From year to year certain Bible verses speak to me, becoming favorites. This year it’s John 13:1: “Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour was come that He should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end.”
It’s the last phrase that grabs the heart—“He loved them unto the end!” The Greek word for “end” is telos meaning end or toll. Telos love is an enduring, toll-paying love.
In several places, like Revelation 22:13, the word “telos” is used to describe the actual character of Jesus: “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end (telos).” The Bible has several significant applications for the word “telos,” all linked to Jesus’ character of love—“telos love.”
For example, the word telos describes endurance. “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end (telos), the same shall be saved” (Matthew 24:12-13). In contrast to the human race, plagued with relationships that start well and fail to endure, Jesus’ love endured to the end—“telos endurance.” When the love of even His closest disciples froze in abandonment and denial—His love remained hot!
Peter sees in Jesus’ eyes a look of love that swallowed up his words of betrayal.
Paul uses telos when instructing us to “pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue (telos) is due… owe no one anything, except… love” (Romans 13:7-8, NRSV). In our time, as in Paul’s, paying revenue is not always easy (think IRS). Yet “love” constrains us to pay “toll-telos.” Paul was motivated by Calvary where Jesus did not fail to love broken, wretched human beings, no matter what the toll.
In Luke 18:5, telos speaks to the justice of God: “Yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually [telos] coming” (Luke 18:5, NRSV). The widow’s telos for justice is a reflection of the just character of a loving God.
Telos also suggests a goal or aim. “For Christ is the end [telos] of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Romans 10:4). “Goal telos” informs us that the goal of law and righteousness is to be like Christ.
In Matthew 26:58 telos suggests finality: “But Peter followed Him afar off unto the high priest’s palace, and went in, and sat with the servants, to see the end [telos].” In this “end-telos,” Peter sees in Jesus’ eyes a look of love that swallowed up his words of betrayal. Perhaps this inspired John to write, “He loved them unto the end.”
Telos love is the enduring, just, toll-bearing, goal of all human experience grounded in God’s undying, debt-paying love for us. Humanity has failed, but God’s love has prevailed. Amen.