When considering the subject of fellowship with Jesus, there are a few absolutely key texts that must be understood in context. We are going to discuss only three of them in this article: John 14-16, Philippians 3, and Revelation 1-3. While we will not have time to look at every verse in each section, we will do our best to cover the basics. Of course, there is much more to learn and apply from each of these sections.
Perhaps the most important of these texts is John 14 through 16, often called the Last Supper Discourse. In this section, we will examine what is recorded of Jesus’ instruction to his disciples immediately before his arrest, crucifixion, and the events that followed. What information did Jesus give his disciples? How does this information help us as modern Christians who desire a vibrant relationship with God and with the Lord Jesus Christ?
Just before the teaching in John 14, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and taught them about love. In John 14, Jesus started to prepare his disciples for his eventual departure.
John 14:1-7 (ESV)
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.
In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
And you know the way to where I am going.”
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Verse 3 indicates that, in some way, Jesus will no longer be with his disciples. He will come again and take them to himself. There are two major options for understanding this phrase: either this is referring to Jesus returning to be with the disciples through the power of the spirit or returning at the end of the age (sometimes referred to as the “second coming” or “second advent” of our Lord). This dichotomy frames this entire teaching; in some sense, Jesus will be absent, but in another sense, he will be present. In his article called A Unitarian View of the Holy Spirit, Sean Finnegan noted the following parallelism between the Comforter (or Helper, or spirit) coming and Jesus coming:
The Helper (Paraklete) Will Come
|He will give you another helper, that he may be with you forever||John 14:16|
|the helper, the holy spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you||John 14:26|
|when the helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father||John 15:26|
|if I do not go away the helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you||John 16:7|
|when he, the spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth||John 16:13|
Jesus Will Come
|will come again and receive you to myself||John 14:3|
|I will come to you||John 14:18|
|you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you||John 14:17|
|he who loves me…I will love him and will disclose myself to him||John 14:21|
|if anyone loves me, he will keep my word…and we will come to him and make our abode with him||John 14:23|
|I go away, and I will come to you||John 14:28|
|‘a little while, and you will see me;’ and, ‘because I go to the Father’||John 16:17|
In this same context, Jesus clarified what his disciples should be focused on: that Jesus was the way, the truth, and the life, the only way to the Father. The Father (God) is ultimately the object of the highest worship, praise, and service that Christians offer. Jesus is the way to the Father. Some render the phrase “I am the way, the truth, and the life” as “I am the true and living way.”
John 14:8-14 (ESV)
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”
Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.
Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.
Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
If you ask me [some texts omit “me”] anything in my name, I will do it.
Jesus is the perfect image of God (Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3). In human form, Jesus is everything that God designed life to be. In every situation, Jesus acted on God’s behalf perfectly. Therefore, if we see Jesus, if we really understand his walk and manner of living, then we see the Father. Jesus’ words, power, and authority came from the Father. Now, as Christians, those who believe in Jesus will do the works of Jesus and greater! In verses 13 and 14, we saw in article number two on prayer that in every other place where Jesus discussed prayer, he taught it as something asked of the Father, not of himself. We also saw that praying “in the name of Jesus” means to pray with his authority, as if he was personally praying.
John 14:15-24 (ESV)
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,
even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.
In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.
Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”
Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?”
Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.
After briefly discussing prayer, Jesus spent a large portion of time on obedience. Loving God and loving Jesus, in the end, foundationally depend on obedience. Notice that Jesus referred to the spirit as being “another helper,” a helper distinct from the Father and the Son. The spirit is the power and presence of God, what connects us as Christians with God, with the Lord Jesus Christ, and, to use a Biblically based metaphor, binds us together with other Christians (see I Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 4:4). Even though Jesus referred to the spirit as being “another helper,” he also said “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” The presence of the spirit in the lives of the disciples guarantees the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in the lives of the disciples. We saw this clearly in article four on “Christ in” us. Intertwined throughout this section, we see many references to obedience as being the foundation to our spiritual walk with God and with Christ. In verse 23, the spirit is referenced as the Father and the Son coming to a person and making their home in that person.
John 14:25-31 (ESV)
“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you.
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.
And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe.
I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me,
but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.
In verse 26, Jesus again referred to the spirit as an entity separate from himself. The spirit is what allows God to teach us what we need to know, just as the spirit is how God taught Jesus what he needed to know. Additionally, in verse 31, we see Jesus’ commitment to obey the Father in extremely difficult circumstances. We as Christians are called to lay down our lives in service to others in the same way (John 13:34; John 15:12; Philippians 2:5; Ephesians 5:2, among others), though thankfully not to the point of crucifixion.
John 15:1-11 (ESV)
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.
Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.
