Rom.10.15.
But what does the gospel contain? First and foremost, it is the preaching of Christ:
Acts 5.42— “And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ”; Acts 10.36— “The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (He is Lord of all:)”; Acts 11.20— “preaching the Lord Jesus”; Rom.16.25— “Now to Him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began”; 1Cor.1.18 — “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God”; 1Cor.1.23— “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness”; Eph.3.8— “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ”.
We should still try by the help of the Holy Spirit to make it interesting and appropriate to audience and occasion: “Opening [to arouse in one the faculty of understanding or the desire of learning] and alleging [to set before, not haphazardly, but appetisingly, as food is placed on a table], that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ” Acts 17.3.
We should remember, however, that what passes as gospel preaching is often not the preaching of Christ. He is the subject and object of our preaching. To miss Him is to miss everything. But it is not our own ideas about Christ. We must only be preaching what is in the Word of God, and its purpose is for the expansion of the kingdom of God:
“Preach the word” 2Tim.4.2, compare Acts 8.4; 11.19; 15.36 “Preaching the kingdom of God” Acts 8.12; 20.25; 28.23
The power lies in the Word of God. It is through the sowing of the seed of the Word of God and through this alone that the kingdom grows (see the parable of the sower of the seed, Mark chapter 4).
This Gospel starts with the Saviour “preaching the gospel” and saying, “repent ye and believe the gospel” Mk.1.14,15. Marks’ Gospel ends with the instruction that we preach the gospel. There is no other message. Let us not dilute or change the message.
“Into all the world … to every creature” – the Magnitude
He also said that the scope of our preaching should be universal. He could not have made it clearer. The Bible says Christ died as “a ransom for all” 1Tim.2.6, that “one died for all” 2Cor.5.14, and that God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” 2Pet.3.9. It also teaches that the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin, Jn.16.8, and that the Lord prayed “that the world may believe” Jn.17.21. Let us keep preaching to the “whosoever” Jn.3.16, as there is no limitation to the preaching of the Word, or limitation to the work of Christ on the cross or limitation to His love for the sinner. The Gospel of Mark spoke to the Roman world and it is written in the Greek language, which the Roman world would understand. It explains geographical details that people not resident in Israel may not know, for example, in chapter 1, that Jordan is a river, and it also explains Jewish traditions to ensure that people who come from other countries would still understand the message of the “gospel of Jesus Christ” Mk.1.1. There are no ethnic, linguistic or social barriers here. This universal Gospel by Mark starts and ends with a universal message.
“Signs shall follow them that believe” – the Marks
The Lord said that we should expect a tangible change in the life: first of all there should be a willingness to be baptised. What a statement we have in Mark: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” Mk.16.16. Let us not dilute this statement. The Scripture clearly expects every believer to be baptised. To be a believer and remain unbaptised is disobedience. The next clause makes it clear that faith in Christ alone saves and not baptism: “he that believeth not shall be damned”. It does not say “he that believeth not and is not baptised shall be damned”. The dying, but believing, thief on the cross was not baptised but still went to paradise, Lk.23.39-43. However, that should not dilute this powerful statement of Christ that Christians should demonstrate their salvation by being baptised.
In the early Church period there were also real miracles performed. These miracles demonstrated that God had raised His Son from the dead and created something new: the Church. Miracles do not seem to have been performed a few years later when Paul left Trophimus sick at Miletus, 2Tim.4.20, and Timothy with a medical remedy for his stomach, 1Tim.5.23, or when Epaphroditus was apparently near death, Phil.2.25-30. However, the principle of works demonstrating the reality of salvation still stands throughout the whole of the Church period: signs should be following salvation. That is why we need to preach repentance and baptism. We do not have an ‘easy-believism’ gospel. Salvation is seen in a changed life.
In Mark there is so much activity expected of us in the last words of Christ, which is appropriate in the Gospel of the Servant. He promises that He will serve with us. In Luke, however, He says we need to rest and wait. In the Gospel of the dependent Man He makes it clear that our souls need to be filled with Christ if we are ever to be of any use to others. Here the stress is placed on the reading and meditating on the Word of God and waiting on His strengthening.
Word of God – Direction
“And He said unto them, ‘These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning Me.’ Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, and said unto them, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day’” Lk.24.44-46.
