May 9, 2016
Scripture and Commentary, May 8-14
1 Sam. 12, Jn. 15
1 Sam. 13, Rom. 7
Chapter 15 begins what has been called the Discourse on the Way, because Jesus speaks these words on the way from the Upper Room to the Mount of Olives. It is only a matter of hours until He is taken away and killed. Therefore, He devotes every moment with the disciples to their instruction. Yes, the Spirit of Truth, the Comforter, will come, and will lead them in all truth (Jn. 16:13), but His task will primarily consist of recalling the words of Christ, and enabling the disciples to understand, live, and proclaim it as they establish Christ’s Church. So, it is still imperative, in Christ’s mind, to give as much instruction and comfort as possible in the short remaining time.
He begins by saying He is the True Vine. This is important because the nation of Israel, is the vine in the Old Testament era. But Israel is only the vine as a symbol of Christ, the True Vine. It is important for the disciples to know this, because the symbolic vine is going to turn against the True Vine and His branches. Verses 18-21 put the symbolic vine in the same category as Gentiles, saying it will hate the disciples because it hates Christ (18). It cannot help hating Christ because it does not know the Father, who has sent Christ to the world (21-25).
To be hated by Israel was no small thing in the Old Testament era. Israel was the people of God, the elect. To be out of Israel was to be out of God. To be an enemy of Israel was to be an enemy of God. But, in Christ’s time, Israel, at least in its official stance, has become an enemy of God. Therefore, it will murder the Messiah and persecute His followers. Our Lords’ point is that the symbolic vine, Israel, is now obsolete because the True Vine is here. Therefore, the true people of God are those who are in the True Vine. It is not important, then, if the old Israel excommunicates you, because it no longer speaks for God. Union with Christ, not union with Israel, is union with God.
As members of the New Israel, we are branches of the True Vine. Therefore, we follow the commandments of Christ, not those of the Pharisees and priests. We abide in Him as a literal branch abides in the main stem of its vine or tree.
Christ encourages the disciples to continue in His love (9), which is defined as keeping His commandments (10) which are summarised as loving one another as the Father loves Him and He loves us (9, 10, 12). This is a major part of bearing fruit (5), which can also be compared with the fruit of the Spirit and the fruit of righteousness (Eph. 5:9).
Summarising the chapter, we can divide it according to its major themes. Verses 1-7 present a word picture of the Vine and the branches. The illustration is similar to Paul’s example of the Body and the members. 8-17 show how the branches relate to the Vine and one another according to the Law of Love as exemplified in Him. 18-25 show the opposition of the world to the Lord and His Church. 26-27 give the promise of the Holy Spirit, called, here, the, Comforter, and foretell the disciples’ mission to bear witness to Christ as His Apostles.
1 Sam. 14:1-23, Jn. 16
1 Sam. 14:24-, 15, Rom. 8
The Discourse on the Way continues as Christ leads His men to the Mount of Olives. He tells the disciples these things so they will not be “offended.” The Greek word for “offended” is the one from which derive our English word, “scandal.” It refers to the most offensive, deepest, and worst kind of scandal that the nation of Israel can do. The scandal is that Israel will, almost unanimously, join with the world and the devil in opposition to Christ and His Church. The opposition will be intense and complete. Its objective is to eliminate all who follow Christ. The religious leaders will excommunicate His followers, meaning to cast them out of the synagogues. Since union with God was union with the physical nation of Israel, in the Old Testament era, being cast out of Israel equals being cast out of God’s grace. But Christ has already made the point that the Pharisees no longer represent God, therefore, excommunication by them is meaningless. They, ultimately have no power to separate you from the love of God (Rom. 8:35-39) because they do not know God (3).
