Q&R – Does Christ ‘deny us’? with Brad Jersak
I have a question about Matthew 10:33 and 2 Timothy 2:11-12. Both passages describe Jesus denying us. This seems to be contrary to his nature and contrary to most of the theologians I find myself reading. Yet, I see these statements (among others) that seem to paint Jesus has relatively severe.
My task has been to try and see the self-giving God revealed in Jesus and yet not neglect the hard sayings of Jesus. I’ve actually found the task of Christology to be more difficult than I had imagined.
Let’s start with our shared assumptions,
(1) that the God revealed in Jesus Christ is radically inclusive, unfailing Love whose mercy endures forever, and who seeks the lost until he finds them, and by being lifted up (on the Cross) promises that ultimately, he will draw all men to himself. All of this is true in a way that our reading of Matthew 10 or 2 Timothy 2 cannot and must not negate.
(2) that the hard sayings of Jesus Christ and his apostles are not to be evaded or dulled just because they are difficult or even scary. Rather, we double down and dive into them.
The passages in question focus on the threat of divine denial to those who have denied him. Let’s double-check each of them.
Before we zoom into the precise verses, let me remind you to read the context in which they are embedded. Verse 31-33 are part of a larger section on the cost of discipleship in 10:24-32. Jesus is commissioning his forerunners to a task that will involve opposition and trials, maybe even being disowned by family or killed by authorities. So in the rhetorical style of a pep-talk, he’s saying (a) this could get rough! (b) can you face the music? (c) fear not! I have your back! In the midst of his commission, he says,
31 So do not fear… 32 Therefore, everyone who confesses me before people, I will also confess him before my Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies me before people, I will also deny him before my Father who is in heaven.
In this case, I would regard Jesus’ words with all seriousness as a dire warning against denying him, despite the cost of discipleship. There’s a day coming when we’ll meet Christ facee-to-face and on that ‘great and terrible day,’ those who’ve denied him will weep at how they abandoned him, just as Peter and Judas did. Our conscience will condemn us for rejecting perfect Love. Worse, when we stand before the Father’s gaze and asks about our relationship with Jesus Christ, neither we nor Jesus will be able to lie if there wasn’t one. “I denied knowing him.” And although he intimately knows all things and all people, Jesus must also say, “I, too, deny knowing them” [in the sense of mutual intimate relationship]. This will be bad news. Jesus is saying, “This hypothetical outcome need not occur.”
But if it does, we have the full counsel of God, which ALSO says such judgments are penultimate. That is, yes, there is judgment, but mercy triumphs over judgment. Yes, there will be tears, but this same Jesus will wipe every tears from our eyes. Yes, there will be a denial, followed by an embrace, because “where sin abounds, grace much more abounds.” Betrayals may last a lifetim, but his mercy endures forever. Yes, he will “send some away,” and then he will draw all men to himself.” Seen this way, the gravity of judgment is no less dire, but gratefully, it’s also not ultimate.
2 Timothy 2:11
As for Paul, writing to Timothy, he’s citing a familiar hymn. Leading up to the hymn, he’s reflecting on his own enduring through persecution as a motivator for them to emulate his courage. After the hymn, he switches to an exhortation about not quibbling, because that’s such a shallow diversion from their calling. Here’s the hymn in full:
11 Here is a trustworthing saying:
If we died with him, we will also live with him;
12 If we endure, we will also reign with him.
If we disown him, he will also disown us;
If we are faithless, he remains faithful,
for he cannot disown himself.
Note how the last two lines seem to directly contradict the preceding lines.
- First, there’s an assurance that those who died with him (past tense… perhaps death in the baptism of his death?) will also live with him!
- Next, there’s promise that those who endure in this victory will reign with him (so hang in there!).
- Third, a warning… disown him and he’ll disown you (so don’t!).
- And finally, a ‘trump card’… even if you are faithless, even if you disown him, even if you don’t endure, then what? Christ gets the last word. His union with you is so complete and indivisible that he can’t disown himself.
But if it all turns out in the end, why worry about it? Why the warnings? (Paul answers this objection in Romans 6… if the objection doesn’t arise, we’ve not preached Paul’s gospel).
I would say that the warnings are given because how we live matters, and living for ourselves has real consequence and real losses. As Jesus said, “Those who live for themselves lose their life, and those who lose their lives for my sake find them.”
Yes, grace will win the day. But what do our lives mean before God if we’ve buried that grace?
In the end, these words of Wm. Paul Young comfort me (I’m paraphrasing from memory):
Christ will never disown the truth of who you are, his beloved child. But he cannot embrace a lie, the false self that denies him. The fire of his love will consume everything in you that is not love. Ultimately, he denies your denial of him and embraces your true self, because in his union with you, he can’t deny himself.
I hope I’ve represented Paul’s point correctly. It certainly is beautiful.