If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
The only way that we can bear fruit as Christians is to abide (remain, dwell) in Christ. If we abide in Jesus and the words of Jesus live in us, then we will get the results that we need in this life: answers to prayers, bearing fruit, and proving to be Jesus’ disciples. Abiding in Jesus’ love and abiding in the Father’s love requires obedience (see also I John 5:3).
John 15:12-14 (ESV)
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
Again, we see that loving Jesus is predicated on our obedience to what he has taught. And Jesus taught us to lay down our lives for one another.
John 15:18-20 (ESV)
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.
If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
Next, Jesus prepared his disciples to face incredible opposition from the world. This can come in the form of religious leaders (John 16:1-2), political oppression, and social pressure to conform. Those who follow Jesus have signed up for a life of “swimming upstream” against the current.
John 16:23-27 (ESV)
In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.
Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
“I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father.
In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf;
for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.
Here again, Jesus talked about prayer with his disciples. He instructed his disciples to ask the Father for things in his name.
John 16:33 (ESV)
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
This is a promise of Jesus: in the world, we will face tribulation. But we have good news—Jesus has overcome the world, and through him, we overcome the world as well (I John 4:4).
When thinking about what Jesus taught in John 14-16, one is left with three major points: we are to obey the words of Jesus, which are the words of God—this is foundational to abiding in Christ. We are to ask the Father in the name of Jesus for the things that we need, because we know that the Father Himself loves us and desires a relationship with us. Finally, we are to have faith that the spirit that God and the Lord Jesus sent to us will help us overcome anything we can face in this life. The power of God Almighty and the potential of Jesus himself dwell in us! We have everything that we need to be successful in our Christian walk.
In the book of Philippians, there are several main themes. Perhaps the most important of these themes is the idea of joyful service in the face of opposition. Before Paul wrote what we have recorded in Philippians chapter three, he had already detailed Jesus’ example of service in laying down his life and then gave the examples of Timothy and Epaphroditus. In chapter three, Paul detailed the privileges that he had as a Jewish leader. He details these in order to show what he joyfully left behind to follow Christ.
Philippians 3:3-7 (ESV)
For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh–
though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:
circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;
as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
Paul had every advantage a Jew of his time could have: he was a devout Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, a Pharisee, and was as righteous as one could be under the law. And yet, he did not hold onto those privileges—instead, he gave up everything for the sake of Christ.
Philippians 3:8-11 (ESV)
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–
that I may know [ginosko – experientially] him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,
that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Paul wrote that all of the supposedly “good” things in his life—his religion, his ascent to the high ranks of a Pharisee, his self-righteous performance of the Law—were to be counted as loss and as rubbish. Instead, Paul replaced those “lofty” things with the knowledge of Christ. Paul gave up his whole way of living to follow Christ, and we must do the same. Notice that, for Paul, knowing Christ by experience meant depending on Christ’s righteousness, manifesting the power of Christ’s resurrection, and sharing in the sufferings of Christ.
Philippians 3:12-14 (ESV)
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Paul recognized that he was not perfect in his walk in Christ. Paul kept pressing on, forgetting the things that were behind him and continuing towards the goal. And while we often think of the things behind us that we get rid of for Christ to be the bad things in our lives, like sin and darkness, remember again that Paul was referring to the things that most people would have considered good: high rank in religious circles, observance of the Law, a Hebrew of the Hebrews. Like Paul, we leave it all behind to follow Christ.
Philippians 3:17-21 (ESV)
Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.
For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.
Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,
who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
The opposite of the selfless service that Paul is imitating in Christ can be found in this section: people whose god is their belly and who care about earthly things. Throughout the book of Philippians, there is a somewhat political undertone. Philippi was a Roman colony, and as such, those born in Philippi were Roman citizens. Roman citizens had many rights and privileges that others in the Roman Empire simply did not have. However, such privileges came at a cost spiritually. The Emperor was called by the title kurios (“Lord”), festivals were celebrated in his honor, and certain meals included meat offered to idols and to the Emperor. By placing Jesus as the true kurios (“Lord”) and identifying spiritual citizenship as the true citizenship, Paul was highlighting the importance of being spiritually minded first. His exhortation to the Philippians was to keep their focus on God’s higher calling in Christ, waiting for our savior from heaven, the Lord Jesus. The Caesar could not hurt or help the Philippians eternally, but the Lord Jesus will be the one who changes our current body to be like his body when he returns. Worshipping Caesar as Lord was unacceptable behavior for true Christians. The same is true today, especially for those who live in the United States (because we enjoy many rights and privileges as citizens of the USA). No matter our earthly citizenship, we are to keep our focus on spiritual things and on the calling that God has placed on our lives in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Revelation 1-3 is a remarkable portrayal of Jesus’ current actions in the Church today. In this section, we will see some clear facts about Jesus’ ability to see what is going on in the Church and take steps to help those in his Church take a stand for him. But we will begin at the very beginning, in a verse that shows a minor limitation of Jesus:
Revelation 1:1 (ESV)
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John,
God the Father knows everything, and God gave this revelation to Jesus Christ in order to show to his servants. Jesus Christ decided to send an angel to John. Notice that God still reveals things to Jesus that Jesus does not innately know (there is still a difference in knowledge). However, notice also Jesus’ authority to send one of his angels to John. The rest of the first chapter is a vision that introduces the next two chapters, the letters to the seven churches.