The disciples are concerned by Christ’s frequent references to leaving them, and they do not understand it when He repeats it to them on this night (18). They don’t even bother to ask where He is going (5). They probably think He plans to leave Israel for a while, and that makes no sense to them because they believe it is time to begin the war against Rome. Everything they see makes them think it is time to begin the battle. The people have welcomed Christ into Jerusalem in the Triumphal Entry. They believe He is the Messiah, and many are willing to join His army and strike the Romans. A victory in Jerusalem will draw even more people to His cause, and soon the Romans will be gone, and Israel can begin to conquer the world the way Alexander conquered the western Mediterranean area. Therefore, the disciples believe now is the time to strike, yet Jesus is talking about going away. They don’t understand it. Their sorrow (6) probably is more about what they see as missing a good opportunity to strike the Romans, and a delay in their hopes of world domination caused by their leader going away, than about any understanding of His words about His going to the Father, or even the opposition to Christ and His disciples.
So Christ begins to explain, again, why it is expedient for them that He goes away. It is expedient for them because He will send the Holy Spirit and begin the new era of the spiritual Kingdom of God. The Spirit will overcome His enemies, not with swords and armies and death, but with truth and light and love. He will be the Comforter of God’s people (7) and the way by which enemies become friends and brethren in the Kingdom. The conviction He brings (7-16) will cause some to believe in Christ and join His Church. It will harden others in unbelief. It will enable the disciples and His Church to remember and proclaim His word (13-15).
In verse 19 Christ begins to address their coming sorrows again. He compares the coming suffering, His and theirs, to the pangs of a woman giving birth. Their sorrows and sufferings are the birth pangs of the new era. Through them the new Israel will be born, and the Messiah’s grace will be proclaimed to the world. Christ’s suffering pays the price of sin, and makes it possible for sinners to be forgiven and restored to God. The disciples’ suffering will give birth to the Church, and the Bible. The chapter ends with Christ’s words, “I have overcome the world.” He overcomes by His death and resurrection. By them He crushes the power of Satan to hold people in darkness and sin. He is as the strong man who invades Satan’s fortress, frees his slaves, and takes his possessions. When He dies on the cross, His enemies think they have won. In reality, His death is the end of their power. When they kill the Apostles and murder the Christians they think they have killed the Christian faith. In reality, their persecution rallies people to Christ. The world can never win. He has overcome it, forever.
1 Sam. 15, Jn. 17
1 Sam. 16, Rom. 9
At some point on the way to the Mount of Olives, our Lord pauses to pray the wonderful High Priestly prayer only He can say. His time of teaching has come to an end. The cross and the grave are at hand. It is natural that the Lord closes this time of instruction with prayer for the disciples, and His entire Church (20) to realise the truth about Christ, and live in agreement and harmony with Him.
Our Lord reminds the disciples, again, that His purpose is to give eternal life, not Jewish world domination (2). Eternal life is defined as knowing God and Christ (3), which is different from knowing about God. The Pharisees know about God, but Christ repeatedly makes the point that they don’t know God. The “knowing” Jesus has in mind is knowing God through His self-revelation, as recorded in the Bible, and living in loving accord with Him. This is only possible through the forgiveness of sins accomplished by Christ’s death on the cross, in which He vicariously suffers the punishment for our sins.
Knowing there is no other way to reconcile people to God than by giving His life on the cross, Christ gives Himself fully to it, praying that, by it, He may glorify the Father, and the Father may glorify Him (4-6). He has manifested (revealed) God’s essential nature (name) to the disciples by His works and teaching. Therefore, He can say confidently, “I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me: and they have received them.”
The prayer changes focus in verse 9. Verses 1-8 have centered on the Word and the Father, especially how the Word has accomplished the will of the Father in His life and ministry. In these verses, Christ speaks of His death and resurrection as though they are accomplished facts. Their accomplishment is so sure, and His commitment to them is so absolute, and His understanding that they are the unchangeable decree of God, allows Him to speak of them as accomplished reality rather than mere possibilities. But verse 9 turns to an intercessory prayer by Christ on behalf of His people.
He asks the Father to “keep” them (11) as a good king keeps the people safe, or as a good shepherd keeps the sheep. He is asking God to “tend” His sheep. Jesus wants the Father to give them joy (13). Like the peace of God, this joy is not joy as the world gives. It is a sure confidence that you are secure in the love of God, and nothing is able to take that away from you. It is not based on peace or health or prosperity in this world. It is based on faith in God, and will not be diminished even when worldly circumstances bring sorrow and suffering.
