J. N. Darby.
(Notes and Comments Vol. 6.)
This chapter ought clearly to have begun at verse 23 of the last. This is in immediate connection with what goes before. To verse 21 gives us the result of His manifestation at Jerusalem (thus first publicly after His baptism, and public sealing in the world by the Holy Ghost) and the works which He wrought there. After that the Lord went into the country, "the land of Judaea," verse 22. But this interview with Nicodemus was a part of this. The former part presents a general and vague, this a special and contrasted, result. I have been sometimes disposed to think that there was an intended contrast between their general and unreal recognition of Him on account of His miracles, and His intimate knowledge of what they really were, which prevented His trusting Himself to them.
This passage gives occasion to many thoughts, not merely as to the character of Jesus as not seeking disciples; His direct reference to what they were in the sight of God. (With the apostles, "As many as received the word gladly were baptised," Acts 2:41.) The trial which accompanied the Lord by the very heartless readiness of the people to receive Him, on the mere outward testimony, showing the unchanged nature of their own hearts, without reference to the real character and object for which He came, the nature of His kingdom. This, as rejected, is shown in the last clauses of the former chapter. His power, His object, the character of His ministry, its reception, the full testimony brought out by mercy acting upon the apprehensions of men, but the discerning power of His reception of them, what was in man, and what was in Jesus, are all drawn out here. But, in the order of the book, the leading point is the general reception of Him by the Jews, upon the external-testimony, to please, as it were, themselves, and His reception of them. This is more distinctly brought forward in detail in the case of Nicodemus, and the great principles on which it was founded.
22 The paramount character of the kingdom which He was setting up, and the way therefore in which God was meeting them - (flowing indeed necessarily from the very Being and Person and office of the Son of God manifested as Son of Man; for of moral necessity, being so exhibited, its paramountness to the Jewish system, and its superiority of nature and character over which, also its presentation to the Jews, was exhibited, and hence the result of its being so presented to the natural man who, in respect of his own hopes, so now of its heavenly hopes, would willingly have received it) - is what is drawn out in this very gospel, and here is developed in its moral characters, as well as the result of the juxtaposition of the Lord and the people, as a preliminary introduction to the whole scene: the presenting Messiah and the kingdom to the Jews; but that Messiah appearing, as necessarily from God, in the power, spirituality, and glory of the kingdom of God, and the effect of the uncongeniality of the thoughts and expectations of the Lord and the people from the nature of them. The fact was given before; the interview with Nicodemus develops the principles of it, which therefore follows.
Nicodemus was a genuine enquirer, therefore his name is given to point him out afterwards, but he came in association with the thoughts and expectations of the Jews, as above rehearsed. "Rabbi, we know that … no one can do the miracles that thou doest, except God be with him." We learn also, though here exhibited as in the mind of a really sincere enquirer, what were the common feelings of the Jews, rulers even, and Pharisees, at that time; for he acted on them. So often God leads, though these thoughts operated, in his case, in a sincere mind, and led him to enquire for himself, for his conscience, which is always timid, always acting individually and for itself, and therefore afraid of others, though the same occasions, doubts, and enquiries may be, and here doubtless were, externally influencing them. They were willing that Jesus should be the Servant of their thoughts, meeting them; but to enquire in personal, self-subjecting interest was not with them at all. They would consult therefore together, so as to know the result of believing before they believed; therefore the Lord says, "He that is willing to do the will of God shall know," etc. Here is the awful responsibility of these people. Conscience is the real guide to knowledge.
- 1. In this state of things, while at Jerusalem, there was a man, a Pharisee, and a ruler of the Jews, came to Him by night, and said, "We know that thou art a teacher"; we must recognise you as such from these miracles. But he states it in the way which exhibits the genuineness of the conviction of his own mind, while he states the general impression: "No man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him." Still this was only outside, there was no kingdom of a new and spiritual character affecting the whole nation. Nay, I am not sure that Nicodemus does not, in form, come short here of the general impression, because he states that to which his own conviction had genuinely (and therefore that only) arrived. "Many believed on his name"; this was going apparently further than Nicodemus, but it was the loose impression of evidence, nothing affecting their souls. In one we see enough to set him in action, though fearfully, for one step in practice is all beyond any advance in theory. But, says Jesus, "the kingdom of God"; I am come with a definite object. He swerves nothing ever below it. Jesus never went below His point. A man "must be born again."
23 But He met, observe, at once, the genuineness of Nicodemus' mind with a simple, full statement of the subject, subdued its views, and what remained of his associations, with "We know," meeting the bud of personal conscience which was at work under it, and Nicodemus at once turns to enquire concerning the matter. All the "Master" and the "We know" is gone, under the power and substance of Jesus' instruction, and his mind is astray, and its genuineness comes out, though in ignorance. I am not sure but that there is a mixture of personal emphasis with unbelief in "How can a man being old be born again?"
But to turn to the substance of the interview. The Lord then, we have seen, was speaking of the kingdom. It was this that He at once brought before Nicodemus, and this He does, and the Spirit before us, in its full proportions and parts, the earthly and the heavenly, with that which forms the basis and the entrance into each. But the first thing which the Lord does is to meet the views of Nicodemus as to the whole matter. He erred in his apprehensions; the eye must be first opened. "The kingdom of God." "Except a man be born anew" (this is the very outset of seeing anything) "he cannot see the kingdom of God." It is a new ground of perception by which we can see this kingdom of God at all. Thus the Lord arrests entirely the whole train of Nicodemus' enquiry. The very understanding and perception must be "anew." This it was most important first to get clear apprehensions upon. The fact was here simply stated: "born anew." Some would say above; but this is senseless, for it mars the whole sense, and makes Nicodemus' following enquiry ridiculous. But Nicodemus' mind in nothing went beyond the natural man and his experience, nor could not. He could have no conception beyond this. Our Lord therefore says as to the principles and method of the kingdom which He then at once introduces, "Except a man be born of water and of Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."
