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by Peter Pett
The Gospel of John
Hi! Welcome to our commentary on the Gospel of John by Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons) London) DD. You can access the first chapter of the commentary below but first you should read what follows.
The question is often asked, ‘Who wrote the Fourth Gospel and why is it so different from the others?’ And we will now consider this question.
We will take the second part of the question first. Why is this Gospel so different from the others? There are a number of reasons for this.
1) Firstly is the question of style. When considering the reason for the unique style of the fourth Gospel we must of course recognise that it bears the imprint of its author. He it was who selected the material he wished to use and who commented on it, and it was he who shaped its Greek, which is simple but distinctive, and who translated the Aramaic of Jesus into Greek. It was he who emphasised the spiritual aspects brought out in his ‘life of Jesus’ rather than the physical events that lay behind them, and who brought their distinctive lessons to our attention. Consider, for example, his emphasis on the ‘birth from above’ in chapter 3, on life from the Spirit in chapter 4, on feeding on Jesus’ flesh and blood in chapter 6, and his use of the incident of the man born blind in chapter 9, while ignoring Jesus’ actual physical baptism, His transfiguration and the establishment of the Lord’s Supper/Holy Communion.
2) Secondly is the fact that it presents aspects of the life of Jesus in which he took a special interest. It would appear that his connections with the house of the High Priest (John 18:15) meant that he considered as important what the other less sophisticated Apostles saw as simply not necessary in portraying the Gospel message by means of a portrayal of Jesus. Apart from for the final days the Synoptics concentrated their attention on the Galilean ministry, and the final journey to Jerusalem. John on the other hand took an interest in Jesus’ different visits to Jerusalem and Judea from the start and brought out from them lessons of significance, while almost ignoring the ministry in Galilee. Thus Jesus’ words in John are spoken in a totally different environment, the theological hothouse of Jerusalem.
3) Thirdly we should consider the possibility that he wrote his Gospel much later than the other Gospel writers. If he did so he almost certainly knew of the existence of the other Gospels, and of much their contents, before he wrote. And even if the Gospel was written earlier, he would know what was being emphasised in the tradition. Thus the differences may partly be seen as arising from the writer’s deliberate purpose, to fill in the gaps in the tradition. On the other hand he was also selecting his material in order to illuminate his statements in the Prologue concerning life, light and witness. Thus he would select different incidents he recalled, which fitted in with that purpose. It is, however, quite clear that he was aware of the traditions behind the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke), even if he did not know of the actual Gospels themselves, for they are regularly assumed in his narrative. And his avoidance of mention of such incidents suggests that he certainly knew that they were already known.
4) Fourthly we should note that the themes in the Gospel of light, life, judgment, truth, witness, the Logos and the contrast of light with darkness, were all concepts common in Palestine at that time, as we especially know from the Dead Sea Scrolls. Nevertheless while he does emphasise these themes, this is not to suggest that he altered the material to suit his own philosophy, which is rather reflected in interpretive comments added to the incidents. This seems to indicate the careful thought that had brought together such ideas from what Jesus had said and taught when contending with His adversaries (note the emphasis on His being constantly questioned and criticised).
5) Fifthly we may note that what is clear is that the material in John's Gospel is unquestionably connected with a Hebraistic background, and the ideas are such that there is no reason to think that they were altered to suit the convenience of the writer. For example, the concepts of eating flesh and drinking blood as metaphorical for death are very much from an Old Testament background.
6) Sixthly we should consider the fact that the words of Jesus would by his time have been treated as on a par with Scripture (consider the phrase ‘the Testimony of Jesus’) and to have deliberately altered them would thus certainly have been frowned on. What is probable is that he had in mind words and incidents that he had regularly meditated on and that he knew would be helpful to his readers with their own Greek background. He thus wrote of them accordingly without removing their Jewish background.
However, a reading of the Gospel makes very clear that it has to be placed squarely in the setting which is revealed by the other Gospels. Whilst John does not make specific use of these Gospels his account refers briefly, and often indirectly, to matters which only make sense against the background of the other Gospels. The Galilean ministry is a case in point. While John is concerned with Jesus' activity in Jerusalem and the surrounding area, he says sufficient to show that he was aware of an extensive Galilean ministry, even though he virtually ignores it except when it suits his purpose. For as he stresses at the end much was deliberately omitted by him.
The fact therefore is that the author gives us a whole new perspective on Jesus precisely because he deals with arguments with Jewish leaders and teachers which are barely dealt with in the Synoptics, although having said that they are clearly implied in some of Jesus teaching there. This suggests that he was of a type who took great interest in such teaching, in contrast with those who remembered 'sermons' and ‘parables’ but did not enter fully into the intricacies of disputations. Indeed the Gospel gives us very much the impression of someone who had taken note of the twists and turns of the arguments. As in fact Jesus must certainly have had arguments with these parties at various times, and especially during Jesus’ visits to Jerusalem, it is clear that John is filling us in with material that the other Gospel writers for one reason or another neglected because it did not suit their purpose. For that information must have been known to eyewitnesses. And no eyewitness was closer than John. Indeed it is John who really gives us the explanation of the hatred of the Jewish leadership for Jesus.
He obviously had a great interest in Jerusalem and in Jesus’ attitude to the Temple and its authorities, which ties in with the fact that he was almost certainly related to the Jewish hierarchy in some way (John 18:15). This helps to explain his interest in this aspect of the life of Jesus. And the whole Gospel bears the stamp of his personality in the type of incident he brings to mind and the detailed conversations he remembers.
Furthermore the Gospel is full of incidental things which confirm that he was an eyewitness to the events that took place. He remembers almost incidentally the time at which events took place, the places at which they occurred, and significant details relating to the events which demonstrate his vivid memory of them. He also portrays himself as 'the disciple whom Jesus loved' who 'sat' (lay on a kind of mattress) next to Jesus at the last supper (John 21:20). And so important were his words seen to be that early church leaders wrote a superscription to confirm his authority (John 21:24).
Furthermore his position at the last supper at Jesus’ right hand points conclusively to one of the inner band of disciples and it is John with whom the early church always associated it. There is nothing in the Gospel to repudiate this idea, and the fact that John is, seemingly deliberately, not mentioned in the Gospel, and that John the Baptiser is simply called John would seem very strong support for seeing him as the author. Indeed the studied failure to mention John anywhere in the Gospel would be very strange, either for a disciple of John, or for someone who used the general tradition. The only person one can think of who would do such a thing is the Apostle John himself.
Hunter, whom we may see as representative of the contrary view, lists three reasons why, in his opinion, and in the opinion of those who agree with him, John could not have written the Gospel.
He argues that:
1. A disciple would not have used Mark and Luke like, he claims, the writer 'obviously did'.
2. That there is a difference in style. In the Synoptics Jesus speaks with a wealth of parables, while John has long, mystical discourses but no parables.
3. It is unlikely that the Apostle John would style himself 'the disciple whom Jesus loved'.
None of these arguments, however, really stands up to examination. Firstly we should note that we have no real grounds for thinking that the writer did directly use Mark and Luke. All we can really conclude is that he reveals a similar general background and a knowledge of the material that lies behind them. He certainly nowhere cites them. So there is no definite connection with one particular Gospel. We might indeed argue that if he wrote late the more remarkable fact is that he does not make use of them directly. They were accepted by the early church as authoritative from the earliest days, and he would therefore have had every reason to use them either directly or indirectly. Directly copying other people’s materials was not frowned on then as it is now. This might be seen as pointing to an early date for John’s Gospel.
Secondly, the parables were mainly used with the sympathetic 'common folk', whilst in John the discourses are to and with the intelligentsia. Jesus’ arguments with the Judaisers in John are typically Rabbinic. John chose to ignore the sermons to the crowds, although he knew very well that they were preached. In any case, the Gospel of John does have parabolic material, of a kind well suited to the intelligentsia, and even to the common people (John 10:0) as C H Dodd among others has pointed out.
And thirdly, the phrase 'the disciple whom Jesus loved' should surely be looked on as reflecting humble wonder at the amazing fact that this was so, a treasured reality by someone greatly moved by the fact, rather than as a claim to some special status. From this point of view there is no difficulty in the title. For the fact is that someone did coin the title, and it thus has difficulties whoever we suggest as the author if we take it in any other way. Who else would have dared to suggest it of one in contrast with the other Apostles had it been intended to indicate status? It could rather only be a personal, awed reminiscence and awareness of a wonderful reality. An awed humility is thus the best way of interpreting it. And there is no reason why John should not have been so humbly awed. We need waste no time on the suggestion that it represented a figure who was a figment of his imagination.
Howard further claims that the lack of mention of special events when John was present e.g. the transfiguration and the garden of Gethsemane, count against his authorship, but that is to make assumptions which are not fully valid, for who can say what someone would include when they are writing with a specific purpose in mind? Indeed it would appear that the writer deliberately ignores such events (Jesus’ baptism, transfiguration, actions and covenant making at the Last Supper) and rather emphasises the spiritual aspect of them in Jesus’ life and teaching, something which he may not have thought best conveyed by outlining such events. For while he certainly ignored the establishing of the taking of the bread and wine at the Last Supper as memorials of Jesus’ death, he nevertheless does bring out its significance in John 6:0, and while he ignores the revealing of Jesus’ glory at the Transfiguration, he does speak of the revelation of Jesus’ glory in John 1:14-18, bringing out the significance of the Transfiguration. And while he ignores Jesus’ baptism he does bring out the meaning oi baptism in John 3:1-15. We may indeed well ask, could someone else who wrote about Jesus and the disciples have so assiduously specifically ignored John, and so specifically excluded such important and well known events? But that someone did is apparent from the fact that we have the Gospel. Why is it less likely with John than any other?
In favour of the suggestion that John wrote the Gospel we have:
1). The statement that it was written by the disciple who lay in Jesus' bosom, the favoured place at the Last Supper.
2). The remarkable fact that John the Apostle is never named in the Gospel when other Apostles are mentioned freely and that John the Baptiser is simply named 'John' with no thought of distinguishing him from the disciple, (almost inexplicable if the Gospel was written by another, especially by an admirer of John).
3). Also significant is the fact that no one in the second century church, whether Christian or heretic, ever considered the Gospel to have been written by anyone else (with the exception of one absurd attribution to Cerinthus by the Alogi which cannot be taken seriously). In contrast Irenaeus, who was widely familiar with many people in a position to comment on the situation, and who knew Polycarp, who had himself known John, clearly maintains that the Apostle John was the author.
4). On top of this we must recognise that those who subscribed their testimony to the Gospel would be well known members of the Christian church. And they would certainly have know who wrote it and would have countered any contrary suggestion. These things were not done in the dark.
Certainly the writer is a Jew who knows intimately the details of the Jewish religion, is familiar with Palestine (including Samaria) and gives the impression of being an eyewitness. The fact that he is an eyewitness comes out again and again in incidental references.
We know that John’s family owned its own fishing business, and had hired servants, and that his mother sought high places for him and his brother, expecting Jesus to listen, which would tie in with his being from an important family. There is therefore no reason why he should not be connected in some way to the Jewish hierarchy, possibly through intermarriage (see John 18:15), and therefore have been interested in events relating to them. It can well be argued that it was this connection that meant that he would remember events which took place in Jerusalem at a time when the other disciples were too awed to be taking so much notice of the events.
There would thus appear to be sound reasons for positively accepting the claims of the early church that the Gospel was authored by John the Apostle. Any other suggestion can be seen as merely a chimera in the minds of scholars.
The Historicity of John’s Gospel.
Writing on this subject a person begins to feel like the author of John’s Gospel when he wrote, ‘there are many other things which Jesus taught the which if every one was written the world itself could not contain the books which would be written’ (something very relevant to a discussion about what Jesus really did teach). But my point here is that the same can be seen as applying to discussions about John’s Gospel. It is a vast subject about which vast amounts have been written. Thus it is not easy to deal with the matter satisfactorily in a small article, and it is certainly not possible to succintly answer all the criticisms (even stating them would be a monumental task). It is, however, necessary to make some kind of attempt simply in order to assist the reader to think about some of the questions involved. There is no claim, however, to be fully comprehensive. The aim is rather to face the reader with certain of the facts so that he can think out his own position for himself. But what is necessary is to recognise that many of the statements of the more extreme scholars are pure surmise based on their own philosophical positions without any real evidence to support them. They are speculating and are in fact doing with John’s Gospel what they claim the author did with Christian truth.
What we would certainly argue is that there can really be no doubt, if words mean anything, that the author of John’s Gospel intended what he wrote to be seen as factual, and equally intended those who read it (or heard it read) to respond on that basis, for he says, ‘These (signs) are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you might have life in His name’ (John 20:31). Now as what are called ‘signs’ in the Gospel include the miracles (John 2:11; John 4:54), and are intended to convince, he can only have intended to indicate that they actually happened. This then gives the implication that the remainder of the Gospel is to be seen in the same way. And yet in spite of this, none of the three other Gospels have been attacked about their historical accuracy in quite the same way as John’s has. And this is mainly because, at least to some extent, they appear to corroberate each other. Overall the same picture of Jesus Christ arises from each. John’s Gospel, on the other hand, at first sight gives the impression of presenting a totally different Jesus, that is, until we consider it more deeply.
Thus there are those who try to suggest that what is in the Gospel of John is not really fact, but is the invention of the author with a view to aligning us with his own view about Jesus, or with a view to solving problems faced by the early church by putting words in the mouth of Jesus. In consequence the first question that we have to ask is, did the writer expect us to accept the historicity of what he wrote? In doing so we should bear one thing in mind, the writer certainly lays a great stress on what is historical fact in that he presents us in great detail with the trials of Jesus and the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and claims that he is dealing with ‘the Word made flesh’. What a strange thing to say if he is simply going to fabricate how the Word made flesh behaved, and how He taught. In his mind here is to argue against those who did not firmly place Jesus Christ in history. What kind of mentality would he have if he countered myth with myth, and then claimed that his position was based on the Word becoming flesh? And indeed this is in line with what the New Testament emphasises, that Christianity is rooted in history, not because they thought that it was a good idea, but because God Himself had determined that it would be so. That was why the New Testament continually points to history as the basis on which people should believe, (as John himself did when he emphasised that ‘the Word became flesh’). Indeed the purpose of the New Testament was precisely to root what they believed in historical events. Their aim was to relate their faith to historical events which had occurred and with which they were preoccupied. If the author of John was not doing this he was going contrary to the attitude of his contemporaries in the orthodox early church.
Did The Author Of John’s Gospel Expect Us To Accept The Historicity Of What He Wrote?