He asks the Father to keep them from the evil (15). Many commentators rightly state that the Greek text can mean to keep them from the evil one, but the King James Version correctly translates it as “the evil,” meaning the whole realm of evil and sin. The Lord is asking the Father to keep His people away from and out of the entire web and realm of evil that holds the world in its grip. Rather than let them fall into evil, Christ asks that we may be sanctified in the truth (17) adding, “thy word is truth.”
“Thy word” refers to the revelation of God. Today that revelation is preserved in the Bible. In its pages we learn what we are to believe and what we are to do to please God. We do not rely on dreams or visions. We do not rely on new prophesies or revelations. Such things are no longer the way God speaks to and leads His people. There are no Prophets or Apostles today, because we have something better, the complete Bible, the record of God’s mighty acts and teaching, to show us God’s will. Everything we need to know is in the Bible. The Word also is clearly a reference to Christ, the Word of God. As the Bible is truth, so is Christ, the Word, who gave the word of God and caused the Spirit to guide the Apostles to record and preserve it.
Christ prays that His people will be one (23). He intends Christians to be united in a spiritual unity that reflects the actual unity of the Father and the Son. There is one body of Christ, not many. There is one Church. The many divisions and denominations in the Church are due to our sin, not the will of God. Yes, it has often been necessary to separate from apostates and heretics, just as Christ’s Church had to leave the scribes and Pharisees. But many of our divisions are due to pride and self-will, rather than important theological and moral issues. These divisions work against the unity Christ thinks so important, He takes time to pray for it just before He goes to His suffering.
The chapter closes with the beautiful prayer that, through His love, displayed on the cross, “the love wherewith thou hast loved me, may be in them, and I in them.” Amen, Lord. Let it be so.
1 Sam. 17:1-29, Jn. 18
1 Sam. 17:30-, Rom 10
After His great Hight Priestly Prayer, Christ leads His disciples across the Cedron brook to the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. John tells us Judas knows of the place, and leads a band of armed men from the priests and Pharisees to it to take Jesus captive. The armed men are guards in the Temple, and have enough knowledge of Jesus to fall back in fear when they encounter Him (6).
Peter draws his sword and strikes one of the guards, probably thinking He is striking the first blow in the Messianic war to free Israel (10). But Christ tells Peter to put away his sword. He does not need swords and men to deliver Him from the guards or the plans of the Jewish leaders. He can do that for Himself, but does not. He allows them to bind and take Him, saying, “the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?”
The details of our Lord’s “trail” before the Jewish elites show that the trial is illegal and immoral. It has nothing to do with justice, and everything to do with getting rid of a great threat to their power, wealth, and security. Verse 28 highlights the illegality of the trial. It shows that it is early morning when they take Christ to Pilate, meaning Christ’s trial before the Jews was conducted at night and in secret. That makes the trial illegal.
Pilate is an excellent politician, whose primary concern is to maintain his position of wealth and power, not to ensure justice. If he does not execute Jesus, the Jews might revolt, which the Roman army would mercilessly crush. Pilate would lose his position, and, possibly, his life, as punishment for failing to keep order in Jerusalem. But, Jesus is very popular, and crucifying Him could also cause a riot, and bring Roman reprisal. So he makes a very smart political move. He shows that he finds Jesus innocent of any crime against Rome, therefore, relieving himself of all responsibility in the matter. Giving in to the Jews’ demand to crucify Him, he makes it plain that it is the Priests and Pharisees who want Christ killed, and Pilate is merely doing their bidding. The entire responsibility for Jesus’ death now rests upon the Jews, at least that is the way Pilate makes it appear. In reality, he is as wrong and culpable as the Jews. Knowing Christ’s innocence, he is morally bound to, release the innocent man and stand firm for justice regardless of the consequences. But he is more than willing to torture an innocent man to death, if it preserves and furthers his political career. Things have not changed much since then.
