March 27, 2018
General Remarks on the Gospel of John
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 and reverent worship.
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 “Word” is God. This is the very first point made in John’s Gospel, and, in reality, it is the point of the entire book. It is not too much to say the rest of the book is about what God has done for, and taught to humanity, and that He has done and taught it 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 erroneously teach 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 “is” when it is used to equate two things, such as George and the man. “Was” in John 1:1 is the past tense of “is.” 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. And He is the Light, meaning, the source of all intelligence and understanding, especially in spiritual matters. 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.
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 the Apostle takes a few moments to give the credentials of John the Baptist. 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).
John 2 is beloved by readers and commentators, partly because of what it says, and partly because it can be divided into four recognizable sections, each telling its own story. Verses 1-11 are about the beginning of Christ’s miracles. 12-17 show Christ driving the merchants out of the Temple. 13-22 tell of the Temple leaders disputing with Christ, and predict His death and resurrection. 23-25 show the reaction of the Jewish people to His words and miracles, as well as His reticence about their enthusiasm.
The miracle at Cana (1-11) is noted as the beginning of Christ’s miracles in Cana and Galilee. (11) John passes over much, which has already been recorded in other Gospels, and moves straight from the public identification of the Messiah at His baptism, to His mighty works, and the peoples’ response. The purpose of the wine is not to enable the people to have a drunken feast. It is to enable the disciples to behold the glory of the Word who was made flesh, and to begin to believe in Him (11). At the time, only the disciples, and the servants know about the miracle, though word of it surely spread rapidly. There is no show about it, and no attempt by Christ to call attention to Himself. His intention is obviously to encourage the disciples to be strengthened in their faith in Him by seeing His power in action.
The Word was not made flesh merely to perform tricks for people’s amusement, or even for their physical health and prosperity. He is come to do spiritual work, and He goes into the Temple to restore some semblance of its purpose to it. He will do this again as He enters Jerusalem in the triumphal entry just before His crucifixion. In so doing, He is claiming to have authority over the Temple, and even over the priests and high priest, who are the human custodians of the buildings and the liturgies. The “Jews,” meaning the priests, recognise this claim, but do not accept it. In verse 18, they demand a miraculous sign from Him, which He refuses to perform . Instead He points to His resurrection as the sign for them and all humanity. He speaks of the Temple of His body, which is much more truly the Temple of God than any structure built by men (Heb 9:11). He says when they destroy it, referring to His crucifixion, He will raise it up in three days. No one there understands His words at the time. But, after His resurrection, the disciples remember and understand them, just as you and I understand them today (22).
Our Lord did other miracles in Jerusalem, which John does not list. He moves from the miracles to the result that many believe in Him (23). They believe He is the Messiah. They believe He is come from God to bring in the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies and promises. But they do not understand those promises, therefore, they do not understand Christ. They follow Him to receive the miracles, and because they hope He will free them from Roman oppression, according to the popular messianic views of the time. But Christ knows they do not believe in Him as the real Messiah. He knows they will leave Him when He tells them the truth about Himself, and about themselves. He knows they will join the call to crucify Him when He stands before them at His “trial.” Therefore, He does not “commit Himself unto them” (24). He does not allow their adulation of Him to deter Him from His mission, nor does He put any faith in them to be true followers.
It is no secret that many today try to make Jesus a mere healer or entertainer. Many preach that about Him, and many follow Him to receive their miracles. Be assured, Christ does not commit Himself to them. He came to heal the soul, and only those who come to recognise Him as Lord and God of their lives and souls truly belong to Him.
From the false belief of the general populace, and the open rejection by the priests and religious leaders, the Gospel of John moves to define true belief. He does this by relating the encounter of Nicodemus with Christ. After a few flattering remarks about Jesus, Nicodemus is confronted with the words, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” This must come as a shock to Nicodemus, who is one of the religious leaders of Israel, and he does not understand it. But Christ is saying real faith is not merely recognising Him as a great teacher or prophet. It is a work of the Holy Spirit, which enables a person to repent of sin, believe the Gospel, and devote himself to Christ as his Saviour and Lord and God. When a person is thus enabled to believe in Christ, he is born into the Kingdom of the Messiah.
Verses 9-21 continue to contrast the false beliefs of the Pharisees with the true faith engendered in those who are born again. False believers think they are accepted by God because of their good works. They believe they are good people because they offer the appropriate sacrifices and keep the minute details of the Pharisaic code. But, in reality, they are far from God. Their faith is based on external acts, rather than an internal condition. They fail to see the sinfulness in their hearts, which can gladly send an innocent Man to the cross. They fail to see that their sacrifices cannot remove that sinfulness, or even that they need to have it removed. It their own minds, they consider themselves good, and holy, and fully deserving of all the best God can give to them. The result of such faith is seen in verse 15. They will perish, spiritually, as those who died in the wilderness because of the serpent bites, perished physically (Num.21:6). But those who repent and believe the Gospel are like those who looked in faith to the serpent Moses raised up in the wilderness. That serpent is a symbol of Christ, and means those who look upon Christ in true faith will not perish spiritually, but have everlasting life with Christ in Heaven (16).
Leaving Jerusalem after the conversation with Nicodemus, our Lord ministers in the Judean countryside (22). The baptist is working in the area, and word comes to him that Christ and His disciples are also preaching and baptizing (26).
The question about purifying (25) probably centres on baptism. Is John’s baptism just as true and effectual as Christ’s, or is there an essential difference between them? If there is a difference, which is better? We remember that John himself said Christ’s ministry was better than his, and that Christ will baptize with the Holy Ghost, while John merely baptizes with water (Jn. 1:15-18). Of course, we understand that water baptism, including John’s, is symbolic of the baptism of the Holy Ghost, which happens to the believer at conversion. But the disciples of John do not understand this yet. To them, the real issue is not which baptism is better, but that people are going to Jesus instead of John (26).
John ignores the question about purification, and turns to the real difference between himself and the Messiah. His words reveal a deep understanding of the meaning and ministry of Christ, which goes far beyond the popular views of the people, and the scholarly studies of the priests and scribes. John says people should go to Jesus instead of him. He is glad people are going to Jesus (29, 30). John has only come to prepare the way for the Messiah. John is the one “sent before Him” (28). He is not the Messiah. Therefore, he must decrease in influence and popularity, while Christ must increase (30). This is the heart’s desire of every true Gospel minister.
Verses 31-36 give some of the clearest teaching about the nature and purpose of the Messiah found in Scripture. John must be a man of much prayer, as well as a true scholar of the Bible to understand it so well. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, John understands that the Bible teaches that the Messiah is the Son of God, that all things are given unto the Son, and that the eternal destinies of all people rest upon their true belief and acceptance, or their rejection of the Son as Saviour, Lord, and God.
“Son of God,” as used in verse 35, refers to a spiritual, rather than physical relationship. It does not mean there was a time when the Son did not exist, or that the Son was somehow conceived into being by an act of God the Father. It means what we mean when we say, God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. It is a statement of the full deity of Christ, and serves to further identify the Word, which was made flesh and dwelt among us (see comments on John 1:1-14).
John understands that the Messiah is not here to fulfill Israel’s fantasy of world dominion and wealth. He is here to bring people back to God in the fullest sense. He is come to give eternal life with God in Heaven, not worldly peace and prosperity. Those who understand and believe this, receive that everlasting life. Those who reject it, “shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (36).
Verses 1-42 tell the beloved story of “The Woman at the Well.” The Pharisees have already begun to oppose Jesus. They were offended when He cleansed the Temple (Jn. 2:13-22), and they demanded a sign to show His authority to do it. Before that, they were offended by John the Baptist (Mt. 3:7). Therefore, they naturally oppose anyone John identifies as the Messiah. So, when they hear about Jesus teaching and baptizing in the country around Jerusalem (1, 2), their opposition becomes more intense.