The answer to this question must surely be a resounding ‘yes’. At the commencement of his account he stresses that he is speaking about ‘the Word made flesh’, and then at the end of chapters 1-20 he writes, ‘Many other signs Jesus did in the presence of His disciples which are not recorded here, but these are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you might have life in His Name.’ (John 20:30-31). And this is backed up by the fact that later, in John 21:24, his colleagues wrote, ‘this is the disciple who bears witness of these things, and wrote these things, and we know that his witness is true’. It is difficult to avoid the suggestion that what they all wanted was for us to recognise that what he had written was factual.
Now I think it will be apparent from this to all sensible people that the writer did expect his readers to accept that the signs were real signs which had actually happened. For if he had simply invented the signs in order to make people believe, planting them in a Gospel in which he had made every endeavour to make what he described appear factual, there would not only be no real solid grounds on which they could base their belief (something the early church emphasised as we shall see), but he would be guilty of lying and trying to give them a false impression. It would have made him a charlatan and a rogue. He would have been guilty of trying to get them to believe on the basis of lies, for he certainly goes out of his way to convince them that the signs happened in the way that he described. Now some politicians might behave like this, and some scholars while in their studies might weave such ideas in their minds as they allow their imaginations to run riot and their morality to be held in abeyance (something usually put right when they leave their studies), but we do not expect it of decent, honest people when they are claiming to be writing about the truth, especially not when their writings are continually emphasising ‘truth’. For the writer was not giving the impression that he was visualising ideas and then producing a theological edifice on them, or presenting as facts things which really did not happen but came by inspiration in order to induce faith, he was actually calling on the facts to be the basis of their faith, and trying to give every impression that they were ‘the truth’. (That this is a fair assessment comes out in that all agree that if he did not actually present factual history, he certainly went out of his way to make it look as though he had. He was trying to give the impression of verisimilitude).
Nor is it reasonable to say, ‘but everyone in those days saw it as reasonable to present imaginative ideas as facts in order to induce faith’. But if we mean by that that they considered it reasonable to seek to convince people by presenting what they had imagined in their own minds as being factual, that is simply not true. Dreamers may have done something like that with ideas, but if they were honest it was not by falsely building up a picture of being factual, and setting their ideas in what appeared to be a factual environment. Of course there are always those who would do such things, but they are not looked on as good examples of morality, rather the opposite. So whilst it is true that some may have done it, they would not have been able to justify it morally. Nor would they have had an impact on the morality of the world which compared with that of John’s Gospel. The truth is that the Gospel does not just present a picture, it goes out of its way to make that picture seem factual and credible, and it does it while putting forward a high standard of morality, and teaching the necessity of living in the light so that evil might be put away.
Furthermore reputable ancient historians did not see it as reasonable to invent history. They went out of their way to assert how careful they were being in presenting the truth (just as both Luke and John do). What they presented may not always, of course, have actually been the full truth, for their sources were limited, and when it comes to history what is the full truth? (The facts are wide open to interpretation). But what they did try to convince us of was that they had made every effort to present and interpret true facts, and that even when they put words in men’s mouths they strove to do it honestly. Any failure to present the truth did not lie in lack of endeavour. It resulted from the fact that their sources or interpretations were either inaccurate, or lacking altogether. But what they did want us to see was that they had made an honest endeavour to convey the true facts. Thus for the writer of John’s Gospel to have invented ‘signs’ in order to induce faith, and to have put them in a context which suggested that they were facts, would have been seen as totally disreputable by ancient historians.
And that indeed was how all the New Testament writers saw it. They wanted us to recognise that we could rely on what they wrote because it was based on fact, and evidenced by eyewitnesses. As the writer says in 2 Peter 1:16, ‘we have not followed cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty’. They wanted us to know that what they presented was in accordance with the facts as they knew them as eyewitnesses, and was not just some religious ‘revelation’ which was not based in reality.
Luke also makes clear that that is what he is endeavouring to do. He says, ‘inasmuch as many have taken in hand to draw up a narrative concerning those matters which have been fulfilled among us, even as they who were from the beginning eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, delivered them to us’ (Luke 1:1-2), and then goes on to stress that that was what he himself was seeking to do, and that he was doing so as accurately as he possibly could. In other words, like 2 Peter, he wants us to know that he speaks on the evidence of eyewitnesses, and has made every endeavour to be accurate and to discover the truth. Compare again how in John 19:35 the writer can say, ‘and he who has seen has borne witness, and his witness is true, and he knows that he says true so that you also may believe’. And they are talking about facts which he has presented and of which he is a witness. Thus he is not to be seen as just presenting a case based on ‘prophetic inspiration’. He is to be seen as emphasising that his case is based on true facts. Consider similarly John 21:14, ‘this is the disciple who bears witness of these things, and wrote these things, and we know that his witness was true’. The subscribers to the Gospel were clearly making every effort to underline that what was written was both witnessed by an eyewitness, and was true to the facts.
Indeed it was precisely because they knew that people would simply not accept what might appear to be extravagant ideas that the Apostles ensured that they continued to have twelve good eyewitnesses to the facts concerning the resurrection and the life of Jesus. By appointing Matthias as an Apostle because he was one who had been with them from the beginning (Acts 1:21-22), and had seen and heard what they had seen and heard, they were seeking to guarantee that they maintained a twelvefold witness to what had actually happened. . See also Acts 2:32; Acts 3:15; Acts 4:13; Acts 4:20; Acts 10:39-41 which indicate how important they saw eyewitness to be. In the same way in 1 John the writer emphasises that he is describing ‘what we have heard and seen and beheld and our hands have touched’ (1 John 1:1-2). Again the emphasis is on what has actually happened and has been witnessed. Paul demonstrates the same attitude when he presents to the Corinthians the evidence for the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8. He did not expect them to ‘accept it by faith’. He wanted them to believe the eyewitnesses. Thus all stress that they are dealing with facts.
This determination to get at the true facts was also typical of the discerning in the early church as we know from the words of Papias when he said, ‘For I did not, like the multitude, take pleasure in those who spoke much, but in those who taught the truth; nor in those who related strange commandments, but in those who rehearsed the commandments given by the Lord to faith, and proceeding from truth itself. If, then, any one who had attended on the elders came (note that the Apostles are called ‘elders’), I asked minutely after their sayings, --what Andrew or Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the Lord's disciples: which things Aristion and the elder John, the disciples of the Lord, say. For I imagined that what was to be got from books was not so profitable to me as what came from the living and abiding voice.’ In other words he makes clear that wanted to get as near to eyewitnesses as he could.
But Do The Records Themselves Give The Appearance Of Being Factual?
The next question that we must ask ourselves is, do the records themselves give the appearance of being factual? That they do is brought out by the fact that when someone argues that the accounts are factual on the basis of something contained in the Gospel the argument is immediately put forward by others who do not accept them as factual, that such things have been put into the narrative in order to give the impression of their being factual. But if this is so the writer cannot escape from the implication of duplicity. If in fact he knew that what he was writing about was not factual, but tried to give the impression that it was, he was a deceiver and a liar following in the footsteps of the father of lies, a charge he has sought to bring against his opponents while stressing that he is telling the truth (John 8:44-45). For he was not simply a novelist telling a good story, he was on his own admission writing the account in order to convince people of something, namely that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. To make it appear factual when it was not would have been to perpetrate falsehood of the worst kind, and this from someone who argues for truth against those who are putting forward lies.
But someone may ask, ‘In what way does the Gospel present itself as factual?’ It does in fact do so in a number of ways.
· Firstly it presents topographical features which puts it firmly into the context of the land of Palestine. In some cases it is by naming place-names, often obscure ones, and even identifying them in terms of other names, and in others it is simply as a result of the account using topographical features which those who know Palestine recognise (e.g. in the account of the woman of Samaria). But there can be no question that such features are brought out, and that it is either unconsciously done because the writer is simply writing what he knew to be true, and describing what he witnessed, or because it has been very cleverly introduced in order to seek to convince others that the account is true, even though it is not. Examples of such features include:
1). The environment in which John the Baptist conducted his ministry (now illuminated further by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls). 2). The environment of the story of the Samaritan woman in chapter 4, which is unquestionably true to the topography of that particular part of what was once Samaria.
3). The reference to Bethany beyond the Jordan (John 1:28), a place which was forgotten by the time of Origen, which is distinguished from Bethany near Jerusalem (John 11:18). (The location of the latter is given as 15 stadia away).
4). The reference to Aenon near Salim (John 3:23), an obscure place which is not mentioned anywhere else, which suggests the direct knowledge of the writer.
5). The revealing of a knowledge of Jerusalem and its surrounding. Thus he describes the pool at Bethesda (John 5:2), and refers to the pool of Siloam (John 9:7) and the Wadi Kidron (John 18:1), placing the latter correctly. He demonstrates a knowledge of the Pavement (Gabbatha) outside Pilate’s palace with its raised judgement-seat (John 19:13), now confirmed archaeologically. He knows correctly, and refers to the fact, that the Temple had at that stage taken 46 years in building (John 2:20), and he refers to the Treasury (John 8:20) and to Solomon's Portico (John 10:22). And this all done naturally without emphasising any of them.
· Secondly it does it by presenting itself as taking place within a strictly Jewish environment. Thus the narrative shows a knowledge of genuine Jewish Messianic expectations (John 1:21; John 4:25; John 6:14 ff.: John 7:40 ff.; John 12:34 ff.), is aware of the Jewish attitude towards women, and the importance to them of religious schools (John 7:15), and of their contempt of the Gentiles (John 7:35) and of the hostility between Jews and Samaritans (John 4:9). He also reveals familiarity with Jewish observances and customs, such as the ceremonial pollution of entering a Gentile court (John 18:28), a knowledge of the ceremonial at the Feast of Tabernacles which is demonstrated by reference to "living water" and the "light of the world" (John 7:38; John 8:12), and an awareness that the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles was seen as the "great day" (John 7:37). He is also aware of both marriage and burial customs (John 2:1-10; John 11:17-44). All these are incorporated, either naturally because they were part of a genuine record of true facts, or because they were a clever means of pretending something that was not true, that what was written genuinely took place in Palestine.
· It presents itself as factual by including references to time and quantity. Thus there are references to time in John 1:29; John 1:35; John 1:39-40; John 1:43; John 2:1; John 4:6; John 4:40; John 4:43; John 4:52; John 11:6; John 11:17; John 11:39; John 13:30; John 19:14. There are also references to the number of disciples of John the Baptist who were pointed to Jesus (John 1:35), the number of waterpots at the marriage at Cana (John 2:6), the number of loaves and fishes (John 6:9), of soldiers (John 19:23) and of fish caught in a net (John 21:11) and there are also references to distance in John 6:19 and to size in John 21:8. Once more we must see them as either naturally arising because they were true, or as put into the narrative in order to give a false impression of truthfulness by a man who is constantly emphasising truth.
It presents itself as factual by giving details which reinforce the impression of historicity. Thus we learn that the boy at the feeding of the five thousand carried barley loaves (John 6:9), that when Mary poured out the oil on Jesus, the house was filled with the fragrance (John 12:3), that the branches waved at Jesus’ triumphant entry were of palm (John 12:13), that Roman soldiers also came with the officers of the priests to arrest Jesus (John 18:3), that Jesus robe was seamless (John 19:23), that the headcloth in which He was buried was wrapped and lying in a place by itself (John 20:7) and that Peter was grieved because the Lord said to him a third time, "Do you love me?" (John 21:17). Does this really smack of a writer simply trying to deceive people?
· The writer also continually strives to give an impression of factuality by representing the illumination of the disciples, and their activity, or their inadequacy, as they strive to deal with problems that Jesus faces them with. Consider for example John 2:11; John 2:17; John 2:22; John 4:27; John 4:33; John 6:7-10; John 6:19-20; John 6:60 ff.; John 12:16; John 13:22; John 13:28; John 21:12. Thus he shows up the Apostles who would in fact be held in reverence by his readers. And why? So that he can make the situations sound genuine. He seemingly cares for nobody, and expects his readers simply to accept what he says, even though it is not backed up by tradition. As genuine parts of a factual narrative these comments fit in beautifully, but as invention in order to try to convince us that fictional narratives were actually factual they would be dishonesty of the grossest kind. Nor is it sufficient to say that the writer was trying to make his narrative life-like, for this was not a novel, it was a writing that claimed to be underlining the truth about Jesus.
· Finally, and obviously, it presents itself as factual by placing words on the lips of Jesus. No one can deny that the aim is to give the impression that what we have in the Gospel is genuinely what Jesus actually said. But if it is not what He actually said then such an action is totally dishonest. It is a misrepresentation of the truth. The way some get round this is by arguing that the words came from the lips of prophets (including possibly the writer himself) so that they could claim that they actually were the words of Jesus. Now it is doubtful if anyone in the early church would have seen it like this (it is an invention of scholars). But we should also note that these prophets, if they ever existed, were clearly remarkable people. For they produced words which were of such beauty and power that they outmatched anything that Jesus ever taught and changed the course of history, they impressed centuries of Christians of the matchlessness of Jesus’ teaching, and they had a depth of understanding which shaped the world after their day, and yet they lived and died in obscurity, totally forgotten and unrecognised leaving no other trace of their existence. For if one thing is certain above all others it is that the teaching that we find in all the Gospels demands a unique and outstanding figure who towers above the conceptions of this world. And that figure was Jesus.
And there is another problem that that argument has to face. For it overlooks the fact that the teaching in John’s Gospel is not quite unique. It is reproducing ideas which are found in the other Gospels, for in Matthew 11:25-27; Luke 10:21-22 we discover similar ideas in the self-revelation of Jesus. Are we really to believe that Jesus only spoke such ideas once, that the disciples who heard Him and remembered them never asked Him for a fuller explanation of the words, and that Jesus never bothered to illuminate them further concerning them? Or are we to see those sublime words too as the inventions of lesser men, who were able to introduce them as words of Jesus without anyone who knew the truth denying that Jesus said them, or without anyone wanting to examine them further? Such sublime thoughts do not come from lesser men, and their presence in the Gospels makes quite clear that such ideas were known and being circulated in the tradition of the early church. And this problem is further compounded when we recognise that the supposedly Johannine idea of ‘the Father’ and ‘the Son’ is repeated quite clearly in Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32, verses which are unlikely to have been invented by the early church, for they imply a lack of knowledge on the part of Jesus that no one would ever have dared to invent.
The truth is both that the teaching presented to us as that of Jesus has its own remarkable uniqueness, and bears the stamp of genius, and that no one can really doubt that to put such words on the lips of Jesus in a specific environment in the way that it is done in the Gospel has, if they were not truly His words (or accurately giving the sense of His words), no justification whatsoever, except to someone with a twisted mind. It would be seen as pure deceit, even in terms of those days. It would be what 2 Peter calls ‘a cunningly devised fable’ of the type wholly disapproved of by the early church.