24 I think this part of the statement relates to the nature of the work, and not the instrument of its operation. This is important to the apprehension of its force. It is the answer to the manner spoken of in the enquiry of Nicodemus. The observations on the word ek (of) thus used bear directly on this. "Water" I believe to be significative of the cleansing character of this generation ("anew"), as the Spirit is the character and power of life, in which the energies are put forth, of life in active and natural assimilation to the character of God. "The way of life is above to the wise, to depart from hell beneath." It is true the ordinary symbol of this is baptism, but the substance of the thing is not the putting away the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience towards God by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, "Who came by water, not by water only, but by water and blood." As Paul speaks: "Having your hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and your bodies washed with pure water." But it includes confessing also, for that is part, and the formal part, of this good conscience. So Jesus proved Himself true, witnessing "a good confession." He had "a baptism to be baptised with."
But baptism is the symbol with us of this, as the Lord's Supper is of that which is spoken of in John. But this, as it need scarcely be proved to a spiritual person, speaks of the thing itself. But it is important to separate it from the Spirit, because this is not merely a purification of the thoughts and habits of the outer man through the intervention of the death and resurrection of Jesus, purifying their hearts by faith, but a giving of life which has its energies through Jesus in every association with the things of God and God Himself. "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." Howsoever, this accordingly is the first great leading principle of the kingdom. This is essential to a place of enjoyment in it in all its forms, essential to personal association in it, vital possession of its blessings; the water is formally necessary. I speak even as above interpreted; this vitally; this lives according to that form. Also in the following words we have the instrumental power or original connected with the nature: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit," of the thing flesh and the thing Spirit is necessarily flesh and spirit itself. It is the kingdom of God. God is a Spirit. We must be spiritual to worship Him, and that which is born of the Spirit alone is spiritual, for that which is born of the flesh cannot be but flesh. Thy thoughts go not beyond the flesh from which they spring. This is true as to the portion in the "earthly things" peculiar to the Jew, to the ordinary form in which the kingdom of God could be presented, to that which even Nicodemus could be thinking of now.
25 It was God's kingdom, and this will be necessary for the real enjoyment of the "earthly things" in the millennial glory. But then indeed it will be, as here also brought forward (and from which Jesus drew His knowledge), associated with the "heavenly things," and its blessings flow down, as it were, on the "earthly things." They were, however, in their nature, considerably apart, without Christ's death intervening, which was necessary to anything of the "heavenly things" being the door to it, and the association of the "earthly things" to it, and in order necessary to these "earthly things" also; for it was of the resurrection, as now no more to return, etc., it was said, "I will give you the sure mercies of David." But we learn also this further blessed truth: how the millennial glory is the very purpose in which the full mind of God as revealed in Christ is revealed, as indeed is stated in Ephesians 1. But here we have the Lord as the revealer, not the accomplisher, of it.
I should apply "we know" to the nature of the necessary enjoyment, "we have seen" to the glory to be revealed. We find it, therefore, the expression of the mind of God as in Christ experimentally perfect, and perfectly answerable to Himself in its nature, of and which He could say, as the witness of it in that day towards God, "We know," and of the glory which is to be accomplished in Him as donatively, and "We have seen"; His indeed in a peculiar sense before, as the Son, but now (that is, in the glory) in the office of it as Man, and so now revealing it. This is a rich and blessed testimony, very full to dwell upon. I mean the revelation in Jesus, in Person and gift, of the character and order of the millennium as from God and towards God; for it is so, and fully in Him in both respects, answering and reflecting one another; He being the great connecting link of association, and that which He said now He could say then, save that it will be actually fulfilled as High Priest among the Jews. He will speak that of which all indeed are made partakers, the spiritual knowledge of God; and, as the King of glory, He will, in all its effulgence, witness forth the glory of the Father which no eye but His has seen; but He will come in it as King of kings and Lord of lords, "which in his times he shall shew, who is," etc. But at this time in gracious yet full (by the Spirit) revelation, if not showing the glory, speaking the words of God, His best glory.
26 Let us follow, however, the order of the passage itself. I observe in the first place applies it to the subject of Nicodemus' enquiry. His relationship to the Jews we know, as our Lord treats immediately of the kingdom of God, which was for them: "Do not wonder that I said to thee, It is needful that ye should be born anew." He had stated its nature before, now its application (for even for their portion in this, that they should have a place in the kingdom, they must be born again), and I apprehend the force of the sentence is in "ye." Do not wonder that I said concerning you Jews, that you must be born anew. For this is a prerogative operation of God. Being so, you will observe, in nature it lets in the Gentiles; for if it be "anew," new from the outset, it bears its own nature and character, and to this extent, that is, spiritual consequences of the life of the Spirit, there is no difference, Jerusalem or not, and producing its title by its result, suited to the nature of the kingdom, entitles the person on whom the result is produced to a share in the kingdom, looked at abstractly, whose nature shows the suitableness of the membership, for the Jew can show no other; this being, as here stated, the distinctive title of admission.
- 5. Besides direct evidence it is evident, from our Lord's expecting Nicodemus to know it, that "water" could not mean baptism.
- 7. "Do not wonder." Man is duller about spiritual things than natural, and admits power in God in these which he will not in those. This is mere pride and ignorance. "Thou fool," says Paul; therefore the Lord has made them analogous. The extent of the force of this conversation as introducing the kingdom is manifest, and its accordance with the great character of this gospel noticed heretofore; also the paramountness of Jesus' character here associated with the kingdom, showing speciality of application or address, yet bearing, therefore, in its principles the seed which should spring up in abundant Gentile fruit, embraced by the universality of His character, and part of His spiritual harvest; and, as it blows where it lists, seeing its fruits and operations, but cannot determine whence it comes, so as to have it in known or determinable operation; nor where it goes, for it is of the will of God; you Jews must submit to its operations as the necessary admission into the kingdom: "So is every one that is born of the Spirit." It brings the power of the kingdom's character, and the operation must be on you for admission. The admission is prerogative opening, as we have said, in principle and in title, also from its nature, the door to the Gentiles, not as such, but as "born of the Spirit." So the apostle, or rather the Spirit, argues as to faith; being of faith, the form of this through grace in man's heart, he that believes is the person who finds part, therefore "all that believe," therefore to the Gentiles, for he is (this being supposed) believing. Observe the ground: Is He not, whatever the dispensation, the God of the Gentiles? seeing it is one God, etc. So one Lord (as here) and one Spirit, one kingdom, and one baptism, one God and Father, etc. So therefore it is here, "every one that is born."
