by L M Grant.
This sublime Gospel presents the Lord Jesus in the beauty of His divine glory, God incarnate, come down in pure grace and truth, the Word, the very expression of all that God is, the perfect Communicator of the thoughts of God toward man. Here we find many names and titles of glory, of grace and of dignity which are His, whether by reason of who He is, or what He has done or is doing. The precious deep things of God must of course be expected here; and yet the beauty of the Gospel shines with a sweet simplicity that cannot but attract the admiration of even the youngest believer. In Christ is seen the brilliant manifestation of the eternal God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit, — so that as we proceed through this book, everything else, good as it may be, will be seen to pale into insignificance as do the stars before the resplendent rising sun. The burnt offering aspect of His sacrifice is predominant here, His devoting Himself utterly to the will of God, all that offering rising as a sweet savor, to delight the heart of His God and Father, and glorify Him eternally.
CHRIST THE LIVING WORD (vv. 1-5)
Revelation 19:13, speaking of the Lord Jesus, says, “His name is called the Word of God.” As such He had no beginning: in the beginning He was there. In person He is eternal. Yet also, He was with God, which shows Him to be a distinct person. Yet more than this, the Word was God:” He is a divine person. Then verse 2 is added to guard the fact that He was (and is) eternally distinct. In the eternal past, as in the eternal future, God is a blessed Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The Son then, as “the Word” is the pure expression of the thoughts of God, the blessed Revealer in person of all that God is. In verse 3 creation is ascribed to Him, He who has given everything being, and without whom nothing could exist. ”In Him was life.” Here is life in its pure, eternal essence, inherent in Him, as it is not in us. Indeed, He is the very Source of life, that strange, mystifying entity that defies all human investigation. Even natural life is a complete mystery to science: how much more so that eternal life so manifested on earth in the person of our Lord! That life in Him was the light of men. True knowledge and understanding is impossible apart from Him. This is of course spiritual light, another marvelous mystery, far greater than the mystery of natural light.
The light shining in the darkness, however, did not dispel the darkness around: indeed it is all the more brilliant because of this; yet people's darkened minds could perceive nothing of the reality and beauty of that light: rather they resisted it.
JOHN'S WITNESS TO THE LIGHT (vv. 6-13)
Verse 6 introduces John the Baptist, not mentioning his birth and early life at all, as does Luke's Gospel; but as “a man sent from God.” Divine sovereignty ordained John as the forerunner of the Lord, simply to bear witness of the Light, with the object of awakening faith in people's souls. People are not usually so blinded as to be unable to discern the fact that the sun is shining: we need no-one to tell us this. Yet mankind is in such spiritual darkness that he needs this witness as to the Son of God having come.
It is emphasized that John was not that Light, but only a witness of that Light (v. 8). For people are always ready to give mere man great honor and glory, while dishonoring the Lord of glory.
But Christ is “the true Light,” in infinitely pure contrast to all else that might be considered light, — He who, coming into the world, lightens every man. It is not that this necessarily enlightens their minds, but that Christ's advent sheds light upon His entire intelligent creation.
But though the Son of God has come into the world, His light radiantly beaming upon the creation He Himself had brought into being, yet “the world did not know Him.” Of course this is the world of intelligent beings, but insensate because of sin. Sad comment on the dreadful blinding power of evil over men's minds!
When coming into His own creation, His own did not receive Him, that is, of course, His own people, Israel. But Gentiles were the same: they too saw no beauty in Him, and were as guilty of His rejection and crucifixion as were Jews. Yet there were some happy exceptions, some who received Him, their hearts of course being prepared by God; and to those were given the right to become children of God. “Sons” is not the proper word here, but “children,” for it speaks of the actual filial relationship of those born into God's family. While John constantly speaks of Christ as “Son of God,” yet he speaks of believers always as “children,” not “sons.” Notice too that receiving Christ is synonymous with believing on His name. The context here manifestly implies reality in the belief. John 2:23 uses a similar expression, but the vital reality was evidently lacking, for it was miracles that attracted those people, not the person of the Son of God.
Where faith is real, there is new birth. This cannot be “of blood,” which is natural generation, no inheriting from parents therefore. “Nor of the will of the flesh,” that is, all human energy or work means nothing here, no matter how determined. “Nor of the will of man:” the faith or zeal or intercession of another person cannot accomplish this birth for the lost sinner. “But of God.” It is exclusively a divine work. Notice how these four connect with the four Gospels. “Of blood” would remind us of Matthew, Christ being of the royal line, but this did not make Him the life-giver. In Mark His diligent, faithful service did not communicate life. Or in Luke His perfect Manhood as Mediator between God and men, was not the source of life to mankind. “But of God.” So John's Gospel presents Him as God manifest, the one blessed Source of life to man.
THE WORD BECOMING FLESH (vv. 14-18)
Infinite grace has brought the Creator down, to become flesh in incarnation. This is a magnificent miracle, that He who, infinite in deity (having no limitations), has come in bodily form, in Humanity assuming such limitations as are proper to true manhood. To us this is a cause of wondering adoration. Nor was this anything like a fleeting apparition, come and gone, but He “dwelt among us,” — constantly among the common people, to be known and understood, manifest and accessible. Also, though in Manhood, yet the glory of His deity as the only begotten of the Father, was plainly seen by His disciples, “full of grace and truth.” Notice, grace is mentioned first, for it is this that brought Him here. Verse 15 is a parenthesis, speaking of the witness of John the Baptist to the fact that, though Christ came after him, yet He is in person before him, and therefore preferred before John.
This wonderful manifestation is contrasted to the law in verse 17. Moses gave the law, but it brought no blessing. Grace and truth have actually come in the person of the Lord Jesus. Law demanded truth, but did not bring it; and it could not possibly bring God's grace, or favor.
More than this: the greatness of God's glory is beyond human conception, and never was seen by human beings. Yet the only begotten Son has in this world declared God. For He Himself is in the bosom of the Father. Only begotten speaks, not of His being derived, but of His unique, eternal dignity with the Father from eternity past. He has always been in the bosom of the Father. Only One who is Himself eternally God could possibly declare the eternal God.
JOHN SIMPLY “A VOICE” (vv. 19-28)
The faithful witness of John is now recorded for us. John was of the priestly family, but sought no place in the temple worship at Jerusalem. He was baptizing rather on the other side of Jordan, with multitudes coming to him from all Judea. Of course the Jews could not ignore this strange and powerful witness, and they sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to question John. Without human credentials, with no authority from either Jews or Romans, no advertising, no public display, who is this man? But John briefly answers, “I am not the Christ.” He had no interest in talking about himself: what did it matter who he was? he was not the one Man of importance. Christ was the burden of his testimony, not himself.
They press him further as to whether he is Elijah (v. 21), no doubt with Malachi 4:5 in mind. “I am not” is his curt answer. If this seems contrary to the Lord's words in Matthew 11:4, the answer is that, though in a spiritual sense John was Elijah (that is, a prophet of similar spirit and power — Luke 1:17), yet the Jews had thoughts of a literal re-incarnation, which was not by any means true: John was not personally Elijah.
But they persist: “Are you the prophet?” They refer to Deuteronomy 18:15, the prophet spoken of by Moses, and who can be only the Messiah Himself, though the Jews did not discern this. John answers abruptly, “No.”
Finally, to their continual urging as to what he has to say about himself, John quotes Isaiah 40:3 in referring to himself as merely “the voice of one crying in the wilderness.” As to who this “one” may be, this is of no importance: it is his message that is important, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” Rather than speak of himself, he will draw attention back to the Lord.
But these questioning Pharisees cannot understand John's baptizing without better credentials, and they challenge his right to do this. He makes no effort to defend himself, but merely says he baptizes with water (a mere natural element); and turns attention back to his true witness as to Christ, One who stood among them, unknown to themselves, the lace of whose shoes John was not worthy to loose. Precious witness indeed! John is not turned from his purpose at all by Satan's cunning methods, and the interview ends. His single-heartedness in testimony is an example for every servant of Christ.
THE LAMB OF GOD ANNOUNCED (vv. 29-34)
Verse 29 introduces another day, as does verse 35 later, then verse 43. Each of these has details typical of succeeding dealings of God in grace. We have seen the day of John's testimony to Christ personally: now he presents Christ as the Lamb of God who bears away the sin of the world, and as the Son of God who baptizes with the Holy Ghost. Certainly verse 29 involves the blessed sacrifice of Calvary, the very basis for the eventual banishment of sin totally from this world. Note carefully it is not “the sins of the world,” but “sin,” that horrible root that has occasioned innumerable sins. It is only in a future day that this will be fulfilled. As to “sins,” however, only believers can say that He Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree (1 Pet. 2:24). Yet John's words are a clarion gospel message for the whole world: all who will honestly behold the Lamb of God will be eternally blessed.
But in spite of John's ringing witness, he himself says, “I did not know Him,” just as is said of the world in verse 10. He is not speaking of mere natural acquaintance, for their mothers were cousins, closely identified. but the glory of the person of Christ is infinitely higher than mere humanity: no-one can know the Son unless the Father reveals Him ( Matt. 16:15-17). Only by revelation could John discern the great glory of this divine person.
But Old Testament prophecy, as well as the Father's revelation, had made known to John that this Messiah would be manifest to Israel. This was the basis of John's baptizing, which involved putting Jews in the place of death in acknowledgement of their total ruin under law. Such was the only proper moral preparation, in view of the presence of the Lord of glory.
Though John's witness in verse 32 refers to the occasion of his baptizing the Lord Jesus, yet John does not mention this, but rather the great and marvelous fact of the Spirit descending and abiding on Christ; that is, in fact, God's own witness to His Son in His anointing Him with the Spirit of God. Again John says, “I did not know Him,” emphasizing the Father's revelation to him that this anointed One is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. Who can this be? Certainly no mere human! Indeed, one who dispenses the Holy Spirit to men must in person Himself be equal with the Holy Spirit. He must be God. So John bears decided witness, “this is the Son of God.”
Verses 29 to 34 therefore refer to Christ's presentation as the Lamb of sacrifice, involving His great work of redemption, and as Son of God, involving His mighty work of sending the Spirit following His return to heaven.