His last instructions were to encourage us to find Him in all the Scriptures. The disciples’ Scriptures (our thirty-nine Old Testament books) were divided into three: the Torah (the Law, the first five books of the Old Testament, the books of Moses); the Prophets and the Writings (of which the largest book was the Psalms and was often used to refer to all the other books). Therefore, all the Old Testament speaks of Christ. The Lord was telling His disciples that although He was leaving them, He had left behind His Word, the Scriptures. This is what was going to enthuse and empower them in service when He was gone. He requested that we all spend time meditating upon Him in His Word. Have we heard His last words? Are we doing this? Are the Scriptures the man of our counsel, the manna of our soul? He simply taught that we need to read the Word of God. It is only through this that we will know Christ.
There are four general ways that Christ is to be found in Scripture:
Christ in Person His direct words, actions, thoughts; e.g. Gen.1.1-3; Jn.1.1-3 – “Let there be light” Christ in Prophecy e.g. “For unto us a child is born … the Mighty God” Isa.9.6 Christ in Pictures typology; e.g. Exodus chapter 12, a Passover lamb: “Behold the Lamb of God” Jn.1.29 Christ in People e.g. Melchizedek, Genesis chapter 14; Heb.7.1-3. We have no record of the birth or death of Melchizedek: a picture of the eternality of Christ. Also, the movement towards sacrifice by Isaac as an obedient son, in Genesis chapter 22, is a picture of Christ: “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest …” Gen.22.1-3.
The Lord revealed Himself in the books of Moses:
Genesis:— Christ is seen as a Divine Son (e.g. Joseph, Isaac) Exodus:— Christ is seen in a Divine Structure and Centre (e.g. the Tabernacle, Exodus chapters 25-40) Leviticus: Christ is seen in a Divine Sacrifice (e.g. the Offerings, Leviticus chapters 1-7) Numbers:— Christ is seen in Israel’s Sojourning through the wilderness (e.g. the serpent on a pole, Num.21.9; Jn.3.14) Deuteronomy:— Christ is seen in the Sermon of Moses (‘second giving of the Law’) on Moab’s plains as Israel anticipates stewardship of the Land. The Sovereign Who was to come is a King and a Prophet, and Moses describes Him: “I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put My words in His mouth; and He shall speak unto them all that I shall command Him” Deut.18.18.
The Lord showed them from the books of Moses the sufferings of Christ and the resurrection. Practically every chapter of Genesis, for example, has a picture of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Consider:
- the principles of the resurrection of the “third day” in Genesis chapter 1
- the long sleep of Adam and the provision of a bride in chapter 2, a reminder of the death of Christ and the provision of a bride, Eph.5.25
- the first death, when God made Adam and Eve coats of skins in Genesis chapter 3, a reminder that sin cannot be covered without shed blood, Heb.9.22
- the first recorded sacrifice, when Abel offered the first of his flock to the Lord in chapter 4 and was accepted, a reminder of Christ’s righteous sacrifice, Heb.11.4
- the first flood, when Noah’s ark saved Noah and his family from the Flood, chapters 6-9; 1Pet.3.20,21.
It is a good exercise to try and find Christ in every chapter and book of the Bible. It is through His Word that our minds will be open to understanding, Lk.24.45. It is through His Word that our hearts will burn in love for Christ: “And they said one to another, ‘Did not our heart burn within us, while He talked with us by the way, and while He opened to us the scriptures?’” Lk.24.32. It is through His Word we will be encouraged. Mary’s life was transformed at the tomb by one word from Christ: “Mary”; this word did more for Mary than all she saw. It is through His Word that we learn to depend upon Him and even value His present ministry as High Priest, Lk.24.50, knowing that He represents us in heaven with outstretched hands. It is through this that we shall be witnesses, Lk.24.48. Our witness is not given as a command here but a necessary outcome for those who have spent time with the Lord in His Word. Where are we in relation to this last request of the Lord? We should spend time every day feeding and meditating upon Holy Scripture and praying for help to see Christ in all the Scriptures.
The Gospel of Luke starts with Luke setting out in order for Theophilus the details of Christ’s life and teaching, Lk.1.1-4, and then introduces us to Zacharias and Elisabeth, who are “walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord” Lk.1.5,6. It is the same Gospel that ends placing the Word of God on a position of paramount importance.
Waiting upon God – Dependency
“‘And, behold, I send the promise of My Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.’ And He led them out as far as to Bethany, and He lifted up His hands, and blessed them” Lk.24.49,50.
In His last words He taught them the importance of waiting. They were to wait for the Holy Spirit to come. Ten days after His ascension, at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came, Acts 2.1,2. These were ten days of meditation and prayer and sitting still, Acts 1.12-26. His last instructions to us are to remind us of the importance of waiting upon God for strength. In the first instance this meant waiting for the Holy Spirit to descend, but it is a general principle for Christian living. Consider:
- “Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord” Ps.27.14
- “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass” Ps.37.7
- “And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body” Rom.8.23
- “So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” 1Cor.1.7.