In due time, Jesus will confront them publicly. At that time He will expose their hypocrisy and false understanding of Scripture. For now, He has more important things to do, so He returns to Galilee (3), where He will conduct most of His ministry. Samaria lies between Judea and Galilee. Because the Samaritans are noted for their corrupt faith, and the moral/cultural corruption, which is the natural result of a corrupt faith, most Jews will not travel through Samaria. But Jesus, “must needs go through Samaria” (4). He has an appointment, made before the world was created, to bring the Gospel to a woman who is lost and dead in sin.
He meets the woman at the well of Jacob near the town of Sychar (5), and begins the conversation by asking the woman to give Him water to drink. From there, He swiftly moves to offering Living Water to her. The Living Water springs up inside a person. It is water that nourishes and heals the soul, and those who drink it receive everlasting life from it (14).
The Living Water is Christ, and all the ways and means He gives to reveal himself to us and draw us to Himself. The Bible, the Church, the Lord’s Supper, and Baptism are part of that river of Living Water.
The woman argues, and Christ reveals that He knows all about her sin (16-18). Her sin does not consist merely of adultery, though that is bad enough. Her sin is a life-style of neglecting the things of God, and indulging her own ideas and desires. Adultery is only part of that life-style. Yet, like the tree of Eden, her sin has not given the joy and freedom she expected. Instead she has reaped sorrow and despair. We can only imagine the hurt, anger, and brokenness this woman feels due to the break up of so many relationships.
Her life-style of sin is evident, in spite of her religiousness, which is shown by her sketchy knowledge of the Bible, and her hope in the Messiah (19, 25). It is very important to see that it is possible to be a religious person, to go to Church, and to have some knowledge of the Bible, yet still have an attitude and life-style which does not accept and live close to God and according to His will. It is possible to be religious, but only accept God on your terms, instead of His. Such people demand that God change His commandments and nature to accommodate their desires and ideas of what He ought to be like. But God demands that we change our desires and ideas to accommodate ourselves to Him. Refusal to do so is sin, no matter how many nice, religious things we may also be doing. Whatever else the words, “in spirit and in truth” (23) mean, surely they convey the stark reality that the true worship of God consist of a humble and contrite spirit that willingly seeks and does His will, and honestly accepts and devotes ourselves to Him according to His truth revealed in the Bible, not according to our own ideas of what we want Him to be like.
The result of this meeting is the conversion of the woman, along with many others in the town of Sychar (31-42). It is interesting that the Samaritans believe in Christ as the Saviour of the world (42). They realise He has come to save souls. Very few Jews understand this during the Saviour’s time on earth. The general populace, the religious leaders, and, even the disciples don’t understand it. But the Samaritans, the ones considered by the Jews to be the worst of all sinners, understand and believe.
Back in Galilee (45), our Lord is welcomed by the people, who saw His miracles and heard His sermons at Passover in Jerusalem (45). The words to the nobleman, in verse 48 are an inditement of the majority of people, who want signs, in order to believe in Christ, or miracles to relieve their suffering. The nobleman already knows Christ can heal his son, but he probably has no real understanding of who Christ is, or what His mission is. It is only when he receives word from his servants that his son is well (51, 52), that he truly believes in Jesus as the Messiah (53).
Our Lord travels again to Jerusalem for “a feast of the Jews.” Many believe the feast is Passover, but 6:17 seems to indicate it was something else. Certainly, our Lord could have gone for any of the annual feasts. While in the city, our Lord has mercy on a man who has been paralysed for thirty-eight years. No word is given about how he came to be paralysed, but the Lord warns him to sin no more “lest a worse thing come unto thee” (14). Thus we see that his own personal sin is at least partially responsible for his condition. This is an important point. There is a general malaise of the world, which is the result of our collective sin. Natural disasters, interpersonal and international strife, disease, and a general misery are all part of this malaise. But there are also individual and specific results of sin, which can only be understood as punishment for our personal sins. Often this comes to us in the form of the natural consequences of our actions. A person who jumps out of a second story window can expect to get hurt as a natural consequence of jumping. A person who lives in opposition to the way of peace and harmony, taught in the commandments of God, can expect to reap strife and discord as the natural consequences of his sin. But, sometimes, God actually causes something to happen, as a direct punishment for sin, and this appears to be the case in this man’s life. We do not know exactly how or why this man is paralysed, but we do know his sins have not brought him pleasure and joy. Like the woman at the well in John 4, his sins have brought him sorrow and brokenness.
The Jews, mentioned in verses 10, 15, and 18, are not the Jewish people. They are what we might call, the “elite.” They are the people in power in the Jewish culture. They are the people who have worked themselves into the leadership positions of Israel’s financial political, and religious institutions in order to use them to increase their own social and economic security. They have created an elaborate and burdensome code of rules, which they impose on the people, but do not keep themselves. The code originated as a way to help the people keep the commandments of God, but by the time of Christ, it is more often used to control the “flock” so the “sheep” are easier to fleece.
Thus, seeing the palsied man, now well and carrying his blanket home, they accost him to demand why he is carrying a burden on the Sabbath. This causes real fear for the man, for these men have the power to have him severely flogged and expelled from the synagogue and the Temple, which is the same as being expelled from Israel. Such a man is considered a Gentile, and outside of the promises of grace God has made to Israel. In New Testament language, we would call him, “lost.”
The context of the passage seems to indicate that the “Jews” are not as interested in the Sabbath as they are in their own position of authority. They appear to have no concern for the man, nor do they rejoice that he is well. What they are doing would be called “bullying” if it were happening among children. The fact that it is being done by adults makes it a crime of oppression and abuse.
When they learn that Jesus healed the man, and told him to take his “bed” meaning, blanket, home, they do not rejoice that the Lord has had mercy on the man. They make plans to kill Jesus, who confronts them openly, and exposes their hypocrisy and lack of understanding of the ways and purpose of God (19-47).
Verse 18 gives secondary reasons for the elite’s opposition to Jesus. The first is that He is a threat to their position and power. But they cannot openly oppose Him on those grounds without exposing their sin. He has, after all, been identified as the Messiah by John the Baptist, who was universally accepted as a true prophet of God. So they invent reasons to oppose Him. They accuse Him of breaking the Sabbath by healing the man on the Sabbath. In other places, the Lord will show that doing works of charity and necessity on the Sabbath are allowed and encouraged by the law, as these men already know. But, in this confrontation, Christ deals primarily with their accusation that calling God His Father makes Him equal with God.
The Lord responds to this charge by acknowledging its truth. In fact, He enlarges upon, and clarifies the fact that He and the Father are one. Verses 19 and 20, along with verse 30, show that Christ and the Father act as one. 21-29 also show that Christ shares the nature and abilities of God. He has life in Himself, not merely as a derivative from God, as mere creatures have (21, 27). He has authority to judge humanity as only God has (22-30).
Naturally, the Lord proves His case from Scripture. In 39 we find the strongest support for His claim that He is in fact God, the Word become flesh. He says the Scriptures, by which He means the Old Testament, especially the law, which these men know and distort for their own advantage, “testify” of Christ. Since the law testifies of Him, Jesus is not blaspheming. He truly is God, as shown in the clear teaching of the Bible, which these men profess to believe.
Jesus is making an important point: though these men are devoted to the Bible, and though they profess to know and love it, they do not understand it. Jesus says they do not have His word abiding in them. They search the Scriptures, thinking they find in them eternal life, but, they miss the one essential point of Scripture, that they testify of Christ. (39).