27 Nicodemus was able, not to see perhaps the order of this, but that it was wholly beyond the associations which he had formed as a Jew. His mind was at a loss. "How can these things be?" Not merely in their spiritual character but in the breach they made in Jewish feelings, the immense change necessary for even a Jew to be admitted into the kingdom, and the principles (in a measure), involved in it, though the results of them were not fully measured, doubtless in a way obscure; also how in the previous sentence the previous way in which we observed Nicodemus was received by our Lord is pursued, the personal address as to the substance of the matter, yet as coming in the general feeling of the Jew: "Do not wonder that I said to thee, It is needful that ye," etc. Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know the very principle on which Israel is let into the kingdom? And we may add, besides putting Nicodemus upon right thoughts, it expresses the feelings of our Lord as to the state of the people: How shall I deal with them? what will be the result to them if the teacher of Israel does not know the first principles?
28 But the Lord did not gain Nicodemus, and turning from the "how" He declares the certainty on His own testimony from God: "We speak that which we know"; but they are what are now in His thoughts, not individually Nicodemus. "Ye receive not," and if I have told you the earthly part of the kingdom, and ye believe not, how will ye believe if I tell you of the heavenly things that are the crown and glory of it? It is not merely "earthly things" but "the earthly things," definitely, I think, pointing out the two associated portions of the millennial glory, the earthly and heavenly. "Earthly things" and "heavenly things" are doubtless contrasted in their knowableness, but also in fact, as in Ephesians. "From God," says Nicodemus, but the Lord begins with earthly things showing Nicodemus' ignorance, and then asserts His own real character.
- 13, 14 go together then, but are alike inconsistent and commonly unintelligible to the natural man (compare Isaiah 55).
I observe in verse 16 this (not to enter upon the full power of the sentence, which would require rather a sermon) implies the truth argued out by Paul in Romans 3:22 in its positive affirmation; so I think in 1 John 2:2. These, however, remark, are the words of our Lord when stating one of the two great general subjects of His gospel. There is everything implied in this, that God loved the world.
In John our Lord always proposes Himself in His full character to the world. He views Him as paramount to His mission ("He who comes out of heaven is above all"), and therefore, includes it to the world. In Luke and Matthew we have the respective appropriations fully drawn out, though recognised here. Accordingly, verses 15, 16, 17 is the gospel. And as to this then note the "earthly things," the necessary first principles of the kingdom of God, which is "earthly things," to this extent. But the gospel runs properly upon (within, say) the "heavenly things," including and resting on the Lord's death in result, therefore beyond it, "life eternal" (compare chap. 9:5-6). They wished the exercise of the temporal authority of the kingdom, our Lord looked further. Compare with the verses here following John 5:22-24. If the Lord was to exercise trying authority all must be condemned, etc., therefore the Lord sends a trying principle in the way of giving life and salvation, so that he that receives it does not come into the trying authority, the "judgment," but is passed into life from death. Our Lord is now a Saviour, but withal is, as He says, "for judgment," John 9:39… But, besides, He will "execute judgment," because, etc. Note the force as of this as to the resurrection of the saints, comparing chapter 5:29. It is not merely "all judgment," but "all the judgment." If we receive Him we have passed "the judgment," or more exactly are "not judged." They therefore confound all things of the gospel who look to a mere general judgment, in which all are, indiscriminate judgment of acceptance or otherwise; for the salvation comes first, that all might not be condemned. But this becomes the "judgment" to them who receive it not; so that he that believeth not "has been already judged." It is a deeply important principle, and involving the whole gospel. And note there are the "heavenly things." This passage involves the whole testimony in its principles.
29 Our Lord had gone mentioning the "heavenly things" to the verge of His glory, and in doing so had touched on that on which it all rested, His Person and all the mystery in it, but stops short, as it were, to plant it where it found its place among the Jews: death. He descends at once then from the thought of His Being and Person, humbling His thought to service, Himself to humiliation: "No one has gone up into heaven." And then we have these most important essential points in our Lord's character: "He who came down out of heaven, the Son of Man who is in heaven." And then we have two great points in the humiliation: The Son of Man must be lifted up; God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, the Son of God. Both "that every one," etc. Both these we must view for right views: the Son of Man lifted up, the remedy for sin, the taker away of death for eternal life; the giving of the Son of God, the evidence of divine love, the love of God. We must believe in the Son of Man lifted up, we must believe in the Son of God given, to have just and right views of the Cross, and the love of the mercy. These exercises afford a large scope, for here undeveloped riches of the wisdom, perfectness, and nearness of God's ways, most large and wide, most infinite, let the Person of Christ, and His work, and the glory and extent of God's love in it, be seen; and men shall marvel, and be saved, and know God in measure in the fulness of His mind of blessing in Christ and by Christ, and Christ the manifestation of all this wisdom and fulness in Him; and this by the Spirit.
30 - 13. The Lord then having dwelt upon the evidence that the glory of the kingdom must surely be rejected, as its first principles were, by the Jews, proceeds to unfold the whole order of these, for which, in the wisdom of God, see Isaiah 49. That very unbelief would make its way. See also Romans 11 at the end. That which was suited to their present admission into the kingdom as a kingdom of God they could not receive, much less the heavenly glory. Here our Lord leaves the "ye." He continues to unfold it to Nicodemus, but it is not as that which was of application to them. But the large fulness of the everlasting kingdom which, in its principles, as in its circumstances, was of "every one that believes," a principle not adverted to in a former part, for we walk by faith, and not by sight. "And no man hath ascended up into heaven, save he who came down from heaven, even the Son of Man, who is in heaven." The Person of Him who was the door must now be declared as immediately associated with this. Thus are heaven and earth linked. No man can report of heaven save He who came down, essential to His Person, the great witnessing fact from God, even Him who even here is the unbroken link between earth and heaven, restoring this association; the Son of Man. They are three coincident and characteristic names of infinite value on earth: "Who came down out of heaven"; "The Son of Man"; "Who is in heaven." This is His character, circumstance, and characteristics in respect of that which is to follow.