Noah waited seven days, with his questions, before he sent the dove out again, Genesis chapters 8-10; it must have felt so long! Daniel waited three weeks before he got any answer to his prayer, Dan.10.2. Nehemiah waited four months for an answer to his prayers about Jerusalem, Neh.1.1; 2.1. Joseph waited two whole years, Gen.41.1; he might have wondered if the butler would ever remember him again. Sarah waited decades (until she was 90!) before her prayer for a child was answered. We are being reminded that we are dependent entirely upon God and we need to wait upon Him for guidance. This is the big test for us all. Are we prepared to wait in faith?
The lifting up of the hands reminds us of the High Priestly ministry of Christ right now in heaven. Anything we do for Him will be in His power and in His strength. “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” Heb.4.14,15.
The Lord Jesus also promised a Divine resource through the Holy Spirit indwelling each believer: “tarry until ye be endued with power from on high”. This all happened at Pentecost and we come into the good of it at salvation, Eph.1.13. The Holy Spirit in us and the High Priestly ministry of Christ, at the right hand of God, is at the disposal of each saint in our service for Him. This is the meaning of Eph.6.10, “Be strong [‘strengthened’] in the Lord, and in the power of His might …” It is only through His strength that we can do anything, but He provides the strength. Is perhaps the weakness amongst us because we are trying to do things in our own strength with much human organisation and financial resources but not casting ourselves upon God and waiting on His direction? Remember His words: “without Me ye can do nothing” Jn.15. 5.
The Gospel of Luke starts with the faithful waiting for the Messiah: Simeon was one of those faithful few who were waiting to see the Christ and had been told that he would not die until he had seen the “Lord’s Christ” Lk.2.26. His wait was worth it. The Gospel of Luke ends waiting for the promise of the Holy Spirit; it was worth it! When the Lord Jesus returns will He find us waiting in faith?
Worshipping God – Development
“And it came to pass, while He blessed them, He was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. And they worshipped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy: and were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen” Lk.24.51-53.
Luke starts with worship in the house of God and Zacharias the priest, and continues to speak throughout the Gospel regularly of the Temple and priestly service. Luke ends with worship to God in the Temple and a great High Priest in heaven. Meditation on the Word of God and waiting upon God leads to worship and ultimately to witness for Him. It is always in that order. When He returns will he find us worshipping in His house?
Witness of God – Determination
“And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things” Lk.24,47,48; “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” Acts 1.8.
The Lord is asking us in His last words to be witnesses for Him. To represent Him, to act in His name and in His interest, to speak up for Him and to tell of Him. The Lord says to His own that the work is going to go on and advance worldwide through His followers, by the power of the Holy Spirit. We can imagine some wondering how an uneducated group of fishermen and tax collectors could ever take the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth. Luke describes in the book of Acts exactly how this would be done! What small thoughts we have of God. Once we have spent time in His Word and appreciated Christ, His Person and His work; waited on His power; worshipped in His house; and seen Him on His throne, then nothing will stop us witnessing for Him. “Ye shall be witnesses.” What a calling!
“So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me more than these?’ He saith unto Him, ‘Yea, Lord; Thou knowest that I love Thee.’ He saith unto him, ‘Feed My lambs.’ He saith to him again the second time, ‘Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me?’ He saith unto Him, ‘Yea, Lord; Thou knowest that I love Thee.’ He saith unto him, ‘Feed My sheep.’ He saith unto him the third time, ‘Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me?’ Peter was grieved because He said unto him the third time, ‘Lovest thou Me?’ And he said unto Him, ‘Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee.’ Jesus saith unto him, ‘Feed My sheep’” Jn.21.15-17.
Fellowshipping and Feeding
In Mark we are active and moving on in service, as a result of the Saviour’s last words. In Luke we are meditating upon His Word and seeking to wait in full dependence upon Him. In John we are fellowshipping with Christ, devoted to Christ and mindful of His care for the sheep; they need to be fed and looked after.
This intimate Gospel carries a key question before He left: “Do you love Me?” And each time we respond in the affirmative we hear Him say, “Feed My lambs”; “shepherd My sheep”; “feed My sheep”. In other words, the Lord is saying that He is leaving but His flock is still here. He asks us to look after them. There will come a time when He will return for them but in the interim, under-shepherds must look after them.