The Differences Between John And The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke).
But someone may then ask, if this be so, how are we to explain the differences between what we find in the Synoptics and what we find in John’s Gospel? For there can be no doubt that in many ways John’s Gospel is strikingly different from the other three. However, once we begin to look at the situation analytically that should not surprise us. For it is soon apparent that John has carefully selected the material that he uses about the life of Jesus, and that he, presumably deliberately, deals with Jesus in a totally different environment to that found in the other Gospels. He is aware of what is being taught in the general tradition of the church (although we have no grounds for saying that he had perused the other Gospels in any detail), and desires to pass on information that he has which is not a part of that tradition, information which illuminates the particular message that he wants to give.
He is very selective in his material (he has a particular aim in mind). And this selectivity results in him presenting the ministry of Jesus which took place away from Galilee and its surrounds, as it was conducted in places where men thought very differently. Not for John the hills of Galilee and the crowds of common people, and the sermons on the hilltops or the plain. Not for John the multi-national environment of Galilee, where exciting ideas were being spread abroad, unorthodoxy abounded, and even the local Rabbis were slightly unorthodox. The other Gospels dealt almost entirely with such a situation. But it is not so with John. Nor does he deal in the main with Jesus’ teaching to His inner group of disciples. Rather John concentrates his attention on Jerusalem and Judea, and on individual conversations with ‘outsiders’, and on controversies with the Judean Rabbis and Pharisees, who had their own particular way of arguing. We would therefore expect that His approach would be very different, for every good evangelist presents his material in such a way as to appeal to the people to whom he is speaking. The truth is that the Scribes and Pharisees at least would have felt at home with Jesus’ method of presentation in John’s Gospel, even if they did not agree with his position and His conclusions. Furthermore the people in Jerusalem and Judea as a whole were very different in the way they thought from the people of Galilee. Indeed the two groups ‘despised’ each other. And it is fair to say that we would expect Jesus’ words to reflect that difference.
And to this we can add the fact that what we have of Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel is probably a translation from the Aramaic. In this regard we should recognise that translation from one language to another is never exact. No two languages are the same. So translation always requires a level of interpretation. And that is why we would expect the translation of Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel to some extent to reflect the author’s style, as it would be he who would have chosen the terminology in Greek. And we would expect his abbreviation of what Jesus taught to reflect his mature thought, as he selected what suited his case, even while he took care to ensure that he presented what Jesus actually did say. In view of this it should not then be surprising that we can trace a little of the writer’s style on the lips of Jesus. But that is very different from suggesting that what Jesus is purported to have said was not spoken by Jesus at all. Indeed what He says is so sublime that it is difficult to see who else could have been responsible for it.
Nor must we overlook the fact that in John’s Gospel his account of the Galilean ministry is extremely limited, indeed surprisingly so (if we work on the basis that the writer was writing a full history of Jesus, which of course he was not). It is composed of three incidents only, those found in John 2:1-12; John 4:43-54 and John 6:1 to John 7:1. The first incident in John 2:1-12 occurs in a period prior to the time when the other Gospels commence their descriptions of the ministry of Jesus (they, presumably deliberately, avoided the period when Jesus was working alongside John the Baptist), the second incident in John 4:43-54 (the high official’s son) is in fact very similar in nature to an incident in the other Gospels (the centurion’s servant), and the third in John 6:1 to John 7:1 is based on the feeding of the five thousand and the walking on the water which appears in all the Gospels. Thus the picture drawn by the author concerning Jesus’ Galilean ministry is, while limited, fully in line with the Synoptics. And in no case does the author of John’s Gospel give us any information about what Jesus taught in detail to the crowds in Galilee. We have nothing which can be compared with His Galilean ministry as described for example in Matthew 5-7. For the only example of His teaching in Galilee is in what follows the feeding of the five thousand in John’s Gospel, which has in mind a special situation where a crowd who have got themselves over-excited and are seeking a ‘sign’, needing to be calmed down, with Jesus trying to turn them away from seeking signs so as to concentrate on what He had come to do. It is not simply an average situation. And that is then followed by words spoken specifically to the Judaisers, which are very much based on Old Testament ideas of ‘eating flesh’ and ‘drinking blood’ as indicating the putting of someone to death. The writer no doubt included this incident at least partly because it reinforced his emphasis on Jesus’ teaching concerning eternal life, in line with John 1:4. The large masses of teaching in the other Gospels, on the other hand, are precisely what He taught to the crowds of common people in Galilee. They lapped up the parables, they were excitedly waiting for ‘the Kingly Rule of God’, and they wanted plain, popular fare. And that is what He gave them, with an impact that was powerful.. (Consider also in this regard how similar the teaching of John the Baptist in the Synoptics is to that of Jesus in the similar situation).
What is interesting is that in the two cases where Jesus does speak to individual outsiders in the Synoptics, He does so in terms of ‘eternal life’ just as He does in John’s Gospel (Matthew 19:16 and parallels; Luke 10:15). That was their interest. And it was the interest of the individuals in John’s Gospel. Indeed the writer in John’s Gospel makes clear both in his prologue and in his final statement that his main concern is that his readers should know about eternal life (John 1:4; John 1:13; John 20:31). But we should note that to Nicodemus in John 3:0 He does also speak of ‘the Kingly Rule of God’, and equates it with Nicodemus receiving the life of the Spirit. We can compare how in connection with the rich young ruler Jesus speaks of both eternal life (Mark 10:17; Mark 10:30) and the Kingly Rule of God (Mark 10:23-25), and also there equates the two (compare Mark 10:17 with John 10:23). So the apparent ‘differences’ between John and the other Gospels are not so great after all. Indeed the very opposite proves to be the case. Where the material is parallel it presents the same truths.
Nor must we overlook the fact that John’s Gospel is concentrating on what happened during the great feasts, and that Jesus’ words are often tailored to that fact. At those times people’s minds were fixed on religious matters, and any approach to them would bear that in mind. They were in a thinking mood. People speak and think very differently when in such an atmosphere. And this is reflected in the teaching that Jesus gave, and in the questions and counter-questions that went to and fro, as will be evident in the commentary. The atmosphere when they were in Galilee, as portrayed in the other Gospels, was totally different, and the approach had therefore to be made in a different way. Parables were particularly suited to the more open atmosphere in Galilee, and to the kind of people He was speaking to, although He certainly did also use them in Jerusalem as well. But even then it was under different circumstances to those found in John (although the Gospel undoubtedly contains a good deal of parabolic material). They are found when He was taking the initiative.
The Selectivity Of All The Gospels.
The only apparent reason for this situation was that those who were the sources of the Synoptics either did not understand the controversies that had been going on, or had not been present when they took place, or a mixture of both. They would also have in mind the difficulty that their readers might have in grappling with such concepts. But that they did not wholly escape from them comes out in that they did contain material which pointed towards the same ideas that we find in John. For as we have seen they do contain verses which indicate something of the self-revelation of Jesus, and they do make clear that Jesus was the Son of God. Furthermore like John’s Gospel they concentrate on the last days of Jesus, and see in the cross and resurrection the solution to man’s quest for salvation, whilst putting hopes for the future in terms of the Holy Spirit. But it required someone like the author of John’s Gospel to be able to remember and present the theological controversies with the ‘Judaisers’, the deeply religious Jews who were mainly opposed to Jesus.
Is The Theology Of John Too Advanced For It To Have Been Spoken By Jesus?
The question has only to be asked for it to be apparent how ridiculous it is. To misquote someone else, ‘if Jesus was truly the Son of God then clearly no one would have better understood the mystery of His person than He Himself, and if He was not the Son of God it really does not matter who said what.’ It is quite extraordinary the way in which people can argue about what He could have known and taught, and can yet still see Him as truly God. So in our view as believers in the full deity of Jesus Christ it is a non-question. We consider it, however, in order to bring out how unreasonable the suggestion is.
And the first thing to note is that from the beginning the basic ideas of John’s Gospel were held by the early church. They are contained in Paul’s greeting when he speaks to the Thessalonians of ‘God the Father and the LORD Jesus Christ’ (1 Thessalonians 1:1). Spoken in parallel with the Father as theos the title kurios (LORD - the name of YHWH in the Old Testament) is itself a designation of deity, as Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 8:5-6, and even more in Philippians 2:9-11. Furthermore the idea of Jesus as LORD continues throughout the letter, and it is difficult in some cases to doubt that Paul sees it as an indication of full deity (e.g. John 4:15-16; John 5:9; John 5:23; John 5:28). And in this regard we should note that Jesus is described as ‘both LORD and Christ’ immediately after Pentecost (Acts 2:36). Consider also Paul’s words, ‘in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form’ in Colossians 2:9. It is true, of course, that these verses can be argued about theologically, but then so can the verses in John’s Gospel
2 Peter too can speak of Jesus as ‘our God and Saviour’ (John 1:1, compare John 1:11 where God is replaced by LORD), whilst the Synoptic Gospels parallel John’s ideas as we have seen in Matthew 11:25-27; Luke 10:21-22. Matthew also cites the ‘trinitarian’ formula in Matthew 28:19. It is questionable whether what we find in John’s Gospel is in advance of these statements. What it does do is open our eyes to Jesus’ self-revelation. But if it was self-revelation then we must accept it as containing words of Jesus, in which case to speak of it as ‘advanced theology’ is ridiculous. It is in fact in our view very unlikely that any later Christians could have invented and spoken the truths we find in John’s Gospel with such aplomb. They would surely have been guilty of either naivete or over-exaggeration, and would easily have been exposed. For the claims of Jesus in John’s Gospel are not only profound, but are spoken in such a way as to reveal that they are spoken by a unique personality whose views are an expression of genius. There is nothing from history that compares with them. They contain within them ‘the ring of truth’.
Other Problems Often Brought Up.
It is often asked why it is that in John’s Gospel we have no reference to the casting out of evil spirits, whilst in the other Gospels such references abound. But whilst it is certainly interesting that in Galilee there was a clear problem with spirit possession, it is not at all obvious why there should have been the same in Judea. It may simply indicate that the religious attitude and atmosphere of Judea was such that it kept the people there from indulging in the occult in the same way as the people did in Galilee and the surrounding areas among the Gentiles. The Judeans may well not have dallied with evil spirits to the same extent. We have no grounds for thinking otherwise. Thus we would not expect the same problem with demon possession. What may, however, be seen as significant is that in all four Gospels Jesus is accused of being demon possessed (Matthew 12:24 and parallels; John 8:48; John 10:19).
It is often stated that one difference between the Synoptics and John’s Gospel is the length of Jesus’ ministry. In the Synoptics, it is said, His ministry was swift and short whilst in John it spreads over three years and more with a good number of visits to Jerusalem. This, however, is to overlook the fact that Luke, for example, gives us a clear indication that Jesus did visit Jerusalem and its environs a number of times. In John 10:38 he has Jesus at the house of Martha and Mary within a stone’s throw of Jerusalem (following a parable dealing with a journey between Jerusalem and Jericho). In John 13:34 he again has Jesus in the environs of Jerusalem when He weeps over Jerusalem and gives the impression of having preached there on a number of occasions (‘how often would I have gathered you --’). Then later on we have a description of the final days in Jerusalem. Thus there are in Luke at least three clear indications of visits to Jerusalem. It is just that Luke does not specifically draw attention to Jesus’ whereabouts at the time. The incidental nature of the references makes us recognise that to the Synoptics where Jesus was at various times was not seen as too important, and the fact of them confirms that Jesus visited Jerusalem a number of times.
As we have seen it is important to recognise that much of what is said by Jesus in John’s Gospel is said in the rarified atmosphere of Jerusalem, and spoken to theologians or men with a particular religious bent, who loved to indulge in religious argument. That was why they lived in Jerusalem. Thus we would not expect to discover that the way in which He spoke with them would tally with the way in which He spoke in Galilee to the common people. The Judaisers had a stylised way of thinking, while the Galileans were more flexible, so in both cases Jesus spoke in accordance with the thought forms of the people He was addressing. It would thus have been most unlikely that He addressed them in the same way. Indeed when thinking of parables it is questionable how many of the arguments of Jesus in John’s Gospel would lend themselves to parabolic presentation, (even though traces of it can be found in passages such as John 8:34-36, demonstrating that it was always there in the background ready to come out. It also comes out in chapter 10). For Jesus was not simply a country preacher. He could hold His own against the Rabbis, and even confound them, and He was a man of great erudition and learning, even if He was partly ‘self-taught’. Even, however, with this change in method of approach the controversies are often the same, for the problem that kept coming up about the observance of the Sabbath day stands out in all four Gospels (Mark 2:24; Mark 3:2; and parallels; John 5:16; John 9:16).
A similar difference between the Synoptics and John is apparent in the descriptions of John the Baptist. But this difference is more apparent than real. For the writer in John’s Gospel specifically tells us that his whole emphasis is on John’s witness to Jesus, whereas the Synoptics are out to give a more rounded picture of John’s whole ministry, mainly prior to the appearance of Jesus. All, however, are agreed that John was the preparer of the way for Jesus, (in the same way as the Qumranists saw themselves as the ‘preparer of the way’), and that He was the fulfilment of the expectations of the prophets in that He would drench men with the Holy Spirit. Once the differences of presentation are borne in mind the idea of a clash between the presentations disappears. In Matthew and Luke we have John the Baptist’s teaching to the crowds. In John’s Gospel we have what he said to theologians or to his disciples, but limited by the writer to what was necessary to bear witness to Jesus.
Finally we should note that the author of John’s Gospel is often said to be anti-Jewish, because he constantly speaks of ‘the Jews’ (or ‘the Judaisers’) as being antagonistic towards Jesus. But to say this is clearly an overstatement. For how could someone who was anti-Jewish have been so familiar with the Jewish environment, have shown Jesus as a Jew who had a message for Jews, and have stated that ‘salvation is of the Jews’? The truth in fact lies in recognising that when he spoke of ‘the Jews’, he was not speaking of the whole Jewish nation, many of whom had later responded to Christ and had become Christian Jews, and of others who bore no ill-will against Jesus, but of those in that nation whose religious inclination had mainly set them at loggerheads with Jesus. And even then his use of the term varies. Always, however, the idea appears to be of a certain kind of religious Jew, of whom some did respond to Jesus, but who mainly were His opponents. What it does not indicate is that the author was in general ‘anti-Semitic’. Indeed what anti-Semitic could have written ‘salvation is of the Jews’ (John 4:22)?
