Jesus is unquestionably the greatest teacher the world has ever known. "And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes," we are told (Matt. 7: 28, 29). Notwithstanding, Jesus was misunderstood by others who heard him. Consider the following:
"21: Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? 22: Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me. 23: Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?" (Jn. 20.)
Many continue to misunderstand the Lord today. In fact, the Bible continues to be the most misunderstood book known to man. Before we begin to notice additional instances of misunderstanding, we need to realize that the teaching of all the inspired (God breathed) writers of the New Testament constitutes the commands of Jesus. Hear Paul: "If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord" (I Cor. 14: 37).
Some have understood the Lord to teach that religious division is pleasing and acceptable. During the ministry of Jesus, there was an incident that involved the apostle John. Luke related it thus: "And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in the thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us" (Lk. 9: 49, 50). In the first place, it must be realized that the man whom John saw was "casting out demons." One could not cast out demons but by the power of God (Matt. 12: 25 ff.). Hence, the man was not teaching or performing error. Jesus explained to John that the man was not against them but "for us." The problem John had was the man was not physically following them, part of their group. John is actually demonstrating a party attitude. Since the man was teaching the truth, John should have encouraged and recognized him.
Those who view the Lord's response to John as sanction for many different churches, teaching many conflicting doctrines have misunderstood the Lord. Jesus himself prayed for the unity of his people and stated that such oneness is conducive to others believing (Jn. 17: 20, 21). The scriptures teach that those who cause divisions are to be marked and avoided (Rom. 16: 17). Moreover, religious division is sinful (I Cor. 3: 1-3, 1: 10 ff., cp. Eph. 4: 4, 1: 22, 23).
Some think Jesus taught that he and the Father were the same being. As we shall see, the scriptures teach the oneness of the Godhead in the sense that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all one in mind, will, and purpose. However, some teach that Jesus and the Father are different manifestations of the same entity. The misunderstood statement reads thus: "Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? " (Jn. 14: 9).
There are many instances and teachings in which we witness the separateness of the Father and the Son. When Jesus was baptized on earth, the voice of the Father from heaven was heard, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matt. 3: 16, 17). Paul wrote, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen" (2 Cor. 13: 14). When Jesus said to Philip, "he that hath seen me hath seen the Father," Jesus simply meant that he was perfectly representative of the Father. "I am in the Father, and the Father in me," Jesus explained to Philip (Jn. 14: 10).
Jesus taught that all the divergent religious bodies comprise the church universal, some think. Some understand Jesus' teaching about the vine and the branches to teach that the different branches represent different churches (Jn. 15: 1-5). However, Jesus clearly explained that the branches stand for individual believers (vs. 5, 6). "If a man abide not in me" Jesus stated, not "if a church abide not in me." The individual looks to and depends on Jesus, the branch, for sustenance and life. Jesus said to his disciples, "without me ye can do nothing" (vs. 5). Individuals are added to Christ, his universal church, when they are baptized (Gal. 3: 26, 27, I Cor. 12: 13). We never read of different churches making up the church universal. People who so understand Jesus in John 15, I say kindly, have misunderstood Jesus.
Many have understood the Lord to teach that it matters not what one believes, just as long as one is sincere in the belief. Most who so understand Jesus do not even have a case of Jesus' teaching to cite. Some in an effort to produce proof, cite Jesus' language in John 4: 24. Jesus did say that those who worship God must worship him in spirit. It is a fact that sincerity of worship is required (Heb. 10: 25-31). However, consider what Jesus really said: "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth" (Jn. 4: 24). Hence, sincerity and worshipping in truth are equally important, according to Jesus. No where is it taught in the scriptures that it matters not what is believed, just as long as one sincerely believes. Error is shown to be damning and only the truth sets free (2 Pet. 2: 1 ff; Jn. 8: 32). Jesus asked, "And why call me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Lk. 6: 46).
Many have mistakenly concluded that Jesus taught the direct and irresistible working of the Holy Spirit in the salvation of man. Jesus did have much to say about the Holy Spirit (Jn. 14-16). Man is born of water and the Spirit, Jesus told Nicodemus (Jn. 3: 5). The Holy Spirit is operative in sanctification and exerts great power (I Cor. 6: 11; Rom. 15: 13). However, when one considers the scriptures, one will find that the Holy Spirit does not directly work on man. Man is born and sanctified by the word of God (I Pet. 1: 23; Jn. 17: 17). "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ," Paul wrote, "for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (Rom. 1: 16). The truth of the matter is that the Holy Spirit works through the word to accomplish his work. Moreover, the will of man is always involved in man's salvation (cp. Jn. 3: 16). Hence, the Spirit does not irresistibly work on man.
Beloved, there are multiplied instances of the Lord and his apostles being misunderstood. In fact, the myriad of religious beliefs today are indicative of such misunderstandings. There are many reasons as to why people do not correctly understand what the Lord has said in his word. Many today simply hear what they want to hear. Some out of their prejudice, deliberately twist and distort the Lord's teaching. Others simply fail to "handle aright the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2: 15, ASV). It behooves us to reverently study the scriptures. This is especially true in view of the serious consequences of changing God's word in any way (Rev. 22: 18, 19; Gal. 1: 6-9; 2 Jn. 9-11). The admonition is: "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God " (I Pet. 4: 11).