Revelation 2:1-7 (ESV)
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.
“‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.
I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.
But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.
Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’
Look at what Jesus can see about this church: he knows their works, how they discovered false apostles, how they are enduring patiently, how they abandoned the love they first had. Jesus calls this church to repent and to do the works that they formerly did.
Revelation 2:8-11 (ESV)
“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.
“‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’
Again, it is remarkable to notice what Jesus knows about this church. Jesus knows about their poverty, the tribulation that they face, and what the devil is about to do to some in their church. Jesus implores these Christians to be faithful to the death, if necessary, in order to receive the crown of life.
This was just a brief look at what Jesus said to the first two churches, the church at Ephesus and the church at Smyrna. If you take the time to read the rest of Revelation 2 and all of Revelation 3, you will see that Jesus knows much about his Church. Here are a few highlights:
- He knows who holds fast to their faith (Revelation 2:13)
- He is the one who searches the hearts and minds (Revelation 2:23)
- He observes the works of the Christians and determines if they are complete in the sight of his God (Revelation 3:2)
- He reproves those who he loves and encourages them to repent (Revelation 3:19)
Jesus, in his exalted form and new body, has the ability and authority to do many marvelous things. As we saw in article seven, Jesus is not all-powerful, all-knowing, or everywhere-present. Even in his exalted state, Jesus is not God, and therefore, he does not have the abilities that his Father has. In light of this, it is important to consider the entire context of Revelation, verse 1:1. God is still giving Jesus revelation! For example, when we consider Jesus as the one who searches the hearts and minds, we are reminded that God the Father is called the Heart Searcher throughout the Bible (I Chronicles 28:9; Psalms 44:21; Psalms 139:23; Jeremiah 17:10). Several times in the Gospels, Jesus is said to have known the hearts of men he was speaking to (see Matthew 9:4, Matthew 12:25, and Luke 11:17). How did Jesus know the hearts of these men? God showed him their hearts. How does Jesus know the amazing things that he knows now? He is not all-knowing, but he is directly connected to the Source Who is, his Father.
But while we should be careful to not go further than the Bible does about his abilities, we should also not limit his office or ability beyond what the Bible says either. The truth of the matter is that Jesus can do anything that God has enabled him to do and given him the authority to do. We do not have a list of such items in the Bible, but we do know that God knows all things that can be known, that Jesus has a perfect relationship with God, and that Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and on Earth. There is not much that Jesus cannot do.
These three sections highlight three separate keys to having fellowship with Jesus. In reverse order, Revelation 1-3 demonstrates how powerful Jesus is and how involved he is in the Church. Simply said, Jesus is heavily involved in the day-to-day operations of his Church. Philippians 3 shows us Paul’s heart to forsake everything in his life to follow Jesus. Paul was willing to give up even the “good” parts of his former life in order to gain Christ. And for Paul, gaining Christ included the highs of experiencing the power of his resurrection and the low depths of his sufferings. Finally, in John 14-16, we see some practical keys to having fellowship with Jesus. Most notably, we saw that loving God and loving Jesus means obeying what they have taught us. We have been given the power of the holy spirit, which is God and Jesus coming and making their home in us (John 14:23). We can follow the example of obedience to God that Jesus set through the power that he lived and walked with during his ministry. God can work within us the power of Jesus’ resurrection (Ephesians 1:19-20). We have everything that we need to walk powerfully for God and for our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 See the article at https://restitutio.org/2016/07/26/a-unitarian-view-of-the-holy-spirit/ It is an excellent resource on the subject of the spirit.
2 Jesus promised his disciples that they would face tribulation (John 16:33). However, true Christian living does not look for suffering. Suffering is a result of living righteously in a corrupt world. God honors those who suffer who doing the right thing (I Peter 2:19-23). Even though suffering is inevitable in this world, especially for Christians, suffering is not an end to itself. Paul did not injure himself as certain sects of monks have through the centuries—he was whipped for spreading the gospel. So while suffering is inevitable and can be faced with a positive outlook (see Acts 5:41), knowing that God can bring positive results out of suffering, Christians do not intentionally look for suffering or live ascetic lives for the sake of asceticism (Colossians 2:23). We follow Christ wherever he leads, and if he leads us into jail, then we sing praises and witness to the jailer (Acts 16:23ff).