ANOTHER DAY: A COMPANY TO DWELL WITH HIM (vv. 35-42)
This section now has a typical application to the present day of grace, giving us some underlying principles that clearly relate to the truth of the church, the heavenly gathering.
John is simply standing at this time, along with two of his disciples, but his eyes are drawn irresistibly to the Lord Jesus as He walks. As he contemplates the person and walk of this blessed Man, the exclamation arises involuntarily from his lips, “Behold the Lamb of God!” The admiration of his heart for the Lord Jesus cannot possibly contain itself. For verse 37 evidently indicates that he was not actually addressing his disciples. Yet his words have vital effect upon them: they leave John to follow the Lord. Often we influence others most effectively when we are not trying to influence them; for they can discern whether or not our adoration of Christ is genuine. We may be sure that John did not regret having his disciples leave him, in order to follow his Master.
The Lord's question to them, “What do you seek?” draws a lovely response, “Rabbi, — where are You staying?” Their interest was not that of the crowd in John 6, who sought Him because of the loaves and fishes (v. 26). They are concerned about His own dwelling place. This is the true character of the church of God, having her inheritance with Him in glory. It is Himself they seek (Cf. Psalm 27:4).
There is no doubt then of the joy of His own heart in inviting them to “Come and see.” Where the Lord may have resided at this time, we have no indication, but it is more vital to us that this is typical of His eternal dwelling. They abode with Him only that day, but “we shall dwell with God's Beloved through God's eternal day.”
Andrew is now named as one of the two men. The other may very likely have been John, the evangelist, for he never names himself in writing this Gospel, though he delights to speak of the faith and devotion of others. Andrew gives his brother Simon a simple, straightforward message, which is effective in bringing Simon to the Lord. Andrew's visit with the Lord had left him no doubts that this was the Messiah of Israel. Here is another wonderful character of the church today, the privilege of bringing others to the Lord.
Simon is given a new name, Cephas (or in Greek Peter) defined as “a stone.” He is now the Lord's possession, and one of the “living stones” of which he himself writes (1 Pet. 2:5), for the church is Christ's special possession composed of living stones.
THE SYMBOLIC FUTURE GATHERING OF ISRAEL (vv. 43-51)
Verse 43 introduces another day, which is appropriately symbolical of the regathering of the godly in Israel in the latter days after the church has been raptured to the Lord's presence. Galilee reminds us of this godly remnant. In view of going forth there, the Lord Jesus calls Philip to follow Him. Notice, this was not so with the two disciples in verse 37: their following was spontaneous and voluntary. Now Philip is to accompany the Lord to Galilee, not to His dwelling. But we are told nevertheless that Philip was of the same city as Andrew and Peter. Just as the church of God began with a nucleus of godly Israelites, so of course will this be true of the restoration of Israel at the end of the tribulation: in either case they come from the same root.
Just as Andrew had found his brother, so Philip finds Nathanael, with the ardent desire to share with him the preciousness of knowing the Messiah, the One promised by Moses and the prophets. He does not hide the fact that Christ had come from Nazareth, a place commonly despised. For no doubt Nathanael's objection voiced the common prejudice of the Jews, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip was wiser than to argue the point, but is ready with the kind and practical invitation, “Come and see.”
It is this, a personal interview with the Lord, that will persuade any honest person. In fact, as Nathanael approaches Him, the Lord Jesus speaks striking words as to him. He already knew Nathanael as a true Israelite, having no guile. This of course does not mean without sin, but having a character of honest frankness in confessing his sins (cf. Psalm 32:2-5).
Nathanael is puzzled, but the Lord answers his question by telling him that He had previously seen him under the fig tree. The fig tree is symbolical of Israel, once in fact dried up from the roots, but yet to spring forth in resurrection power. Very likely Nathanael had this in mind, and under the fig tree was both feeling and confessing the shame of Israel's desolate condition before God. This was a proper preparation for the Messiah. Now here before Nathanael's eyes stood the very One to whom he had been confessing! How quickly all of his doubts are dispelled as to who this is who so speaks!
There is no hesitation in his firm, decided confession, which beautifully illustrates the awakened faith of the remnant of Israel in the last day. When feeling the shame of their condition before God, they will all the more be attracted to the blessed person of the Son of God, the King of Israel!
The Lord observes the fact that Nathanael believed apart from seeing outwardly great things, as in the future he would, but because of the Lord's own words revealing that He knew Nathanael's inner being. Having been morally prepared for the Messiah, the moral proof was all he needed.
With a double “verily” or “most assuredly” the Lord assures him that he will see a greater manifestation of His glory in a coming day, heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. This will be the fulfillment of Jacob's dream in Genesis 28:12, indicating as it does restored communication between heaven and earth, once interrupted by the corruption of sin; but Christ Himself being Mediator, in whom restoration is accomplished. His worldwide title, “Son of Man” is used, as embracing not only Israel, but all mankind. The angels of God will minister rejoicingly, but in subjection to the Son of Man, for that age will be in subjection to His authority, not to that of angels (Hebrews 2:5-9).
A MARRIAGE ON THE THIRD DAY (vv. 1-12)
Now we are told of a third day, and a marriage in Cana. This is typical of Israel's new relationship with their Messiah and the receiving of the joy of His miraculous blessing in the millennial age. His mother being present reminds us of His original natural relationship to Israel; and His disciples are those in spiritual relationship with Him. When wine (typical of joy) is lacking, His mother can tell Him of the fact, but can herself do nothing about it.
Verse 4 may seem to us strangely abrupt, but He must clearly disown a merely natural relationship as any basis of blessing, and wait for His “hour.” The time of man in the flesh proving himself comes first (that which is natural), and only in due time will the Lord manifest His own blessed ability and preeminence. His mother bows to His words, and instructs the servants to obey Him; for the spirit of subjection to Himself is the one condition in which to receive blessing.
Verse 6 would teach us that the forms of Judaism, though having purification as their object, were empty. The number six speaks of the limit of man's work as falling short of bringing any blessing. “Two or three” is the number of witness, indicating that the law itself bears witness to its own inability to produce the blessing man needs.
At the word of the Lord Jesus the water is introduced, the waterpots filled. The water itself is typical of the word of God. Yet only as Christ Himself is recognized as the living theme of that word, does it bring the pure blessing and joy that can fill empty hearts. He does what the law could not do.
The governor of the feast learns the value of the good wine before understanding its origin; but the servants who drew the water knew. Authorities in Israel, though impressed by the great joy and blessing of the millennial age, will not know so well the source, as do those who have true servant character of submission to the word of God, and who draw the water of the word by diligent study. Of course, this has present valuable lessons for us as to our being “servants” in actual practice, fully obeying the word of God, and thereby knowing in reality the power and grace of the Lord Jesus. The word becomes “wine,” stimulating and rejoicing the heart. Notice too that the wine is not merely called “the best wine,” but “the good wine,” for none other can in any measure compare with it.
Verse 11 notes that this was the first of His miracles, and not done at Jerusalem, the boasted center of Judaism, nor yet at Nazareth, where He had been brought up, but in Galilee, where a lowly remnant of Israel was attracted by His blessed person: in this lowly sphere His glory was manifested.
AT JERUSALEM CLEANSING THE TEMPLE (vv. 13-25)
From Cana He went to Capernaum, His mother and brethren being with Him, as well as His disciples, and stayed briefly there. It was here that Peter, Andrew, James and John lived (Mark 1:21-29). But as the Passover drew near He went up to Jerusalem. The Passover had been called in Leviticus 23:4-5 “a feast of Jehovah,” but it had degenerated into merely “the Passover of the Jews.” The holy character of the temple itself was desecrated by the greed of men. They may piously affirm that they had brought the oxen, sheep and doves there as a convenience for those desiring to offer sacrifices, and that money changing was for the convenience of those who had come from other countries; but the bald truth was that money-making was their object. The place for this was in the business markets. These creatures of sacrifice of course all really speak of Christ: the ox, of His devoted service toward God; the sheep, of His submission to God; the dove, of His purity before God. How revolting then that these should be sold for monetary profit!
The Lord does not hesitate in using a scourge to drive the oxen and sheep out, nor to pour out the change of the money-changers, nor to overturn their tables, and to command the sellers of doves to take them away. He claims His Father's house for His Father, where men's merchandising is to have no place.
Observe the moral and spiritual power here that finds no active opposition from the Jews. However bitter their resentment, they could not resist this honorable action on His Father's behalf. The quotation from Psalm 69:9 is at the time remembered by His disciples: for when that which was totally unbecoming to His Father's nature had dared to invade His Father's house, this could not but occasion a burning zeal in His soul. Let us take a solemn lesson from this as to what is becoming to God's house, the assembly of God, today.
Though unable to resist, the Jews question as to what credentials He had for doing such things. They cry for a sign, though they cannot deny the moral rightness of His action. But He will not satisfy this idle curiosity. The sign would be one (an infinitely powerful one) that they would not want. In their unbelief and hatred toward Him they would “destroy this temple,” but He would raise it up in three days.
They ignore His first words, as to their destroying the temple, but ridicule His raising it up in three days. He does not explain, but John does so for our benefit. Indeed His own body was the true temple of God, for God's glory had left the temple in the days of Ezekiel; but in Christ that glory dwelt in fullness. What a sign is the death and resurrection of Christ! Yet even this was blindly refused by the Jews. When it became fact, however, the disciples remembered His words, which then became deeply precious to them, confirming too the Old Testament scriptures. From that time we may be sure they searched the Old Testament much more ardently than they had ever done.
HIS OMNISCIENT WISDOM (vv. 23-25)
Verse 23 begins a new division of the book. At the feast of the Passover, a special day, when people were likely to be particularly influenced for the time, many believed in His name. But it was because of His miraculous signs. There is evident contrast here to the various people mentioned in Chapter 1, who were attached to the Lord Jesus because of what they saw in Him personally, their hearts drawn by the moral beauty of His own person, His truth, His grace. Or others later at Samaria, who told the woman, “Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world” (John 4:41-42). He had done no miracles there, but His word had penetrated their hearts: they believed Him, not simply believing certain things about Him.