But we have now a vast scene opened out to us, that which was immediately associated with heavenly glory, its reverse in this world, alike and uniformly unintelligible, and its present practical bearing as regards the Jew, and by which the Gentile was let in: the Son of Man must be lifted up. "We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth ever. Who is this Son of Man?" Yet it was as Son of Man He was to have this glory. "What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the Son of Man, that thou so regardest him? Thou hast made him," etc. And so in Daniel. It was a matter, too, of eternal life, resurrection life, or the life of resurrection power; for all shall not die. This was a great, vast scheme, of which the Jew was ignorant, and of which his rejection of Messiah as presented to him as living, according to the principles of the kingdom, was to be the instrument, and of which the only part now presentable to him, and which showed how totally incapable he was to receive it, was the sufferings incident to it. But this, as connected with the "heavenly things," was of large and vast scope; this was not within the Jewish scope. It was the Son of Man; God so loved the world; every one that believeth; eternal life. God so loved it (could a Jew believe this, as such?) that He gave His only begotten Son, that, etc. A Jew might see the heathen judged, condemned, in such a sending; but no, "the world," not to condemn, to judge rather, but that "the world" through Him might be saved.
31 The presented purposes of God, whether to Jew or the world, on which their responsibilities rest, are not the purpose of glory and result, which arises in every instance on their total failure as involved in that responsibility through the opposition of their nature to God, its weakness through the flesh. He sent, for example, Jesus to the Jews, that He might be their King, but there was a Remnant according to the election of grace. Nor did the unbelief of the Jew make the faith of God of none effect (see the same, Isaiah 49). He sent Him into the world that the world through Him might be saved; and still the way of His glory was through its failure, though it be our deep sin. Yet in purpose, so a Remnant, being made heirs with Him of the glory. Yet for this also it shall be judged. But it was a rejected, absent Saviour in which they were to believe, suffering, but still the Spirit convincing of righteousness, for He was gone to the Father. Hence the division (and saving of the elect); the believer, he never shall be judged: "but he that believes not has been already judged." This all was the great mystery which occupied the mind of Paul, that the Gentiles, etc. He has been judged already, for he has committed the great act of dishonour and disallegiance to the God of heaven; he has not believed on His only begotten Son.
But observe, this judgment is not (though it might be so) arbitrary act of rejection for that dishonour. This is the judgment; it manifested the darkness of man's heart, and the evil which he loved. It was light which had come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. And this, in its principle, was universal; therefore only the elect, whom God changed supremely by His Spirit, were saved: "Men loved darkness." The wonderful accuracy of the Word of God! "For every one that does evil hates the light"; and "there is none that doeth good, no, not one," "they are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable," even those who had the best light and the advantage of the law. It was then it had all the malignity of a rejection of the only begotten Son of God; but it arose from, and manifested, brought into judgment, the evil state of man's heart, the position, love of darkness, because they were dead in trespasses and sins. This, therefore, the Spirit now takes, and convinces the world of sin. "But he that doeth the truth." Again we have to remark the accuracy of our Lord's language. It is not "good works," for God had given them up to a reprobate mind, they were ungodly. But He speaks here of those who had heard and knew the truth as revealed, and by grace (associated always and exclusively with truth) did it. So in Matthew 7. Therefore He saith doeth. "He that practises" (without this "every one that doeth") "the truth." Such came to the light in Jesus, in whom all truth was, and who was the truth, the truth of God's character. Guile was not found in His lips.
32 But the character of God is now known only to man by revelation. He ought to know that which subjects him to God. But so Romans 1. Hence Paul distinguishes in the same manner wrath against "ungodliness" (the general estate of man), and the "unrighteousness" of those who "hold the truth in unrighteousness." But when the light comes these must be proved, not only to be in the dark, and walking in darkness, but as "he that does evil hates the light." The thing is condemnable, and the person first, but the wrath is revealed upon the hater of the light so manifested, he "has been already judged"; and so "for judgment am I come" (chap. 9:39), the full dispensed operation of this as flowing from God in Jesus, the Son of Man. The Son of God sent into the world is here fully manifested, often its principles leading through suffering to heavenly glory. In this, as it were, Nicodemus had no part. He had been as yet left behind by the first part. This was our Lord's testimony, the outbreaking of the view that was before Him; a glorious thought, an immense prospect, let down from God out of heaven, and turning thither again, when as in Him angels were learning the great wonders and wisdom of God.
33 After this Jesus went into the land of Judaea. On the whole we may remark (while the Saviour passeth not beyond the verge of that which is personal to Himself, as now manifested, and does not touch upon the heavenlies themselves), the very distinct address of the "earthly things," that which gave living Jews entrance into the kingdom, and will in that day, and in which therefore faith is not spoken of, addressed to Nicodemus as representing to this extent here the Jews ("ye"). How this ceases when His death, the entrance into the heavenlies, begins, and the principle of faith in an apparently rejected and so absent Saviour, in which the "every one" at once broadly comes in, and God's loving the world is introduced, while the Person of the Saviour shines through all! But how rich and various is the matter of the Scriptures compared with any comment upon it; how its elementary and eternal truth, flowing from God's nature, can be brought to bear in their simplicity in the heart of him taught only in the necessities of his own conscience, while the depth of all wisdom is developed in the same in the Person and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, before which the wisdom of the proudest man succumbs! Note also the transition (vv. 13, 14), the moment the Lord touches on the full character of His glory, His essential glory, "Who is in heaven," to the full humiliation, to His being made the sign-post of the world's sin. Yet nothing can be more humble or simple than His statement of it. There are, then, two points mentioned, "that every one who believes on him," etc.; first in which He acts from and for man so: "So must the Son of Man be lifted up, that," etc.; then God's love from which it flowed: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that," etc. This was God's part. Note, the only place where Jesus could be as fulfilling the requisition of God's excellency, justifying God, and acting justly, as Man, was to be this sign-post, as we have said, of sin, to have it stamped in abhorrence upon Him. The world thinks that there are a great many other amiable excellencies in which they and God may take pleasure, for they think that He is altogether such an one as themselves.
