Christians have the blessed hope of being “with Christ”, should the worst come upon us that man can think of: death. Paul wrote that phrase in Philippians 1:23, while contemplating the possibility of his death, and what a comfort those few verses are to saints! Death opens the door for us to be “with Christ, which is far better”.
In using the title “Christ”, as in the phrase “with Christ”, we are put in mind of our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ as our Redeemer and our glorified Head in the heavens. We can be certain that death, should we experience it, will beyond any shadow of doubt bring His redeemed ones to Himself.
And then there is this phrase: “with the Lord”. Paul writes this in I Thessalonians 4, as he gives that revelation of the rapture of living believers, along with the resurrection of the saints who have died. “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with [the dead in Christ] in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”
When we speak of being “with the Lord”, the title given there — “Lord” — is in view of Him being “Lord of all” in a coming day of His power. He will soon return for His own, to take us to the Father’s house, and then He will return with us to reign over the earth as “King of kings and Lord of lords”.¹ The thought of being “forever with the Lord” implies and looks forward to the truth of our coming back to reign with Him. Paul assured the Thessalonians, and by extension all believers, of that blessed truth of the Lord Jesus Christ being glorified over all in heaven and earth, and we glorified with Him.
But there is another meaningful phrase that’s found a few times in the New Testament, and it is: “with Jesus”. In this expression, we have the idea of Jesus walking among men, and of His disciples following Him, for they were known by others to have been “with Jesus”. When we consider Him as “Jesus” in His walk through this world, we remember that He called disciples to walk with Him by enjoining them in this way: “Follow Me!” And now that Jesus is gone from the earth and seated in the heavens, we have that wonderful word in Hebrews 12, exhorting us to “run with endurance the race that lies before us, looking stedfastly on Jesus the leader and completer of faith”. That man Jesus, who completed perfectly the path of faith in this scene, is eminently worthy of being followed by us as we pass through this life.
In Matthew 26:51, while Jesus was being arrested, we read that “one of them that were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest’s, and smote off his ear.” We know from John’s gospel that this was Simon Peter. He was in a favored place, being there with Jesus. Peter had been with Jesus for more than three years, and had heard His teaching on turning the other cheek, and on how it was the will of the Father that the Son would lay down His life for His own for the glory of God. But being under the sound of Jesus’ teaching doesn’t necessarily make a difference in our lives and in our actions, until the Spirit of God makes it good to our hearts and consciences. Perhaps Peter had a real emotional desire to defend his Master. But the Lord Jesus had to rebuke Peter for that activity of the flesh. We need rebuke for acting in the flesh sometimes as well, for letting emotion rather than faith direct our action.
Then a little later in verse 69, while Jesus was on trial before the high priest, we find Peter in the courtyard warming himself by the fire. He has been observed being “with Jesus” by one of several individuals there, and this one was a young girl. Maybe she had seen him out in the streets with Jesus at an earlier time, and it had made an impression on her. But Peter wasn’t very close to Jesus at this time, and it is only in being close to the Lord that we can be kept from denying or disobeying Him. Being with Jesus at an earlier time in our lives will not guarantee that we will be faithful to Him when trials come. Peter learned that the hard way after the third denial, and he went out and wept bitterly. Peter was the Lord’s, and Jesus had Peter in His hand so that he couldn’t utterly fall away. But we need to be near to Him, companying with Him on the path of faith daily, in order to live for His glory.
But then, when we go from the gospel accounts of Jesus’ arrest and trial, His death, and His resurrection, and read on to Acts chapter 4, we see a remarkable change of scene. On the day of Pentecost, the foretold coming of the Spirit of God baptizes and fills the apostles with power, and they begin with boldness to preach Jesus as the exalted Christ. Thousands are added to the newly-formed assembly of God, and signs and wonders are done by Peter and the other apostles as a testimony to the power of God, and to the gospel. One miracle in particular, the healing of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, gives occasion for Peter and John to preach Jesus to a multitude on Solomon’s porch. The envious rulers of the Jews laid hands on them and put them in jail overnight, but only after another 5,000 believed.
The next day, Peter and John were called to account for their message of the resurrection of this Jesus whom they were preaching. When asked by what power, and under the authority of what name, they were preaching to the people, Peter took the lead and gave an eloquent and powerful answer that confounded the rulers. Luke records what those rulers thought of the two apostles, who were by no means learned men. “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.” This was the same Peter of whom it had been remarked during his earlier failures that he was “with Jesus”, now testifying with power in the face of the same opposition to his Lord, the opposition of the power of darkness.2 And what a testimony! such that it prompted their enemies and detractors admit that there was an intelligence and a power in them that could not be explained by their education or pedigree, but that was the result of having been with the very Man whom those Jewish leaders had delivered up to be crucified!
Those rulers recognized in the apostles the result of being with Jesus. The Holy Spirit recalled to the apostles’ minds the words of Jesus which they had heard from Him during His ministry, and they spoke with godly confidence and plainness in the power of the Spirit that which Jesus had taught them from the holy scriptures.
Dear Christian brothers and sisters, is it plain to others that we have been with Jesus? Are we exercised in our minds and committed in our hearts to continue in the path of faith with Jesus on a daily basis, by the Spirit, so that not only our words, but also our ways, give abundant evidence that we are in communion with Him, following His steps?3 How prone we are to wander, but it ought to be our hearts’ desire to continue to learn from His gracious words and ways. May our Lord Jesus Christ be glorified in us, and may it be clear that our spirits have been “with Jesus”.
1 Acts 10:36; Romans 14:6-11; Revelation 19:16
2 Luke 22:53
3 I Peter 2:21