We must not overlook the fact in this regard that Jesus was very popular with many Jews, looking at the nation as a whole. On the other hand the hardening of certain types of Jew against Christianity certainly began very early on. For Paul was constantly harassed by such. Note how in Thessalonians in around 40 AD he can speak of, ‘the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out' (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16). He was, of course, speaking of a minority of Jews, but the hatred of certain types of Jew comes out further in the martyrdoms of both James the Apostle (which ‘pleased the Jews’ - Acts 12:3) and James the brother of our Lord, although many Jews disapproved of what was done to the latter. Thus the references of the Gospel to ‘the Jews’ as hostile to Jesus could have been seen as true right from the beginning, something very much underlined by His crucifixion. There is no way in which the antagonism simply occurred at a later point in history (such as at the now recognised as fictitious Council of Jamnia). It was there from the beginning.
One interesting factor that we must take into account in a study of John’s Gospel is that the author never favours the Septuagint (which might be seen as the standard Greek Old Testament used by the early church) as against other sources. Indeed his use of the Scriptures is quite illuminating, for never once does he cite the Septuagint where it disagrees with other witnesses. His quotations, for example, in John 10:34 (compare Psalms 82:6); in John 12:38 (compare Isaiah 53:1); in John 15:24 (compare Psalms 34:19; in John 19:24 (compare Psalms 22:18); all suggest a knowledge of Hebrew.
In some cases his quotations agree with both the Hebrew and the Septuagint. Consider John 6:45 (compare Isaiah 54:13); John 13:18 (compare Psalms 41:9); and John 19:37 (compare Zechariah 12:10). In John 2:17 (compare Psalms 69:9) he agrees with the Hebrew against the Septuagint. In John 12:14-15 (compare Zechariah 9:9) and in John 12:40 (compare Isaiah 6:10) he agrees with neither the Hebrew nor the Septuagint, even though they both agree with each other. In John 19:36 (compare Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12) he agrees with neither the Hebrew nor the Greek in cases where they disagree with each other. In John 1:23 (compare Isaiah 40:3) and John 6:31 (compare Psalms 78:24; Exodus 16:4; Exodus 16:15) he gives a free paraphrase. In John 7:38 there is no strict parallel Scripture.
This is quite understandable in a Jew who knows both Hebrew and Greek, but does not favour a solely Hellenistic background for the author.
The Major Themes Of John’s Gospel.
There are a number of major themes in John’s Gospel, and these are clearly underlined by the author himself when he says ‘Many other signs therefore Jesus did in the presence of His disciples --- but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life through His Name’ (John 20:30-31). We may divide this statement into three parts:
1). ‘Many other signs Jesus did in the presence of His disciples. ’
2). ‘That you may believe that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah), the Son of God’.
3). ‘That believing you might have life through His Name.’
So here we learn quite definitely that John’s Gospel is a book of ‘signs’ which were witnessed by the disciples (thus they are seen as having actually happened) and that those signs were intended to inculcate belief and understanding about Jesus in those who heard of them, making them realise that Jesus was both Messiah (Christ) and Son of God. The consequence of believing would be that they would receive ‘life’. In other words the signs were to be seen as historical events which did actually occur, and to which the disciples could bear witness, events which had a vital lesson to teach.
1). The Signs In John’s Gospel.
Fortunately the writer leaves us in no doubt about what he saw as ‘signs’ (semeion), for he initially makes clear that the ‘first sign’ was the turning of water into wine at Cana. He can say of it, ‘this beginning of His signs did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and the disciples believed on Him (eis auton) (John 2:11). We note here that it was in the presence of disciples, it occurred at a specific place, and it revealed Jesus’ glory so that the disciples believed ‘into Him’. This was important for all the signs. They were witnessed, they occurred at specific places, and they did not just act as miracles which would convince people that God was at work, but rather they revealed something of the glory of Jesus Christ.
This is confirmed by the second example which is stated to be a ‘sign’, and that is the healing of the high official’s son at a distance, at a word from Jesus. The writer says of it, ‘this is again the second sign that Jesus did, having come out of Judea into Galilee (to Cana)’ (John 4:54). This underlines again the fact that the signs in questions are miracles, witnessed by the disciples, taking place at a specific place, and telling us something special about the Lord Jesus Christ. We are left in no doubt about the fact that they are to be seen as having actually happened.
An examination of the Gospel reveals to us seven such miracles, to which we can also add the miracle of the resurrection of Jesus. These are:
1). The turning of purificatory water into wine (John 2:1-11).
2). The healing of the high official’s son at a distance (John 4:46-54).
3). The healing of the man who had been lame for thirty eight years (John 5:2-18).
4). The feeding of the five thousand with a few loaves and fishes (John 6:1-15).
5). The walking on the water (John 6:15-21).
6). The healing of the man blind from birth (John 9:1-41).
7). The raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-53).
8). We may add to these the miracle of the resurrection of Jesus. (John 20:1-29).
These then are the signs that are to inculcate faith in ‘Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God’. Notice that they are not simply miracles (if we can speak of ‘simply miracles’). They are specific and difficult miracles that have a special point to them so that each one in its own way teaches us about what Jesus is. It was not a question of people simply seeing miracles and believing because they had seen miracles. Indeed it is made clear from the beginning that such believing is often shallow and unacceptable (John 2:23-25). Even Nicodemus, on seeing such miracles (and thinking of them as ‘signs’) only learned from them that Jesus was a teacher come from God. He had not understood the signs. For these ‘ordinary’ miracles did not teach anything apart from the compassion and power of God. But John’s ‘signs’ were rather a question of outstanding miracles that had a lesson to teach about Jesus, lessons which were not apparent to Nicodemus because his eyes were not opened. We can unquestionably say, therefore, that if these miracles did not happen, then we have no grounds for interpreting them as conveying any important message to us, and John’s witness becomes useless. That is why John underlines the fact that they happened. This is John’s specific emphasis. In other words the only reason why they tell us the truth about Jesus is because they actually happened.
There is undoubtedly one sense in which we can say that the Gospel is built up around these seven ‘signs’, although having said that it is also apparent that not all of the narrative is connected with the signs. Chapters 7, 8 and 10, and the trial and crucifixion narratives do not, for example, directly connect with the signs. Thus the signs cannot be seen as explaining the whole structure of the Gospel. However, as we proceed we should note that in each case they were witnessed by the disciples, took place at a specified place, and produced an important reaction. They were seen as important because they actually happened.
The first sign ‘revealed the glory of Jesus’ and resulted in the disciples coming to deeper faith (John 2:11), in other words it resulted in their coming into a deeper understanding about Jesus. This was firstly because as a ‘nature miracle’ it revealed Him as the One ‘through Whom all things were made’ (John 1:3) as He turned water into wine, and secondly because it revealed that He had come to turn the old ritual of Israel into something new and revivifying (something illuminated by chapters 3 and 4), the wine of the new age which had been promised by Isaiah and which would result in the swallowing up of death (Isaiah 25:6-8). A new Israel was now emerging out of the old, as Jesus underlines in John 15:1-6 (compare Matthew 21:43). Thus the first sign intrinsically revealed Jesus first as Son of God, and then as ‘the Messiah’.
We should note that elsewhere in John’s Gospel the revealing of Jesus’ glory specifically indicates the revealing of His true unique sonship. As John says, ‘we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only Son of the Father --’ (John 1:14). And this is the same glory of which He would later say, ‘the glory which I had with You before the world was’ (John 17:5). Thus it was seen as revealing that He was truly ‘the Son of God’.
The second sign revealed the power of Jesus’ word as He gave ‘life’ to a dying son (‘in Him (the Word) was life’ -- John 1:1; John 1:4). Notice within this narrative that Jesus denounces signs of the wrong kind (John 4:48), the kind that simply produced a level of belief that was not a saving faith (examples are given of certain men in Jerusalem in John 2:23-25 and initially of Nicodemus). But the consequence of the high official learning that his son was healed at the very time that Jesus had said, produced true faith in him and all his household, a faith clearly greater than that produced by less emphatic ‘signs and wonders’ (John 4:48). It revealed the power of Jesus’ word as ‘the Word’, and that He is the healer and sustainer of mankind. In a sense, therefore, we can say that the high official and his household saw the glory of Jesus. Thus was revealed the creative power of Jesus’ unspoken but implied word, which brought life to the young man from afar. And once again it also had Messianic significance, for Isaiah made clear that the new age was to be an age of healing (Isaiah 35:5-6). We note again that the disciples were witnesses of what had happened, that it happened at a specific place, and that it revealed Jesus as the Messiah and the creative Word (the Son of God). Note in this example the approved faith of the household which resulted from it (John 4:53). The sign produced true faith.
The third sign revealed the power of Jesus to enable the man who had been lame for thirty eight years to walk, and resulted in both unbelief on behalf of those who did not understand it and faith in those who did. The difficulty of the miracle is here underlined (he had been lame for thirty eight years). But it is also very probable that the writer intended us to see in the reference to thirty eight years a reminder that God’s people had been ‘lame’ in the wilderness for thirty eight years (Deuteronomy 2:14), and an indication therefore that a lame Israel were now to be restored (compare again John 15:1-6). But in Isaiah the healing of the lame was also specifically stated to be an indication of the new age (Isaiah 35:6). Thus the healing of the lame man at Jesus’ sovereign command (no faith was specifically called for, apart from in the fact that the man had to obey Jesus) was an indication of what a sovereign God would do for Israel through Jesus the Messiah. He would restore them from their ‘lameness’.
It might be seen as remarkable, but true to life, that the response of the Judaisers was to ignore the miracle and complain that it was performed on the Sabbath at a time when there was no life threatening condition (the only circumstances under which healing was allowed under their rules). To them observance of their rules (which of course they saw as God-given) was more important than a display of the power of God and of the Messiahship of Jesus. They were so taken up with their traditions that they overlooked the fact that in such a healing God must have been involved. The sign thus passed them by. Jesus, however, specifically drew their attention to the fact. His reply was that it was His Father Who had performed this work on the Sabbath day, and that He Himself had done it along with Him (John 5:17). He was thus indicating that He should be seen as on a parallel with the Father, and that He thus had the right to do what He would on the Sabbath (compare Mark 2:28). But the only result of that was that it made them want to stone Him for paralleling Himself with His Father. They could not see that what He had done set Him above their rules as Lord and Messiah. Even signs and wonders did not make them believe, even less then did they learn the lesson of the miracle that John wanted his readers to see, that here was the Messiah and Son of God.
The fourth sign revealed the power of Jesus as the creative Word able to multiply bread and fishes, thus revealing Himself as a greater than Moses and as the actual creator of man’s provisions. And He then points out that He is the true Bread Who can give them not just physical life, but spiritual life (John 6:35). They must look beyond the miraculous bread to Him. As the people rightly recognised this miracle was again Messianic, as it revealed the power of Jesus to feed the people miraculously, something that according to apocalyptic Jewish literature was expected of the Messiah (compare Isaiah 25:6-8; Matthew 4:3). But the writer brings out the important message that they misinterpreted how they should respond because of their earthly-mindedness. They wanted to be fed miraculously, but they did not want the bread of spiritual life (John 6:35). They wanted physical bread on a par with that given by Moses. Thus they tried to make Jesus into an earthly king and a Messianic pretender. Jesus had then to point out the true significance of the miracle, and that was that it pointed to Him as the giver of life (John 6:33; John 6:35; John 6:40). And that as a consequence all who truly believed in Him, and partook of Him by coming to Him and believing on Him (John 6:35), would find life (John 6:29; John 6:35; John 6:40; John 6:47; John 6:51). Once again false faith and understanding (they believed in the miracle) is contrasted with true faith (believing in Jesus Himself), and there is an emphasis on the receiving of life through Him in response to ‘faith’, a trusting response to Him, something made available to them by Himself as ‘the Son of Man’ (John 6:37). He wanted them to see beyond His Messiahship. It is then confirmed that this is possible because He is ‘the Son’ (John 6:40 - the idea of ‘the Son of God’ taken at its highest level).
The fifth sign revealed the power of Jesus to control nature itself. It indicated that He could bestride the mighty waters in the same way as God does (Psalms 77:19). Here was a clear indication of His deity for those with eyes to see. It revealed Him as Lord over all. Its significance is underlined by the fact that it raised questions as to how He had managed to cross the sea without a boat, as the writer sought to draw attention to the wonder of what had been done. It was thus revealing His glory, and it leads on to a narrative where ‘partaking’ of Jesus (coming to Him and believing on Him - John 6:35) is revealed as the source of true life.
The sixth sign revealed Jesus again as fulfilling Messianic expectation in the healing of the blind (see Isaiah 35:5). But this was not just the case of healing of a blind man, it was the healing of a man blind from birth, and was a revelation of the fact that Jesus is the light of the world and as such opens the eyes of men who have been spiritually blind from birth (John 9:5). They have been blind to the truth. It goes on to contrast the sure faith of the blind man whose eyes have been opened, so that he truly believes in Jesus as ‘the Son of God’ (John 9:35), with that of the Judaisers whose eyes are still blind even though they claim to be able to see. It is only those of true faith who can see and understand that Jesus is the Son of God because their blindness has been removed, and the consequence is that they receive the light of the world (John 9:5), the light of life (John 8:12).
The seventh sign reveals Jesus as the giver of life, and the giver of eternal life (John 11:25), and there is once again a stress on the term ‘Son of God’, and the glorifying of Jesus (John 11:4) and on the fact that Jesus is both Son of God and Messiah (John 11:27). The raising up of Lazarus in a way very similar to that of the final resurrection (compare John 5:28-29) is surely a pointer to that resurrection. It is a physical enactment of the glory of the coming general resurrection. So above all it reveals Jesus as the One Who has life in Himself (John 11:35), and as the One Whose voice as ‘the Son of God’ (John 5:25; John 11:4; John 11:27) can raise the dead. While His glory is not specifically mentioned at the end, it was underlined at the beginning (John 11:4). What has happened has revealed the glory of the Father resulting in He Himself being glorified, and later in chapter 20 the writer goes on to draw our attention to the fact that Jesus is to ascend to His Father (John 20:17), in other words to the glory which He had had with Him before the world was (John 17:5). Again we have the contrast made in the narrative between those who saw and believed the truth about Jesus, and those whose eyes were closed (John 11:45-53). John’s hope was that his readers would be among those who saw and believed. Note also the reference by the Chief Priests and the Pharisees to ‘signs’ (John 11:47), but again they were signs which were misunderstood and never properly interpreted.
What can be seen as the eighth sign is the resurrection itself as Jesus was revealed thereby as ‘my Lord and my God’ (John 20:28). Here was the greatest miracle of all, and in John’s Gospel it was accomplished by Jesus Himself (John 10:17-18). And it is significant that those who believe without literally seeing are especially commended (John 20:29).
Thus these eight signs, witnessed to as facts by the disciples, and occurring at specified places, manifest the fact that Jesus is both Messiah and Son of God to those who have true faith, with the consequence that they receive ‘life’.