But these who believed because of the miracles were not to be trusted. This type of faith is not vital, but such as that of rocky ground hearers (Matt. 13:20-21). They did not really know the Lord, but He knew them, and knowing their motives, did not trust them. This is certainly not merely human discernment, but His omniscience, as God, the Creator, who knows all men. He needed no witness from others as to any particular man: He knew what was in man. This is true of none but God, and many such expressions are found in the Gospel of John, to encourage our utter confidence in His divine knowledge.
NICODEMUS, AND NEW BIRTH (vv. 1-21)
Among the many who believed because of the miracles, there was however one individual who was more seriously affected. Nicodemus comes to the Lord by night, evidently apprehensive of the displeasure of his fellow Pharisees if they knew of his serious interest in the Lord Jesus. He confesses what was common knowledge (though the Pharisees were not willing to confess it), that Christ was a teacher come from God. The miracles had proven it, and since this was so, Nicodemus at least is impelled to hear what the Lord says.
The Lord's answer was no doubt to Nicodemus both abrupt and startling. Solemnly, earnestly, he is told in effect that man needs more than teaching: he needs to be born from above in order to see the kingdom of God. No doubt the Lord speaks of the kingdom to be established in the millennial earth, for which Israel was looking. It is a religious, orthodox Pharisee who is virtually told that his whole life is valueless in God's eyes: he needs a new life, one that is not corrupted by sin from its conception.
Nicodemus, as the Lord intended, feels his way totally blocked. “How can a man be born when he is old?” (v. 4). To him it is incomprehensible, for he knows himself that his question is ridiculous, as to one having a second birth from his natural mother. In fact, that corrupted source could only give the same corrupted life anyway.
The Lord answers this in a way that was still far from clear to Nicodemus, but intended to stir his soul to realize that this was something altogether beyond man's ability to accomplish, no matter how religious he might be. He must be born of water and of the Spirit in order to enter the kingdom of God (v. 5).
Natural birth is “of blood,” not “water:” “the life of the flesh is in the blood.” But as well as being by the Spirit of God, the new birth is “of water.” Certainly this is not mere natural water, but explained in Ephesians 5:26, where water symbolizes the word of God. Therefore we may say that the life of the Spirit is in the word (Compare John 5:24; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23). The word of God and the Spirit of God work in perfect concord in this marvelous miracle of new birth: it is absolutely a divine work, for no-one's will or work has anything to do with his birth: it is of God.
One descended from Adam can only receive from his parents the same nature: he is flesh. But this new nature is “spirit” because born of the Spirit of God. Only this is suitable for God, therefore it should be no marvel to Nicodemus that one “must be born again” (v. 7).
The Lord uses the wind as an illustration of this (v. 8). In fact, wind and spirit are the same Greek word, both invisible and powerful. Man does not control it: it blows as it will; its sound is heard, but where it originates and where it ends man does not know. The same mystery is attached to the working of the Spirit of God in new birth.
Nicodemus has no argument, but is puzzled, and questions, “How can these things be?” (v. 9). But if he believes God, should he not expect that there must be things higher than man's observation? More than this, he was a teacher of Israel, therefore, as the Lord implies, he ought to have known something of such things, for they were in the word of God. Ezekiel 36:24-28, referring to Israel being blessed in the coming kingdom, speaks of God's sovereign working in cleansing them with clean water, and giving them a new heart, putting His Spirit within them. Every teacher of Israel should have known this.
For the third time, in speaking to Nicodemus, the Lord Jesus uses the double affirmative, “Verily, verily,” or “most assuredly” (v. 11). How vital and crucial are His words therefore. He claims absolute knowledge of what He speaks, His testimony being of that which He “has seen.” But notice His using the plural “we” rather than “I”. The unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is involved in what He speaks, for the Trinity is united in this testimony (Compare John 12:50; John 14:10; John 16:13). How sad it is that man's heart is so darkened that he does not receive such witness.
The Lord speaks of having told Nicodemus “earthly things.” New birth was a matter necessary for the earthly kingdom in the millennium, as Old Testament prophecy itself witnessed. If Christ was not believed as to this, then how would He be believed if He told them heavenly things, for which there could be no other competent witness but Himself? Yet He had come to reveal heavenly things, things that are characteristic of the dispensation of the grace of God, in which saints are introduced into blessings that are eternal in the heavens, rather than connected with earth, even in its future renewed and prosperous state.
Verse 13 stresses the fact that there is no other competent witness to heavenly things. Though Enoch and Elijah had ascended to heaven, they were not available as witnesses: they had not come down from heaven, as had the Lord Jesus, the Son of Man. Shining through here also is the proof of the uniting of Godhead and Manhood in His blessed person, for even then, He was in heaven, fully acquainted with all that heaven held. (As to this verse there is another possible interpretation, that is, that it may be a parenthesis, not actually spoken by the Lord at the time, but inserted by the evangelist, who of course wrote long after Christ had ascended back to heaven.)
Verse 14 however was certainly spoken by the Lord , and evidently all that succeeds to the end of verse 21. He is not yet speaking of heavenly things (for Nicodemus was in no condition to receive these), but laying a basis from the Old Testament, which should speak to his heart. Moses lifted up the brazen serpent on a pole, in order that all Israelites who had been bitten by a serpent, when they simply looked, were given life rather than death (Num. 21:9). So the lifting up of the Son of Man on the cross would be the vital basis of eternal life being given to previously judged sinners who believed in Him. The Lord had already spoken of new birth: now He shows that the only basis of this is His own death: and that life given by new birth is eternal in contrast to natural, temporal life. Eternal life is just as applicable for the earthly, millennial kingdom as for heaven (Matt. 25:46). But in either case, man was a ruined, guilty sinner, and only the blessed death of the Son of Man on Calvary could remove this guilt, and therefore justify God in His giving eternal life. One would either perish or would have eternal life.
Nor does this apply only to Israel. “For God so loved the world.” This love is so marvelous that the beloved, only begotten Son of the Father was given by Him as a sacrifice for the sake of the whole world. Yet its value cannot be known by anyone who does not believe in Him: this applies only to “whoever believes on Him.” No-one (Jew or Gentile) is excluded except by his own unbelief. This is true as regards the kingdom of God: either one will be blessed in it by having eternal life, or he will perish in the tribulation, and for eternity. Of course it is also true as regards those who now have opportunity to receive Christ. Either they believe Him and have eternal life, or they shall perish eternally.
In these verses we see that as Son of God He was given: as Son of Man He was lifted up to die. God sent Him with the object of saving the world, not judging it, as He will when coming later in power and glory. Meanwhile, by virtue of His blessed sacrifice, salvation remains available for all the world.
If it is not received, the refuser is to blame for this, for the believer is not judged, while those who believe not are judged already. They are not on probation, as was Israel under law, for the coming of Christ has changed this. Law had proven man guilty: Christ has taken the place of the guilty under judgment at the cross. If one therefore receives Christ, he is saved: if he refuses Christ, he refuses salvation, and chooses to be himself left under the judgment he deserves. To refuse to believe in the name of the only begotten Son of God is both dreadful folly and grossly insulting to God.
The judgment (pure and righteous) is this, that light has come in the person of the Son of God, therefore unmistakable as clear, shining light, but people loved darkness, to which they were accustomed, and under which they preferred to hide their evil deeds.
One who loves darkness hates the light: he cannot endure simple, candid truth, for this would expose the evil of his works, just as one's eyes can hardly endure bright light after being long in darkness.
But if one has nothing to hide, then he does not fear the light. No doubt Nathanael illustrates this in John 1:47-48. Having “no guile,” no deceitful covering up of evil, he could come with confidence to the Lord Jesus. Certainly in coming to Him, one finds himself manifested as he really is, and honesty does not object to this: the person's deeds are wrought in God, that is, as subject to God.
This ends the Lord's words to Nicodemus, who no doubt found these things worked more and more into his soul before we read of him again in John 7:50.
THE OVERLAPPING OF JOHN'S BAPTISM AND THAT OF CHRIST (vv.. 22-36)
Between verses 21 and 22 some time has evidently elapsed, during which the Lord and His disciples had left Judea. Now returning there, they remain some time, baptizing, though it was not He, but His disciples, who did the baptizing (John 4:2). This baptism must have been of the same character as that of John, that is, “unto repentance,” for it could not be our present Christian baptism, which is unto Christ's death (Rom. 6:3). This is the only record of the disciples baptizing before Pentecost, though it is said in John 4:1 that more were baptized by them than by John. At this time John was still baptizing, though his ministry was short-lived before his being imprisoned.
It is interesting that the question raised in verse 25 between disciples of John and the Jews, concerning, purifying, is not directly answered. No doubt the Jews connected baptism with purifying, for cleansing is certainly implied in it. But this outward cleansing is only symbolical of the need of a deeper, spiritual cleansing. There is no doubt that John knew this. But instead of speaking to him directly about this, they inform him that the Lord Jesus had been baptizing, with many coming to Him. No doubt John's answer does take care of the purifying question too, for it points to the One who alone could accomplish purification in vital reality for people's souls. John's ministry was designed by God to be unfinished, for John consistently turned attention away from himself to the only One who could possibly accomplish the ends that mankind deeply needed. John was simply a witness to Him, and his lowly steadfastness in maintaining this is a salutary example for us.
The Jews in coming to John apparently expected their report to incite some jealous rivalry in the prophet. But John faithfully tells them that “a man” (whether John or anyone else) “can receive nothing except it be given him from heaven.” God had sent John for a purpose: all he needed was to fulfill that purpose, not to be envious of another because of the other's work, which was clearly given by God. This was specially so in regard to Him who is the eternal Son of God. Had not John told them plainly that he himself was not the Christ, but was sent before Him? Is he to be envious of the One to whom he bears witness, whose glory is so great? No indeed: Christ is the true Bridegroom of Israel. Not that she was His bride as yet, nor is she even now; but John's words are prophetic of the bride (Israel) as restored to God in the coming millennial age. Christ has title to her complete allegiance, not John. But John was the friend of the Bridegroom, glad to attentively stand and hear Him, John was not to be of the bride, for we know he was martyred, and has a place in heaven: he is neither of the heavenly bride, the church, nor of Israel, the earthly bride, but of a distinct company. However, only the sound of the Bridegroom's voice rejoiced his heart, so that his joy was complete. He is certainly not envious of his Lord, nor of the bride either: the contemplation of Christ and the sound of His voice is to him fullest satisfaction.
