Philip the Apostle and Christ
Malcolm C. Davis, Leeds, England
Turning on, therefore, to John 12. 20-26, where we next read of Philip, we find that here, having been proved by his Lord, Philip is also The Seeker Taught by Him five days before the Passover and the Lord's crucifixion. Here Philip is taught the significance of that approaching death and both the cost and the final reward of true discipleship. The occasion was that when the Greeks who during the Jewish feast which they had come to participate in directly approached Philip with their request to see Jesus. We are not told why they made such a request. Perhaps they were unsatisfied with the dead formality of Judaism as practised at that time. Again, we are not told why they selected Philip as their go-between. Perhaps they sensed that he was more approachable than the other disciples, being by nature a more retiring sort of person, or perhaps it was his Greek name and Gentile Galilean associations that influenced them. Be that as it may; one thing is certain, that both Philip and the Greeks were seekers as yet not fully satisfied spiritually. Philip consulted Andrew, probably because the Greeks were Gentiles and Philip was uncertain as to his Master's reaction to a Gentile request. Then they both told the Lord of this request. The Lord's reply was intended as much for Philip as for the Greeks. For it showed that He realized that the hour of His suffering followed by His resurrection glory had at last arrived. Like the corn of wheat sown in the ground, Christ had to die before this harvest could occur. His incarnation alone was not enough to save a single human soul. Gentile believers today are part of the 'much fruit' that the death of Christ procured, so that in the New Testament church of Christ the distinction between Jewish and Gentile believers is now obliterated, and both Jews and Gentiles stand before God on the same righteous basis of the sacrifice of Christ for sin at Calvary's cross.
The Lord then went on to apply this principle of yielding His life to death as the only way to reap a spiritual harvest to all His disciples. He teaches Philip and ourselves that this is the only way to find and enjoy the truly satisfying spiritual life, eternal life, which is essentially the participation by the believer in the fellowship that has always existed between the Persons of the Godhead. The careful bible student should note that in verse 25 there are two different Greek words for 'life' used, namely, (1) Psuche, soul, or natural life, which must be yielded to God in order to gain (2) Zoe, spiritual and eternal life. The soul is not inherently evil like indwelling sin. So we learn that we must be prepared to forgo legitimate things in this world in favour of, and to promote, our spiritual fellowship with God. Then as a by-product of eternal life with God our souls will be satisfied in a fuller way, both now and in eternity, than would otherwise be the case. For self-sacrificing service for God will gain a place in heaven with Christ and honour from God the Father in glory despite our missing such honour in this world.
Now, finally, in John 14. 6-11 we find Philip as The Seeker Satisfied by faith in Christ as the eternal Son of the Father. In verse 8 we see that Philip had still not reached the end of his spiritual search, and he was concerned that Jesus spoke of leaving them. Only here did Philip take the initiative with the Lord in his request, 'Show us the Father, and it sufficeth us'. Note the word 'suffice' that Philip used here and compare it with his statement in chapter 6. 7 concerning what he calculated was 'not sufficient' to satisfy the hunger of the crowd there. Philip seems to have wanted a supernatural vision of God such as was granted to Moses and Elijah, but he thus revealed that he was totally blind to the revelation of the Father in the nature and incarnate life of Christ as the Son of God. Philip had lived and worked with Jesus for over three years now, but had still failed to appreciate this revelation in His very moral life and ministry of miracles, that is, the works which were the evidence of His close relationship with God His Father. How disappointed the Lord was in His slow-learning disciple. We too need to learn that the Lord Jesus Christ in His perfectly sinless manhood is the fully sufficient revelation of the Father: 'He that hath seen me hath seen the Father' and this was the final obstacle in his spiritual search for full satisfaction in His Lord. Probably neither he nor the other disciples properly appreciated this truth about their Lord until after His resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit to indwell and empower them at Pentecost.
Yet would we, too, not need just as many lessons as Philip from the Lord before we find spiritual satisfaction both in this life in discipleship to Christ and in eternity future in glory? How gracious and patient the Lord is to deal with us like Philip the apostle, a slow learner and a nobody in this world, yet intent on his search for spiritual satisfaction. So may we be helped by this study of the Lord's dealings with Philip as recorded in John's Gospel to avoid his mistakes and find in our Master full spiritual satisfaction as a by-product of trusting and following Him fully.