“After these things,” (1) refers to the events in Jerusalem in chapter 5. How much time has elapsed between them and chapter 6 is unknown, but the miracle happens during “the great Galilean ministry,” when our Lord spent most of His time and energy ministering in and around Galilee. Debate about which Passover is meant in verse 4, has consumed many hours of scholarly research and discussion, but John does not take time to clarify it. He quickly moves to the main point of the passage; the miraculous feeding of the multitude. Verses 1-21 tell of the feeding, and Christ walking on the water, which are also told in other Gospels. Verse 25 is where the meaning, and it is very profound, begins to be explained to the people and to us.
The miracle is well known, even in this time of Biblical illiteracy. The people have followed Jesus to a place devoid of places where they might buy food, so Jesus takes the lunch of a small boy, consisting of a couple sardine sized fish and crackers, and makes it feed a multitude of more than 5,000 people.
Verse 22-51 will give Christ’s teaching on the meaning of this miracle. Therefore, let us spend a moment discussing what it does not mean. It does not mean God will always feed you, or perform a miracle to supply your desires or physical needs. It does not mean that, if you give a “seed” offering to Christ, He will multiply it back to you. It does not mean that if you have enough faith, or ask in the right way, or give enough money to a TV preacher, God is going to miraculously give you money, heal your illness, or fix your economic/family/marital problems. It is not Scriptural proof of any of the tenets of the health and prosperity or word of faith gospels currently taking over many churches, especially the mega-churches. It is a sign of the Bread of Life that comes down from Heaven. It is a sign of the Word who became flesh, and of the eternal reconciliation to God He came to give.
The people are already aware that Jesus can heal diseases, but when they find He can also feed them, they determine to take Him by force, and make Him their king (15). Bishop Ryle’s comments explain their intent and Christ’s response.
“The intention or wish was probably to place Him at their head, and proclaim Him their king, with or without His consent, and then to hurry Him away to Jerusalem, so as to arrive there at the Passover feast, and announce Him as a Deliverer to the crowd assembled at that time. - The idea evidently in their mind was, that one who could work such a mighty miracle must be a mighty temporal Redeemer, raised up like the Judges of old, to break the bonds of the Romish government, and restore the old independence and kingdom to Israel. There is no reason to suppose that there was any more spiritual feeling in the minds of the multitude. Of sense of spiritual need, and of faith in our Lord as a savior from sin, there is no trace. Popularity and the good opinion of excited crowds are both worthless and temporary things.”
“The following day” (22), refers to the day after the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus has returned to the Capernaum area, and the people He fed have also come there seeking Him (24). What is their motive for seeking Jesus? What do they want from Him? Are they repenting of sin and trusting Him as Lord and Saviour? No. They seek Him for two reasons. First, they want fed again. It is breakfast time, and they are hungry. Food is less common and more expensive in their time than in ours, and a free meal is a valuable thing. So they hope Jesus will feed them. Second, they still retain the hope of making Him their deliverer/king (15). A king who can heal the sick and feed the nation is a very desirable benefit to them. Thus, Jesus says, they seek Him not because they saw (and understand the meaning of the) miracles, but because they, “did eat of the loaves and were filled” (26). They want more food. Jesus only has value to them as a source of healing, food, and national security.
Nothing has really changed over the centuries. People still go to Church for entertainment or because they hope to receive a “miracle.” Some come to Christ to be “saved” from Hell, but they still intend to live in the same old patterns of sin and un-Godliness. They want to go to Heaven, but they don’t want God. Such people will aways abound. Please don’t be one of them.
The heart of Jesus’ message is found in verses 35-51. Our Lord is telling all humanity that He did not come to earth merely to work miracles and provide food. He came to be the Bread of life that gives food and life to the soul. He came to raise people up out of their sin and despair, out of the wrath of God, and out of the destiny of Hell. He came to raise people up into goodness and justice, the confidence of Heaven, and the love of God and Godliness. He does this by giving His life on the cross (51).
Some people truly come to Christ in Biblical faith. These people trust in Him as their Saviour, and commit themselves to Him as their Lord and God. They begin a new life of Godliness, of loving God with their whole being, which necessarily includes a genuine, life-long commitment to living and thinking as God wants. To these people, Christ says, “him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out” (36). These, and only these people, are assured of a great welcome from God. They are the ones who eat the Bread of Life, and they are the ones Christ raises to new life now, and to eternal peace on the last day.
Just as in our own time, most of those who followed Christ in His own time were disgusted by His words, and turned away from Him (64-66). When following Jesus seems to promise worldly prosperity, when worshiping Him seems to be like a party, when our minds imagine Him as we want Him to be, rather than as He really is, people follow Him gladly and en mass. But, when they finally hear His real message, and realise what it means to them, and what it requires of them, the vast majority of them turn away from Him. Many of the people in Galilee have begun to see that Jesus is not going to be the kind of Messiah they want. He is not going to give them breakfast, be reduced to a miracle worker, or free Israel from Rome. Instead, He is talking about giving His life so they can have eternal life. They don’t understand His words, and they don’t like them, so they just leave. It is not just the masses who leave. Verse 66 tells us many of His disciples “went back, and walked no more with Him.” These are people who have been close to Him, and seemed to understand His message and believe in Him accordingly. But they are false believers. In their hearts they are no different from the Pharisees, or even the Romans who will nail Jesus to the cross. They appear to be first in faith and loyalty to Christ. In reality, they are last.
It is no different today. Many who appear to follow Christ are really following their own ideas of what they want and imagine Christ to be. If they ever begin to understand His real message, they will turn away from Him. Thus, Christ’s words to the twelve are as relevant today as they were then: “Will ye also go away?” Will you follow Christ only as long as it is convenient? Will you follow Him only as long as He appears to conform to your ideas and hopes? “Will ye also go away?” Or will you turn from your sins, and your false hopes and ideas, and embrace Him as He really is?
The people asking Christ if He will go to the feast are taunting Him. They know the “Jews” plan to kill Jesus, and they are daring Him to go, the way children dare each other to do something they are afraid to do themselves, and which they know will harm or cause trouble for the one they are daring. The taunters present the victim with the choice of taking the dare, or being called a coward. They find the victim’s’s dilemma amusing. Words like, “coward” fall derisively from their lips, though their cruelty is true cowardice.
The fact that the taunters are Galileans makes their crime all the worse. They have seen the miracles and heard the sermons of Christ. They behold the glory of the Word who was made flesh, but their spiritual blindness prevents them from seeing the Light. The “brethren” of verse 3 probably refers to the Galileans in general, and to the immediate and extended family of Joseph and Mary specifically. Their guilt and corruption are self evident. But our own guilt is no less than theirs. Living, as we do, with two thousand years of Christian influence in our culture, and with two thousand years of Christian teaching, and with two thousand years of having the full revelation of God in the Bible, we should be the most enlightened and Godly generation the earth has ever seen. We should have ended war generations ago. Our cities should be shining beacons of learning and Godliness. Oppression, divorce, abuse, crime, injustice, cruelty, and unbelief should be almost completely unknown among us. Yet, our culture is no better than Rome in its declining years, and the Church, rather than rising above heresy and sin, is worse than the Corinthian Church of Paul’s time.
Our Lord does go to Jerusalem (10). Though verse 10 says He goes “in secret,” He is soon found openly teaching in the Temple and confronting those who want to kill Him. His knowledge astounds them (15). They are the professional theologians, the Doctors, the Priests and Pharisees. He is a carpenter, uneducated, a hick from the backwoods. The “Jews” are amazed at the depth of His knowledge and wisdom, and angry because of His ability to expose their lack of it. Most of all, they are surprised at the way Jesus really believes the Scriptures. The Bible is not a mere historical document to Him. Nor is it simply a book of “sayings” to be taken out of context and “claimed” as ways to make God do our bidding. To Christ, it is the revelation of God. He understands and believes its message. And He lives it. It shapes and expresses His every thought and action. His doctrine is from the Father through the Scriptures, not from the Pharisees.