But more: “He must increase.” The Lord Jesus had come in lowliest circumstances: therefore His greatness must be more and more manifested. Now also His voluntary sacrifice has been a marvelous basis for the increase of His glory even today, His name known in every nation; and yet to be known in fullness of glory when all shall bow at His feet. In view of this, John is glad to decrease.
Christ had come from above: He was above all. John, and all the children of Adam, were of earth, and could only bear witness from that viewpoint. Christ, from above all, witnessed of what He had seen and heard; and though crowds may have flocked to Him, His testimony was generally not received (cf. John 6:66). But one who did receive His testimony was thereby affixing his seal to the fact that God is true: he had committed himself to this stand of confidence in Him.
For it was the words of God that Christ had spoken. Faith alone recognized Him as sent from God, for the Spirit of God dwelt in fullness within Him. It was no longer a limited measure of the Spirit's operation, as seen in the Old Testament partial revelations of God's glory, but God fully revealed in His Son, in the full demonstration of the power of the Spirit. More than this, the fullness of the Father's love for the Son is seen in His giving all things into His hand. The Son can be trusted with the disposition of all creation. The unity of the Father and Son is absolute and infinite, so that the Son is the perfect representation of the Father.
One must therefore believe on the Son: there is no knowing the Father apart from this, and in believing he has eternal life. This is a vital, personal belief in the Son personally. On the other hand, one who is not subject to the Son shall not see life. Therefore, one has either eternal life, or no life at all. The awful alternative to life is the wrath of God abiding on the unbeliever. This certainly shows us what God thinks of His Son, and on the other hand, what are His thoughts toward those who refuse His Son.
A SAMARITAN WOMAN GIVEN THE WATER OF LIFE (vv. 1-26)
The Lord now leaves Judea because He knew the Pharisees' thoughts as to His baptizing more disciples than John. Not that the Lord Himself did the baptizing: this was left to His disciples: they could bury the dead, whereas He is the life-giver. No doubt the Pharisees would, in malicious ignorance, contend that He and John were rivals: the Lord would leave them no excuse for evil contentions.
He goes to Galilee. Observe here a dispensational picture. Galilee is the place of the despised Jewish remnant, in contrast to the proud claims of Judean orthodoxy. Rejected by Judea, He leaves them to their desolate house, and goes toward Galilee, in view of the restoration of a godly remnant of Israel for blessing in the millennium. On the way He goes through Samaria, and here there is wonderful grace to a sinful woman, the lovely revealing of the gift of the living Spirit of God, and of worship to the Father. Thus the dispensation of grace intervenes before He comes in blessing to restored Israel (Galilee). The woman (whatever mixture of Jewish blood may have been among the Samaritans) had no claim to Jewish privileges, though she knew of the Messiah. At this time many of the Samaritans believed, so that He remained there two days (possibly picturing the two thousand years of the dispensation of grace).
The parcel of ground in verse 5 is referred to in Joshua 24:32, Joseph's burying place purchased by his father Jacob. Joseph's death is typical of that of the Lord Jesus, which is the very basis of the water of life being given to guilty sinners. Jacob's well, a source of living refreshment, is in the same location. Here the Lord, being wearied from His journey (indicating the reality of His Manhood), reclined on the well.
A woman of Samaria comes alone to the well, for it was not the usual time for women to draw water, and she was likely not welcome among others. She is surprised that this solitary Stranger, manifestly Jewish, should ask her for a drink, for she had expected Him to totally ignore her, as Jews did generally. How little she knew His heart of infinite grace! Does not the Lord of glory seek refreshment from all His intelligent creatures? His answer to her puzzled question is lovely. If only she knew God as the giving God He is, and if she knew who was speaking to her in such gentle grace, she would have asked of Him the answer to the need of her lonely, thirsty soul, and He would have given her living water.
Still, her thoughts rise no higher than the well. How could He draw water without rope and container? Or was He greater than Jacob, to accomplish this in some unheard-of way? Did not Jacob use the same means as she? Also, was he not dependent upon the water of the well, and his children also, and his animals?
But the Lord does not tell her how much greater than Jacob He is: He knows rather how to lead her to find this out for herself. He then tells her what she herself knew, that, though drinking of the water of the well, she would thirst again; and from this He proceeds to tell her what she had never heard, that if she would drink of the water that He freely gave, she would never thirst again forever, that water being a well within the receiver, springing up into everlasting life.
Today we are privileged to understand that this living water is the Spirit of God in living reality working in the soul, to give a refreshment and satisfaction unknown except by His divine power (cf. John 7:37-39). The fullness of this was not to be known until the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), but the woman is encouraged in this blessed direction.
She does not yet understand, but her heart is awakened, and evidently also a genuine confidence in this unusual Stranger, so that she does just what He had suggested to her: she asked for this living water. She was indeed a thirsting soul, and weary of her very existence, weary of coming to draw water.
However, it is not only her heart that must be reached. This having been done, now the Lord gently and wisely probes her conscience, telling her to call her husband. To this she replies that she has no husband. But He does not allow her to slip out of her responsibility by these words. He simply and pointedly lays bare her whole past. He knows she had had five husbands, and was now living with a man who was not her husband. How devastating an exposure! Yet He says no more: He does not condemn her.
How deeply she is affected only He Himself knows; but she does not excuse or defend herself: the light has manifested her, and her words acknowledge it: she perceived that He was a prophet, therefore that He was speaking for God. This turns her thoughts to the solemn question of her relationship with God. However, she does not mention God, for her conscience is not at peace with Him, and rather than speak of her own needs, she speaks of her fathers' traditional worship, in opposition to the Jews' worship at Jerusalem. How formidable such barriers seemed to both Samaritans and Jews! The place of worship was to them so vital that they forgot the Object of worship!
With a few pointed words the Lord Jesus discards all that is mere religious prejudice. Gently but firmly He asks her to believe Him: the hour was coming that neither in Jerusalem nor in Mt. Gerizim would the Father be worshiped. Certainly this prophecy has been fulfilled in all the history of the present dispensation.
Yet He will not by any means excuse the unholy worship of the Samaritans: they worshiped because religiously minded, with no sense of having to do with a living God, and no realization of a serious need of salvation. Jews knew what they worshiped, for God had set His name at Jerusalem, and they generally had some conscience toward God, which involved the acknowledgement that salvation was a dire necessity that would come only through Judah, for the Messiah must come from Judah.
Though verse 21 has not yet been fulfilled, yet verse 23 says that not only was the hour coming, but it had already arrived, when the true worshipers should worship the Father in spirit and in truth. This was true because the Lord Jesus had come, the One who fully reveals the Father, and through whom the Father was seeking worshipers. In Christ the formal worship of the law is done away: indeed such “carnal ordinances” could never satisfy the Father's heart. Worship “in spirit” is in contrast to fleshly worship, for it issues from the inner springs of one's being. Certainly worship must be “in spirit” if it is to be “in truth,” for one might worship formally who has no heart in the matter at all, which is pretense rather than truth. But the Father's presenting His own Son before the eyes of mankind was the means of drawing out worship in spirit and in truth on the part of some at least.
To show the perfect suitableness of this, the Lord appeals to the fact that God is a Spirit. Since this is the essence of His being (not material at all), it surely follows that material forms of worship are nothing to Him: it is the spiritual reality that counts. Worship of the Father must be in spirit and in truth. Wonderful is the fact that the Son has revealed this.
These words of the Lord Jesus have very real effect upon the woman's heart. No longer does she speak merely of the well, or even of worship. When the Father personally is presented to her, then she is ready to speak of the Messiah, the Christ, He who was promised as coming. She knew He was the One who could answer every question as to God. However feebly she realizes it, yet she really voluntarily confesses that it is Him she needs.
Then the simple, marvelous answer is given her, “I who speak to you am He” (v. 26). What a revelation to her burdened heart! She needed nothing more.
THE HARVEST READY FOR REAPING (vv. 27-38)
The wisdom of God ordered that the Lord's disciples should arrive back just at this time, and the woman is left with nothing more than to consider the wonder of the Lord's simple words. The disciples do not understand the Lord's speaking to a Samaritan woman, but they dare not criticize either Him or her. How could they?
She has forgotten the water from the well. She leaves her waterpot and returns to the city, yet with a heart so affected that she must share this astonishing revelation with others, in this case the men. Nor is it a matter of merely telling them what she had heard, but of urging them to come and see Him, One who had opened her whole past history to her. Of course they would know that this could be no flattering exposure; and they would certainly be impressed that a true exposure should have such an effect on her that she was drawn to the Man who made it, rather than repelled. It is little wonder they came to Him. Of course, He had not told her every detail of her past, but He had said enough that she knew that her whole heart and life was laid bare before His eyes.
While she is gone, however, in answer to His disciples' urging Him to eat, the Lord speaks of having food to eat that was unknown to them. Surely His heart was full at the thought of the poor, sinful woman having found the answer to the crying need of her soul. They do not understand this, and He tells them that His doing of the Father's will was His real food, that which truly satisfied His appetite. The power of a spiritual joy often far transcends the cravings of natural appetite; and there is nothing like the joy of doing the Father's will. The Lord adds also, “and to finish His work.” This lowly service of His would continue until its culmination in the atoning death of the cross. Only He could speak in this way.
But He nevertheless uses the occasion to stir and encourage His disciples to the diligence of labor in His harvest. They may speak of harvest being four months away, and no doubt the great harvest of the coming kingdom can only come in God's time; but for those who have eyes to see, the fields were white already to harvest (v. 35); thirsty souls were ready for the water of the word of God, and needed only to be found. So the Lord encourages His disciples in such work. Yet none of them seemed ready to respond, even after the Spirit of God had come at Pentecost; and Philip, a Hellenist (not an apostle), with a fervent gospel heart, goes to Samaria first to reap a bountiful harvest (Acts 8).