34 - 24. The public testimony, or preaching, of our Lord began after John was cast into prison, began from Galilee; but this place evinces that He was, by private instruction, gathering disciples, and His disciples baptising before that. On the whole it makes the observations elsewhere made plain (compare Luke 7:11 and chap. 4:14, and references). Our Lord's first actings and manifestation, not His public ministry, was at Jerusalem, save what took place at Cana, etc., and which does not appear to have been lengthened. Then He went to the feast; then returned into the country of Judaea, and baptised, continuing there; then hearing that John was put in prison, and that His enemies had heard of Him, He went into Galilee, chiefly continuing about the sea at Capernaum. In Nazareth He took the occasion of the passage of Isaiah 61 to present Himself publicly as fulfilling it; but observe, by the Spirit being upon Him, and thus accordingly there is where Luke begins his narrative of His matured ministerial labours.
- 27. Nothing can be more important; it is the immutable rule of all office, and measure of all authority. Compare our Lord's declaration to Pilate, and Paul's statement of resisting the power, and the ground on which he lays the foundation of his own authority in his epistles, particularly to the Corinthians. Then compare "not as lords over your faith." As to this verse 33 lays the ground. And then compare Proverbs 30:6. As to faith, there can be no authority; it is as believing (in the matter) the record which God has given concerning His Son. You may see also some observations in the printed paper relative to Paul's conduct with human powers.
In reference to this I recollect Luther to have acted wisely in a case brought to him to exorcise. And compare the sons of Sceva. In this view I conceive the relation of the twelve men on whom he laid his hands is inserted, it was a power properly apostolic (as see Peter and John going to Samaria), and a standing evidence of Paul's being an apostle. He was clearly an extraordinary one, and careful observation will show that the Scriptures have recorded the evidence of his qualification as seeing the risen Lord, so as to be a primary witness, and that the signs of an apostle were wrought "in him." More might be added here, showing the justness of the adaptation of the manner of his qualification to his peculiar office as apostle of the Gentiles, but this is not the place; this applies to dispensation; for it need not be said that there could be no diversity in the matter of faith, though there were diversity of appointment and administration.
35 - 28. There is heartfelt satisfaction (as in full confession of what the Lord has imposed, for this is a responsibility) in having assumed nothing beyond what the Lord has given. Let us take heed withal that we are faithful. Wherever we do we throw ourselves into the power (as far as we are concerned) of Satan, for God confessedly is not with us therein, and there is no telling what use he may make of this, for all the value of previous labour and character is thrown into it, on the one hand, and the discredit of Satan's wiliness thrown upon that, on the other. This is one case, but the Lord's care is over all. Nothing can be more blessed than this testimony of John. It is, I apprehend, the just position of the Church; that is, believing Christians now.
- 31. He spake the "earthly things" (the usual use of ek (from), compare verse 11); first "above all," as to Himself, His place, Person; then testimony. John was merely a witness.
- 33. "That God is true." Some received Him, but none received His testimony. By grace some were made to believe in Him, and after received the Holy Ghost, by which they were then made to see and understand and receive the "heavenly things" in Him; and this was the difference of the apostolic faith before and after they were taught more especially that He was the Christ, the Son of God and King of Israel. They received the "earthly things," principles of His kingdom, and looked accordingly for the earthly portion of the kingdom, but they did not nor could not, through their fault, the "heavenly things" till the Holy Ghost was given them through His ascending on high, where He was set far above, etc., and gave it. Then they preached the gospel, the "heavenly things," with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. Christ indeed spake "heavenly things" (of this see other notes), for He spake in the fulness of the Spirit; and though we have but the Spirit according to the measure of our several gift, yet as to the revelation the Spirit (that is, in the dispensation of Christ) is not given by measure; we have the mind of Christ, in whom dwelt all the fulness, treasures of wisdom and knowledge, who was, etc., and Heir of all these things also, for in these last days He hath spoken unto us by His Son, therefore "he that has received," etc. It is not, therefore, "to men"; so in verses 12, 27. Our Lord spoke as though Himself in the "judgment." In verses 31 and 32 He saw the power of this work. This great truth (v. 35) was that which sustained our Lord in the non-reception of His testimony; Matt. 11:27. This accordingly is the argument, with the proof of the necessity of our Lord's sufferings, by the apostle in Hebrews 2. He did enter into the "judgment" for man, and therefore having this place, and undertaken man, and therefore suffering ("for it became him") being made perfect He became the Author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him. Then the great fact as resting on His glory and place is stated, then the needful (through our sin and unbelief) manner of its accomplishment. So I take it verse 28 of Hebrews 9 is an answer to verse 27 on the question raised by it of how the "judgment" may be gone through. Here we have the present certainty. Verse 27 is their natural portion.
36 There is something blessedly perfect in the Lord's, and in John's answer also, which shines out the more in comparing them. Our Lord speaks in simplicity and power of the kingdom, nothing of Himself, save in humiliation. But He spoke that which He knew, and testified that which He had seen; John in the simplicity of character which was of the place God had given him. The occasion which arose was the comparison of the circumstances of himself and the Lord by his disciples. He answered, "A man can receive nothing except it be given him from heaven"; thus, while he humbles himself, really verifying the heavenly origin of his testimony. And their very enquiry, "He to whom thou barest witness," confirmed the truth of his word, also as to the truth of him and of his mission. But the full glory of our Lord was necessary to complete the picture or the testimony of the earthly and heavenly things, of which indeed He was to be the Head. But our Lord never glorified Himself, nor went also beyond the limits of His Jewish circumstances as to facts; therefore He closed with His death. Here we have His glory, and this in two particulars, which are the great subjects of full revelation in apostolic and apocalyptic revelations: His having the Bride, as being the Bridegroom, and being "above all," by virtue of the title in which He had descended from the Father (created indeed by Him and for Him) and which made the portion of man He had brought Him into heavenly places to exercise, being set above all authority and power, King of kings and Lord of lords (compare Colossians 1 and Ephesians 1 and close of Revelation).