But whilst they are undoubtedly central to the theme of the Gospel it is also unquestionable that they do not in themselves provide a foundational structure that can explain the whole Gospel, for, as we have seen, even apart from the prologue and the activities of John the Baptist, chapters 7, 8 and 10, and the passion narrative, do not build on these signs, but are separate elements in the narrative. Thus John’s selection of material is not to be seen as dependent only on the seven signs. He has a wider view.
Chapter 7 does, however, in is own way bring out what men were thinking about Jesus. It commences with Jesus’ brothers encouraging Him to do signs openly (John 7:3), in order to win allegiance from the people, although again they are the wrong kind of signs because the aim was simply physical notoriety (John 7:4). And it goes on to deal with the fact that all were asking questions about Him (John 7:11-12). But they were not coming to the right answers, because they had not understood the signs. They too were blind. Some, however did respond to His miracles and would appear to have acknowledged His Messiahship (John 7:31), although not in the fullest sense required by John (John 7:40-43), and this eventually leads on in John 7:37-39 to a confirmation, and even expansion, of John 6:35 as Jesus reveals Himself as the water of life and the giver of the Spirit.
2). That They Might Have Life In His Name.
A second major theme of the Gospel is that eternal life has been made available through Jesus Christ, a life which is given to all who truly believe in Him as Messiah and Son of God (John 20:31). This theme is apparent right from the beginning (John 1:4), and is found all the way through the Gospel up to John 20:31. It is thus seen as very important.
It is first drawn to our attention in John 1:4 where we learn that ‘in Him was life, and the life is the light of men’, and this theme of ‘life in Him’ is then underlined from that point on. Thus:
· Through believing in Him and His Name men are ‘born of God’ (John 1:13; John 3:5-6).
· God gave His only Son so that we might have eternal life through believing in Him as the only true Son of God (John 3:15-16).
· To believe in the Son is to have eternal life, while those who do not obey Him will come under God’s wrath (John 3:36).
· The one who drinks of the water that Jesus gives will never thirst, and that water will become in him a spring gushing forth to eternal life (John 4:13-14).
· The one who serves Christ by reaping a spiritual harvest will bring forth fruit to eternal life (John 4:36).
· The one who hears Jesus’ words and believes the One Who sent Him, already has eternal life, and will not come into judgment but has passed from death to life (John 5:24).
· In the same way as the Father, the Son has life in Himself (John 5:26 compare John 1:4).
· In the last day men will come forth from their grave, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment (John 5:29).
· The Judaisers searched the Scriptures because they thought in them to find eternal life (John 5:39). They had replaced God’s Word with a book. Thus they would not come to Him that they might have life (John 5:40).
· Men are to labour, not for earthly food which will perish, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man gives because He is sealed by the Father (John 6:27).
· And this food is Jesus Who has come down from Heaven to feed men’s hearts and thus give them life as through faith they eat and drink of Him, and especially of His death (John 6:33; John 6:35; John 6:40; John 6:47-48; John 6:51; John 6:53-54).
· Through His words men will find life (John 6:63; John 6:68).
· He has come as the light of the word so that men might receive the light of life (John 8:12).
· He has come to give ‘life more abundantly’ (John 10:10), for He gives to those who follow Him eternal life (John 10:28).
· As the One Who is the resurrection and the life He gives present unceasing life and a life in the future after the resurrection (John 11:25), and in a sense the whole of chapter 11 is dealing with life out of death as a pointer to the life to come.
· Those who would enjoy life must first die to themselves, for those who cling on to their old lives will lose them, but those who hate their old lives (and thus respond to Him) will keep them unto eternal life (John 12:25).
· Jesus’ words give life because so the Father has commanded (John 12:50).
· Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6).
· Jesus has been given authority over all flesh so as to give eternal life to all who have been given to Him by the Father, and this eternal life consists of knowing the Father, and Jesus Christ Whom He has sent (John 17:2-3).
· Life ‘through His Name’ (through what He is) is given to all who believe in Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God (John 20:31).
It will be noted from these references that Jesus is Himself ‘the Life’ (John 11:25; John 14:6; John 5:26), and is therefore the source of life (John 1:4; John 5:26), while in Himself giving life to His own (John 11:25). This life is found through believing in Jesus Christ (John 6:35 ff), knowing the Father and the Son (John 17:2-3) and hearing His word (John 6:63; John 6:68; John 12:50). This will result for them in ‘eternal life’, both present and future (John 3:15-16; John 3:36; John 4:13-14; John 5:24; John 10:28; John 11:25; John 12:25; John 5:29)
It will be noted all through that this ‘life’ centres in Jesus, and that it is through responding to Him and His words as Messiah and Son of God that life is to be found. Indeed this was John’s purpose in writing the Gospel (John 20:31). So this idea of ‘life’ (eternal life) from Him, because He Himself is ‘the Life’, runs right through the Gospel. Nevertheless in spite of its central importance it is apparent that there are parts of the Gospel where it is not in mind (e.g. chapters 2, 9 and the trial and crucifixion narratives). Thus, though important, it is not the foundational theme of the whole, although coming fairly close.
Jesus Has Come As A Light Into The World.
The idea of Jesus as coming as the light of the world (John 8:12; John 9:5) appears a number of times in the Gospel and is especially prominent in the Prologue, where it is connected with Jesus as the One Who both is life and gives life (John 1:4), a life which is the light of men. ‘In Him was life, and the life was the light of men’ (John 1:4). Thus the light which He has brought very much connects with the life that is in Him, and results from us having His life within us, a life which is ‘in Him’. It is His life given to them that gives men light (compare John 8:12).
The subsequent stress on Jesus as ‘the Light shining in the darkness’ in John 1:5 then echoes the teaching of Isaiah in Isaiah 9:2, as cited in Matthew 4:16, that light was coming into the world to those who ‘walked in darkness’ and would ‘shine on them’. Note that the very language of Isaiah 9:2 is echoed in John 1:5 (the light would shine on them); and in John 8:12; John 12:36 (as those who ‘walked in darkness’). The difference between Isaiah 9:2 and John 1:0 is that while in Isaiah 9:1-2 that light shone on Galilee of the Nations, in John it shines on every man who comes into the world. Jesus as the Saviour of the world Who has died for the whole world ( Joh 3:16 ; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:14) offers salvation to all who truly believe in Him.
But as so often in the Gospel we may probably see in John 1:4 a double meaning. ‘In Him was life and the life was the light of men’. In view of John 1:9 where Jesus is described as the ‘the light who lightens every man’, and the fact that creation has just previously been mentioned by John, the first meaning can surely be seen as connecting with the unique life given to man at creation, when God breathed into him and he became ‘a living soul’ (Genesis 2:7). Man became a unique creature. The consequence was that, unlike all other creatures he was made “in the image of the ‘elohim’ (heavenly beings) or ‘God’ ” (John 1:28). In other words he was made with a spiritual nature through which he could have fellowship with God, and know God. And it was because he had received this life that he had the light of conscience, knew what was right, and worshipped God. He had received life and light from the Creator. He Who was the life, had given him life of a unique kind, temporally speaking, which gave him a light within not paralleled in any other part of the creation.
But the second meaning parallels that of Matthew 4:16 and sees Jesus Himself as being both the light and the source of light. And it is this second meaning that is emphasised in the verses that follow. The light has come into the world, as promised by Isaiah, on those who walk in darkness, but men as a whole love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil (John 3:18-21). It is only the relatively few who would respond. Those few, however, will receive the light, and they will be ‘born of God’, and become children of God (John 1:12-14). This emphasis on the spiritual significance of this imparting of ‘the light of life’ is what is central to the Gospel, but it is of course only possible because of the initial act whereby man was created as a spiritual being, and it is noteworthy that John ends his Gospel with an incident that is a reminder of that creation, for in John 20:22 Jesus breathes on His disciples in order to impart to them an enduing with the Holy Spirit, in the same way as the Lord God initially breathed into man so that he became a living soul (Genesis 2:7). Here we are made to recognise that He Who was the life and gives light is Jesus Himself, and that this new life and light are spiritual and transforming, illuminating men within. And as we have seen above when considering ‘life’ this message is characteristic of the whole Gospel.
We should, however, note that there is the distinction made in John 1:0 between the life that is ‘in Him’ which provides light (John 1:4), a life that was ‘in Him’ and comes from Him (thus He could declare that He had life in Himself - John 5:2), and Jesus Himself as the light (John 1:6-9; John 8:12; John 9:5) shining in the darkness. In the one case He is seen as illuminating men by Himself as the source of life, by giving them life as a light within them, in the other He is Himself the illumination. But as He IS the life (John 11:25; John 14:6) and the light (John 8:12) the distinction is not to be overstressed. The point is that He is both the sun and the rays of the sun which are active in nature. He imparts the light ‘of life’ (John 8:12) because He is the light of Whom it can be said that when men receive Him, they are ‘born of God’ (John 1:12-13). As we learned in John 1:4, this light comes from Jesus as ‘the life source’ (both physically and spiritually) Who shines in the darkness, a darkness which can now no longer lay hold of it or overcome it.
The question may then be asked as to what the ‘darkness’ refers to in John 1:5. Does it refer to ‘men in their darkness’, or does it refer to the state of darkness itself? Or even to a world of more sinister spiritual darkness (‘the power of darkness’ - Colossians 1:13). If we translate the verse as ‘apprehend’ we are indicating that we see ‘darkness’ as referring to ‘men in darkness’ who do not apprehend the light that has come. This is favoured by some because it ties in with the tenor of the Prologue (John 1:1-18) where the emphasis is constantly on man’s inability or unwillingness to respond to God (John 1:10-11). On the other hand this interpretation is made more unlikely because it would not appear to tie in with the emphasis in other places where darkness is mentioned elsewhere in the Gospel (John 3:18-21; John 8:12; John 12:35; John 12:45). If we translate the verb as ‘lay hold of’ we are seeing darkness as a state which pervades the world but cannot prevent the effectiveness of the light. The advantage of this interpretation is that it ties in with later statements, e.g. ‘walking in darkness’ (John 8:12; John 12:35; compare Isaiah 9:2), and the general picture of darkness presented in the Gospel (e.g. John 3:17-21; John 8:12; John 12:35; John 12:46). It also blends in with the idea that in the Old Testament all was initially in darkness, and that that darkness will once more prevail when God finally brings about judgment (sun, moon and stars will cease to shine).
However, while it is unquestionable that Jesus as the Light is an important emphasis in the Prologue (John 1:5-9), and whilst the idea continues to appear, (it appears in John 3:19-21; John 8:12; John 9:5; John 11:9-10; John 12:35-36; John 12:46, and where Jesus Himself declares that He is the light of the world in John 8:12; John 9:5), it can hardly be said that the idea of the light as such pervades the whole Gospel. As we have seen it is the concept of ‘the life’ that prevails and pervades the whole Gospel, with the light being a secondary emphasis, even though an important one. It mainly emerges in John 8:12 to John 12:46, in preparation for the coming of night which follows (John 13:30).
Nevertheless it cannot be denied that it is an important emphasis, being very much paralleled with the idea of ‘life’. For it is life that gives light (John 1:4; John 8:12). The world is seen as being ‘in darkness’, because it turns away from the light, and refuses that life. That light is seen to be both Jesus Himself (John 8:12; John 9:5) and the teaching which He brought (John 3:17-19). But it is also found in the life of which Jesus is the source, and which He imparts to those who are His (John 1:4; John 8:12). Those who refuse that life turn away from His light.
But why should John underline this idea of light in the Prologue? The answer would seem to lie in an intention to connect with Isaiah’s idea of the Coming King as coming as a light to those in darkness. It is a fulfilment of Isaiah’s words, ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, and those who dwell in the land of deep darkness, on them has the light shone’ (Isaiah 9:2), words which in Isaiah are immediately followed by a description of the appearance of the coming King (Isaiah 9:6-7). These very words are cited of Jesus in Matthew 4:16 indicating that Matthew saw Jesus in a similar way to John, as the light Who was coming into the world to those who were in darkness. And indeed Isaiah goes on to describe the Coming Servant of the Lord as being ‘a light to the Gentiles’ (Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6), words which are cited in Luke 2:32 of Jesus, and tie in with the idea of Him ‘lighting every man who comes into the world’ rather than just the Jews. Thus this idea of Jesus as the Light appears near the commencement of three of the four Gospels. We may note also Isaiah’s later words to Israel, ‘arise, shine for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon you’ which have in mind the time of restoration (Isaiah 60:1). So when men who knew the Old Testament read John’s prologue they would immediately see that he was referring to the light that had now come to shine on those who were in darkness, and that it thus had the coming King and Servant in mind. The light is to be seen as having a Messianic emphasis.
3). Jesus Is The Messiah, the Son of God.
If we are to look for an idea that is the foundation of the whole Gospel it is to this idea that we must look, the idea that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. It is the one idea that pervades the whole Gospel (John 20:31).
Thus in the Prologue Jesus is ‘the Word’ Who ‘was God’ (the Son of God), the Creator of all things (John 1:1-3), and the Light Who has come to shine on those who are in darkness (the Messiah - Isaiah 9:2) (John 1:4-7). And while the darkness seeks to reject the light, His glory is revealed to those who respond to Him as the light, and they are born of God (John 1:12-13). Thus He is revealed as the Father’s only Son (John 1:14-18). He is God the Son. And the Gospel ends with the declaration by Thomas that Jesus is ‘My Lord and my God’ (John 20:28). The emphasis is on the uniqueness of Jesus especially in relation to his Sonship, paralleled with the revelation of Him as Messiah. In this latter case, however, the writers conception of the Messiah becomes very much an exalted one. We must now justify this position chapter by chapter.
In the account of John the Baptist’s testimony to Jesus the clear hint is given that Jesus is the coming Messiah and Prophet (John 1:20-21), for John declares himself the preparer of the way for ‘the Lord’ (John 1:23), for One Who was greater than him (John 1:26-27). He then declares Jesus to be ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world’ (John 1:29; John 1:36), a probable reference to Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12 which had by then taken on Messianic significance, and as the One Who will be anointed by the Spirit and ‘drench men with Holy Spirit’ (John 1:32-33) thereby indicating that He was ‘the Son of God’ (John 1:34). It is at this point that Andrew, having heard John’s testimony, witnesses to the fact that Jesus is the Messiah (John 1:41). Andrew is of course speaking in the excitement of the moment and in the light of what he has heard from John the Baptist. Once he has followed Jesus for some time he, like all the disciples, will not be quite so sure. This is followed up by Nathaniel’s testimony that Jesus is ‘the Son of God’ and ‘the King of Israel’ (John 1:49). Nathaniel also probably means this Messianically. Jesus then reinterprets these ideas in terms of ‘the Son of Man’ (John 1:51) Who would come to the throne of God to receive glory and Kingly Rule (Daniel 7:13-14). Son of God, King of Israel, and Son of Man are therefore seen as being three terms defining Jesus, and as being close to each other in significance. And it will be as Son of God (John 19:7) and King of Israel (‘of the Jews’ John 19:3; John 19:14-15; John 19:19) that He will be condemned.