But the one who reaps will gain by it, in fact gathering fruit in view of the life that is eternal, in contrast to mere natural gain (v. 36). Then when the reaping is done, both sower and reaper have cause to rejoice together. For the sowing is done generally long before the reaping, and in regard to the word of God planted in souls, it is very commonly done by a different worker than the reaper (v. 37).
The sower may be a diligent worker, yet waiting long for results. Then the reaper may find wonderful results, not realizing how much labor has been expended by others before he ever arrived on the scene. Others had labored and he reaps the benefit of their labors (v. 38). But both may rejoice together, for it is God who gives the increase. How good it is if we value such unity in the work of the Lord.
We do not know who might have sown the word in the hearts of the men of Sychar before this time; but many believed on the Lord Jesus because of the testimony of the woman. The Lord began a mighty harvest, but gave to her the privilege of entering into the labor of reaping. How lovely an encouragement for one who had been in such shameful debasement!
These Samaritans were a contrast to the men of Gadara, who, because of the great grace of the Lord Jesus, besought Him to leave them (Mark 5:17). The Samaritans rather besought Him to remain, which He did for two days (v. 40). We should consider well here that it was not because of His miracles that they were attracted to Him, but because of His word, first His words to the woman, to which she bore witness, then His own direct word to them. No doubt this two days is symbolical of the present age of grace to sinners of every class, Jews and Gentiles. “And many more believed because of His own word” (v. 41). The fruit of His word becomes abundant indeed. More than this, they tell the woman that, though her testimony had first influenced them, yet it was hearing Him themselves that was the real cause of their faith, faith that He is the Christ, the Savior of the world, not only of Israel (v. 42).
IN GALILEE: THE NOBLEMAN'S SON HEALED (vv. 43-54)
Verse 43 records the Lord's going on to Galilee, not to Nazareth, but Cana. Galilee is connected with the remnant of Israel, rather than Israel in her first estate, of which Judah would speak. So after the blessing of the church in this present age, the Lord Jesus will appear to the godly in Israel at the end of the tribulation, and will be received (as the Galileans received Him) on the basis of what He had before done at Jerusalem. Then will Israel realize the infinite value of His blessed sacrifice long before accomplished for them at Jerusalem.
Yet again we see what is so characteristic of Israel. The ruler from Capernaum, whose son was sick, is most importunate that Christ should come and heal him (v. 47). The Lord laments the man's slowness of heart to believe apart from signs and wonders. There had been none of these in Samaria. Yet in answer to the man's urgent plea, rather than go down, the Lord tells him that his son is healed (v. 50). The answer is above all that he had asked or thought. So indeed the grievous wound of the nation Israel will be healed in the coming day, in spite of the slowness of their faith.
But the ruler did believe the Lord's word, and returning had his faith confirmed before reaching home (v. 51). No doubt the servants were on their way to tell him there was no longer any need for the Lord to come, since the boy was well. When he found the fever had left the boy just at the time the Lord had spoken, then no question could remain: both he and his whole house believed (v. 53).
The turning of water into wine at Cana was the Lord's “beginning miracles:” now this case is said to be His second miracle in Galilee. The first shows the ministry of divine grace supplying living, precious joy in Israel in contrast to the empty formalism of their whole existence up to the time of the manifestation of the Lord Jesus, as will be so clear in the future day of His being revealed. The second shows the effects of that blessed grace in connection with the nation itself, virtually reduced to a state of death, and given new life.
AGAIN IN JERUSALEM: THE POOL OF BETHESDA (vv. 1-15)
Once more we find the Lord Jesus visiting Jerusalem, and as in John 2:13 the feast is called “the Jews' Passover” rather than the Passover of Jehovah, so here “a feast of the Jews” is the occasion of His visit. The feasts (or “set times”) instituted in Leviticus 23 were really for Jehovah's pleasure in His people; but these had degenerated into merely occasions for the Jews' pleasure.
The pool of Bethesda (meaning “house of mercy”) by the sheepgate would remind us that though God is indeed a God of mercy, and the water (the word of God) does have healing power, yet under law the availability of this was practically nil. This was true in spite of the nearness of the sheep gate, which typifies the entrance of the sheep (the people of God) into the city. The five porches adjacent to the pool would speak of the responsibility which, under law, man had assumed (v. 2). But rather than producing active work and blessing, they were filled with impotent people. The responsibility imposed by law only found mankind helpless and without strength.
It is of course strangely unusual that an angel would once in a year trouble the pool in order that the first person then in the pool would be healed of whatever disease he had. How pathetic a sight is the great crowd waiting for blessing that could come only to one individual! Why could not all be healed? This would be no problem to God. But God intended this as a pertinent witness to the Jews to the fact that under law man was really in a blind, crippled, dried up state, unable to help himself. Though there was a possible glimmer of hope for one who was well enough to get quickly into the water, yet there was absolutely no gospel to the helpless. Also this exposed the true motives of mankind under law. Each was there because of his own selfish desire to be first. Law told him to love his neighbor as himself, but this really only manifested the fact that he did not do so. Which of them would be thankful that his neighbor had gotten the blessing? Notice too that an angel is used here, which implies that man is at a distance from God, as could only be the case under law.
John 6:1-13 is in beautiful contrast to this. There the blessed Son of God Himself provides abundant blessing for every soul, and more, so that all may be fed as much as they desire. This is grace.
When the Lord Jesus came among these sadly afflicted people, we read of none imploring His mercy in healing them: all apparently have their eyes elsewhere, though the hope of blessing under law is forlorn at best. The one man to whom the Lord speaks (though for 38 years infirm) only thinks of the troubled pool when he is asked if he desires to be healed, and of the fact that there is no-one to help him (vv. 6-7). How slow are men's hearts to trust the blessed Lord of glory!
But the Lord did not merely help him: He speaks the word, and totally heals him; so that he immediately takes up his bed and walks in response to that powerful word (v. 9). Observe however that in spite of a crowd being present, the amazing miracle seems to have passed unnoticed; and no mention is made of any other healings. Evidently all eyes were on the pool, and the Lord of glory was ignored. So indeed do people so occupy themselves with law-keeping, which can never bring blessing, that they have no eyes for Him who is alone able to bless, and just as willing as able.
Though they have no eyes for the Lord, the Jews do take notice of a man carrying his bed on the sabbath day. When their criticism of him draws out the information that he has been healed on the sabbath, this awakens even deeper animosity against the healer (vv. 10-12). But sadly the man had not sufficient interest in his benefactor to even inquire who He was. How painfully in contrast is this negative attitude of the crowd, the Jews and the man himself, to the positive, wonderful blessing the Lord had brought to him!
The man further proves that he has not been born again in spite of his physical healing. The Lord's words to him in the temple (v. 14) indicate this too. There was no need to tell the Samaritan woman to sin no more, for her heart had been reached, but since the man is still in a negative condition of unbelief, the Lord speaks negatively to him, warning that further sin may issue in worse results. It is still the principle of law, for the man understands nothing more, in spite of grace having been shown him.
Besides this, he is more willing to ally himself with the Jews than with the Lord Jesus, for he goes directly to them to report Him as the One who had healed him (v. 15). What callous ingratitude, one would say: but so it is with one whose heart is not affected by the grace of God. Was he not immediately virtually inviting a worse thing to happen to him? This is in striking contrast to the man in John 9, who was healed of his blindness and took a clear decided stand for Christ (John 9:17, 27).
EQUAL HONOR TO THE FATHER AND THE SON (vv. 16-23)
The Jews turn their attention from the man whom they had accused before, and both persecute and plot to kill the Lord Jesus, because He had healed on the sabbath (v. 16). How blind religious prejudice can be!
His answer to them is pointed and plain: “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working” (v. 17). This was no mere servile work, with the object of selfish gain. But God's rest (of Genesis 2:2) had been broken through man's sin, and throughout the Old Testament He had worked unceasingly in seeking the restoration of the guilty: now Christ Himself, the Son of the Father, was doing the same work of seeking to reach men's souls in grace. This was certainly not the kind of work the law forbad.
But the Jews are the more incensed against Him in murderous anger because they knew that His claim of Sonship with the Father involves His equality with God (v. 17). Some who dare to profess Christianity today will deny this blessed fact, but the Lord does not deny it. Indeed, His following words emphasize and establish it unmistakably. How absolute is His double affirmative: “Verily, verily” or “most assuredly” (v. 19). What the Son was doing was in perfect co-ordination with the Father: it was impossible, because of His very nature, for Him to do anything independently of His Father. There can be no stronger claim of His equality and unity with the Father. What the Father was doing the Son also was doing. Those who resisted the word of the Son were resisting the Father.
In the same sense in which Christ spoke, He is exclusively the Son, He who is the prime object of the Father's love; and in the perfect complacency of that love, the Father has shown Him everything that He Himself does. Even greater works still the Father would show Him for the wondering admiration of His creatures. Consider His great work of redemption, resurrection, His giving of the Spirit and the building of His church, with those brought from among all nations, to form one body.
But the Lord speaks particularly of one greater work, that of His raising up the dead and quickening them (v. 21). The Jews accepted the doctrine of an eventual resurrection by the power of God, but in like manner the Son affirms that He Himself quickens (or makes alive) whom He will. Then this also goes on to the question of judgment. In fact, the Father has committed all judgment to the Son. Quickening is bringing life out of death, and is absolutely the prerogative of God: the Son therefore is God. Judgment too is the prerogative of “the Judge of all the earth.” Yet as the Father He does not judge at all. The Son has in fact been manifested, and has manifested God, so that it will not do for men to object that God is unknowable, and therefore that He would be unfair to judge men. The Son has been here, to be seen of men: He has been known, and rejected. Their Judge therefore will be One whom they have consciously rejected, the One who is Himself the living God.
This divine power seen in His raising and quickening the dead, and divine authority in His judging, are an absolute demand that all men should honor the Son in the same measure that they honor the Father (v. 23). Some may claim to honor the Father while refusing the Son, but it is a false claim: their dishonoring the Son is dishonoring the Father, who sent the Son as His own exact representation.