37 There is a sense in which the Jewish Church is especially called the Bride, and exclusively so, I think, in the prophetic Scriptures of the Old Testament; for though I think it is so in Canticles also, it is so in a peculiar way. But this is so rather as the Lord than as Jesus, when she is to call Him Ishi, and not in the full closeness of His identity with the Bride taken out of His side, the Lamb's wife, the Man's wife, called in that day Adam.
Having spoken of the Lord, then, as the Bridegroom, which is His special glory, he speaks of Him in Person: "He that comes from above." First, His general and universal superiority; next, its special association; "he that is of the earth is earthly," though this as to the principle; that is, John in his place, office and ministry: "He who comes from heaven," as specially associated with the heavenly character and supremacy as at the head of the "heavenly things," in whom the heavens shall be known to rule. This is true in His title and Person as "come," and true in fact when indeed He is "come" over again "from heaven"; as so come, that is, in humiliation. Though such, He testifies what He hath seen and heard, and no man receiveth His testimony. He who receives His testimony, however, has set to his seal that God is true, for He whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God. But as both the personal relationship and the manifestation of the glory are accomplished in the Lord Jesus, the Christ, in that day, so shall this also of peculiar and rich blessing; for not only is He King of kings and Lord of lords, "above all," but His name is called THE WORD OF GOD, and consequently in that day we shall know as we are known, and in earthly places they shall not say, Know the Lord, teaching every man his brother, and every man his neighbour; for all shall know Me, saith He, from the least even to the greatest.
This then is a very rich and peculiar blessing, for now we know but in part, and therefore have to prophesy (for others), and that of course therefore in part; but then we shall know, etc; and therefore prophesyings shall cease? and we shall all have common communion in that which is known to and prized by all; and this, though by Jesus, is direct from God Himself. It is not here, observe, merely the Father, but the Sent One of God, who is come from Him, who is the Blessed and only Potentate, the, etc.; the King Eternal, incorruptible, invisible, etc.; for the mystery of His Person is here peculiarly drawn out, that which indeed is beyond our reach, known only to the Father, but all whose excellency is the specialty of our blessing, for He testifieth as Man, saying, I have not refrained Myself, O Lord, and that Thou knowest, to men, even His brethren, yea, as under Him even the unbelieving, "that which he hath seen and heard" with His Father in the glory which He had with Him before the world was (compare Proverbs 8, where Christ is specially Wisdom, the Revealer). But it is as the Sent One, "He who comes," that He is thus the Revealer. Nevertheless in the testimony deposited in Him there was all fulness. Hence the important testimony which follows: "He whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God" (as He is as sent the accomplishment of all these words in that day, "in him Yea, and in him Amen, to the glory of God by us") "for," and here is His especial state, which you will again observe is as Christ, and not as God, "God giveth not the Spirit by measure."
38 All the Spirit's mind, the mind of Christ, the wisdom of God, is revealed now in the Scriptures, Jesus Christ being the great Key; for till He was glorified, and set in His place, it could not be so done, "for the Holy Ghost was not yet, for Jesus was not yet glorified," and God never gives the Spirit by measure. He gives it now. This could not be till Jesus was, because He was the One, the Man, in whom it was all to be, the appointed One, as He saith, "Behold my Servant, whom I have chosen, mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth: I will put my Spirit upon him; he shall shew forth," etc. Men of old were indeed moved by the Holy Ghost; the Spirit of Christ which was in them did testify beforehand of the sufferings of Christ, and the glory which should follow; but He, the Son, on whom it was to descend because He was the Son, the Man of God's good pleasure, and all fulness of blessing and of communion be restored between heaven and upon earth, was not as yet come, and the Spirit could not be given. The authority of Sonship did not exist, the title of inheritance did not exist, save abstractedly in Christ; the inheritance was not acquired; there was no man in heaven to whom the Father had given, no Son on earth sustaining the deposit which was witness of the glory to be believed. But when Jesus, the Man of God's love, appeared, then the Spirit was given, the Person of the Holy Ghost became, and not previously, the inhabitant of earth solely in Him, and circumscribed to His Person, because in Him all fulness was to dwell there, but shed abroad according to the glory of the inheritance as soon as He had ascended on high into the power, and it became conversant as the power, and in the weakness of man, as from Jesus exalted over all things. In this fulness Jesus spake on earth, for it was by the Spirit not given in measure He did and spake all things as from the Father; but on this we have not yet entered, for we have Him as yet merely sent of God and speaking (as a Man) the words simply of God, the Spirit not being given in measure by God.
39 Having come, then, to this great point, that God giveth not the Spirit by measure to His Son, we have another immense and hitherto unopened truth: "The Father" (for such Jesus manifested, being the Son whom God loved, proved by the Spirit given fully), "The Father loveth the Son." This is the blessed and glorious truth which shines upon and crowns the whole, the great crowning and all-comprehensive discovery in Christ, the essence of revelation; as one said indeed, "Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us." But He not only showeth us this, but that He loveth the Son, and this also through all the humiliation; and, further, we know by the Spirit He hath given all things into His hand; therefore "he that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son," not obeying Him to whom the Father hath given all things, "shall not see life, but the wrath" (not of the Father, there is no wrath there, not an atom, perfect fulness of blessing, of love; He is Father, always Father, and nothing but Father in love and perfectness, "the Father loves the Son" but) "of God." He is not recognised in the Son, nor is a son. The contrary is disobedience to Him whom the Father honours in the place of a Son, giving all things into His hand. He is not in the relationship of a son; he is not therefore before the Father, as it were; but besides, he actually disobeys Him on whom the Father has conferred, and in whom the Father claims, all honour. "The wrath of God abideth on him"; for whenever a sinner meets God, wrath must be on him, for he is by nature the child of wrath. God so loved that He gave His only begotten Son. Whoever therefore meets Him in Him meets perfect love, and finds God his Father. Nor is it right to say God is reconciled, for He meets the world in perfect love, in the activity of His own love towards them that are lost. But this is not dealt with by the sinner; nay, either he rejects the authority of Him in whom it is expressed, who speaketh the words of God, so the wrath of God, as of love and authority passed by, abides on him. What else can? for apeithon is not merely "believeth not," but it is the accumulation of evil in one act, is not subject, pisteuon. The Son is believed in as of the Father, and having all things given unto Him. He is disobeyed, or not believed, as speaking the words of God; for if He were seen to be the Son, and so believed in, the Father and His love would be seen also (for He indeed was a Man, and we also), and that is eternal life; and then as alive in Him we should receive the Spirit also.
