Christ our Elder Brother

Closer Than a Brother

There is a friend who closer than a brother.—Proverbs 18:24sticks

Tim Alexander

In Psalm 69, King David prophetically speaks of Jesus’ experience at his first advent. The verses tell of God’s servant who is hated without cause, who is wrongly accused, and who is persecuted in spite of his own righteousness. He states in verse 4 that he restored that which he had not taken away, that which was taken away by another man. This is a prophecy that describes how Jesus, as the second Adam, would restore mankind’s human life that had been taken away by the sin of the first Adam.

In verse 9, through the words of David, Jesus says, “The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up” (KJV). During his life here on earth, Jesus was consumed by the zeal he had for God’s house. In this context, God’s house was the temple. Jesus had an all-consuming zeal for the temple and all that it represented. At twelve years of age, Jesus demonstrated this zeal while his parents were returning from the feast of the Passover in Jerusalem. For three days, Jesus remained in the temple, “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions.” He was there, in God’s house, developing and exercising his knowledge and understanding of God’s word. When asked by his mother the reason for this, his response was, “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49, RSV).

Cleansing the Temple

The next recorded occasion during which Jesus demonstrated his zeal for God’s house is again connected with the Passover and is recorded in John 2:13. On this occasion, Jesus finds within the temple merchandizing profit seekers, contaminating the sincere worship of God with irreverent and chaotic commerce. The zeal within Jesus’ heart for the temple compelled him to drive them all out. Jesus was here demonstrating his consuming desire to protect, to purify, and to keep the temple holy. For the disciples, witnessing this event brought to their memories those same words of David from Psalm 69 (see John 2:19).

In both of these instances, the object of Jesus’ zeal was God’s literal house, the temple. Now, though, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the object of Jesus’ zeal is no longer that temple. Now the object of his zeal is the church, the spiritual temple of the living God: “For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (2 Corinthians 6:16). That same consuming desire to protect, to purify, and to make holy is now directed toward each of his footstep followers, each of the members of his own body down throughout the Gospel age and especially at the end of that age, the harvest.

What a beautiful picture this brings to our minds, that of an elder brother watching over, teaching, and lending support, having already laid down an example of righteousness and sacrifice. Many Scriptures variously describe this role that Jesus plays in our lives; and each of them gives us another perspective on this tender, supportive relationship that we have with our Lord.

Our Instructor

One of the primary roles of Jesus in our lives today is that of teacher. As our elder brother, Jesus teaches us many things by way of instruction and by way of example. The value and compelling nature of Jesus’ words while he was here on earth is evident by the response that all classes of men had to those words. Soldiers who were commissioned to take Jesus into custody were so impressed with the teachings they heard that they allowed themselves to fail at their duty. The explanation of their conduct was simply that, “No man ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:46, RSV).

Nicodemus, who himself was considered a great teacher in Israel, put his own reputation at risk by approaching Jesus at night. Upon contact with Jesus, Nicodemus immediately acknowledged that Jesus was not only a teacher, but was a teacher come from God. Authentic godliness in a teacher was a condition that would have been greatly coveted by the Pharisees at the time (John 3:2).

After a lesson from Jesus that was particularly difficult to comprehend, many of the disciples began to falter and “walk no more with him” (John 6:66). Then Jesus, in an effort to evaluate and strengthen Peter’s commitment, said to him, “Will you also go away?” Peter’s response indicated his appreciation of Jesus’ role as teacher: “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” Not only was Peter acknowledging Jesus as his teacher and master, but also as the one teacher whose words actually lead to life.

From the testimonies of a soldier, a Pharisee, and an apostle, we can readily see the impact of Jesus’ words on those lives around him. Jesus’ words constrained those soldiers to make a stand for what was morally right. Nicodemus was led to sincerely re-examine his own pattern, practice, and way of thinking. Peter was compelled to take an unpopular course because he realized the blessings of life associated with it. Do Jesus’ words have those same effects on us? His words have the same weight and force today as they did then; Jesus is still speaking those words to each of us.

Teaching by Example

Matthew 7:28,29 is a lovely instance of Jesus teaching not only by instruction, but also by example: “When Jesus ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” Why did Jesus’ words have authority? Why did they carry so much weight? It was because he had personal experience with the power of the truth he was teaching. Jesus was teaching God’s word, and the power of that word was working in his own life. Those who were listening to Jesus not only heard the truth being taught, but they saw it and felt it emanating from Jesus’ every gesture, action, and reaction. They saw the fruits of the spirit in every aspect of Jesus’ life. From our own personal interaction with our Lord—through Scripture, through prayer, and through experiences—we can just as clearly see that same strength and authority. That is the kind of elder brother we have, and he has offered to be our constant companion.

