What instructions would the greatest teacher leave with his students in his last days and hours? Jesus was called Rabbi and Didaskalos (Hebrew and Greek for “teacher”, respectively). We say that he had disciples, but he called them mathetai, which is Greek for “learners” or “students”. The math in mathetai is the same root of the word mathematics. It means “the mental effort needed to see something through”.
Rather than command that people obey the nomos (Greek for “law”), he instructed them in the hodos (Greek for “way”). His followers didn’t call themselves “Christians”, they called themselves “Followers of the Way”. In this last week of his mortal life, Jesus even referred to himself as “the way”. (John 14:6)
The Greek word translated as “commandments” in the King James version of the New Testament is entole. It is derived from the words en– (in) and telos (to reach the end). These were not commands or orders, but rather instructions for reaching the end of the way.
In his most famous sermon on mount Gerizim in Samaria, the master teacher gave his students instructions. He taught them progressive steps toward godliness. I won’t repeat them here, but they are worth reading in their entirety as a gut check of how far down the way you have followed the master yourself. (Matt 5-7) I do find it interesting that in the last verse of Matthew chapter 5, the teacher says that if his students follow his instructions, they will be teleioi (there’s that word telos again). What we often repeat to each other as an injunction to strive for flawless perfection is a statement of the future of his students who follow his instructions, namely, that they will finish their walk in the way and complete the journey to the end, just as their teacher was following his Father and teacher in doing. John 14:15-21:
15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.
16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;
17 Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.
18 I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.
19 Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also.
20 At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.
21 He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.
The word “keep” in the King James version was translated from the Greek verb tereo, which means “stand watch as a sentry”. Those who love and want to follow Jesus are told to stand as sentries awaiting his instructions. If those instructions are received well, Jesus says that he will manifest himself to such a watcher, which he will no longer be doing as another person in the world. These instructions are to come by the spirit of truth, which shall be “in you”. In other words, followers of Jesus are instructed to stand watch over their hearts waiting for the spirit of truth to speak to them.
I think you’ve heard the spirit of truth before. It’s the truth you know in your heart when you do the right thing. Follow it. If you stand as a sentry over what is allowed into your heart and protect it so that it can hear that spirit, you’ll hear the master teacher’s instructions even today. His promise is that those who receive those instructions in their hearts and follow them will personally receive a visit from the teacher who sent them, for as he said in verse 19 above, even though the world sees him no more, he lives.