Thus, He shows the religious leaders to be hypocrites. “None of you keepeth the law,” He says to them in verse 19. He shows the foolishness of their accusation that His healing and doing good profane the Sabbath by pointing out that they circumcise children on the Sabbath. If they can do that, why can’t He do something far better?
This completely refutes their charges. But, rather than repent of their sin and turn to Him in faith, they say He has a devil. We would think they might at least attempt to refute His doctrine and show the truth of their own views. But they know they cannot do that, so they attempt to discredit Him, and prevent Him from speaking.
Note that, even though it is common knowledge that the Pharisees want to kill Jesus (25), they deny it. This is a typical tactic of those who want to accomplish their goals by deception and force. Attempting to discredit the opposition, rather than engaging in open debate (which will expose their true agenda, and the weakness of their ideas and plans), they hurl false accusations at the “enemy;” “devil,” “hater,” “misogynist.” They deny their real agenda by saying they are promoting that which they really want to destroy. Few politicians read or understand the Bible in our day, but many have mastered the tactics of the Pharisees.
The people are undecided about Him (12, 25, 26, 31). Is He the Christ, or is He a deceiver? Though the leadership attempts to take Him by force, the debate continues, and some believe on Him (31).
The pinnacle of the Feast of Tabernacles (2) happens when the priest pours water from the Pool of Siloam on the Altar in the Temple. The water represents God’s Spirit being poured out on His people. It is a very solemn moment, preceded and followed by much prayer and singing of the Psalms. There is a time of silence while the water is poured on the Altar, a silence that lasts for some time. It is during this time of silence that a voice is heard, “If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (38).
The speaker is our Lord Jesus. His point is that the Feast’s symbolism of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is fulfilled and accomplished by Christ, the Word of God, who baptizes with the Holy Spirit (Jn. 1:33). Movies about the life and ministry of Christ sometimes portray Him as shouting angrily when He teaches in the Temple. But, though our Lord speaks loudly enough to be heard, He is not shouting, nor is His voice expressing anger or contempt. It is compassion that fills His voice as He gives the announcement that He is the One who sends the Holy Spirit, and lovingly invites anyone who thirsts to come to Him for the living water of the Holy Spirit.
“Thirst,” refers to a spiritual need. The people in the Temple are praying for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They are asking God to fulfill His promises and send the Spirit to them. They have expressed their spiritual thirst for the Living Water. Now they hear a solemn and compassionate voice announcing that their prayers are being answered. Jesus is the answer. If you truly do thirst for the Holy Spirit, and true union with God, come to Jesus; believe in Him, and your thirst will be quenched.
Naturally, some believe Him, some reject Him, and some are undecided (40-43). But the rulers and Pharisees are almost unanimous in their rejection (48). They are among those who would have taken Him (44), and sent armed men to capture Him (45). If they had known He was in Jerusalem, they would have tried to capture Him before He got to the Temple. But it is not yet time for Him to be delivered to them, so no one is able to capture, or, lay hands on Him (44).
Nicodemus stands alone in requiring that the intent and letter of the law be followed in dealing with Christ. The others are willing to break the law in order to crush this One they consider a trouble maker and a threat to their power and security in Israel. Thus, they answer not with evidence, but with personal attacks on Nicodemus, “Art thou also of Galilee?” This question means something like, are you, also one of the ignorant hicks from the backwoods of Galilee? Are you one of the illiterate fools who does not know the law? Their question shows their own deep misunderstanding of the Scriptures, but they do not care about that, for their concern is not really about truth or about God. They are concerned about their own social and economic power. To keep that power secure, they will suppress opposition by all means at their disposal.
The Feast of Tabernacles has ended, and the people have gone home (8:53). Jesus and His disciples leave Jerusalem to spend the night on the Mount of Olives, a short distance outside the city. But the next day, “early in the morning He came again into the Temple, and all the people came unto Him: and He sat down and taught them” (2). The outer court of the Temple is a place where people gather to hear teachers discuss the Scriptures and their application. Usually, the teachers are Priests and Pharisees, but the people naturally gather around Jesus this morning. They want to learn more about this Man who claims to be the fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles, and to be able to fill them with the Living Water of the Holy Spirit.
The scribes and Pharisees are prepared for His appearance. They have lured a woman into the sin of adultery, just so they can take her to Jesus and force Him to call for her execution. Verse 6 specifically states they are “tempting Him, that they might have something to accuse Him.”
They have craftily placed Christ in what they believe is a no win situation. If He does not call for the woman’s execution, He breaks the law of God. If He demands her death, He loses the confidence of the people by appearing to side with the Pharisees.
But, our Lord is far too wise to fall into their trap. He turns it into a trap for them, and they fall into it quickly and completely. He does this with the simple words, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (7).
Now the jaws of the trap are turned toward the scribes and Pharisees. If they stone the woman to death, they are claiming to be without sin. But they know they are not sinless, and so do the people gathered around them. So stoning the woman would reveal their hypocrisy and evil motives. But, if they release the woman, they are breaking the law and showing themselves to be liars and heretics, which is what they are trying to accuse Jesus of. Thus, they are caught in their own trap. Realising this, they slink out of the Temple, becoming lawbreakers as they leave.
Christ’s words in verse 11 do not condone adultery, which is a serious crime against God and other people. It hurts spouses, parents, children, and many others, and God takes it very seriously. He also has mercy on this woman. His words are a pardon from God. They are grace and mercy which heal a terrible wound in her soul. They express the eternal grace of God in Christ. At the Feast He said, “If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (7:38). His words mean something like, if you thirst for God, for grace and forgiveness, come to Christ and He will give it. This day, in the very Temple where He claimed to be the fulfillment of the feast, He freely gives that grace and forgiveness to a very thirsty sinner.
Our Lord now turns to the people and begins to teach them again (12-20). Some commentators have raised the question of whether this happens on the same day as the events in 1-11, or on a different day. It appears that it is the same day, and that our Lord is using the event to teach more fully about Himself as the personification of the grace of God. But that is a small detail that should not detract us from the message, which is quietly stated in verse 12: “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” Notice how closely these words resemble the words of John 1:4 and 1:9. It is as though Jesus is re-stating the point of these verses as He teaches in the Temple. He is giving emphasis to the words because the eternal destiny of every person depends on the truth or falsehood of them. The Apostle John has intentionally included these words of Christ here. It is as though he is asking the readers a question: do Christ’s actions and words support John 1:4 and John 1:9? If so, come to Him in Biblical faith and receive the rivers of Living water, receive the grace and light and truth He gives. If not, reject Him as a liar and a devil.
Some of the Pharisees have not left the Temple. Perhaps they were not part of the plot of verses 1-11. Perhaps this conversation does happen on another day. We do not know. We do know they continue to challenge Christ, saying His words about Himself cannot be believed because He speaks them. They are saying Christ is like an author proclaiming his own book to be the greatest novel of his time. The statement has little meaning, since it comes from the author. If the people and other writers praise it, their words have more value.
Christ says His words are true, even when He speaks of Himself (14). But there is another, who is The Authority in such matters, and says the same things Christ says of Himself. That Authority is the Father (18). The Father made the statements through John the Baptist, and by sending the Holy Spirit to Christ (Jn. 1:28-34). He also affirms the truth of Christ’s words through the miracles and signs performed by Christ. They are His affirmation and testimony of the truth of Christ’s words about Himself.