1 Sam. 18, Jn. 19
1 Sam. 19, Rom. 11
We have already discussed Pilate’s political manouvering, but the Jewish religious leaders are equally adept and equally wicked. Perhaps more wicked, for it is possible that Pilate might have some small concern for Jesus, because he knows Jesus is guilty of no crime. He has already had Jesus flogged, nearly to death. Perhaps, the sight of this innocent Man’s suffering because of Pilate’s lack of integrity causes a few twinges of guilty conscience in him.
If that is so with Pilate, it is not so with the Jewish religious leaders. Seeing Pilate manipulate the situation to make himself appear innocent, the Jews begin to do a little manipulating themselves. “[T]hou art not Cesar’s friend” (12) implies that the Romans will consider the release of Christ the same as releasing an enemy of Rome, and will take appropriate action against Pilate. The Jews know that is precisely what Pilate wants to avoid, and their implication has the desired effect on Pilate. After asking the crowd again what to do with Jesus, Pilate turns Him over to the crucifixion squad.
Jesus commits Mary to John’s care (25, 26), and verse 27 notes that John takes her into his own home. The remainder of the chapter records the death of Christ. Knowing all things are now accomplished, and the Scriptures concerning Christ are fulfilled, Jesus “bowed his head and gave up the ghost” (30). The sin of the world has been paid for. The Word has accomplished the great work of redemption, which He came into this world to do. Verse 34 records the spear, which John says he saw personally, and tells us about “that ye might believe.” By the end of the chapter, Jesus’ dead body is buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea (42).
1 Sam. 20, Jn. 20
1 Sam. 21, Rom. 12
We come now to the conclusion of the Gospel of John. Not just the end, or the closing chapters: 20 and 21 are the climax of the book, and the conclusion toward which the Apostle has been leading us from the very first verse. The Christian faith is based upon historical events. First is the Incarnation, the Word who is God became flesh and dwelt among us. Second is the death of Christ. He died, a literal, physical death on the cross, and His death was for our sins. Third, is the Resurrection. Christ physically and bodily rose from the dead. Fourth is His Ascension. He literally and physically ascended to the Father. Fifth is the Return of Christ. He is literally and physically coming back to restore His creation to its original glory, receive His people into His Kingdom, and banish His enemies to the eternal sorrows of hell. We see each of these events revealed and/or explained in the pages of John’s Gospel. Reporting them, as an eyewitness, has been one of John’s primary points throughout his Gospel.
But reporting the “news” about Jesus is not the point of the Gospel. The point is given in John 20:31: “These things are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name.” The Gospel is the Good News of Christ, reported, not as mere information, but as a call to you to believe in Christ and become a member of His Kingdom, in which you may enjoy all the benefits and blessings secured for you by His mighty work. It is as though John is saying, Christ did these things to bring people back to God; believe in Him so He can bring you back.
Verses 1-13 tell of the empty tomb. Many have noticed that each Gospel report differs from the others, and some have used those differences to attack the Faith by saying the resurrection is fiction and the writers were so inept they couldn’t even coordinate their lies. In reality, the differences are only in what the writers choose to report. John, for example, reports only Mary Magdalene’s experience at the tomb, while Matthew, Mark, and Luke include the other women who were present (Mt. 28:1, Mk. 16:1, Lk. 23:55-24:2). In John, Mary also says “we know not where they have laid Him” (2), not “I know not where they have laid Him,” indicating that others were with her at the tomb. Thus, each writer reports different details, but their reports complement, rather than contradict, each other. Bishop Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: John volume 4, pp. 353-354, give a very satisfactory attempt to harmonise the four Gospel reports into chronological order. It is true, however, that all such harmonies contain at least some conjecture, and Ryle, himself, agrees that the main point of the resurrection, rather than minor points of who reported what, should occupy most of our attention.
One of the primary points in verses 1-13 is that the literal body of Jesus, which was dead, is now miraculously alive, and His resurrected body convinces the disciples that all His teachings are true, and they believe in Him. John’s belief (8) should not be equated with full understanding. That will not happen until the Holy Spirit is given at Pentecost. But faith is being formed in him by the convincing evidence of the empty tomb.
