One of the greatest blessings of life in the Truth is the pleasure that real friendship affords. We love our Brethren and Sisters because of the qualities we see in them. Our Lord combines all of the finest qualities we admire in our friends, and more. Our friends we have seen, Christ we have not. Yet we can be assured that he is the most attractive character that has walked this earth.

The apostle Peter could say, “whom having not seen, ye love, in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Pet 1:8). He is the most graceful, the most interested, the most sincere and the most steadfast friend any of us will ever have. The Lord’s deep affection for his friends can be measured by his warm admission at the opening of the last supper with his disciples: “With passion (‘desire’ A.V.) I have desired to eat this Passover with you”.

There was no dissimulation in this statement; it was a confession of love expressed with deep conviction. Christ was not given, it would seem, to expose his feelings in public and the private expression of his inner sentiments was reserved for rare occasions and special friends. It reveals to us the great value our Lord placed in the friendship he found in his disciples. In a world where nearly all misunderstood or misrepresented him, to have a few who shared something of his view of life was one of his greatest joys. “I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you” (John 15:15).

The apostle John, who it seems, shared a special relationship with Jesus, was one of those who really understood the Lord, was intellectually stimulated by Christ’s conversations and identified with his lofty ideals. It was he who leaned on Jesus’ breast at supper and shared his confidence on many occasions.

The bond of love forged during the time of his association with these men was so great that Christ pledged he would never again drink of the fruit of the vine until he drank it new with them in his Father’s Kingdom (Luke 22:18; Num 6:20).

Whatever symbolic meaning might be construed from this statement, it is first and foremost Christ’s way of conveying the deep love he felt for those men he was about to leave. He would forego the pleasure of tasting the wine that “maketh glad the heart of man” until he could enjoy it with them. Christ’s sentiments in this regard are true for all of us. When a thing is shared with another who appreciates the same ideals, the pleasure is enhanced. Whether it be a beautiful scene, excellence in music or art or the genius of Divine ways, they cannot be enjoyed with oneself; they must be shared to be appreciated.

Christ’s passionate desire to share the things showed him by his Father was not restricted to his disciples then. In his unique capacity to penetrate the future he thought of others who would come on the scene long after his mission had finished and he had left the earth. He sought that they too could enter into the intimate circle of his friends; so he prayed: “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us” (John 17:20, 21). Here is the most far reaching concern a man or woman has ever had for their friends – to care so much for them, to love them so deeply, as to pray for them before they were born! His desire to meet us and know us face to face is clearly implied by this. In the meantime as a true friend and shepherd he feeds us according to the “integrity of his heart” and guides us by the “skilfulness of his hands” (Psa. 78:72).

When our Bridegroom comes he will find two types of people awaiting him; there will be those to whom he says, “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matt 7:23); and there will be those whom he does know, though he has never met them. These are his bride, true friends who have come to the same appreciation of his Father’s ways; of their friendship he will never tire.

The encounter described in John 21 anticipates the day when the Lord Jesus Christ will be united with all those who love him, even though they may never have seen him. It was the occasion of the Lord’s appearance to his disciples in Galilee after his resurrection.

Having returned to their old haunts, the disciples, somewhat at a loss what to do, finally resolved to go fishing. They fished all night and caught nothing. As the morning mist began to roll off the encircling hills and all that could be heard was the gentle slap of the water against the boat, the cool stillness was broken by a call, “Children, have ye any meat?” “No!” they replied. Through the rising mist the outline of a stranger could be dimly discerned on the shore. Beside him was the warm glow of coals.

At his bidding they cast their net again, this time on the right side of the boat, and snared such a catch of fish that they were unable to draw it aboard.

Upon their gaining the shore, Jesus, for that was who the stranger was, invited them to join him, with a cordial “Come and dine!” It is recorded that “none of the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord”. It would seem superfluous to mention this if there was not a possibility that they might have mistaken his identity. At what point was the question of his identity re resolved? As soon as he spoke. They recognized the manner, even when they could not see the speaker. The unmistakable ring of authority and gracious candour of the one who spoke in the Name of the Father sparked their recollection.

So it will be for us in the day of our first encounter with the risen Lord. And it was to us that the apostle Peter, one of those present on that earlier occasion, wrote the words: “Whom having not seen ye love, in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory”.

 It will be Christ’s pleasure to have those who have continued with him in his temptations, as his guests, eating and drinking at his table in his Kingdom. In that day “he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them” (Luke 12:37; 22:30). To be invited to a meal by another is universally regarded as a symbol of unity and friendship. The conversation around the table will be of the warmest and most entertaining kind. The host will provide not only the finest fare earth can offer, but his company will be a source of unending fascination and joy. He will “know” all those at his table individually, and will be able to enter into a personal conversation with each, subtly discerning and drawing out their history and personality and with grace adding his observations on this or that aspect of their life. In this convivial atmosphere the King will seek their observations on the affairs of his dominion and discuss his plans for the future.

Bro Roberts writes:

The memory of a dear friend is sweet. True friendship is prone to this memory, and finds pleasure in every occasion and mode of its exercise. In its ultimate form, it is not satisfied with anything less than looking on the countenance: and one look is not enough. Twenty looks are not enough. There is boundless hunger and boundless capacity in true love. It wants always to see its object. This privilege we shall have by and by in Christ, if we are happy enough to receive his approbation; the apostles enjoyed it in measure, in their day, while he was with them; and their breakings of bread after his departure would doubtless have a reality and a zest of memory that we cannot attain, who have not seen him, and do not know what he is like. Meanwhile, we have to be content with the privilege that is within our reach, and with nothing less will true intelligence be content. We may know the love of Christ though we have not seen him; and feed sweetly at the table of his memory though we cannot recall the sight of the eye. Our love does not rest on the contour of his face and the shape of his figure, though both will charm us when we can see. It is what he is in himself, and what he is in relation to our highest well-being, that excites our interest and engages our admiration and love.

 For himself we know him as the “altogether lovely and chief among ten thousand”. All possible excellence unites in him – the greatness of God and the loveliness of man; the power of omnipotence and the gentleness of friendship; the justice of the highest and the kindness of the most merciful; the spotlessness of perfection and the compassionateness of the most erring; all depths of manly wisdom and knowledge with all grace and tenderness of womanly true affection. Mercy and Truth embrace; righteousness and peace salute; strength and beauty unite; unutterable grace is poured into his lips; ineffable majesty girds him; honour and glory rejoice in his presence. To know him truly is “to know the love of Christ which passeth Knowledge”.

 “He is thy Lord, worship thou him.” Consider how immeasurably his interestingness and glory are heightened for us by the meaning he has for the noble earth we inhabit and the poor afflicted race to which we belong. We may know an excellent friend, but he can do nothing for us. He is powerless to bless. To that extent our appreciations are diminished. It is only an artificial philosophy that attaches a sinister meaning to this fact. There is nothing evil in right connections. We esteem an excellent friend, and we rejoice for his sake in his good fortune if he have any; but if he have power and disposition to bless his neighbours as well, an additional number of our faculties are engaged, and the stream of gratification is broadened. A friend of this sort is simply overpoweringly interesting, though you don’t meet with him often. Now such a friend Christ is for all the world at last”.