The Pharisees refuse to believe the Father’s testimony for a very important reason, they do not know the Father (19). These learned Doctors, whose lives are supposedly dedicated to studying and keeping God’s law, do not know God. It is important to know that, while it is not possible to know God without also living a Godly and holy life that centres around the Bible, the Church, and the Commandments, it is possible to be deeply involved in such things, yet still be a stranger to God. These Pharisees are very religious and spiritual, down to the smallest detail, yet they do not know God. Read and tremble at our Lord’s words.
How do the Pharisees respond? Do they fall to their knees in repentance and faith? No, they attempt to take Christ by force and complete their plans to kill Him. But He is easily able to elude them, for it is not yet time for the Good Shepherd to lay down His life for the sheep (20).
Having captured the Pharisees in their own trap (vss. 1-20), our Lord continues to teach in the Temple. He has a dual theme in this discourse. First is His nature and being, which is stated well in verse 23, “I am from above.” He is saying He is God, from God. He is “Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning” (25). He refers here to His words in the Temple regarding Himself as the fulfillment of the meaning and promises of the Feast of Tabernacles. He also refers to other statements about Himself as being one with the Father. He continues, boldly and calmly saying He speaks only what the Father teaches Him (28), that the Father is with Him (29), and, “I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but He sent me” (42). Perhaps His most telling statement is found in verse 58. The “Jews” (priests, scribes, Pharisees) have asked Him if He is greater than Abraham and the prophets (53). The way the question is formed in the Greek text assumes a negative answer. Thus, the “Jews” believe they have won the debate and showed Jesus to be a false teacher. They have asked the ultimate question, to which He must answer, “no.” “You don’t think you are greater than Abraham and the prophets, do you?” That is the sense of their question, which is asked in a sarcastic and arrogant tone. They expect Jesus to say, “no,” and slink away in defeat. But Jesus’ answer shows that He is not only greater than Abraham and the prophets, He is the destiny toward which Abraham and the prophets moved and directed all of Israel. He is the summation of everything they sought, and prayed for, and looked for, and were promised and foretold in the prophets and in the law and in the entire body of holy Scripture. He is, in fact, God. He is the Word become flesh. He is the great “I AM” of Exodus 3:14. “Before Abraham was, I AM.”
Our Lord’s second theme is that the religious and political leaders, those men John usually refers to as the “Jews,” have missed the entire meaning and message of the Bible. He is from above, they are from beneath. He is not of this world, they are of this world, meaning, their ideas and values, and religion are formed by the fallen ideas of sinful humanity, not by the pure revelation of God (23). They will die in their sins (24) means they are so far removed from God they are not even going to Heaven. They are in sin now. They will die in their sin. They will remain in and suffer for their sin, forever. They don’t understand Christ’s message (27), and they don’t believe it (24).
Jesus makes the point that they are prisoner-slaves of sin. In contrast to their own idea that they are holy and Godly and highly favoured of God, and are His chosen vessels by whom God blesses and leads His people; they are actually bound in chains of slavery to sin. They live in the deepest, darkest, and most hopeless bondage. They are totally and completely owned by sin, and they serve sin every moment of every day. “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin” (34). They are so completely controlled by sin that they have no ability to understand the words of Christ (43). They are of their father, the devil (44).
It is important that we understand that the “Jews” are as lost and without God as the Gentiles who have never heard of God. It is also important to understand that the condition of the “Jews” is exactly the same as those who do not know and believe Christ today. All who sin are slaves of sin, and unable to free themselves from their eternal bondage. That is why they cannot understand or believe the Gospel. They belong to Satan and they believe the lies of Satan, the father of lies. But there is hope. No mere human is able to free himself from Satan’s service, but God can. Jesus is saying that He came from Heaven to free people. “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (36).
It is equally important that we understand that those who are free are those who continue in His word (31, 32). Those freed from the bondage of sin become disciples (learners and followers) of Christ. They do not continue to serve Satan and sin. They are freed from that service. They are expected to come out of their dungeons and chains into freedom in Christ; and in Christ they are to learn how to live as free people, how to be “free indeed” (36).
One final point needs to be understood before we leave this chapter. It is stated in verse 47, “He that is of God heareth God’s words.” This is almost a repeat of verses 31 and 32, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” It’s emphasis is only slightly different. It is that those who are really of God hear God’s words. They hear with understanding and with intention of being doers of the word ( James 1:22). The person who claims to be a Christian, yet has no time for Christ’s Church, no time for prayer, no time to read the Bible and allow it to shape his ideas and actions and values, is fooling himself. He is as far from God as the Pharisees confronting and plotting against Christ in this passage. Therefore, we must honestly confront ourselves with the question, do we truly hear God’s word, which is the Bible? If we cannot confidently say we listen, try to understand, and try to do what the Bible teaches, we must conclude that we are not of God.
The Life and Light of men has come into the world in human form. The Word who was and always is God, was made flesh and dwelt among us. He is the source of all life and all goodness. He is light shining in the darkness. He is life and healing in a world of death and disease. That is the point made in this passage, and in all the miracles Jesus did. They are signs that God is with us. In Him we can walk in the Light and leave the darkness behind.
Light is useless to those who cannot see. To them a sunny day and the darkest night are the same, for their ability to discern light from darkness does not exist. This is as true in the spiritual realm as it is in the physical one. As our Lord gives sight to the physically blind, He symbolically shows that He can also give sight to the spiritually blind.
The result of the healing is a confrontation between the blind man and the Pharisees. These learned Doctors of the Law are faced with a disturbing question. Jesus, obviously heals people. They have spoken to the blind man’s parents, hoping to disprove the miracle, but the parents confirm it, the man was born blind (19, 20). They question the man about Jesus (17). Is He of God, or is He a deceiver? The blind man’s logic crushes the unbelief of the Doctors. The miracle is real (25), and, if Jesus were not of God, He could not have healed him (33). Now the Pharisees face a difficult choice, they must believe in Jesus, or reject Him. They choose rejection. They excommunicate the blind man (34), and call their own spiritual blindness sight (40). They intentionally choose darkness (Jn. 1:5) because they love darkness rather than light (Jn. 3:19). Because they choose the darkness, and call their blindness sight (41), they remain in their guilt before God.
The love of darkness is the obvious problem of the world. We love sin. We know right from wrong, but we choose wrong because we love what doing wrong does for us. We choose not to see the eternal cost of our sin to us, or its immediate cost to others. We choose only to see its immediate and very temporary pleasure.
Our Lord paints a vivid word picture in which He contrasts the Good Shepherd with the thieves and hirelings; and contrasts the Good Shepherd’s sheep with those who stray and refuse to hear His voice. The picture presupposes that the sheep live in a wilderness where thieves and wolves intend to kill and destroy them (10-12). He also speaks of hirelings, who appear to be shepherds, but are concerned about profiting from the sheep, rather than caring for them.
The wilderness is the opposite of the sheepfold. It is a place of danger, temptation, and death. It represents the ideas and values of those who love darkness rather than light. In many places, the New Testament calls it the “world” (Rom.12:2). Wolves are people, and evil spirits, who prey upon the sheep (people), and intend to fleece them in this life, and burn them in the next.
Our Lord makes the point that He puts Himself between the wolves and the sheep. The hirelings flee from the wolves to save their own lives, but the Good Shepherd stands between the sheep and the wolves, and actually allows the wolves to kill Him in order to save the sheep. The wolves take Him to the cross and kill Him, but He allows this to save the sheep.
The sheepfold has a double meaning. It refers first to Christ, the wall that protects the sheep from the wolves. It is the place where sheep are protected and nourished, and live in peace and freedom. It refers, also, to Christ’s Church both as a spiritual fellowship of all believers, and as a visible, organised entity. True Christians belong to both.
Verses 26-28 conclude the contrast between the Good Shepherd’s sheep and the lost and stray sheep. The picture of the Good Shepherd’s sheep begins in verse 3. Our Lord says His sheep follow Him, know His voice, and will not follow a stranger.
