What the Disciples Knew
“Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.”- John 17:7–8
While praying for His first disciples, Jesus said that the eleven men who had remained faithful to Him during His earthly ministry were those who had “kept” the Father’s word (John 17:6). We noted that Jesus could not have meant that the disciples fully understood or completely obeyed what Jesus had told them from the Father. After all, the Gospels do not hesitate to record the many failures of the disciples to believe and to obey during our Lord’s earthly ministry (for example, Matt. 26:31; Mark 6:45–52). Jesus meant that the disciples had, in the main, stayed with Him. They had continued to hold to Him as the way of life even when others abandoned Him (John 6:66–69).
Today’s passage supports this interpretation. Jesus expands on saying that the disciples had kept His Father’s word by unfolding what the disciples understood about Him at that point in His ministry. First, He says the disciples knew that the teaching of Jesus had been given to Him from the Father. They may not have fully comprehended everything that Jesus had told them, but they understood that His teaching originated in God Himself (17:7). Second, and as a consequence of knowing where Jesus’ words came from, they believed that Jesus had been sent from the Father (v. 8).
That Jesus could identify this very basic knowledge of His origin and source of ministry as what it means for the disciples to have kept His words is encouraging to us. It demonstrates that ignorance and misunderstanding can coexist to some degree with true faith. And this is good news, because all of us misunderstand at least some portions of God’s Word and are ignorant regarding at least some matters of doctrine—no matter how much we have studied the things of God and no matter how long we have been believers. Not one of us has finally arrived at perfect knowledge of God’s truth, but thankfully, perfect knowledge of God’s truth is not what determines our salvation.
Yet none of that is an excuse to remain ignorant or to persist in misunderstanding God’s Word. Scripture repeatedly exhorts us to grow up “into salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). In other words, we are called to diligently study divine revelation so that we will more fully grasp who God is and what He has done for us in Jesus Christ. In short, we should never be content with what we know today, but we must strive to know even more tomorrow.
We can be saved without fully understanding all that Jesus has accomplished for us. However, our assurance of salvation will be stronger and we will be more thankful to God the more we know about who Christ is and what He has accomplished. Let us diligently study the things of God that we might grow to full maturity in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Passages for Further Study
1 Corinthians 14:20