April 14, 2016

Scripture and Commentary, April 15 and 16

April 15

Judges 6:1-10,  John 1;1-28
Judg. 6:11-24 , James 4


John 1:1-28

John’s Gospel is one of the bright gems of Scripture.  Augustine said it rises above all peaks of earth, all plains of the sky, above all stars and legions of angels, and arrives at “Him by whom all things were made.”  Bishop J. C. Ryle said John teaches the deep things of God, which “are among the most precious possessions of the Church of Christ.”  Of the four Gospels, John’s gives the fullest statements about the divinity of Christ, justification by faith, the offices of Christ, the work of the Holy Ghost, and the privileges of believers

Bishop Ryle undertook his commentary on John, as he did all his sermons and books, “with fear and trembling” often saying to himself, “Who is sufficient for these things?”  Let us undertake the study of this Gospel with similar feelings.  Let us know that “the place whereupon thou standest is Holy Ground.”  Levity and frivolity have no place here. Only humble worship belongs on this holy ground.

The comments in this study will be necessarily brief; a mere introduction.  Readers are encouraged to pursue deeper understanding, through the works of those whose labours in the word have been found faithful throughout generations.  By definition this removes most of the recent commentaries from the table, and turns to the old standards.  Among those already listed, works by William Hendriksen and John Calvin will be helpful.

Modern critics have disparaged the idea that this Gospel was written by John the Apostle, but the Church has always believed it came from his pen.  Indeed the early Church would have soundly rejected it if it had come from any other source.  On their testimony, we can trust that we are reading the words of the beloved Apostle, who, with the other Apostles, was commissioned by Christ to make disciples of us and to teach us to observe all that our Lord has commanded us (Mt. 28:19, 20).

The date of the Gospel is uncertain.  Some believe it was written prior to the fall of Jerusalem (70 A.D), since that event is not mentioned in the Book.  Others believe it was written as late as the year 85 A.D.  While we may not know the date, we do know it was the last of the canonical Gospels to be written, and that it was written to an audience, who already possessed the other three Gospels.  Thus, rather than re-stating what his readers already know about the life and ministry of Christ, John delves more deeply into the meaning of these events, and the meaning of Christ’s teaching.  John probably wrote the Book from Ephesus, where he lived and exercised Apostolic oversight of Asia (modern Turkey) as seen in the Book of Revelation.

The very first point made in this Gospel is that the “Word” is God.  The entire book stands or falls on the truth of this point, for the rest of the book is about what the Word of God has done and taught to humanity.  This matters because, what God does for humanity, is done by and through the Word.

John shows that the Word is God by showing that the Word “was” in the beginning.  The beginning means the beginning of the physical creation, the cosmos.  It is that event addressed in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”  The point being made is that the Word “was” (existed) when the physical realm was made.  He was there.

He not only existed, He is the Creator.  All things were made by Him.  All stars and galaxies, all angels, all the realms of spiritual realities, and all the great and small elements and particles of the physical realm exist in Him and were made by Him.  Thus, if God created the heavens and the earth, and if the Word created all things, then the Word is God. 

In our beginning, the Word already “was,” and He lived “with God.”  “With” as used here does not mean along side of.  It means in full communion with, and face to face with God.  It is a statement of absolute equality and shared existence between God and the Word.  If the Word were not fully equal with God, He would not be face to face with God.  He would be in a humble, bowing position before God, as a man bowing before an ancient king.  John is telling us, the Word is everything God is, and God is everything the Word is.  God and the Word are absolutely equal in Divinity, eternity, power, glory, being, existence, wisdom, knowledge, goodness, and truth.

“And the word was God.”  This statement is yet another declaration of the absolute oneness of God and the Word.  What God is, the Word is.  What the Word is, God is.  They are of the same substance.  The Word is “very God of very God,” as the Church has affirmed from the beginning, and formally stated in the Nicene Creed.  “Very,” as used here, is an English version of the Latin word, veritas, or, truth.  We see it in the Bible when our Lord says “verily I say unto you” (Mt.5:18).  We might easily translate it, “Truly I say unto you.”  So the Creed affirms what John states clearly in verse 1;  the Word is true God of true God.  They are of the same substance, the same essence, the same being.  The Word is truly one with everything God is.