In Victorian times, it was popular for tourists in Israel to attempt to lead a shepherd’s sheep astray. They would pay the shepherd to lend them his cloak, then, imitating the shepherd’s voice, they would call the sheep to follow them. They never succeeded. The sheep ran away from the imitation shepherds and ran to the real shepherd. They knew his voice and they followed him. Jesus is using this fact to illustrate the fact that real Christians know His voice and do not listen to others.
The Bible is the voice of the Good Shepherd. New revelations and prophecies have ceased. Those who claim to have them either misunderstand the way God speaks to His people, or, they are thieves and wolves in sheep’s clothing. Therefore, the Good Shepherd’s sheep know the Bible. Their understanding of life, reality, truth, man, self, and God, comes from the Bible. They refuse to listen to the thieves, wolves, and other denizens of the wilderness.
The Pharisees confronting Jesus (24) are not the Lord’s sheep (26). They prove this by not knowing His voice, and by not believing and following Him. Instead of following Him, they intend to kill Him, showing themselves wolves rather than sheep (31). Christ points them to His works, saying, “If I do not the works of my Father, believe Me not. But if I do, though ye believe not Me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him” (37, 38).
The “works” are the miracles. Christ is saying they are the works of God, meaning, He does what God does and God does what He does because He and God are one. In Christ, God is with us; the Word has become flesh. In Christ, the power and grace of God has come into the world to give us things so wonderful they can be described as life that is lived in the realm of the Eternal. The miracles, especially the healings, are signs of this. The miracles are God calling us to believe and let Him take us into the Eternal realm. Sadly, the Pharisees do not hear the Good Shepherd’s voice in these works. They do not comprehend the Light. They love darkness rather than Light. They prefer to preserve their temporary social positions and the trinkets of earth, rather than become citizens of Heaven and gain the true treasure of eternal life there. They reject the Good Shepherd so completely they attempt to kill Him.
The chapter ends with our Lord crossing to the eastern side of the Jordan. He will remain there for most of the time left before His crucifixion.
As chapter 11 opens, Jesus and the Twelve are east of the Jordan River, where they had gone after the Jews attempted to kill Him in 10:39-40. Here, “beyond Jordan,” the Pharisees have no power to arrest Him, yet Jerusalem is an easy journey away. Thus, hearing of Lazarus’ illness, Jesus can quickly get to Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem, where Lazarus lives with his sisters, Martha and Mary. The message that Lazarus is sick is an urgent plea for Him to come and heal him. After all, Christ has healed many who were not close to Him, surely He will come and heal this beloved friend. But He does not. Rather than going to Lazarus to heal Him, which He could have done from beyond Jordan, He stays in place for two more days (6). Why? To let Lazarus die. Hard as it may be for us to understand, it is God’s intention to let Lazarus die so Christ’s glory can be revealed by raising Him up again. As Christians, we need to understand that we exist for God’s glory. Our prayers should always be that we may be willing for God to be glorified in us. We need to be willing to be a Lazarus if that is God’s will for us.
The disciples demure when Jesus says, “Let us go into Judea again” (7). They know the Jews are lying in wait to capture and kill Jesus, so they don’t want Him to go, and they don’t want to risk their lives by going with Him. Jesus’ teaching in verses 9 and 10 show, first, that time is limited for all of us, and we must accomplish what God has given us to do while we can, or, during the day. Second, God is in control, and our days are in His hand. Therefore, we cannot stumble (be taken by death) until our day is over. Jesus knows His day will end on the cross at Passover. Therefore, His enemies are unable to harm Him now. We do not know when our day will end. We only know that we are called to be faithful to the end.
Verses 25 and 26 are the heart of the message of this chapter: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die.”
They are puzzling words to Martha. She is angry at Christ for not healing Lazarus, and her words in verse 21 are spoken in chastisement for His failure to heal him. Her words in 23 and 27 show that she believes in the resurrection at the last day, but does not quite understand what Christ has to do with that event. In her mind, Jesus is a great prophet, but still a mere man. To her, He teaches the resurrection, but has no power to enact it. Jesus’ reply says He is the event. He is life. He is the resurrection. He raises up the body at the last day, but He also raises the soul out of death in trespasses and sins to everlasting life in Him. Whether we look at life in the physical realm, or the spiritual realm, He is the Source and Author of it (Ryle vol 4, p. 53).
Once again, the miracle Christ performs is a sign. Raising Lazarus shows His power to raise the dead, and demonstrates that He truly is the resurrection and the life. It is He who gives physical life and spiritual life. It is He who raises us up to new life in Him, and He who raises our bodies to live again at the last day. He raises Lazarus “to the intent that ye may believe” (15)
Couldn’t this man, who has healed so many people, have also healed Lazarus? That is the heart of the question in verse 37. But there is another question in this verse, too. Why didn’t He heal Lazarus? It is implied that Jesus didn’t really love Lazarus, or if He did, He was unable to prevent his death. Thus we see the age old charge puny man hurls against Omnipotent God, and which he uses to attempt to justify his sin and unbelief. It can be summarised as; “if God exists, He doesn’t care enough to stop the suffering and sorrows of earth. If He does care, He must be unable to stop them. If He does not care enough, or if He is unable to stop the suffering, He is irrelevant to life on earth, and we should live as we choose, rather than as the Bible teaches.”
Christ does not answer these charges. He turns to Martha and says, “Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?” Martha still believes Jesus is a mere man. But what she will see will not show the glory of a man, not even a man sent from God (Jn. 3:2). Martha will see the glory of God raising the body of Lazarus to life again.
Hearing of this miracle, the Jerusalem elites meet to further their plans to kill Jesus. It never seems to occur to them that this One who has power to raise the dead by His word, may also have the power to slay them with a word. Nor does it occur to them that they should believe in Him, too. Their only concern is that if He is allowed to continue His miracles, all Israel will believe in Him.
The Messianic view of these men mirrors the popular Jewish hope for a military leader, similar to Samson, who will lead the Jews in a war against the Romans. Therefore, assuming Jesus is not the Messiah, they fear His actions will cause the Romans to make a pre-emptive strike against Israel, resulting in death and destruction to the land. Caiaphas’ words in verse 50 mean he is quite willing to murder Jesus to prevent a Roman attack.
The Passover in verse 1 is the Passover in which the true Lamb of God is sacrificed. His blood will secure His people’s freedom from sin and lead them to the Promised Land of everlasting life. It is the Passover in which our Lord gives His life on the cross. Almost half of John’s Gospel is devoted to the events and teaching of this last week of Christ’s “life,” and the events of His crucifixion and resurrection.
Verse 1 finds our Lord in the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. At least sixteen people are in the house. Martha is motivated by the rules of hospitality and her great love for Jesus, who is still a very mysterious figure in her mind. She still thinks of Him as a prophet and teacher sent from God. Like Nicodemus, she is sure no man could do the miracles Christ does, “except God be with him” (Jn. 3:2), but has no understanding of His real identity and mission. She does not know He will be dead in less than a week. So she busies herself with the daunting task of preparing a meal for the people.
Mary does not know this either. She is simply listening to the teaching of the Lord. Like Martha, she understands very little of it, and He remains a great mystery to her. But she knows He is sent from God, and she is determined to sit at His feet and hear His wonderful message of a new world where all the promises of the Old Testament are fulfilled, and people live in harmony and unity with each other and with God. It is Mary who washes the Lord’s feet with costly ointment (3), causing Judas to complain (5). Judas’ real motive is revealed in verse 6. He is a thief, who would like to put some of the money into his own pocket.