THE SON HOLDING THE ISSUES OF LIFE AND JUDGMENT (vv. 24-30)
In verse 24 is another emphatic and insistent “most assuredly.” The word the Lord Jesus speaks has in it the full authority of God, spoken in fullest unity with the Father who has sent Him. Therefore one who honestly hears His word and believes in the Father as having sent Him, is assured of now having eternal life. Marvelous, wonderful certainty! More than this, lest there should be any misunderstanding of so magnificent a declaration, the Lord adds that, as to the future, all is perfectly settled. Such a person is quickened rather than under judgment: He will never come into judgment at all, but is already passed out of death into life.
For the third time the Lord Jesus pressed the importance of His words, “Verily, verily,” (or “most assuredly”) I say to you.” “The hour is coming” intimates that which is true of the present dispensation of grace. “And now is” shows that the presence of the Lord Jesus Himself introduced this. Yet it remains just as true, though now He has returned to glory. The dead hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear live. One might object that a dead person cannot hear; but the power of that voice can penetrate where natural means are powerless. When one truly hears there is life immediately given. This is quickening immediately into eternal life, as verse 24 intimates. There is no intermediate condition: it is either death or life, a life that is eternal, a character of life far higher than what is natural, for it is the same wondrous life that is the Father and in the Son, as verse 26 implies.
This verse shows that in incarnation the Son was perfectly dependent on the Father. The Father, having life in Himself, has given to the Son, in incarnation, the same prerogative, “life in Himself.” This is intrinsic life, for He Himself is God manifest in flesh.
The Father has given Him authority also to execute judgment because He is the Son of Man. As such He has been made known to mankind, has entered into and known their circumstances, has proven His own blessed subjection to proper authority, so that no possible excuse is left for men to object that He is not fully qualified to execute judgment. Verses 28 and 29 enforce the solemn reality of the issues of life and of judgment being in His hand. As to this he bids them not to marvel, for the literally dead, those in their graves (in contrast to the spiritually dead in v. 25), will eventually, when the hour comes, hear His voice. That voice will awaken all the dead, and all will come forth from their graves. Not that all will rise at the same time, for He immediately speaks of two resurrections, that of life and that of judgment. In fact, the first is a full thousand years before the second. Compare Revelation 20:4-5, where the resurrection of martyrs is seen to be the completion of the first resurrection. The main part of this is when the Lord Jesus comes for His saints before the great tribulation.
Again He emphasizes the fact that it is impossible for Him to do anything independently of the will of the Father. Though He Himself gives life, and He Himself is Judge, yet both of these are in total co-ordination with the the Father: His ear was open always to the Father's counsel. He discerned and judged every matter as He heard from the Father, who knows perfectly every involvement. He Himself, as Man on earth, sought only the will of the Father: therefore His judgment is just.
A FOURFOLD WITNESS vv. 31-47
The Lord has spoken marvelous things, unheard of before this time. However, He did not ask the Jews to depend on His own witness of Himself: if this were so, it could not claim to be true (that is, in the sense of being valid). But another bore witness of Him, a witness of absolute truth. This cannot refer to John the Baptist, for the Lord puts John's witness on a much lower level in verses 34 and 35. It is the Father's witness of which He speaks, both in the works the Father had given Him to finish, and in the Father's spoken word (v. 37).
Not that the Lord rejected John's witness, for it was true, but it was only what John had heard, therefore not first-hand witness. John had not known Him in eternity past: mere man's witness could not establish the eternal glory of the Son of God. Yet God had sent John in order that his witness might turn people to the Lord Jesus that they might be saved. There was no doubt of John's fervent reality and burning zeal, or of the clear, shining light of his testimony. It did have effect on great numbers, and the Jews generally at first rejoiced in this bright, prophetic witness. No doubt with many the novelty of it wore off, for they were not willing, in true repentance, to turn in heart to the Lord Jesus.
But the works the Lord Jesus did were clear, divine witness, for these were what the Father had shown Him, including the healing of the impotent man on the sabbath, works of compassionate goodness to His creatures. How contrary to this was the callous attitude of the Jews! In all of His works He was doing the will of the Father, a powerful witness indeed that the Father had sent Him.
But also the Father Himself had borne witness of Him. Crowds were present at John's baptism, and when John baptized the Lord Jesus, there was a visible sign of the Spirit's descending upon Him as a dove, and the audible voice of the Father declaring, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I have found my delight” (Matt. 3:17). That voice certainly was heard; yet the Jews in hearing did not hear: they had no heart to hear in reality of faith. Nor had they seen His shape, for the only true revelation of the Father is in the Son.
The Jews here, in opposition to the Lord, proved that the word of God had no dwelling-place in their hearts, by the fact of their refusing to believe the Son, whom the Father had sent. They did search the scriptures, but not as honestly seeking the mind of God: rather only because they wanted eternal life apart from genuine subjection to God. But those scriptures were full of testimony to Christ Himself, and this they blindly ignored or refused. Their wills were set against coming to Christ Thus men may know a great deal about the truth of the Bible, while being utter strangers to the word of God.
THE WITNESS INEFFECTIVE BECAUSE OF MAN'S PRIDE
From verse 41 to 47 the Lord exposes the root of the whole matter as being man's pride in desiring the recognition of men, with no real sense of being under the eye of God. As to Himself personally, He did not receive honor from men: the approbation of His Father was His one real delight. But His divine omniscience shines through in verse 42, that is, His knowledge of their inmost souls as being destitute of the love of God. Compare this with John 12:43, those loving the praise of men more than the praise of God. For when God's love is really known, His honor is first and foremost.
This was true of Christ Himself: He honored His Father: He came in His Father's name; but the Jews would not receive Him. Another will eventually come who honors himself, exalting his own name, and Israel will receive him (v. 43) This is the antichrist of 2 Thessalonians 2:3-10, a man who will exude the pride of the flesh. How could the Jews believe the meek and lowly Son of God, so long as they clung to the same pride as that of antichrist, desiring honor from mere creatures? God's approval — the honor that comes only from Him — was foreign to them.
Yet the Lord Jesus had not come as their adversary, to accuse them. Their actual accuser was Moses (v. 45), of whom they claimed to be disciples (cf. John 9:28). Of course Moses was the lawgiver, and the very law that he gave was their condemnation, of which fact they were blindly insensible. But Moses wrote of Christ, in many ways, in type and prophetically, as the true and full answer to Israel's needs. Certainly then, if they had really believed Moses, they would believe Christ, just as if they believed the Father, they would believe Him. Moses' writings and Christ's words were perfectly concordant: therefore they did not believe Christ's words because they had not actually believed Moses' writings (v. 47).
FEEDING THE FIVE THOUSAND
The setting here is no longer Jerusalem, but Galilee, and the contrast to the
beginning of John 5 is striking. For here grace shines out beautifully, available for all, the miracle of the loaves and fishes being a sign to illustrate the gospel of free grace. But the sea of Galilee is called also Tiberias, named for the Roman Emperor, a reminder of Israel's humbling captivity and subjection to Rome. Great crowds follow Him, but not because they are concerned about His words. Curiosity as to His miracles seems to be the motive (v. 2).
Though going up into a mountain to be with His disciples apart, yet He is followed there by the crowds. The higher level here teaches us that grace comes from above: it is heavenly in character. The reference to the nearness of the Passover also surely intimates that the blessings of grace are the result of that of which the Passover speaks, the matchless sacrifice of Christ. Yet to the Jews it had merely become their feast.
The Lord raises the question with Philip as to where to buy bread for the need of the crowd. It is a question to exercise not only Philip, but everyone. Where is there sufficient grace to meet the crying need of all mankind? But Philip fails the test: his faith did not simply depend on the greatness of his Lord, as it ought. He does not even consider “where” to buy, but only sees the poverty of their finances in this matter (v. 7).
However, Andrew mentions a lad who had evidently already shown himself willing to give his lunch for the need of others (vv. 8-9). he had apparently not worried (as Philip and Andrew had) about how little this was. Certainly the Lord could have miraculously brought food into existence, without the need of the boy's lunch, but grace is illustrated here in the way it can use the smallest willing sacrifice of affection for Him in multiplied blessing. The five barley loaves (no doubt small rolls) speak of Christ as the bread of life in lowly humiliation and suffering. The two small fishes remind us of His passing through the waters of judgment for our sake.
To receive the blessing all are reduced to a common level and a state of inaction: they sit down, or recline (v. 10). Neither man's outstanding prominence nor his work has any place here. But the dependence of the Lord Jesus upon the Father is seen in His giving thanks, and from this point the provision is multiplied abundantly, as He distributes to the crowd (v. 11). Though other Gospels speak of the disciples' part in this distribution, in John the emphasis is on His own work. Nor was there any rationing: all could receive as much as they desired. There is no limit: we may have as much of Christ as we want.
When all were filled, there was to be no waste of what remained (v. 12) What we may not appropriate of Christ, God does appreciate. But also, is there not a hint here of blessing still reserved for all twelve tribes of Israel in a future day? The twelve baskets remaining may well speak of this.
NOT ACCEPTING MEN'S ADULATION, YET IN PERFECT CONTROL
Though the miracle was a sign of infinitely greater spiritual blessing, people saw only the aspect of material benefit, and were greatly impressed so as to acknowledge Him as Israel's promised prophet, the Messiah (v. 14). Sadly, this did not produce heart-submission to Him, but rather the partisan zeal to have such a king to liberate them from Caesar, and cater to the selfish pride of Israel. They were even prepared to use force to make Him a king. But knowing this, He left and went into a mountain alone (v. 15). His kingdom is not of this world, and He seeks the higher level of communion with the Father, above the world's confusion.
For His great miracle had not brought peace to a troubled world, nor was it intended to do so. This is illustrated in the evening, when the disciples began the return journey across the sea of Galilee. The stormy sea is a picture of the world's unrest that will in fact only increase in the dark hours of the tribulation period. Could He not restrain the wind and the sea from such agitation? Certainly, but He did not do so until the morally appropriate time. Yet He walked on the sea when it was raging, the Lord of glory in perfect control of all the elements (v. 19). The disciples needed this manifestation, for in seeing Him they were afraid, rather than simply adoring Him. They must learn in experience that He is truly Lord of all.