Two important principles are mentioned in connection with Jesus’ teachings and how we come to know the truth: “If any man’s will is to do his [God’s] will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority” (John 7:17, RSV). Jesus is saying that true devotion of heart, a full consecration to do the will of God, is one of the most important steps toward knowing what is really truth and comprehending the full meaning of Jesus’ words. “He who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory, but he who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood” (verse 18). All teachings that are indeed truth, without exception, honor God. All true teachings will be consistent with God’s wisdom, power, justice, and love. These are important lessons for anyone who is truly seeking to know the truth.

The Light of Life

Another aspect of our relationship with our elder brother Jesus is that he is indeed the light of our lives. Jesus said that he is the light of the world (John 8:12). This is a reference to the fact that the world, for 4,000 years, lay in the darkness of sin and death and it wasn’t until Jesus became a man that the light of truth, grace, and salvation became a reality. That light shed on the world is a wonderful blessing, but the light enjoyed by those who appreciate that light and accept it as the guide for their lives is even greater.

One of the curiosities of the context of this verse is that it immediately follows the reference to the woman taken in adultery.<$FNote that the account of the woman taken in adultery is of questionable authenticity and is considered to be spurious by many scholars.> This juxtaposition becomes meaningful to us in our relationship with our Lord during our lives. The correction and chiding that the Lord gives us is as gentle and mild as it can be and still turn us away from sin. He is there to cast light on our lives and show us the narrow way more clearly, and spur us on with a helpful hand toward more perfect obedience to the principles of righteousness and sacrifice.

Jesus’ criticism of the scribes and Pharisees in John 8 was not that they did not know the truth on the subject, it was that they were primarily focused on the behavior of those around them and not on their own development. They therefore missed entirely the power of Jesus’ teachings. The scribes and Pharisees knew the truth, but they used it only to separate themselves from others. They used the truth they knew to reassure themselves that they were better than those around them. They were hypocrites. Jesus was teaching that he was the light of the world; once he was gone, the light that the world would have would be that which would shine through the members of his body. The privilege of his footstep followers is to have that light from him in their lives, to keep their lamps trimmed and burning by allowing the holy spirit to take hold of their lives, and as a result of that light to illuminate the path of righteousness for those who walk around them.

“For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life” (Proverbs 6:23, RSV). Perhaps connected with this verse and others like it is the Jewish custom where, at the end of the Feast of the Tabernacles, the books of the law are removed from the box in which they are kept and are replaced with a lighted candle. This beautifully illustrates the fact that the words of the perfect law of God truly are a light to guide one’s way. This gesture becomes even more meaningful, however, when one remembers that the Jewish law, which effectively bound all imperfect men like a fetter, was eventually replaced with the glorious light of the gospel.

Our Liberator

Jesus is also our liberator. The apostle Paul himself and many to whom he was writing were originally under that Jewish law which was ceremonially removed from the box on the Feast of Tabernacles. The remainder of mankind was merely under the law of sin and death inherited from father Adam. Paul explains how Jesus has liberated us from both those laws “in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the spirit” (Romans 8:1-4, RSV). He has freed us from the condemnation of the law for the purpose of allowing the righteousness of the law to be fulfilled in us. The word “fulfilled” comes from the Greek word that means to level up or fill in an empty space. The Jewish law was perfect, yet it left an empty space. It was a promise of life, but a promise that could never be realized by sinful men.

Jesus’ sacrifice took away the requirement of perfection in our lives, and his continued relationship with us assists us in working toward righteousness by walking in the spirit, patterning our lives after the principles of righteousness and grace.

The liberation that Jesus thus provides us is a genuine blessing in our daily lives. A daily relationship with him makes the difference between a life that is filled with emptiness and frustration and one that is filled with fulfillment and joy. The apostle Paul describes it beautifully: “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6, RSV). What does the human mind and heart desire more than life and peace?

Our Elder Brother

Among the many roles that Jesus fills in our lives, we have considered just a few. We have considered him as our teacher, our example, our light, and our liberator; but he is also our friend. What better friend to have than that found in an elder brother. An elder brother is a friend whose life comes from the same source as your own, a friend who has been developed by the same kind of life experience that is developing you, a friend with whom unassailable bonds have been formed which will carry and sustain you through all of life’s hardest experiences. He is also a friend whose correction is a faithful part of your love and respect for each other.

That is just what Jesus is in our lives. “To all who received him … he gave power to become the [fellow] children of God” (John 1:12, RSV). Paul tells us that Jesus is one “who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15, RSV). Jesus promised that he would be with his disciples always, through every trying experience of life, even unto the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (RSV).

Jesus is the friend that Proverbs 18:24 describes when it says there is a friend who sticks even closer than a natural brother. He is our elder brother. He is the friend who has given his life for us.