Our Lord responds that Mary is doing this “against the day of my burying” (7). Mary probably has no idea what He is talking about. She is simply giving her best to the Lord and performing the lowly service of washing His feet. But Jesus uses the incident to speak again of His burial. The Lamb of God will go to the cross. The Messiah will die. The Good Shepherd will lay down His life for the sheep. Mary is anointing His body for the grave.
It is important to note that the elites’ intention to kill Jesus, and Lazarus (10), in order to prevent the people from believing in Him (Jn. 11:48) actually leads some to believe in Him (11). The things that harden some people in unbelief lead others into faith. Nothing can explain this except the grace of God working according to the counsel of His own will.
The “next day” of verse 12 is the Sunday before the crucifixion, which we still commemorate as Palm Sunday. Those who line the streets and welcome Jesus into Jerusalem are mostly Galileans. They are the same people who wanted to take Jesus by force and crown Him king in Jerusalem (Jn. 6:15). They cheer because they believe He is going to assume the throne and start the war that will drive out the Romans and conquer the world for Israel. They even call Him “King of Israel” (13). Some of the people are from Jerusalem and the surrounding area. They were either present when Christ raised Lazarus, or have believed in Him because they know of that miracle (17, 18). They are just as confused about Christ as the Galileans, and they welcome Him to Jerusalem for the same reasons. They are receiving Christ on their own terms, not His.
Jesus is, indeed the King of Israel. But His use of the word in verse 15 means something very different from the people’s use of it. He does come in judgement. He does come to establish peace for His people, and to overcome their enemies. But His Kingdom is a Kingdom of the Spirit, and He defeats His enemies by giving His life to save His people. He does not come to revive the old Israel with worldly peace and prosperity. He comes to create a New Israel of righteousness and faith.
Seeing the crowd adoring Jesus, the Pharisees are angered. They share the Messianic misunderstanding of the people, and would gladly join them in welcoming Christ to Jerusalem, if He would conform to their Messianic view, as long as His reign does not compromise their position and wealth. It is because our Lord rejects their view, and because He refuses to endorse their heresy and hypocrisy, that they reject and oppose Him. But here, seeing the people welcome Him, they are angry and discouraged. It seems to them that the whole world has gone after Christ (19).
As the Pharisees reject the Messiah, Gentiles come seeking Him. The Greeks (20) have come to worship at the feast. They have seen the fallacy and hopelessness of the Greek religions. They desire to worship the true God, whose love and faithfulness is revealed in the Bible, and who calls people to live in Covenant with Him. They are Gentiles who worship the God of the Bible, but have not become Jews. Therefore, they are allowed into the Temple court of the Gentiles, but not into the inner court where Jesus is speaking. This is why they come to Phillip and Andrew. They want them to go to Jesus and ask Him to see them (21).
The Lord does not go to them immediately. In fact, the Bible never tells us He ever spoke to them, though we can hardly imagine that He would refuse them. Instead, Jesus uses their arrival to further teach about the significance of His life and approaching death. It is as though their arrival is a sign of the new era, when people of all nations and races will come to Christ, and the Kingdom of God will be defined by faith and obedience to Him, not by geographic or ethnic boundaries. “The hour has come that the Son of man should be glorified” (23).
His glorification is not accomplished by defeating the Gentiles in military conflict. It is accomplished by giving His life on the cross for the sins of the world. He uses the planting of wheat to illustrate that His burial will be the means by which many, new grains of wheat (believers) will come into the Kingdom of God. Burial here encompasses the entire life and ministry of Christ and is part of His glorification. But, there is a sense in which the full glorification of Christ is yet to come. His death is part of it, as is His ascension. But His return, when He sets the world right again, and every knee bows and every tongue confesses that He is Lord, is His full glorification.
The first application of the words in verse 25 seem to apply to Christ Himself. He will not allow His desire to avoid suffering and death to prevent Him from going to the cross, for that is why He came into this world (28, 28). The second application is to those who would be His servants. Notice that our Lord does not speak of being a Christian as a life-enhancing commodity, or a mere ticket to Heaven. He speaks instead of belonging so completely to Him, and being so fully directed by His will we are like the slaves of the Romans. We are His property and are constrained to do His will, even when it is inconvenient and uncomfortable, or costs our lives. “Follow me” (26) refers to following His example of giving up His life. We may not have to go to a literal cross, but we are to be living sacrifices while we live, and willing to sacrifice life, if necessary, in His service. As Christ’s primary goal is to glorify the Father, ours is to glorify Him.
The voice (28) is not recognised by some of the hearers. To them, it sounds like thunder. Only a few hear the voice of God speaking, which Jesus says is for our benefit, to encourage us to believe and be faithful.
The results of the cross are given in verses 31 and 32. The prince of the world, Satan, and all the forces of darkness are defeated and cast out, and Christ will draw all men to Himself. Lifted up means to be raised up on the cross and refers to His crucifixion (33). Being crucified, He opens the door to Heaven, and all are invited to enter through Him.
Now follows a short teaching about walking in the light, meaning, in Him, the light and life of men and the light of the world. Apparently, most of His hearers reject Him, for verses 37-41 explain that they are spiritually blind like the people to whom Isaiah wrote and spoke. Some appear to believe (42), but their faith is really non-faith and non-sense. Though they heard Him speak of the cross, hating their own lives, and following Him (24-27) they will not follow Him because they love their lives (the praise of men) more than the praise of God.
Verses 44-50 provide what is probably our Lord’s last public discourse before His death. It seems to take place in the Temple on the day after the one recorded in verses 23-33, and is almost a summary of what our Lord has been teaching throughout His ministry. Anyone desiring to know what Jesus believed and taught may find it encapsulated in these verses. He repeats His claim to Divinity, saying: “He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me. And he that seeth me seeth him that sent me” (44, 45).
He urges people to come to Him as to light in darkness, and to abide in Him while they have the opportunity. Bishop Ryle wrote of the duty of using present opportunities, saying:
“Our own time for getting good is short and limited; let us take heed that we make good use of it. Let us ‘Walk while we have the light.’ Have we Bibles? Let us not neglect to read them. Have we the preached Gospel? Let us not linger halting between two opinions, but believe to the saving of our souls. Have we Sabbaths? Let us not waste them in idleness, carelessness, and indifference, but throw our whole hearts into their sacred employments, and turn them to good account. Light is about us and around us and near us on every side. Let us each resolve to walk in the light while we have it, lest we find ourselves at length cast into outer darkness forever.”
Our Lord, Himself speaks of a day when opportunities to learn of Christ will pass out of the reach of many people. Therefore, when they stand before God they will stand before the bar of His judgement rather than the throne of His grace. Instead of hearing, “enter into thy rest,” they will hear, “depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Why should those who reject God now think He will accept them on that day? The word, which Christ has spoken will stand against them on that day; “the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.”
But the Lord ends His preaching ministry in mercy, not wrath. To call the Lord’s commandment life everlasting (50) is to invite us to believe in Him and live. For this is God’s commandment, that we believe in Christ.
The next several chapters of John are different from the other three Gospels. They are not different in theology, they are different in content. John omits much of what is found in the others, and includes things not found in them. John, for example, omits the Olivet Discourse and the institution of the Lord's Supper. After reporting some of our Lord’s shorter discourses, John moves to Passover and the Lord's words in the Upper Room. This is the last Passover in our Lord’s earthly ministry. In a matter of hours He will be dead. Thus, chapter 13 begins by telling us Jesus knows the time has come for him to depart from this world and return to the Father. John also reminds us why Jesus came, and why He is going to the cross; “having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them until the end.” It is love, not force, which placed Jesus on the cross. It is love, not nails, that held Him there.