Some have claimed the Word is a god, but not the God.  They believe the Word and God are two Gods, rather than one, based on the fact that the Greek text of John 1:1 does not say, “the word was the God.”  Greek often, but not always, uses an article in front of nouns referring to specific persons, places, or things.  Thus, instead of saying “George is the man,” Greeks might have said, “the George is the man.”  “The” in the sentence specifies which George is the man.  If they wanted to say some person, named George, is the man they would not use “the.”  So their sentence would be stated something like, “a George is the man.” 

But, just as in English, and other languages, Greek did not always do this, and there are several cases in the New Testament where it does not.  Such cases are often associated with the verb “to be”  when it is used to equate two things, such as George and the man.  In such cases, Greek frequently omits the article from one of the nouns.  Thus, the Greek is equating God and the Word as our English example equates George and the man.  More detailed commentary on the Greek grammar is available in other commentaries, but is beyond the scope of this work.  Let it suffice to say the Greek text of John’s Gospel equates the Word and God.  Its point is that what God is, the Word is, and what the Word is, God is.   The Word was, is, and always will be, God.

Verses 4 -11 identify the Word as the life and light of men (humanity). He is the source of all life.  Light refers to intelligence and understanding, of which He is also the source.  He has these things in Himself, humanity receives them from Him as the earth receives heat and light from the sun.  These verses also record the very sad fact that most people reject the Word.  He came unto His own, and His own received Him not (11).

The important things of verses 11-13 will be covered in later comments.  For now we move to a pivotal verse in John’s Gospel; “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,” (14).  The primary point of John’s Gospel is that the Word is God.  The second point is that the Word became flesh.  The third point is that He died and rose again for our sin.  The fourth is that those who believe in Him, in Biblical faith, become sons of God, or, in more familiar words, have everlasting life.  These four themes will be developed and stated many times in this Gospel.  They are what John wants us to know and do after reading it.

April 16

Judg. 6:24-40. Jn. 1:29-51
Judg. 7, James 5


John 1:29-51

The Word was/is God, and the Word was made flesh.  But what person is the Word in the flesh?  How can we know who He is?  That is the question answered in the baptism of Christ in verses 29-34.  Jesus of Nazareth is publicly identified and announced as the Word/Christ/Messiah, at His baptism. 

False Messiahs were plentiful in Christ’s day.  Therefore, it is important that the one who identifies and announces Christ to the world is a credible person.  So John takes a few moments to give the credentials of the Baptist.  John the Baptist is universally recognised as a true prophet of God by the people of Israel.  He is the forerunner of the Messiah.  He has come to prepare the way for the Messiah (23) and to bear witness to the Light (8, 9).   It is his task to introduce the Messiah to the world.  Therefore, his words about Christ are from God and are true, and His words identify Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah.  Jesus is the Word become flesh.  Jesus is the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world by offering Himself as the full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice for sin by His death on the cross (29).  The Baptist is told he will see the Spirit of God descend and remain upon the Word, and when he sees this happen, he is to announce to the people that this is the Word, here called, the Son of God (33).  Based on this, John says, “I saw, and bare record, that this is the Son of God.”

This is a momentous event.  Israel has been waiting and praying for the Messiah for centuries.  Impostors have come and gone, leading many astray and crushing the hopes of the people.  But now, one who is universally recognised as a true prophet of God, the first prophet in hundreds of years, has identified the true Messiah.  He has come at last.  The age of fulfillment is at hand.  It is impossible to overestimate the importance of this announcement, and the people’s reaction must have been incredible.  

In response to John’s introduction of Christ, people begin to follow Him (37).  Even some of John’s own disciples leave him to follow Christ, and here we meet Andrew and Peter for the first time (40-42).  Later, the Lord will call them to leave their boats and become fishers of men.  For now He simply says, “Come and see” (39). His words are an invitation to learn about Christ, to hear the Word teach the things of God (Jn. 1:18), and to “see” the glory of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” In verses 43-51, Phillip and Nathanael also receive this privilege. They see His glory revealed in the knowledge of Christ, who sees and knows Nathanael before He ever “meets” him in the flesh.  Great as this is, it is a small thing compared to the things the disciples will see in the coming three years, which Christ describes as angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man (51).