This instruction comes after He fed them on the shore. He was teaching them that fellowship was important. We need one another, and we need to spend time with one another and true fellowship is feeding together with Christ. Shepherds in the assembly need to be amongst the sheep. Peter never forgot this lesson. Years later he says to assemblies, “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder” and then he adds in the next verse, “Feed the flock of God which is among you” 1Pet.5.1,2. In other words, Peter says elders should be among the sheep, v.1, and sheep should be amongst the elders, v.2. There is no such thing as freelance sheep or absent shepherds. Shepherds need to get to know the sheep; this will involve spending time with them. Peter learned this here in John chapter 21.
The word for “feed” in 1Pet.5.2 also includes tending, caring and supporting the sheep. Their feeding, their fleece and their feet all need looked after. God’s people need helped and fed and, before He left, the Lord Jesus asked us to do this. There is a great need for God’s people to realise we are here to look out and support one another, and for God to raise up shepherds who will feed and care for the little flocks. There is no other place where they can get feeding. It is not an easy work but an essential work. Such were the last words of Christ before He left.
The devil wants to divide the little flocks. He comes as a wolf: “and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep”. People who are not true shepherds, but just paid to do a job (hirelings), “whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth” Jn.10.12. Many flocks of God’s people have suffered from such forms of leadership, leading to the great divisions of denominationalism. How grieving to the Lord this is, and something we should avoid at all costs.
The devil comes as a roaring lion, 1Pet.5.8; he likes to panic God’s people and destroy any true work of God. The answer is to “resist [him] steadfast in the faith”. We have no strength, but we have a strong protector in God’s Word. There are places where sheep are being fed a diet that has corrupted God’s Word or even set it aside. These are fertile places for the lion-like activity of Satan to be productive. ‘Be on your guard’ says Peter: “Be sober, be vigilant”! Let us ensure that the little flock receives the unadulterated, nourishing food of Holy Scripture and that it is given in love, in a manner which makes it easy for the sheep to digest the food.
John’s Gospel starts with the spiritual family, Jn.1.12,13, and fellowship in the home with Christ. After asking the Lord, “Rabbi … where dwellest Thou?” they dwelt with the Lord until the tenth hour in the house, Jn.1.38,39. The Gospel ends with fellowship. This is the Gospel where among His first words are “Come and see” and among His last words are “Come and dine”. The flock was put together at the start of the Gospel: some by the riverside, Jn.1.37, others by the seaside, Jn.1.43,44, and others in the countryside under a fig tree, Jn.1.48. The flock was preserved throughout the Gospel: this is the Gospel of the good shepherd Who gave His life for the sheep, Jn.10.11. The Gospel ends with the feeding of the flock and a request that in His absence the flock of God would continue to be fed, until He comes again.
“And when He had spoken this, He saith unto him, ‘Follow Me.’ … Jesus saith unto him, ‘If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou Me.’ Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, ‘He shall not die;’ but, ‘If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?’” Jn.21.19-23.
Fellowship with Christ and feeding on His Word lead us to follow Him in all things. In Peter’s case this following would be to a violent death and martyrdom, Jn.21.18,19. Following Him will involve sacrifice; in Peter’s case it was the ultimate sacrifice. It was, however, all to be seen in the light of the return of Christ. The Gospel that starts with the eternal beginning ends with eternity. The Lord also held out the possibility that some might never have to go through the process of dying, when He spoke His last words in John. This truth was revealed by Paul in 1Cor.15.51 when he said, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed”. At that time Paul saw that even the living believer at the coming of Christ would receive a changed body. However, the truth of the Lord coming back soon is taught here in the Lord’s last words in John’s Gospel. This is perhaps not surprising in a Gospel where the truth of the coming of the Lord Jesus has been so prominent, Jn.14.3. Are we feeding, fellowshipping, and following until He comes? What a prospect! There is not a moment to lose. When He comes then we ‘will wish we had given Him more’. Let us heed His last call: “Follow Me” Jn.21.19,22. Maranatha.
The Gospel starts with John the Baptist instructing his disciples not to follow him but pointing to the Lamb of God that they should follow. Andrew and Peter and John all commenced “following” Christ. He has said, “Come and see”, and they all came. This is how John’s Gospel ends: “Follow Me”. Christianity is essentially following Christ. The Gospel starts with the great eternal beginning and the desire for the Christ to come into the world: waiting for Christ. John the Baptist was looking for the Holy Spirit to descend and remain upon Him, and it happened, Jn.1.30-34. The Gospel ends with them following Christ until He comes, and He will come! Let us look after the little flock and be faithful to His last words and requests until He returns.