In chapter John 2:1-11 Jesus reveals His power as Creator by turning water into wine, something which, as we have seen above with reference to the signs, was also of Messianic significance as a foretaste of the Messianic feast as a result of which death would be defeated (Isaiah 25:6-8). Thereby He reveals His glory (John 2:11). And He follows this up by (clearly as the Son of God) cleansing ‘His Father’s house’ (John 2:16).
In chapter 3 Jesus describes Himself as the Son of Man Who has descended from Heaven (John 3:13), and we then learn that Jesus is ‘God’s only Son’ (John 3:16-17), whilst the judgment on unbelievers is that they have not believed in the Name of ‘the only Son of God’ (John 3:18). This is followed up by John’s further testimony to Jesus as ‘the Messiah’ (John 3:28-29) and as ‘the Bridegroom’ (John 3:29), an Old Testament depiction of God Himself (Isaiah 62:4-5; Ezekiel 16:8; Hosea 2:19-20). And the chapter closes with reference to Jesus as having come from above and being ‘above all’ (John 3:31), and as having been sent by God with the complete fullness of the Spirit (John 3:34), because the Father loved the Son and had committed all things into His hands (John 3:35). Thus is Jesus revealed as being of heavenly origin, and as acting in close partnership with His Father as His only Son. Finally it is by believing on the Son that men will receive eternal life, while the consequence of not obeying Him will result in being brought under the wrath of God (John 3:36). How men see Jesus is thus seen as central to salvation and life.
In chapter 4 Jesus depicts Himself as the Gift of God Who can give men living water (John 4:10), and can thus give men a spring of water within which will well up to eternal life (John 4:14), in line with the promise that in God is the ‘fountain of life’ in Psalms 36:9, and the indication that He is the spring of living waters (Jeremiah 2:13). This also ties in with the many references in the Old Testament to God as being like a water source Who satisfies men’s thirst (e.g. Psalms 23:2; Psalms 46:4; Isaiah 44:3-4; Isaiah 55:1; Isaiah 48:21 etc.), which includes the going forth of ‘His word’ like the effects of rain and snow producing life (Isaiah 55:10-11); the reference in Isaiah to a coming king who will be like rivers of water in a dry place (Isaiah 32:1-2); and the reference to the mirage becoming a pool and the thirsty ground springs of water at the time when the lame and blind are healed (Isaiah 35:5-7). It may thus be seen as Messianic, if not more. And it leads up to an admission by Jesus that He is the Messiah (John 4:26). The Samaritans then declare that He is ‘the Saviour of the world’, a title almost certainly having Messianic significance. Finally Jesus heals the dying son of a high official at a distance, something which makes the man and his household ‘believe in Him’, presumably as the Messiah. John also no doubt intends us to see it as revealing Him as the Word Whose word gives life.
In chapter 5 Jesus heals the man who has been lame for thirty eight years. Such a healing had Messianic significance (Matthew 11:5; Isaiah 35:6), and probably indicates that Jesus is the One Who has come to heal Israel who had also suffered for thirty eight years in the wilderness (and that He is therefore the Messiah). This incident leads up to an argument about the Sabbath, which results in a claim that He has the right to work on the Sabbath because He is the Father’s Son, which is thus a clear indication that Jesus is the Son of God (John 5:17-18). His claim results in a desire to kill Him because He has claimed God as ‘His own Father’, making Himself equal with God (John 5:18).
This leads on to a dissertation in which Jesus makes clear that they are correct in their assumption, for He continually speaks of Himself as ‘the Son’ in correlation to ‘the Father’, and describes Himself as:
· The Son as doing what His Father does (John 5:19).
· As being the Son Who is loved by the Father so that the Father shows Him all that He the Father does (John 5:20).
· As the Son Who like the Father can make alive whoever He wills (John 5:21).
· As the Son to Whom the Father has committed all judgment (John 5:22).
· As the Son deserving of equal honour with the Father (John 5:23).
· As the Son Who like the Father has life in Himself, so that as the Son of God He will summon the dead to life at the last day (John 5:25-26).
· As the Son to Whom the Father has given the authority to exercise judgment because He is the Son of Man (John 5:27).
The third, fifth and sixth statements are inconceivable unless Jesus really is equal with the Father, while the remainder bring out His uniqueness in the scheme of things.
Jesus then goes on to describe Himself as the One to Whom the Father has borne witness (John 5:37), and Whose very works bear witness to Him as the One sent by the Father (John 5:36), as do the Scriptures (John 5:39), and closes by emphasising that He has come in His Father’s Name. The reference to those who come in their own name (John 5:43) probably has in mind Messianic pretenders.
In chapter 6 Jesus feeds the crowds with five loaves and two fishes, and the miraculous side of what happened is brought out (John 6:7-9). It is also emphasised and specifically stated that twelve basketfuls remained from the five loaves (John 6:13). It is thus depicted as an act of creation The crowds see the feeding as a Messianic manifestation (John 6:14). This is immediately followed by the walking on the water (John 6:16-21). John does not draw attention to the fact (the tradition would have done it for him) that this caused the disciples to call Him the Son of God (Matthew 14:33), but he probably intended us to infer it. The crowds response to all this results in Jesus pointing out that He is the Son of Man Whom the Father has sealed (John 6:27), who will make available to those who believe eternal life. In John ‘Son of Man’ is at the minimum a Messianic title (compare above on chapter 1). It has in mind the One Who will approach God’s throne to receive kingship and glory (Daniel 7:13-14). But Jesus use of the idea takes it higher, for it signifies One Who has come down from Heaven (John 3:13; John 6:62)
Jesus then speaks of God as His Father (John 6:32) (John has already made clear what this indicates in John 5:18) and describes Himself as ‘the Bread of God’ (John 6:33; John 6:3) and ‘the One Who has come down from Heaven’ (John 6:38). He emphasises that the Father’s will is that everyone who sees the Son and believes on Him will have eternal life and be raised up by Jesus at the last day (John 6:46).
John makes a deliberate contrast between the crowd’s view that Jesus is the son of Joseph (John 6:42), and Jesus’ own description of Himself as the Father’s Son (John 6:40). The point being made is that they are of those who have not believed on Him as the Father’s Son (John 6:40). Jesus then describes Himself as the One Who is from God and alone has seen the Father (John 6:46), and that the living Father has sent Him, and He lives by (sustenance from) the Father (John 6:57). It is by partaking of Him as the Son of Man that they can receive life (John 6:53). He then speaks of the Son of Man as ‘ascending where He was before’ (John 6:62). Taken in conjunction with John 17:5 this is hugely significant. He is ascending in order to receive His glory (compare John 20:17). Here ‘the Son of Man’ is being equated with ‘the Son’. The chapter closes with the description of Jesus as ‘the Holy One of God’ (John 6:69), another Messianic concept.
In chapter 7 Jesus’ brothers attempt to make Him perform miracles publicly precisely so that He can ‘manifest Himself to the world’ (John 7:4). Jesus’ reply is that His time has not yet come (John 7:6). Reference to ‘His time’ in this context would appear to refer to His Messiahship (certainly in John’s eyes). The consequence of Jesus’ eventual appearance in Jerusalem are discussions about whether He is the Messiah (John 7:25-27; John 7:31; John 7:41-42), whilst Jesus in His turn reveals Himself as the One from Whom they can drink (compare on chapter 4 above), so that those who believe in Him will receive the Spirit (John 7:37-39).
In chapter 8, having revealed Himself as the Light of the world (John 8:12), a conversation ensues in which Jesus closely aligns Himself with the Father. He declares that His judgment is true because He is not alone, but is in close relation with the Father Who sent Him (John 8:16). In John 8:18 He bears witness to Himself, and His Father bears witness to Him along with Him, and in John 8:19 He says that if they had known Him they would have known His Father as well. He is aligning Himself on the divine side of reality. Thus in John 8:23 He describes his questioners as being ‘from beneath’ and ‘of this world’, while He is ‘from above’ and not ‘of this world’.
In John 8:28 He reveals Himself as the Son of Man Whom they will ‘lift up’, and when they do so they will know that ‘I am’ (or reading in the ‘he’ it is ‘I am He’). This is either a veiled claim to divinity, or a veiled claim to Messiahship. The ‘I am’ is made the more significant because of John 8:58 where it is much clearer. He then adds, ‘and that I do nothing of Myself but as the Father taught me I speak these things’. At minimum He is the Father’s unique mouthpiece. He then declares Himself to be the Son of the household Who can make them free (John 8:36). In all this He aligns Himself closely with the Father, and as being in a unique position.
In John 8:38 He declares that ‘I speak the things which I have seen with my Father’ and contrasts it with what they have heard from their father (who subsequently turns out to be the Devil - John 8:44). Note the contrast between ‘seen’ and ‘heard’. Jesus speaks of what He has seen. Others have only ‘heard’. He then declares that Abraham had rejoiced to see His day (John 8:56), a clear Messianic claim, for there was a Rabbinic tradition that when God had made a covenant with Abraham he had seen Messiah’s day. And this eventually leads on to Jesus’ declaration that He is the ‘I am’ Who existed before Abraham (John 8:58; compare Exodus 3:14). The veiled ‘I ams’ of John 8:28; John 8:28, have now become patent. Although indirectly expressed, the claim is that He is God the Son. The Judaisers certainly recognised that He meant this, for at this point they take up stones to stone Him, something which was only permitted in cases of extreme blasphemy. John 5:18 in fact brings out the significance of their action. Once again they saw Him as claiming to be equal with God. (It is John’s practise to leave his readers to infer the significance of things from what he has said before).
In chapter 9 Jesus heals the man who has been blind from birth, and reveals that He so acts because He is the light of the world, the opener of eyes (John 9:5). The healing of blind eyes was considered to be a Messianic act (Isaiah 35:5-6; Compare Matthew 11:5). This healing on the Sabbath arouses controversy, and we subsequently discover that in spite of the sign that had been given (John 9:16) no one dares to claim that Jesus is the Messiah for fear of reprisal (John 9:22). This brings out what people were thinking about Him even though they dared not say it. John then brings out the significance of all this in the former blind man’s words, ‘herein is the marvel, that you do not know from where He is and yet He has opened my eyes’ (John 9:30). The readers, however, know immediately from where He is. And the man adds, ‘since the world began it was never heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind’ (John 9:32). The impact that this miracle made comes out in the later references to it, something which is unusual in respect of particular healing miracles (John 10:21; John 11:37). All this is confirming Jesus’ Messiahship and leading up to Jesus’ revelation of Himself as ‘the Son of God’ (or ‘the Son of Man’) in Whom men must believe, which is found in John 9:35-37.
In chapter 10 Jesus is revealed as the Shepherd Who gives His life for the sheep while the Father is the Gatekeeper. The two work together to watch over the sheep, with Jesus having the special saving function. The fact that Jesus is the unique Shepherd, and that ‘all who came before Him’ were thieves and robbers (John 10:8), suggests that Jesus intended this to be seen as a Messianic picture, which would explain why the prophets are not in mind (He would not call them thieves and robbers. He was speaking about Messianic pretenders). This ties in with the Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming David who will be the shepherd of His people (Ezekiel 34:23-24). The chapter is thus dealing with the Messiah, the new David, working in partnership with His Father, the Gatekeeper. They work in unison together. Here the Shepherd is presented as the Saviour (verse 9) and the lifegiver (John 10:10), themes previously connected with His Messiahship (John 4:42 with John 4:25-26) and His Godhood (John 1:4). He points out that the Father loves Him because He has chosen to lay down His life of His own accord, in order that He may take it again, for He is the One Who has the power to lay down His life, and to take it up again John 10:17-18). This in itself is an essential claim to deity. He is the Lord of life.
His claim to Messiahship is recognised for what it is by the Judaisers (John 10:24), and Jesus basically accepts their suggestion that He is the Messiah without making the open claim (which is in accordance with His usual pattern). This ties in with His reluctance found in the other Gospels to use the title in Judea and Galilee. His reply is that He has in effect told them that He is the Messiah, and that they should know it anyway by His works which He does in His Father’s Name which bear testimony to Him (John 10:25-26; compare Matthew 11:5). He thus indirectly accepts the title.
He then differentiates them from His true sheep. His true sheep are those who hear His voice, He knows them and they follow Him. The Judaisers in contrast are not known by Him and do not hear His voice and follow Him. Jesus is by this making Himself the centre around which all men should gather. (This has indeed been the constant emphasis of the author all through as is seen in the constantly reiterated call to believe in Jesus Christ). And once again He then emphasise His total oneness with the Father in that His sheep are both in His hand and in ‘His Father’s’ hand (John 10:28-29). They are thus totally secure in the joint hand of Father and Son. Aligning Himself with the Father in this way in total responsibility for the sheep furthers the idea of His true Godhood. As He has constantly revealed He and His Father always act as one. And He then underlines this with the statement, ‘I and the Father are one’ (verse 30). In context this signifies a unity of thought, will and action in all that Father and Son do. They work together in equality and total unity. Once again the Judaisers recognise in this a claim to deity (John 10:31). They recognise that He, as a man, is claiming to be God (John 10:33).
In His reply Jesus uses of Himself the term ‘Son of God’, and describes Himself as the One Whom the Father had set apart as holy to Himself and had sent into the world (verse 36). He then underlines this by pointing out that He is doing the works of His Father (revealed especially in His ‘signs’), which should make them realise that He is in the Father, and His Father is in Him in a unique way (John 10:37-38; compare John 14:10 in context). This is a very different matter from our being in the Father and in Christ (John 17:21). We are not in such total oneness and are not capable of such signs. Ours is a spiritual unity, but, unlike that of Jesus, is not so perfect that we always do the will of the Father.
Chapter 11 commences with an indication that what is about to be described will bring glory to God and cause the Son of God, that is, Jesus Himself, to be glorified (John 11:4). The significance of what He is about to do is made clear at the beginning. This then leads on to His activity in relation to the matter of the death and raising again of Lazarus. Jesus’ supreme confidence is revealed in that He allows Lazarus to die (for, as we know from John 4:46-54, He could have healed him at a distance). Such supreme confidence would not have been becoming in a mere man. With the Son of God it was acceptable in order to advance the glory of God.