40 Thus does this chapter, whether to Jew in earthly, or in the fulness of heavenly places, open out that which the Lord is in them in accomplishment, and what He was in humiliation even (nothing less in Person and purpose), with also the gift of the Spirit since He was manifested in the flesh, given (when given at all) without measure from God, whereby we know sonship and the Father.
Note, in the introductory chapters of John you have the two parts of the truth of the gospel, the revelation of all that the Lord is on earth, on to the millennium, and the necessity of a new nature in man to receive Him or know the kingdom. It is a revelation of God above dispensations, even if dispensations are to be introduced; and hence above what man is. Now, to apprehend and enter into them he must be of God, born of Him, to see and have part in them. But it goes a little further, though not speaking of heaven, or Christ's going there (for it ever takes up what is intrinsic), but of His being there. It presents eternal life, for in Christ was life. But to have that according to the knowledge of heavenly things which Christ has, the cleansing of the Cross must come in; that is, death to all here, all human associations, of course, all sin. He liveth in this life unto God, and in the Cross according to the absolute glorifying of God in reference to all that was here below contrary in any sense to His nature; not only He living, and is life, that we may live (and are born of the Spirit), but there is a dying to, a removing of, a glorifying God about, all that was of nature, so that we may thus live. He was divine life in the midst of the evil, and perfect there; but He must bring us, through dying, to it, into a new condition where we are not mixed with the evil; thus eternal life.
41 A few words on the beginning of John, suggested by a remark in . … that Christ is not sent in the beginning of John 1. I think that what Christ is is absolute. Personal place is from chapter 1:1, His divine place (man rejecting, or ignorant), and a new birth, through His incarnation, and full work for the end, and giving the Holy Ghost in the way; down to the end of verse 34; recognised Son of God in manhood by the sealing of the Holy Ghost. In verse 35 we begin the historical work of calling. This goes on, as within Israel, in three parts, to the end of chapter 2:22, but within the limits of Israel (the earthly part), save that resurrection in divine power in Him as God is given (chap. 2:18-22): John's ministry, Christ's ministry on earth, which goes on to the end, where the Christ of Psalm 2 is declared to be the Son of Man to whom angels are servants, and then the marriage and practical cleansing; but this in resurrection. Then in chapter 2:23 we come to the difference of outward testimony in Israel, and divine operation, and that a totally new thing and system was coming in; the old thing, or outward testimony, of no avail, gone, and the new thing announced; man wholly born again, anew; the Son of Man crucified, the Son of God given; eternal life; and on this ground, such in Israel would finally have the promises; but, as grace and power on God's part, it could go out to the Gentiles, and associated with heaven, through the cross; the moral condemnation of the world, where Christ had been as light.
What follows is (given to its proper object all through) John's testimony. They are brought together for the last time, the Lord Jesus returning to Jerusalem. His testimony had been brought in for each witness, so to speak. Chapter 1:6-8, we have John's account of Him in respect of the first part as to Christ; verses 1-13, again his character as to Christ come here; verse 15, which is a parenthesis; then verse 19, this as to incarnation and divine existence, His then place. This goes to verse 28, that as to His incarnate Person compared with John. In verse 29 we have another testimony of John, not to Pharisees, etc., but his own; only (v. 30) the same Person, referring to verse 15 (both to what is not received) But here, while identifying the Person, divine and human, the work is introduced, in all and its double effect, the removal of sin out of the world, and the giving of the Holy Ghost meanwhile, connected with His being anointed, and so manifested Son of God down here.
42 Now (chap. 3:27) John gives wholly place to Him; not alone personally, but that connected with the whole scope of the new estate in Christ. The Bride was His. This may be more connected with Israel, but is rather a general idea. John's ministry was, though greater than all, prophetic, and referring to earth. Christ, coming from heaven, was above all. Of that He testified, and no man received it; but receiving it was setting to one's seal that God was true. Yet it was as the Sent One; but the Spirit not given in measure. This was His testimony down here. God spake by Him with the Holy Ghost, and He revealed what was there whence He came. But, further, the Father loved the Son, and put all things into His hand, though a divine Person. Then all this was not a dispensation, but of real and absolute dealing in eternal life. He that believed on Him had everlasting life. He who refused to own the Son would not see life; the wrath of God abode on him.
This closes this prefatial presenting of Christ; for John was not yet cast into prison. In what follows He goes to pursue His own testimony to men, the world, amongst the poor of the flock.
In point of fact, John 3:5 answers to the work of Christ on the cross for us; only here in spiritual cleansing and life; there in judicial cleansing and righteousness. For Christ bore our sins, and put away the fruits of the old man as guilt; but in glorifying God perfectly, so as to obtain for us a title in righteousness in the glory of God. So here the water is the cleansing of all our thoughts, affections, habits, and the Spirit the making us partakers of the divine nature: what is born of the Spirit is spirit (compare Ezekiel 36), which is indeed inseparably connected with our acceptance in the Beloved, our new positive position, for it is in life; though not only so, but by the presence of the Holy Ghost we have that place.
43 We are quickened into the new place with Christ raised from the dead, He having in that work, which gave us a title to be in glory, by glorifying God, having put away our sins by bearing them, and going down to death. He hath quickened us together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses. We are in Christ, or in the Spirit (not in flesh). That is our new place. So we are born of the Spirit. We are cleansed, and forgiven all the fruits of the flesh, and we are born of water. There acceptance does not go beyond resurrection; for we are, or Christ in testimony is, then in the new accepted condition of man in righteousness, God having raised Him from the dead.