“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, ‘All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.’ Amen” Matt.28.18-20.
Demands and Discipleship
The Lord’s last words in Matthew were that we should teach all nations. The word “teach” literally means ‘make disciples of’ all nations. It was a word He used when He told the parables of the kingdom. There it is translated “instructed” Matt.13.52. It is a word used of Joseph of Arimathaea, who laid the Lord’s body in his own new tomb. He was a “disciple” Matt.27.57. This word to ‘disciple’ others is a command: “Go … I have commanded you”. Matthew is the Gospel of the King and He commands His subjects. The Kingdom will grow through discipling. When the King returns He will ask if we have kept His last command. “Whom have you discipled?” may well be the question. What a solemn thought! Many Christians have never risen to this last command. We should have our eye, prayerfully, on one or more people, that we might be able to disciple them. This will mean sacrifice. You need to get to know people before they can trust you to disciple them. This will mean giving up evenings and weekends and may affect your wallet. It is more than just discipling them with a view to salvation. It is of course that. But the Lord instructed here that baptism needs to be taught and then “all things whatsoever I have commanded you”. The Lord’s priority is for the Kingdom to be populated with a people like Himself. Many believers think that when someone gets saved then that is it. Perhaps this is why so many struggle to go on and produce “much fruit”. Salvation is just where the work starts, not ends. Perhaps the reason we have not seen revival is because we are not ready for it. New converts need cared for and taught. They need taught “all things”: the truth about baptism, separation from the world, doctrines concerning the Person of Christ: headship for example, the uniqueness of God’s assembly and what it means to be in assembly fellowship. They need to be taught the truth of the coming again of Christ and what the Bible has to say about future events. They need to be taught to love their Old Testament as well as their New Testament and be introduced to typical teaching concerning our blessed Lord. What a vast amount we need to do! So, whom are we discipling? If each believer was doing this work the prayers would no longer be “Bring them in to the gospel meeting”. There would not be room to receive them!
This royal Gospel starts as the Gospel of “the Son of David” and lists Israel’s greatest king and kings from the past, who have now died. It ends with a greater King than David, Who has “all power [‘authority’] … in heaven and in earth” instructing His subjects. This Gospel starts with individuals from Gentile nations being found in the genealogy of Christ: Rahab (an Amorite), Ruth (a Moabitess), Tamar (a Canaanite), to name a few. It also starts with wise men coming from the east, not shepherds from Israel, to see the Saviour. The Gospel ends with a command to disciple all nations. The book that starts with the coming into the world of Emmanuel, “God with us” Matt.1.23, ends with the Lord promising them that He will never leave them and will be with them until the end of the age. The first recorded words in Matthew by the Lord are “Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness” Matt.3.15. The last words of Christ ensure that the Kingdom will be completed in righteousness.
The last words of Christ as recorded by the Gospel writers reflect the theme in each book.
Last Actions – What Is the Lord Doing As He Gives His Last Words?
Matthew: He is commanding. “All power [‘authority’] is given unto Me”; “I have commanded you” (The Gospel of the King) Mark: He is working. “The Lord working with them” (The Gospel of the Servant) Luke: He is praying. “Lifted up His hands and blessed them” (The Gospel of the dependent Man) John: He is fellowshipping until He comes again. “Jesus … taketh bread, and giveth them”… “Till I come” (The Gospel of the coming and coming again of the Son of God).
In Mark the ascended Lord assists His servants as they evangelise (“the Lord working with them” – the Prophet). In Luke He sympathises with them in their sorrow (the Priest). In Acts, He is ascended but will finally return to reign over Israel as their sovereign (the King).
Last Gifts – What Did He Leave Behind?
Matthew: I am leaving you but I have left My subjects in the kingdom Mark: I am leaving you but I have left My servants in the field Luke: I am leaving you but I have left the Scriptures to encourage you John: I am leaving you but I have left shepherds to care for you.
Last Requests – What Were the Challenging Questions to His Followers?
Matthew: As a subject in and a steward of the kingdom, are you finding people and instructing them in all the truth? Stewardship Mark: As a servant, are you faithfully preaching the gospel? Service Luke: From the Gospel of the dependent Man, are you finding Me in Holy Scripture and seeking My guidance? Scriptures John: From the Gospel of the good Shepherd, are you feeding My sheep? Shepherding.
There are no more important last words than those of the Lord Jesus Christ. May they be a blessing, challenge and encouragement to us as we wait for our Lord’s return.