Though He will indeed reign as King eventually, yet now is the time for us to learn in the midst of adverse trial and need the moral and spiritual power of His authority. Israel will learn this in the tribulation. But it is necessary preparation for reigning with Him. When He is received into the boat the journey is ended (v. 21).
THE BREAD COME DOWN FROM HEAVEN
There were those who had seen the Lord's miracle of the multiplying of the loaves and fishes who were puzzled by the fact that the disciples had left by boat to return to Capernaum, without having the Lord with them; and yet that the Lord was not be be found on the east side of the sea. Other boats had come to the vicinity, but none others had evidently gone in the other direction (vv. 22-23). Yet they went to find Him, and they too come to Capernaum, where indeed He is found. No doubt their question as to when He had come also involved that of how He had come. But He ignores this completely, and solemnly, doubly affirms that they sought Him really because of natural advantage, the filling of their stomachs, not even because of the wonder of the miracles (v. 26). They had no heart for Him personally: why should He satisfy their mere curiosity?
They were willing to expend their energy for the food that perishes, but with no serious thought of the significance of the Lord's miracle, which of course indicated His blessed sufficiency to satisfy the eternal needs of their souls, giving the food that endures to eternal life. It is not that man's labor secures this food, for it is freely given by the Son of Man; but if people were just as earnest in seeking that their spiritual needs be met as they are in seeking their natural food, they would find Christ ready to freely give to them according to their need. Was the Son of Man qualified to do this? Absolutely! for “God the Father has set His seal on Him” (v. 27). He is true Man, God's chosen Man, sealed by the Spirit of God at His baptism, the only Mediator between God and men.
But the people were insensible to this, and instead talk about their own doings (v. 28). No doubt they would desire the ability the Lord had to multiply the loaves and fishes, and imagined they could “do” something to acquire such power, “to work the works of God.”
He assures them that the work of God as applied to them was that they believe in Him whom God had sent (v. 29). Any true working of God in people's hearts would draw them in faith to the Lord Jesus personally.
But His questioners were bent on deceit, and tell Him in effect that they might believe if He will show them a sign that will satisfy them. They ill conceal their hint at desiring a repetition of the multiplying of the loaves and fishes, or even an enlargement upon this, when they suggest that Moses supplied Israel with manna in the wilderness (v. 31). Has His one great sign not been enough to persuade them of the truth of His words? Indeed, it was not persuading they wanted, but material blessing.
He would not cater to their mere selfishness. Again, with a double “verily”, or “most assuredly,” He insists that Moses was not the giver of the manna; but the same God who gave the manna was His Father, who now had given the true Bread from heaven. The manna was corruptible: it was therefore not “the true bread.” The bread of God is the living person who has come down from heaven (v. 33), the giver of life; therefore One who had life in Himself, eternal and incorruptible. This involves the absolute necessity that He is God manifest in flesh, and the life He gives is available for the world, not only for Israel.
Yet such unusual, vital words beget no real faith in these people, though they ask, “Lord, give us this bread always” (v. 34). It was not Himself they wanted, but what He might give them. Could He not continually multiply the loaves and fishes for their satisfaction? They are only confirming the truth of what He said in verse 26: they cannot at all conceal their earthly mindedness.
Plainly therefore He declares that He Himself is the Bread of life: in trusting Him, one will never hunger, coming to Him, one will never thirst: in Him every eternal need is met (v. 35). Yet, though He Himself is the Bread of life, able to fully satisfy the need of every hungry and thirsty heart, He sadly tells the Jews that they also had seen Him (which of course involves His works of power and grace and every exterior quality that proved His great glory), yet they disbelieved. They saw no beauty in Him personally. Dense indeed is the darkness of mere materialism!
On the other hand, what lovely comfort is in verse 37. The Father was dealing in sovereign grace and wisdom, to reveal to some at least the glory of His Son, and all the Father gave to Him would come to Him. Nor would even one of these be ever turned away. How positive and absolute this is! If some are refused because of unbelief, yet not one child of faith can ever be cast out. Wonderful it is to be the Father's gift to His Son! How could the Son ever refuse a gift from His Father?
For He had come down from heaven to do the Father's will, not merely His own will, as though independent of the Father. He would therefore accomplish that for which the Father had sent Him, and in perfect accord with His Father's thoughts.
Now He declares the Father's will to be that the Son Himself should not lose one of those whom the Father had given Him. Death itself could not interfere with this, for He is superior to death, as John 5:26-29 has taught us. He will raise up every believer at the last day (v. 39). In Christ's death and resurrection the believer reads the certainty of his own eternal blessing: nothing can possibly defeat this.
In verse 40 the absolute certainty of this is further emphasized, for He wants no believer to remain doubtful. The Father who sent Him had the express intention of communicating eternal life to every person whose eyes were opened to see Christ as the Son of the Father, and therefore trusting Him. The Son Himself at the last day would raise up every such believer (v. 40).
THE JEWS' CONTENTION AGAINST HIS WORDS (vv. 41-50)
After such words that should have awakened interest and concern, the questioning of the Jews turns to murmuring. They resisted His claim to be the Bread sent down from heaven (v. 41). People want what He can give, but they do not want Him personally. They think of Him as merely Joseph's son: their eyes can see nothing more that what is natural, despite every spiritual evidence of His glory. But though their murmuring was among themselves, the Lord reproved it, an evidence in itself of His divine omniscience. He goes further, to declare the impossibility of one coming to Him apart from the drawing of the Father (v. 44). This refers to the Father's working by the Spirit to exercise people as regards their need of Christ. For human beings will never, of their own voluntary will, seek the Lord: the movement to produce this must be the work of God. Indeed, the Gospel itself comes from God: it is He Himself who sends the message of entreaty by His servants: it is He who produces by grace a response in hearts. All mankind needs to be reminded of this, that they may learn to depend, not on their own wisdom or ability, but on the grace of God. Notice that those spoken of three times as being raised up at the last day are those who (1) are given by the Father; (2) believe on the Son; and (3) are drawn by the Father (vv. 37, 40, 44).
The Lord quotes Isaiah 54:13, that all shall be taught of God. It is a prophecy of Israel's millennial blessing, and then linked with their newly awakened faith in the Lord Jesus. Meanwhile it is just as true that everyone whom the Father has taught will come to the Son. But the word “all” cannot be applied today as in the millennium, as the Lord says in verse 46: only those who are of God had seen the Father: others were yet in darkness.
The Lord then has clearly drawn the line between those who are of God and those who are not. Of the former He confirms with strongest authority that these who believe in Him have everlasting life (v. 47). This is not to be challenged, for He Himself is the Bread of life, the source of the sustenance of that life. Since He who sustains the life is eternal, the life also is eternal.
This was not true of the manna in the wilderness: it sustained only the natural, temporal life, which ended in death: what more would the loaves and fishes do? But one eating of the Bread which came down from heaven would not die. Of course the Lord is not speaking of natural death, but receiving Christ Himself gives spiritual life, which is not affected by death at all. For He is the living Bread, come from a higher sphere than earth, where death prevails. One who eats of this Bread will live forever (v. 51). Then He adds that the Bread of which He speaks is His flesh, to be given for the life of the world. For He could not die apart from having a body of flesh and blood. Eating this bread therefore is a spiritual appropriation by faith of the value of the death of the Lord Jesus on our behalf.
The Lord speaks in this way because of the fact that the Jews had been blindly materialistic in their attitude. He seeks to show them that there is something higher than mere natural understanding. Still, they will not even consider a deeper meaning than appears on the surface: they quarrel among themselves (v. 52) as though He was merely speaking literally, which could not possibly be the case.
He answers their objections with another double affirmative, insisting that, apart from their eating His flesh and drinking His blood, they have no life in them (v. 53). On the other hand, he who ate His flesh and drank His blood had eternal life. It is one or the other, no life at all, or eternal life. Of course, it is spiritual life of which He speaks. He is certainly not referring to the Lord's supper, as some people imagine, as though outwardly partaking of the bread and the cup would give eternal life, and that those who did not do so would have no life! For notice that this was true at the time the Lord spoke, before the Lord's supper was ever observed, and He had not yet died. The only basis of eternal life for mankind in all ages is the death of the Lord Jesus. The faith that believed God was actually faith in Him who would yet be the sacrifice for our sins. Faith therefore anticipated the cross, though no-one understood the truth of the cross at this time. Yet, though the Jews did not understand the force of the Lord's words, if they had faith they would give Him credit for knowing more than they, and would bow to His superior wisdom. Then for the fourth time He uses the expression, “I will raise him up at the last day.” This itself should have arrested the attention of every hearer, for this is work that God only can do. But one must have a vital identification with the death of the Son of Man. At this very time the faith of every true disciple involved this, little as he understood it.
Verse 55 further presses the value of His flesh and of His blood. Both His incarnation (as God manifest in flesh) and His death are involved in this. To believe Him as the Son of Man come from God and sacrificing Himself in the death of the cross, is to eat of His flesh and drink of His blood. Every such believer “dwells” in the Son and the Son in him; that is, He is our abiding place, and He abides in us also permanently. Marvelous, living reality! This is the truth of the offerer sharing in eating the peace offering, along with God Himself and Christ, the Priest; though the literal drinking of blood, as to any offering, was forbidden. For blood is the natural life. By nature we have forfeited this totally, but by grace we are given eternal, spiritual life, so that it is spiritually that Christ's flesh and blood are partaken of.
Verse 51 has spoken of Christ as “the living Bread.” Now we read of “the living Father” having sent Him (v. 57). In the Father, life in its pure, sublime essence is inherent from eternity to eternity; and by reason of what the Father is, so Christ lived. His essential, vital unity with the Father is involved here. Therefore he who eats of Him, the living Bread, lives by Him. This life is communicated and sustained by Him.
In verse 58 the Lord concludes this subject of great importance. It is this Bread of a heavenly origin that people need, not merely that which feeds their bodies for the time being, as did the manna; for death soon intervened. But this Bread gives life to the eater. Of course, just as the Bread is of an infinitely higher order than natural bread, so the life is infinitely higher than natural life: it is eternal, which involves both its duration and its character.