It is important to note that the grave clothes lay exactly as they were when Jesus was placed in them (6, 7). Jesus did not remove them, He passed through them. Likewise, the stone was not removed to let Jesus out. He passed through the stone as He passes through the walls and locked doors of the place where the disciples are gathered (19). The stone was removed to let the people in, not to let Jesus out.
Verses 14-29 record the appearances and words of the risen Lord. These appearances are not reported merely to make the facts known. They are reported to enable the readers of the Gospel to become convinced of their reality, and, like Thomas, “be not faithless, but believing.”
Verses 30 and 31bring us to John’s purpose for writing, and his hope for all who read his account of the life and ministry of the Word become flesh. The Gospel of John, like all true Scripture, is a clear call to believe in Christ as Thomas believes in Him, as your Lord and your God; and believing, to have eternal life in Christ.
1 Sam. 22, Jn. 21
1 Sam. 23, Rom. 13
Our Lord shows Himself to His disciples again. They have gone fishing, not for pleasure, but for income, probably working for Peter’s family as Peter did before Christ called him to become a fisher of men. The Lord is making a point here. He is showing, by His actions, that He is the same Jesus of Nazareth He was before the crucifixion. He was just as glorious, just as Divine, and just as wonderfully mysterious then as He is now, and now as He was then. He is worthy of their worship, obedience, and most sacrificial love because He is the Word become flesh. It is their misunderstanding of His nature and mission that must change, not Him. They must begin to conform to His will, not He to theirs. Thus, He calls them “children” (5). In this He identifies Himself with the Father, and them with His creation. He is their Lord and their God; they are His creation, His sheep, and His children. This is a bold statement of Christ’s Divinity. He shows His identity, and, authority, with the sign of the fish (5-7). As God, He is Master of the sea and the fish. They do His will, as He commands.
“Naked” (7), does not mean without all clothing. The Greek word means he has removed his outer cloak, much as a man might remove his shirt today.
Our Lord continues to show Himself as God by inviting the disciples to eat of His miraculously prepared meal (12-14). Do not be disturbed by the words of verse 14. John knows the Lord has appeared at other times, and has even recorded His appearance to Mary at the tomb. John is saying this is the third appearance of Jesus to the disciples, not the third appearance of the resurrected Lord.
Our Lord now gives Peter the opportunity to choose Christ, rather than deny Him as he had done in Jerusalem. On that night, Peter had loved his own life and hopes more than he loved Christ. Now, beside Galilee, where Peter had walked on the water, seen the Lord still the storm, and on whose shores he had seen multitudes fed and sick people healed, heard the Sermon on the Mount, and answered the call to become a fisher of men, he is given another chance to love Christ with all his heart, soul, and mind. Our Lord uses a slightly different metaphor here. We might say fishing for men has an evangelistic meaning to it, while feeding the sheep emphasises the care of the Church. Either metaphor bids Peter to leave his nets again, and take up his vocation in the pastoral ministry of Christ’s Church. If Peter does this, it will cost him his life (18, 19). He will die on a cross, just as his Lord died. The very thing he sought to escape when he denied Christ three times, will, at last, end his earthly life.
It is as though our Lord asks Peter, Do you now love Me more than you love the sea, and the security of home and family and a comfortable income? Do you now love Me more than you love your own life? If you do, then return to your calling. I called you to become a fisher of men. I now call you back to that same vocation. Will you do this, Peter? do you love Me that much?
Peter, still unsure, asks, But what about the others? What about John? Why don’t You ask them these same questions?
Leave them to me, Peter. I have My plans for their lives, too, but they are not your concern. Your concern is what you are going to do. How much do you love Me? “Follow thou Me” (22).
After an explanatory note about John (23, 24), the Gospel closes with an assertion that the Lord did many other things, not recoded in this book, and the world is not big enough to be a library to hold all that would need to be written about Him. But there is an implied reference here back to 19:31, “these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name.” It also implies that we ought to look at the conversation with Peter in 15-22, putting ourselves in Peter’s place. Will you love Christ above all else, even your own life? Will you follow Him, regardless of what the world, or the Church does? “Lovest thou Me more than these?”