The supper of verse four is the feast of unleavened bread. The Passover will not be eaten until after dark. With the supper ended, the Lord God stoops at the feet of unworthy men, and, performing the service of a slave, washes their dirty feet. The washing is symbolic of the cleansing of their souls, which He will accomplish on the cross. It is also an example of the Christian life. Christ, the Master, has performed the service of a slave for His people. His slaves, who can never be greater than their Master, must also and always be servants of one another. In the words of our Lord; “ye should do as I have done to you.”
Verse 18 begins the story of Christ’s betrayal. Judas, one of the Twelve, the inner circle of Christ’s followers, is, in reality, not a follower at all. He is a thief, a false friend, and a traitor. “That thou doest, do quickly” (27) is thought by some commentators to be telling Judas to make up his mind which side he is on. The time has come. He has made arrangements to betray Jesus, now he needs to decide if he will follow the plan or follow Christ.
It has been noted that the particular “sop” given to Judas was considered a special token of friendship and regard. Thus, given a special honour, Judas is told to decide what side he will choose. He chooses against Christ. Some suggest that it is very appropriate that, when Judas went out, “it was night” (30). As he went out from the presence of Christ, he went into, and gave himself to the spiritual darkness that had long troubled him. Let us beseech God to prevent us from doing the same.
The other disciples do not understand what is happening between Christ and Judas (28). Perhaps they are distracted by thoughts of their own weaknesses and temptations. Perhaps, like Peter, they are distracted by delusions of their own ability to withstand temptation. But the Lord knows Judas’ heart. When He says, “Now is the Son of man glorified (32), He is saying there is no stopping the cross now. Judas will bring the Jews to Him, and they will murder Him on the cross. There is no turning back.
The Lord has only a few hours left with His disciples, now, and He uses them to teach them and pray for them. He starts by telling them to love one another “as I have loved you” (34). He loves His own unto the end (1). He loves them enough to go to the cross for them. He loves them in spite of their stupidity, willful ignorance, unlovingness, and unlovableness. That is the way we must also love one another. Christians do not love one another because we think alike, like the same things, share the same values, or act like Christians. We love one another in spite of the fact that we don’t always think or act like Christians. We often imagine what the Church could be like if we all believed and practiced all that the Bible teaches. Indeed, it would be Heavenly. But none of us, including you, is anywhere close to that kind of faith and faithfulness. But, when others in the Church, fail to live up to the ideal, we get angry and discouraged. We consider them lower class Christians. We treat them with distain, or leave their fellowship. Many Christians, not worried about the beams in their own eyes, are overly critical of the motes in the eyes of others, and many have given up on the Church because the people don’t live up to the idealised Church of their dreams. To love as Jesus loves, is to love in spite of faults, not because of perfection, otherwise, no one could love you.
Of course there is a time to denounce sin and heresy, just as there is a time to leave churches and denominations that are clearly and unrepentantly devoted to sin and heresy. But most Christians do not divide over such things. They fight over insignificant things, like where the piano should be placed. May God have mercy.
Peter is blind to his own faults. He is weak and cowardly, yet he believes himself strong and brave. He will never desert Christ, not even if he has to lay down his life in the Lord’s service (37). Or will he? Jesus will soon lay down His life for Peter, but Peter will deny even knowing Christ. Many others, convinced of the unmovable strength of their faith, have fallen far from God.
We cannot say one verse or portion of the Holy Bible is deeper or more weighty than another, for each word of Bible is deeper and weightier than we can ever know while in this life. A simple verse, like John 8:1, “Jesus went unto the mount of Olives,” expresses incredibly deep things, like the Incarnation, self-imposed limitations of Christ, and Divine purpose for being on earth and going to the Mount. But in some passages, the depth and weight are more easily recognised than in others. John 14 is such a passages. It looks simple, like a crystal clear pool, but we will never fathom its depths. Libraries have been, written on the first six verses alone, and still there is more to say and more to know. Thus, an intentionally brief and elementary commentary, such as this, must, of necessarily, give only the barest hints of its meaning. We can say verse 6 is foundational to the chapter, and, there is a sense in which the rest of the Lord’s words in the chapter either lead us to it, or explain its meaning and application.
At first glance, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me,” is clear and obvious in meaning. Building upon His comforting words that He leaves this world to prepare an abiding place for us in the Father’s house of mansions, Christ says He is the way to the house. We understand that. We know He is the way because He gives His life as the ransom and payment for our sins. He is the way because He will come again to take us there Himself. He is the way because, in Him all of the glory, grace, and truth of God stands before us in Human form, and God is the way to God. We understand that He is the absolute and unchangeable Truth because He is God. We understand that He is the source of all life, especially life in His house, for the very same reason, He is God. That seems simple enough, but try to explain it clearly and fully, and we see how deep it really is.
Still, there can be no doubt about the Lord’s meaning here. The magnificence of the Triune God is beyond our ability to understand, but the point of verse 6 is that He is standing right here on this planet, in front of the disciples, and Jesus Christ is He. If that is not clear enough, He states it again in verse 7, where Christ says if we know Him we know the Father, and again in verses 10 and 11, which culminate in the words, “I am in the Father, and the Father in me.” Christ is claiming to exist in the Father, and that the Father exists in Him, in such a way that they are the one and only God. Yes, there is also a distinction between the Father and the Son, but that is not the Lord’s point here. Yes, the Holy Spirit is also a Person in this one and only God, but that is not Christ’s point either. His point is that He and the Father are One. They are God.
Greater works (12) are not physical miracles like feeding the 5,000 or raising Lazarus. They are the miracles of feeding souls with the Gospel so they are brought into the Kingdom of Heaven, and people are raised from spiritual death to eternal life in Christ. They are greater because Christ limited Himself in time and space as a man is limited, but His Church will grow beyond the boundaries of Israel, and will encompass people of many nations and races. Souls saved through the ministry of the Church will far outnumber those saved when Christ walked the land of Israel.
Verse 16 promises the arrival of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to abide with the Church forever. He will be with the Church when Christ has physically returned to the Father. So we will never be without the presence of God. Only now He will dwell in us instead of beside us, as when Christ dwelt among us. One of the results of His presence will be the knowledge that Christ and the Father are one, and that we are in Christ and He is in us. The Father is in Christ. And, through the Holy Spirit, Christ is in us.
The result of the Spirit dwelling in us is holiness. Those in whom He dwells keep Christ’s commandments (21). We no longer love sin with the same passion we had before. We are ashamed of sin. We try to shake it off, like ropes that bind us to Satan. We attempt to replace sinful ideas and habits with Godly ones, as defined by the commandments of God. Those who do this are the ones who are loved by God, and love Him in return. Those who simply profess to love God, but make no progress toward holiness are deceiving themselves, but not deceiving God.
Judas, not Iscariot, asks why Jesus is revealing Himself to them but not to the world (22). He still wants Christ to proclaim Himself King, and lead a war to drive out the Romans and conquer the world for Israel. Jesus says He will reveal Himself to others, but not by taking command of an army and residing in the palace. He will reveal Himself by coming to those who love Him, and show their love by keeping His commandments. They will “see” Christ. He and the Father will come to them and make their abode with them (23). This will be accomplished by the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. The Spirit, called, the Comforter, in verse 26, will teach them the things of God, and enable them to remember what Christ has said to them. Now they must rejoice that Christ returns to the Father, rather than starting another war. He will leave them with peace that is far different from the Pax Romana, or their desired Pax Israel. They do not understand this yet, but the Spirit will have to teach them these things, for now Jesus’ time for teaching is over. The disciples have already received far more than they can process now. The time for action is come, and our Lord says, “Arise, let us go hence.”
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 them 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.
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 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 New Testament. 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.
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 name (essential nature) 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.
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.
We have already discussed Pilate’s political maneuvering, 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 Caesar’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).
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.
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?
Our Lord’s answer can be summarised as, 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?”