But then, in point of fact, the counsels of God had given us a place in glory, and Christ enters into that glory, not only as what, as Son, He had with the Father before the world was, but as having glorified God perfectly here below, and in a work done as answering for us, so as to bring us, according to and by the righteousness of God, into that glory. This is a wonderful truth, but it is God's righteousness, evidently and wholly Christ's work; only the question of righteousness simply is settled in resurrection; only the work which did it was such that in its full effect it could not stop there, but was sufficient, when it was God's counsel to do so, to give us a part with Christ in glory.
John 1 and 2 are complete in themselves. What Christ was (not relatively, however, but what He was) then what He became ("became flesh"); then His work and operation, Lamb of God, and baptiser with the Holy Ghost; and then John's gathering, where He is owned as Messiah and His gathering on earth (specially the Remnant in Israel); then the guileless Israelite known under the fig-tree; that is, in Israel, owning Him according to Psalm 2, and the Lord assuring him he should thenceforth see Him according to Psalm 8; that is, as Son of Man, with the highest creatures waiting on Him.
Then comes the marriage (of Israel), and the water of purification turned into the wine of festal joy (and the best) and judgment purifying God's temple, His Father's house; His death and resurrection being the warrant for these acts of authority. But this brings in, though before His public ministry (which, though in Israel, was not in Judaea), the whole new ground of what was coming in; reception by outward, just, human conclusion of no avail; subjectively, one must be born again; a new life, divine life, and so wholly new (anothen) even for the kingdom, to see or enter into it; and Messiah rejected, crucified, but as Son of Man bringing in eternal life by redemption, and heavenly things, association with what was heavenly; meeting man's necessity as Son of Man, and revealing God's love as Son of God given, and this for the world; the wind blowing where it listed; though, even for Israel's future, earthly, part in the blessings promised, in the kingdom.
44 The teacher of Israel might have known (from Ezekiel 36, for example), that this new state must be brought in. Eternal life is connected with the Cross, not with being born again; though it was the action of sovereign grace, and went out, where God pleased, as the wind. But men were perishing, and now received eternal life, salvation, through the Cross. He did not come into the world to judge it now, but to save it. But then came the responsibility and consequent judgment, which hung on the believing on Him or not. This was from light coming into the world, and men loving darkness rather than light. On the other hand, in the end we have the full blessing in Him by faith. He is above all, coming from heaven; tells what He has seen and heard, and no man receives this new kind of knowledge. So verse 11. But His words are God's words, the Spirit not being given by measure. Such His place on earth.
Further, as Son the Father loves Him, and has put all into His hand. He that believes on Him has everlasting life; he that does not shall not see life, but God's wrath abides on him. He is set up as God's testimony, with God's words from heaven, whence He came; and, besides that, as the loved Son the Father has put all things in His hand. Eternal life and wrath depend on His being believed in or the contrary. The responsibility is light come into the world, but the full character of what is involved in His presence (vv. 31-36).
Here we are far away beyond Judaism, even if the Bride be taken as Judaism; though it be a generic idea. With these prefatial chapters justly close. That they are such verse 24 shows. Chapter 4 begins the history of sovereign grace in a rejected Saviour: "Neither at this mountain, nor at Jerusalem."
45 These three chapters of John yet occupy me. First, the testimony of John. The first chapter is a whole. The second gives the two parts of millennial glory, at least their centres: the changing of water into wine at the nuptial feast; the refreshing (or, rather, purifying) of the Spirit into the joy of conviviality, and joy to which we abandon ourselves, the "wine that maketh glad the heart of God and man," drunk new in the kingdom; and the judicial cleansing by the Lord Christ of the earthly worship and house of God.
Then, as to the testimony of John, it is remarkable, though there is abundance to show that He was the Messiah, how little direct testimony there is to this effect. It is His Person, what He is between God and the world, and the glory of His Person, not His economic position, which is in question, though Israel be recognised. We shall see more of this hereafter, when the abstract glory of the Lord is given. The nature of John's person, the witness to the light that was come, is very distinct. He is properly the light itself, but there was a man sent from God; a man, sent from God; he bears witness of the light, that all might believe.
When the incarnation of the Word is introduced, then this John bears witness that He who came after him was before him; as Man, succeeds, but, as the Word, as God, was before him. When the Jewish enquiry is presented, then he is not the Christ, but sent before the Lord, according to the prophecies. Herein he says He whom Israel knew not amongst them came after, but was preferred before him. He was not worthy to unloose His shoe-latchets. In this last it is not pre-existence and subsequency, but excellency; entirely superior, though succeeding or coming after. This really was the place of testimony to Messiahship; but it is to the Lord. He is sent before the face of the Lord, and excellency beyond Comparison as to John himself, such as He was here.
Next we have testimony to the functions of Jesus as Saviour, and in the Church, connected with His Person and nature: Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world; a Man coming after, but preferred before, John, because He was before; that is, Man, excellency, and pre-existence; also Son of God; and, finally, baptiser with the Holy Ghost.
In present testimony, as object of faith and affection, He is Lamb of God. Here the testimony, marvellous in extent, ends; for Jesus Himself takes up the calling and the manifestation of Himself, as Son of God, King of Israel, and Son of Man on whom the angels ascend and descend. Accordingly hereon follows (as we have seen, chapter 2) the two parts of actual millennial glory in their objects and service, not in His Person; that is chapter 1.
46 Then, in chapters 2 and 3 we have the carnal reception of Jesus by Israel is rejected, and the necessity of Israel being born again to enjoy the promises stated; which introduced all, for a Gentile could be born again, being the exercise of divine power; and the earthly and heavenly parts of the kingdom, or testimony of Jesus, declared, and the rejection of Messiah; and the gift of the Son of God as regards the world, revealed as the basis of these things, specially the heavenly things not yet revealed. The condemnation (God acting in love) rests in this: that men hate the light, to which responsibility attaches itself, and to which here the testimony (of the Lord) returns.