When Martha comes to Jesus He tells her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me, though he were dead, yet will he live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die’ (John 11:25-26). We note immediately that He speaks of believing, not in God, but in Him, and does it on the basis that He has the power to raise the dead (He is the resurrection) and to give ‘life’ (‘in Him was life’ - John 1:4). Thus He is calling on men to centre their thoughts on Him, and on Him alone. Such a demand could only be made by One Who was the Son of God, and co-equal with the Father, especially when the consequence of that belief was eternal life. We thus again have His deity shining through. To this Martha replies, ‘Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Christ (Messiah) the Son of God, Who should come into the world’ (John 11:27). She recognises the significance of His claim. So even before the giving of the final sign it has twice been made clear to the readers Who Jesus is (John 11:4; John 11:27), so that when the miracle takes place they will rightly interpret the sign.
In passing we should note that in this chapter Jesus is called ‘Lord’ by people seven times (with an eighth reference being found in the narrative in John 11:2). Previously He has only been called ‘Lord’ by people four times in the Gospel up to this point. This was by the crowd who sought Him in wonderment after the miraculous provision of bread (John 6:34), by Peter when the disciples were challenged about the possibility of leaving Him (John 6:38), and by the man blind from birth when Jesus made Himself known to him (John 9:36; John 9:38), all moments of crisis and tension and by those in awe of Jesus. Thus it is now being brought home to the readers by the continual emphasis that Jesus is not just a prophet, but is ‘the Lord’. It is used by the sisters, Martha and Mary, in John 11:3; by His disciples in John 11:11; by Martha in John 11:21; John 11:27; John 11:39; by Mary in John 11:32; by guests in John 11:34. All is leading up to what He is about to do.
Jesus now approached the tomb, and commanded that the stone be removed from its entrance. Then at this point He prayed. We are, however, informed that His spoken prayer was only for the benefit of the crowd so that they would be aware of the significance of what was happening (John 11:41-42). With regard to Himself He knew that He did not need to pray. He had only to speak and Lazarus would arise. For as we know He has already stated that He has the power to make alive whom He would (John 5:21). Jesus’ uniqueness is thus again brought out. And sure enough at His command Lazarus did appear from the tomb. Jesus had demonstrated in embryo His power to raise men at the last day (John 5:28-29), something that was normally seen as the act of God. The consequence was that many truly believed because they not only saw the sign but understood it (John 11:45). The assumption from what had been said before (John 11:27) is that they have now recognised in Him the Messiah, the Son of God. What Martha had previously believed, these new believers now also believed.
Meanwhile others who had failed to appreciate the sign reported it back to Jesus’ enemies John 11:46). This resulted in hostility against Him, and a remarkable prophecy that ‘it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and that the whole people perish not’ (John 11:50). This the author then interprets as signifying, ‘and not for that nation only, but also that He should gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad’ (John 11:52). Thus he sees Jesus as fulfilling the prophecies concerning the Servant of the Lord in Isaiah 49:5-6. In the Targum of Jonathan (an Aramaic paraphrase of the Old Testament) the Servant of the Lord is called ‘Servant Messiah’, and many see a similar connection with the Servant made at Qumran. Thus this too is a reference to the Messiah.
In chapter 12 Jesus’ position as Messiah is emphasised by His entry into Jerusalem on an ass which the author relates to the promise of the Coming King found in Zechariah (John 12:15; compare Zechariah 9:9). It is thus a further presentation of Jesus as the Messiah, although not as at this stage fully recognised. This leads on to Jesus’ words that the hour had come for ‘the Son of Man’ to be glorified (John 12:23). The glorification of the Son of Man has in mind Daniel 7:13-14 where the son of man comes to God’s throne in order to receive a kingdom and be glorified. This too has Messianic overtone, something emphasised by the reaction of the festive crowds as they questioned Jesus about whether, with His talk of death, He could be the Messiah, for in their view the Law stated that ‘the Messiah abides for ever’ (John 12:34). Again the reader knows the answer to their question. He is aware of the resurrection. Thus he knows that this is no hindrance to regarding Jesus as the Messiah. This is then followed by the application to these people of certain prophecies in Isaiah which speak of men’s spiritual blindness (John 12:38-41). Of especial significance here is that one of them is from Isaiah 6:0 where Isaiah had his vision of the glory of God, and the author comments, ‘Isaiah said these things when he saw His glory and spoke of Him’. In context the pronouns ‘His’ and ‘Him’ appear to refer to Jesus. Thus here the author is identifying Jesus with the God of Isaiah’s prophecies. If that be so then we have in this a direct statement of Jesus’ essential deity.
The chapter closes with Jesus’ claim that He has come as ‘a light into the world’ (an idea repeated from John 12:35 and thus emphasised by repetition) in order that men may escape darkness by believing on Him (John 12:46). He stands unique in history. And the consequence is that in the last day men will be judged by their response to that light as found in His words, words which His Father has put into His mouth (John 12:48-50). No mere prophet had ever identified himself so closely with God as his Father.
Chapter 13 commences with the words ‘Jesus knew that his hour had come that He should depart out of this world to His Father’ (John 13:1), and the remainder of the Gospel (chapters 13-21) then goes on to deal with the circumstances of that departure. This is in itself remarkable. It brings out the emphasis laid by all the Gospel writers on Jesus’ final hours. They were seen as highly significant, in that they not only signalled His own departure, but were a preparation for the future. And this is nowhere made more apparent than in John’s Gospel. For it makes clear that Jesus’ life is not to be seen as being a small, self-contained part of history which is to end with His death after His own small contribution to history (the fate of all men), but is rather to be seen as of such vital importance that His final hours must be seen as preparation for what lies ahead through the ministry of His Apostles and beyond as they take the message of His forgiveness to the world (John 20:22-23), a message based on His cross which is in the centre of that preparation. For it has already been made clear that it is His death on the cross, followed by His resurrection, that is crucial for the future of mankind. ‘See the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world’ (John 1:29). ‘So must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but should have eternal life’ (John 3:14-15). ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He’ (John 8:28). ‘I if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all men to me’ (John 12:32). The world’s hopes are based on His ‘lifting up’.
John 13:1 separates what has gone before, the self-revelation of Jesus, from what follows, His preparation for the establishment of the New Vine (John 15:1-6), the new Israel. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are thus seen as unique in that, having revealed Himself for what He is, His death and resurrection are a turning point in history. It brings out that what would appear at first sight to be a tragic end, will finally result in the establishment of a new work of God which will be the consequence of His own activity as the resurrected Christ as He gives His Spirit to His followers (John 20:20-23).
Nevertheless the self-revelation continues. We learn immediately that Jesus knew that ‘the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He was come from God and went to God’ (John 13:3). His life has been a kind of interlude between His previously having been with the Father (compare John 17:5), and His going to be with His Father, during which He would accomplish what the Father had given into His hands. Having descended from Heaven He would now ascend to Heaven (John 3:13). For a while the Word had been made flesh and had dwelt among us (John 1:14) for the fulfilling of His purposes, but now He was going back to His Father. Nothing brings out more the uniqueness of Jesus, as both pre-existent and the arbiter for the future.
We note that Jesus is now still being addressed as ‘Lord’ (John 13:9), as in chapter 11, something which Jesus takes up when He declares that He is their ‘Lord and Teacher’ (John 13:13-14). Note His switch from ‘Teacher and Lord’ in John 13:13 to ‘Lord and Teacher’ in John 13:14. He is now emphasising His unique authority over them. They had seen Him as their Teacher. Now they must recognise Him as their Lord. He will later speak of them as ‘friends’ (John 15:1-14), but for now His emphasis is on the fact that He is their Lord (compare John 13:16; John 15:20). His Lordship is even brought out by the fact that He is depicted as in control of His own destiny as He commands Judas to go about his act of betrayal (John 13:27-28).
Once Judas has left Jesus turns to His other disciples and declares, ‘Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him. And God will glorify Him in Himself, and will immediately glorify Him’ (John 13:32). The ‘now’ connects with Judas departure on his evil errand, and indicates that what is to result from the betrayal is for the glory of God and of for the glory of Jesus as the Son of Man. Once more Daniel 7:13-14 is in mind. Jesus will come out of suffering in order to approach the throne of God and receive glory and kingship. The idea of Messiahship is thus included. This idea of the glory of Jesus being revealed is an essential part of the author’s portrayal of precisely Who Jesus is (John 1:14; John 2:11; John 11:4; John 11:40; John 12:41; John 17:5; John 17:24). But for God to ‘glorify Him in Himself’ goes beyond just Messiahship, as John 17:5 reveals where Jesus will pray, ‘glorify Me with Your own self, with the glory which I had with You before the world was’. The idea is that as the Son of God He will once more be united with His Father in His supreme glory.
In chapter 14 Jesus makes a fuller revelation about Himself. The disciples have been growing in understanding, but now He makes clear to them that He is the One Who can provide a place for His followers in His heavenly resting place, and can bring them there because it is His Father’s house (John 14:1-3; compare John 17:24). Indeed He stresses that He is the One Who, as the truth and the life, is the only way to the Father (John 14:4-6). By this He is making clear that truth is no longer to be sought in the Law of Moses, but in the living Word (John 1:17), and He will go on to point out that this truth will come from the work of ‘the Spirit of truth’ within them (John 14:17; John 15:26; John 16:13). This will be because Jesus is Himself the Way into God’s presence, being both the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). Thus full truth now resides in Jesus, and will be made clear to the disciples by the Spirit of truth as He reveals Jesus to them, while true life, life which comes from the Spirit and illuminates men, must also come from Him.
And this is because Jesus is in Himself a complete revelation and manifestation of the Father (compare John 1:18). That is why He can now say to His disciples, ‘If you had known Me you would have known My Father also, from now on you know Him and have seen Him’ (John 14:7). In other words, to know and to have seen Jesus in His fullness is to know and have seen the Father, and from now on they will recognise that they have both known and seen the Father, as the Spirit of truth gives them illumination. Note the advancement from ‘knowing the Father’ to ‘knowing and seeing’ Him.
Had it been left there we might have seen this as simply saying that through His own life and teaching they had received a glimpse of what the Father was like. But that is ruled out by what follows. For Philip seizes on Jesus’ words and cries out, ‘Lord, show us the Father and it will suffice for us.’ He wants to see God as men had in ancient times. Outwardly Philip might have appeared to be pedantic, but the conversation that follows specifically brings out that Jesus saw Philip’s cry as reasonable, and that He was in fact intending Philip to see His words as signifying far more than that. For He stresses to Philip that if only he had truly known Him for what He is, he would have recognised that all that the Father is has been portrayed in Him, and this could only be because He shared His Father’s Being and Essence. His insistence on this fact goes far beyond the idea that somehow men could see God as they looked at the life of Jesus. It is rather indicating that in seeing Him in action they have ACTUALLY SEEN the Father operating on earth. He is not here, of course, speaking of His bodily form, but of His and His Father’s essential Being.
That Jesus intended Philip and the other disciples to take His words literally and not ‘spiritually’ is brought out by His next statement. He does not rebuke Philip for taking Him too literally, He gently rebukes Him for not having recognised the truth about Him. ‘Have I been with you such a long time, and yet you have not known Me Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father, how then can you say show us the Father’. The final phrase ‘how can you say show us the Father’ can only signify that He considers Philip’s objection to be invalid, because he has already seen the Father. But He could not have said that if He had not literally meant ‘seen’, for on any other interpretation of ‘seen’ Philip’s objection would have been reasonable, and have been a cry for a literal sight of the Father. In other words he wanted the disciples to see the Father with their own eyes, as the leaders of Israel had seen Him at Sinai (Exodus 24:10). Had Jesus simply been speaking ‘spiritually’ or ‘parabolically’ He would have explained to Philip that no man can see the Father (John 1:18), but that they should be satisfied that they had seen a reflection of the Father in Him. His comment thus makes clear that that was NOT what He meant. What He meant was that in seeing Jesus they had actually seen the Father, because Jesus and the Father were one in essential being. He is saying that while His bodily form might be that of a man, they need to recognise that in His essential Being He is God. He ’as He is in Himself in His inner being’ is to be seen as a full portrayal of the Father. That this is an indication of Jesus’ own unique Godhood is certain, for no one could claim to fully reveal God in this way Who was not Himself God. And there is nothing more important than for us to see this. Jesus was now demonstrating that the time for ambiguity and slow unveiling had passed. Now His disciples needed to recognise more than ever Who He essentially was. Here we have an amplification of His earlier claim that ‘I and My Father are one’ (John 10:30), making clear that it did not just mean one in purpose and intention, but one in essential nature and being such that to see one was to see the other.
Note that He feels a little concerned that Philip and the other disciples have not gathered this from what He had said earlier, e.g. in John 5:17-29, for He says, ‘Have I been with you so long and yet you have not known Me?’ (John 14:9). In other words while they had recognised Him as the Holy One of God (John 6:69) and as God’s Messiah (Matthew 16:16 and parallels), what they had failed to recognise was His true Godhood.
He then confirms this position by saying, ‘Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak from Myself, but the Father abiding in Me does His works’. Here He makes clear that He and His Father are in such close union (‘the Word was face to face with God’ - John 1:2) that what His mouth speaks are not His own words but the words of His Father, and that His works are also in fact done by the Father Who is abiding in Him. Then He adds, ‘Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the very works sake.’ In other words they should recognise that He could not have performed the things that He had, unless it was the Father doing it through Him because they were in such close union.
Those who refuse to recognise the truth of what Jesus is saying here, that Jesus is truly God, seize on this verse with glee (ignoring what has just been said). They point out that elsewhere Jesus says that He and the Father dwell in true believers (John 14:23), and that ‘in that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you’ (John 14:20; compare also John 17:21-23). That, they say, is what Jesus meant here. But that is simply not correct. It is to take the words out of context. For had Jesus meant that He would not have asked Philip how he could possibly have said what he did, He would rather have said to Philip that He had not intended him to take His words so literally. For had Jesus simply meant what these people say, Philip’s plea would have been justified. The only reason why it was not justified was because Jesus considered that they should have recognised that in seeing Him in action they had actually and literally seen His Father in action in all that He did. That is far from true of believers.
Jesus then goes on to promise that He will pray the Father to give them another Helper to take His place when He is gone. The word ‘another’ indicates ‘another of the same kind’. And that other is to be the Spirit of truth Whom they know because He dwells with them and will be in them (John 14:17). And He then immediately adds, ‘I will not leave you without help, I will come to you’ (John 14:18). Once again we are faced with the fact that Jesus not only aligns Himself with the Father in close union, but also with the Spirit. For the Spirit Whom ‘they know because He dwells with them’ can only refer to Jesus, something confirmed by the fact that the coming of the Spirit of truth will be the same as Jesus coming to them again. It is a reminder that all the members of the triune God (Matthew 28:19) work as One, and that where One is all are.
