What is the true knowledge of Jesus that Peter spoke of? How do we find it and grow in it? The insipid answers of hollow sentimentality, subjective spirituality, arbitrary morality, and vague theology so common today all must be silent. Knowing Jesus is not an abstract, vague pursuit. Like Peter’s knowledge of Jesus, for us it must also be tethered at every point and on every level to a real Person, a real life. Yet how can this be, since we do not have the privilege of proximity that the disciples did? Clearly there is a difference. In his first epistle, Peter addresses his readers as those who had not seen Jesus, putting himself in a separate category (1 Peter 1:8). Yet immediately afterward he goes on to say that they loved Him. Like Peter they, too, could have a true knowledge of Christ that resulted in authentic love. This was possible not because all that Peter knew through his time with Jesus wasn’t necessary for real knowledge and love, but precisely because it had been faithfully made known to them through the preaching of the gospel (cf. 1 Peter 1:12, 2 Peter 3:2).
What should be so foundational and obvious has become almost novel in our day. The reason the first four books of the New Testament are called the Gospels is because the early Church viewed their content as the substance of the gospel. The idea of someone “knowing Jesus” because they said a prayer in response to a four-step plan of salvation when they don’t actually know anything about Jesus Himself is utterly foreign to the New Testament. The gospel is first and foremost a Person – God in the flesh – and only secondly a message about what He has done. The truth of Jesus’ life and teachings was transmitted through authoritative oral tradition for the first four decades after the ascension (cf. 1 Cor. 15:1-3), after which it was recorded through the inspired text of the canonical gospels we know today. Yet whether one was present with Jesus or absent, and whether this truth was heard or read, the path to the true knowledge of Jesus remains the same.
What does this look like practically? It means actually setting out to know all that we possibly can about who Jesus is, what Jesus did, and what Jesus said. So simple, yet so profoundly neglected by the modern Church. This includes the places He traveled, the characters in the story, and the order of events. In other words, the details. Yahweh’s life lived in the flesh is the bread of knowledge offered to us, and Love bids us come and gather up every crumb. While it may begin with the life of Christ, the pursuit by no means stops there. Moving out in both directions, we scour the Old Testament to find all the traces we can of the One who has no beginning and scrutinize the rest of the New Testament in order to have all that was revealed about Jesus through the apostles written upon our hearts. At times we may be staring at a map of Galilee, have our nose in a commentary on Isaiah, or be soberly reading the book of Revelation. Wherever we may go, however, it is crucial that prayer and adoration ever be our companions along the way. This ensures that facts become knowledge, and knowledge becomes love. Another way of saying this is that we meditate upon the truth of Jesus so that He is a real Person to us and not merely a moving concept or collection of data. We behold Him. We listen to the Word made flesh.
The journey will certainly be unique to each individual, but seeing the knowledge of Jesus this concretely eliminates the option that studying the Gospels is only reserved for a few. Could love ever be content to know only scattered bits and pieces about the life of the Beloved? Nor is Christology merely one subject among many in the Christian faith, as though another person might legitimately opt for another theme that is “their message”. All of us have one major, with many different minors, to use an analogy from the academic world. Our worship, our obedience, our discipleship, our preaching, and our affections must all be thoroughly grounded in the foundation of the glory of who Jesus is. Let us press on to know Him truly, for the sake of His renown.