From this point on Jesus then moves on to deal with the relationship that the disciples (and subsequent believers - John 17:20) will enjoy with Himself and the Father. In a lesser way they will enjoy a union in the Spirit. They will even be able to do the works that Jesus had done. But their experience will not be the same as that of Jesus with the Father, for they will reveal the Father inadequately. While someone might see a hint of what the Father is like from the finest of believers, no such believer could truly and humbly say, ‘he who has seen me has adequately seen the Father’. But the important lesson from this for our theme is that the believer’s relationship with God is now defined in terms of the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit all working equally together. Jesus and the Father will come to them and dwell in them (John 14:23). The coming of the Spirit of truth to them will be the coming of Jesus (John 14:16-18). This implies Jesus’ omnipresence, and equality with the Father and the Spirit. They are One.
Initially this may appear to be contradicted by John 14:28 where Jesus says to His disciples, ‘if you loved Me you would rejoice because I said that I go to the Father, for my Father is greater than I’. But there is no real contradiction. Jesus’ point in these words is that while He is living on earth He has taken a subsidiary position. He has been made lower than the angels and has become man (Hebrews 2:7). At this stage, while He walks and suffers as a man, His status, and enjoyment of the glory that was intrinsically His, is below that of His Father (see John 17:5). He has taken a humble place as the Servant in order to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Thus at this point in time He is of a lower status than His Father Who rules in the heavens and is subject to no such limitations. And that is the reason why the disciples should rejoice for Him at His going to the Father, because then He would be restored to His former status (see Philippians 2:5-11). He would be glorified with the glory which He had had with the Father before the world was (John 17:5). The Father being ‘greater than He’ was thus temporary.
Chapter 15 continues the theme of chapter 14. Jesus and the Father are seen as continuing to work together for our salvation. That salvation, however, is found by our being made one with Jesus, something only possible because of His omnipresence. The fact is often overlooked that what Jesus promises for the day by day future requires Him to be omnipresent. Furthermore Jesus will make known to them ‘all things that He has heard from His Father’ (John 15:15), and whatever they ask the Father in His Name, He will give it to them (John 15:16). Jesus is thus to continue His ministry to them, and to all believers, from Heaven. The relationship with His Father from chapter 14 continues. But especially prominent in this chapter is the fact that it is Jesus Who will send the Helper to them from the Father, even the Spirit of Truth (John 15:26). Previously it has been the Father Who would send Him at the request of Jesus (John 14:16) or ‘in Jesus’ name’ (John 14:26). Now Jesus is also seen as performing the role.
These thoughts continue into chapter 16. It is Jesus Who will send the Helper (the Holy Spirit) to them (John 16:7). And the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, will glorify not God but Jesus (John 16:13), for He will receive of what is Jesus’ and will show it to them. But this is because ‘all things that the Father has are Mine, that is why I said He will take of Mine and show it to you’. That all things that the Father has belong also to Jesus is a further indication that He is God, for Who else could possess all that belonged to the Father? And to speak of the Spirit as being sent to glorify Him in men’s eyes without mention of God would be blasphemy if He were not God.
Having then explained something of what the future holds for His disciples, Jesus confirms that, ‘whatever you shall ask the Father in My Name, He will give it to you’ (John 16:23; compare John 15:16). For they will be asking in order to further the Father’s purposes in Jesus. And He assures them that while what He has been saying to them has been to some extent parabolic (they must have been showing that they were in some confusion), He will make it all plain to them in the future. For He will show them plainly from the Father (John 16:25).
Then as His discourse approaches its close He assures them, ‘I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world. Again I leave the world, and go to My Father’ (John 16:28). Here, if words mean anything, we have a further clear statement of His pre-existence (compare John 3:13; John 8:56-58; John 17:5), and an indication that when He was ‘sent’ it meant literally from another place, not just that He was spiritually sent like the prophets were. The Word, Who had existed in the beginning with God, and was God, had been made flesh, but was now returning to His former glory.
In chapter 17, Jesus’ discourse to His disciples being over, He now prays to His Father. The opening words of His prayer continue the theme that Jesus is the Son of God, and indeed is God the Son, for He calls on the Father to glorify Him as the Son, in order that He as the Son may glorify His Father (John 17:1). Once again it is apparent that far more than Messiahship is in mind, for Jesus is asking to be restored to His former glory, a glory which He had had with the Father before the world was (John 17:5). And through this occurring the Father will also be glorified.
We have already noted that the glory of Jesus has been revealed on earth, both in the life that He lived (John 1:14), and in the signs that He gave (John 2:11; John 11:4). It will also be revealed by His death and resurrection by which the Son of Man will be glorified (John 7:39; John 13:31) and in those who will be saved by His activity (John 17:10). But that is a limited glory. What is spoken of here is a glory that far surpasses that glory. It is unlimited. It is the glory referred to in John 12:41, the glory that was always His as God before He ‘emptied Himself’ (Philippians 2:7), the glory that has been His from eternity past. It is the glory of the eternal Word, which He had for a while put aside in order to bring about redemption, but would now be receiving again. < p> He then describes the power that the Father has given Him over all flesh, the power to give eternal life (compare John 5:26) to all whom the Father has given Him (John 6:37-39). Thus ‘the Father’ and ‘the Son’ are seen as working closely together in the plan of redemption, the aim of which is to give to men eternal life. The Father chooses them out and allocates them, the Son gives them eternal life, and He does this by making Himself and His Father known to them in such a way that they respond (John 17:2-3). For to truly know the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom He has sent, is to have eternal life (John 17:3). The distinction that is being made in these words (as the remainder of the Gospel has made clear), is not that Jesus Christ is somehow distinct from God, but that He is the manifestation of God on earth which has made it possible for men to know God. If this were not so then the idea that knowing the Father alone would be insufficient would also be blasphemy. Rather He wants them to know that the Father has sent Him from within the Godhead to carry out His part in the plan of redemption, and the consequence is to be that they will know the only true God, Who in context is ‘the Father’ (‘You the only true God’), but is also inclusive of Jesus Christ as the One Who has manifested the Father. For as has already been revealed, to know the Father is to know the Son, and to know the Son is to know the Father (John 14:7-9). Jesus Christ has been the appointed representative from within the Godhead Whose task was to make the Father, in His invisibility, known (John 1:18; John 14:7-9). Note that here we have the first mention by John of the combined Name ‘Jesus Christ’ since John 1:17. Jesus is now openly revealed as the distinctive Messiah, God’s ‘sent one’, God’s ‘anointed’ instrument for bringing salvation to the world.
Had John 17:3 stood alone with no context we might well have seen it as distinguishing ‘the only true God’ from ‘Jesus Christ’. But it does not stand alone. It is immediately made apparent that, in His being sent, Jesus Christ had forsaken the glory that was His as the eternal God (John 17:5). Thus the separateness is to be seen as one of office and not of essence. The Father was representing the Godhead in Heaven as ‘the only true God’, too Whom men should look in worship. The Son, having ‘emptied Himself’, was representing the Godhead as a man on earth, as the Messiah, revealing the Father (John 14:7-9). But the essential oneness of the Father and the Son has already been emphasised (John 10:30; John 14:7-9), while the idea that there were two Gods had to be avoided.
Jesus now turns to His mission on earth. He prays that just as He has glorified the Father on earth by accomplishing His work, so the Father will glorify Him with His own self, with the glory which He had with Jesus before the world was (John 17:4-5). Here it is made openly apparent that it was Jesus’ temporary task that was the reason why He at this stage did not enjoy the glory of His Godhood. It was because He had ‘emptied Himself’ of His Godhood (whatever that means, for it is outside our understanding, as indeed God Himself is) in order to become man, in accordance with the Father’s purpose, that He had a temporary lower status. But now He was to be restored to His former position and status again. It is not, of course, possible for us to understand all the ramifications involved. That is a mystery beyond the ability of our limited comprehension to fully appreciate.
He then goes on to pray for His disciples. The prayer reflects the partnership between the Father and the Son in the work of redemption already described. Jesus has manifested His Father’s Name to the men whom the Father has given Him out of the world, and they know that everything that the Father has given Him has come from the Father (John 17:6 c). In the eternal purposes of God, the Father has made the gift to His Son of all true believers, the Son has manifested the Father to these true believers. ‘Everything that he Father has given Him’ may refer to the believers themselves as the Father’s gift (John 17:6 a), or it may refer to the words and works that He has accomplished, but the outworking of the partnership is made quite clear for He is the Son working in His Father’s Name (John 17:2). And such an idea continues throughout the prayer.
We note that once again He speaks of the Father being in Him and He in the Father (John 17:21), but this time it is to lead on to the fulfilling of God’s purpose by His people also becoming ‘in us’ (John 17:21), and consequently, as a result, one with each other (John 17:23). Thus in specific contrast with the oneness in chapter 14, where the literalness of the oneness was made clear, this oneness is a spiritual oneness, although very real for all that (compare 1 Corinthians 12:12 ff). There is no suggestion that to see these believers will be to see the Father. The oneness is of a different kind.
Towards the close of His prayer He then prays concerning believers, ‘Father I pray that they also whom you have given Me, may be with Me where I am, to behold My glory which you have given me in your love for me before the foundation of the world’ (John 17:24). Once again we have reference to His eternal glory (it was before the world began), which the Father would be restoring to Him (John 17:5), a situation based on the love that the Father had had for Him from before the foundation of the world. We note from this that the Father’s love for the Son is eternal, being a part of their essential relationship from all eternity. ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was face to face with God, and the Word was God’ (John 1:1) This unique relationship between Father and Son is revealed as distinct from all others.
In contrast true believers are only to behold that glory (‘only’ being used by us to distinguish their secondary position, not to signify that to behold that glory is anything less than stupendous). Yet what a privilege is this. Those who are His will enjoy the revelation of His glory (compare Revelation 21:23; Revelation 22:3-5).
Having reached the height of revelation in chapter 17, we are immediately brought back to earth in chapter 18. What is glorious in Heaven must be worked out on earth. But even here the glory of Heaven shines through, for when the soldiers arrive to arrest Jesus He reveals Himself as the ‘I am’, and they fall back before Him (John 18:6). John clearly intended this event to be seen as essentially significant. That having occurred, however, (demonstrating that Jesus was still in control of events), the arrest goes on as normal, and Jesus is borne away for trial, where it is made clear that the charges against Him are unjustified (John 18:23). The interweaving of the trials with Peter’s denials bring out Jesus’ total forsakenness (John 18:12-27). All have forsaken Him, both the religious leaders on the one hand (exemplified in Annas the High Priest), and His own disciples on the other (exemplified in Peter). The Lamb of God (John 1:29), having been shown to be without blemish (something which will be even more drawn out in the trial before Pilate), is being set apart for death.
But even His trial emphasises Who He is. For Pilate asks Him concerning the charge that He is the King of the Jews, that is, the Messiah (John 18:33), something which leads on to the revelation that Jesus’ kingship (and thus His Messiahship) is not of this world (John 18:36). Jesus then goes on to indicate that in fact His kingship on earth, which He admits to, has been fulfilled in the purpose for which He was born, and for which He came into the world, namely in His bearing witness to the truth (John 18:37). The chapter ends with Pilate declaring that Jesus is the King of the Jews (John 18:39).
The emphasis that Jesus is ‘the King of the Jews’ (and thus the Messiah) carries on through chapter 19. He is hailed as such, somewhat crudely, by the soldiers (John 19:3), indirectly acknowledged as such by His accusers (John 19:12), declared as such by Pilate (John 19:14-15), and described as such in the superscription on His cross (John 19:19). And along with this is an acknowledgement of His claim to be the Son of God (John 19:7). His association with the Lamb of God is brought out in that not a bone of Him was to be broken (John 19:32-33; John 19:36).
Finally in chapter 20 Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene and explains that He has not yet ascended to His Father (John 20:17 a), and tells her to inform His ‘brothers’ that, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God’ (John 20:17 b). It is clear that the ascension is to be seen as significant (Peter will state that as a result He would be made both Lord and Christ’ - Acts 2:36). Note that Jesus does not say ‘our Father’ or ‘our God’. He distinguishes His own relationship with the Father from theirs. This distinction is real, for the distinction between ‘My Father’ and ‘your Father’ is constantly maintained by Jesus, and is especially brought out in Matthew’s Gospel, where the latter phrase dominates the early chapters, with the former taking over in the later chapters as Jesus’ self-revelation increases. Furthermore ‘My God’ indicates that God was Jesus’ God in a different way than He was the God of the disciples and of all other men. Inherent in Jesus’ incarnation was that He would pray to God as a true man. He could hardly have been a true human being had He not done so. But when He did so it was uniquely as the Son talking to the Father. It was a unique relationship. In the case of the disciples they prayed as adopted children talking to their Father, and they could pray ‘our Father’, something Jesus could never pray.
The chapter continues in an act reminiscent of Genesis 2:7. Just as God had there breathed into man so that he became a living being, now Jesus breathes into His disciples so that they receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). ‘In Him was life, and the life was the light of men’ (John 1:4). For this inbreathing of the Spirit is not only to be symbolic of the ‘eternal life’ that they have received from God, and of the new creation, but also brings them power and illumination (Luke 24:45). It is to be seen as a fulfilling of His promises concerning the Spirit of truth in chapters 14-16. These men are to be the foundation of the new creation. What follows at Pentecost will be an enduement of power (Acts 1:8).
These parallel acts, the one in Genesis 2:7 commencing man’s existence as a spiritual being in God’s creation , and the other commencing the bringing about of God’s new creation which will result in eternal life for all true believers, bring out what has already been stated in John 1:1-13, that Jesus is both the God of creation (John 1:3) and the Source of life (John 1:4 a), and the God of revelation (John 1:4-11) and new creation (John 1:12-13).
The chapter, and the main part of the Gospel, now end with Thomas’ declaration concerning Jesus, ‘my Lord and my God’ (John 20:28), thus ending on the same note with which the Gospel began, ‘in the beginning was the Word --- and the Word was God’ (John 1:1). The truth has begun to come home to those Who follow Him.
The writer has thus fulfilled his promise to present his readers with ‘signs’ which had been witnessed by the disciples, which revealed that ‘Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God’, so that by ‘believing’ they might ‘find life in His Name’ (John 20:31). Yet even with his emphasis on these points we should note that there are parts of the narrative which were patently not required for this purpose. And the reason for this was that John saw them as so much a part of the true eyewitness tradition that he felt that he had to incorporate them. In the end it was not John who shaped the tradition, but the true historical facts which shaped John’s narrative, once he had selected his material. It was based on first hand experience, which was something he felt that he could not avoid, and which finally determined what John wrote.
the First Week of Advent