DISCIPLES TESTED AND SIFTED (vv. 60-71)
We are reminded that He spoke these things in Capernaum, in Galilee (not in Jerusalem), away from the headquarters of formalism. Yet even here many of those who had followed as disciples murmured against His words: they thought this too hard to accept (v. 60). But it was a test as to whether they had faith in Him personally or whether they followed for selfish reasons. True faith would say that, whether I understand or not, the Lord's wisdom is higher than mine.
Again His divine omniscience is evident in His answering this covert murmuring. Did they not realize His greatness and wisdom as manifest in this very fact? But spiritual blindness is unreasonable. He speaks firmly, “Does this offend you?” Certainly only unbelief could be stumbled by the word of the Son of God.
However, this same blessed Son of Man, who had come down from heaven, would yet ascend up to heaven (v. 62). Would this make any difference in their thoughts? Would they refuse One so manifestly come from God, and who would return to God, just because their rationalizing minds did not understand everything He said. But man in the flesh will not be subject to the unseen power of the Spirit of God. He prefers his own pride. Yet it is the Spirit who quickens, that is, gives life out of a dead state. We have before read of the Father and the Son quickening (John 5:21). This work is totally divine, a work in which the Trinity is always engaged in perfect unity. But here the unseen, living power of the Spirit is emphasized. Perfectly linked with this are the words of the Lord Jesus: those words “are spirit, and they are life” (v. 63). This is in contrast to human, materialistic thoughts, and on a higher level. He had used the material illustrations of bread, flesh and blood as having spiritual significance. Those who had no desire for spirituality were thereby exposed. As He now says, there were some who disbelieved: they would not receive His testimony. Again His omniscience shines out: He had known from the beginning who they were who believed not, and who would betray Him. So He reaffirms His declaration that it is impossible for one to come to Him apart from the grace of the Father. (v. 65).
His words are certainly intended to cause a searching and sifting, to reveal who is really His and who is not. From that time many of His disciples drew away from Him. How totally in contrast to the smooth words of religious misleaders is this pure faithfulness of the Lord of glory! He sought no mere followers, but only those true in heart, those who were the gift of the Father to Himself.
When these many disciples turned back to walk no more with Him, then He addresses the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” (v. 67). For it is an attracting and popular thing to follow the crowd, and we shall all at some time be faced with the fact that to follow Christ is not popular. How good then is the firm decision of Peter's answer, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” Material things (loaves and fishes) were not his object: he must have a living person to sustain the need of his soul. Who else could substitute for the Son of the living God? He knew that the words of the Lord Jesus were those of eternal life, however feebly he may have understood all those words. There could be no possible question that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel, the Christ, and Son of the living God. Faith could see this with absolute clarity.
But Peter spoke for others beside himself: he had said “we.” So the Lord Jesus solemnly tells them that, though He had chosen twelve apostles, yet one of them was a demon (v. 70). Even the Lord's searching words had not caused Judas to leave Him. This shows the blinding power of Satan's delusion in the man's soul. Of course, Judas was gaining materially by theft from the disciples' fund (John 12:6). and he brazenly continued this deceitful course of greed in spite of many other occasions of the Lord's searching words, which Judas should have known applied directly to him. Only at the end was he revealed for what he was. Sad, pitiable case of one yielding willingly to Satan!
HIS BROTHERS UNBELIEVING (vv. 1-9)
The Lord continued for a time in Galilee. He would not then return to Judea because of the Jews' murderous intentions. This was certainly not fear, but sober, lowly wisdom that sought only the will of the Father. He would not unduly enflame the antagonism of the Jews, just as He had told the disciples that, if they were persecuted in one city, to flee to another. He would however be present in Jerusalem at the proper time for the sacrificing of Himself, as God had ordained. Meanwhile, He would avoid that which would hinder the prospering of the ministry of the word of God.
Again “the Jews' feast” is referred to, rather than the “feast of Jehovah,” and this time it is that of tabernacles, that which is prophetic of the blessing of the millennium for Israel. His brothers (His mother's children — Ps. 69:8), who did not believe in Him, urged Him to go to Jerusalem in order to show Himself to the world (v. 3-4). They did not understand His doing miraculous works in a lowly, quiet way, with no advertising of Himself. This was no usual attitude of men, for man's pride seeks followers for himself. Those who are in the flesh do not understand the things of the Spirit of God. He answers them that His time had not yet come (for He was dependent always on the Father), but for them the time of their activity was of no importance: they were not believers, and hence did not depend on the leading of God. The world could not hate them, because they were “of the world” (cf. John 15:19); but because of His true testimony against it, the world hated Him (v. 7). If one is to face the evil of the world it is imperative that he have the guidance of the Father in reality and truth. This was His undeviating practice.
HIS DOCTRINE ALTOGETHER FROM GOD (vv. 10-24)
However, after His brothers had gone to the feast, He later went also, yet in no way as drawing attention to Himself, but “as it were in secret.” This was the Father's leading, of course, for the truth must be proclaimed at the feast to those were thirsty, but with no fanfare.
The Jews were looking for the Lord, expecting to see Him at the feast. The people were stirred also, in conflict as to His person, though all fearful to speak openly of Him because knowing the leaders' hatred against Him (vv. 12-13). But He did not begin to teach until about the middle of the feast, after people had had time to find that the Jews' feast had nothing in it to satisfy the need of souls. Without Him, all was empty. When He began to speak, the Jews marveled. Though they had plotted to kill Him, His words could not but impress them, and specially since He had not learned in their schools (v. 15).
But His teaching was neither from man, nor His own independent conception: it was from the Father who had sent Him. This He insists on, and adds that anyone who was willing to do God's will would know that His teaching was from God (v. 17). This is the vital key in relation to understanding the things of God. Mere human intellect is powerless here: the matter of vital importance is a genuine desire to do the will of God, which in fact is impossible if one is not born again. The purpose of heart to obey what one learns is the real secret of learning in the things of God. Christ, though Himself the Son of God, did not speak as from Himself, nor seek glory merely for Himself. He sought fully and earnestly the bringing of people to God the Father. He was true: it was God's glory He sought, not His own: there was no unrighteousness in Him (v. 18). How great a contrast to those to whom He spoke!
As to righteousness, Moses had given them the standard of law by which to live. Yet none of them kept it, He declares. Indeed, if they were righteous, why were they plotting His death? (v. 19). This very attitude against Him exposed their actual refusal of the law of Moses. His words however serve to prove more fully their hatred toward Him; for, because He had discerned their subterfuge, they accuse Him of having a demon. They will use every artifice in order to slip out of responsibility for their own deceit.
Now the Lord (v. 21) refers back to His miracle of John 5:8-9, a work that caused all the Jews to marvel. He reminds them that Moses, the lawgiver, had confirmed that which was introduced in the days of Abraham (Gen. 17:9-12), that is, the rite of circumcision required for every male in Israel. This surgery was in many cases rightly performed on the sabbath day: otherwise the law of Moses would be broken. The Jews were careful about this; but when Christ, in pure grace, healed on the Sabbath day, they were angry to the point of plotting His death (v. 23)! Certainly circumcision required actual physical work, which in fact was not the case in the Lord's healing mercy. How could the Jews possibly justify their objection to such goodness?
Their objection therefore involved a premature judgment based on how the matter at first sight appeared to them; and once they had taken this unreasonable and unjust stand, their own pride would not allow them to admit their error. Such is religious prejudice! Righteous judgment would have weighed the matter honestly. Notice too that the Lord had given them time to consider the seriousness of their wrong, before He faced them in this way.
THE PEOPLE QUESTION, IS HE REALLY THE CHRIST? (vv. 25-31)
Some of those of Jerusalem, marking the boldness of His words, And knowing the rulers desired to kill Him, are puzzled that nothing is done to stop Him or to apprehend Him. They might well question then as to whether the rulers themselves were actually aware that He was in truth the Messiah, and for this reason were fearful to carry out their murderous intentions.
Verse 27 shows the sad ignorance of the people, however, having imbibed the false notion that the Christ would appear from no known source whatever. This was mystical nonsense, for their own scriptures spoke of His coming from Bethlehem and being born of a virgin of the line of David (Micah 5:2; Isa. 7:14; 2 Sam. 7:12-26). But mysticism is attractive to mere religious sentiment.
The Lord did not let this pass, but cried out in the temple that they knew Him, and knew He was born of Mary. The evidence was clear that He had come of the line of David, and in fact at His birth it was made known abroad by the shepherds that He was “a Savior, Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:17). If people ignored this, they were themselves to blame. But He had not come in an independent, self-exalting way: the Father had sent Him, to whom He bore witness that He is true. The sad fact however was that they did not know the Father. But He knew whereof He testified, for He was from the Father and sent by Him (v. 29). The first involves His very nature, the second His commission.
The rulers cannot endure such searching words of truth, and seek means by which to apprehend Him. But God is His Protector: no man could lay hands on Him until the appointed hour. Many of the common people however had sufficient discernment to realize that He must be the Messiah, for His miracles alone were a convincing proof of this (v. 31).
ORDERS GIVEN FOR HIS ARREST (vv. 32-36)
Of course it was reported to the Pharisees that the people were saying such things, and they were alarmed sufficiently to send Jewish soldiers to apprehend Him (v. 32). But His hour had not come, and they can do nothing but listen, as He speaks words that have such effect as to make them both unable and unwilling to arrest Him.
He tells them He will remain with them yet a little while: meanwhile He cannot be killed. Then He would go to Him who sent Him. He would return to the Father at the God-appointed time. Then they would seek Him and not find Him. Being unbelieving, they could not follow Him to His Father's house (v. 33). So today Israel may seek their Messiah, yet blind to the fact that He is at the right hand of God.
The Jews can think of nothing else than His going to a different earthly location, perhaps to those Jews dispersed among the Gentiles (vv. 35-36). But it is among themselves they question this: there is no serious exercise to honestly and humbly ask Him more as to this matter. They know nothing of the direct simplicity of faith that would find from Him the answers to their questions.
HIS PROMISE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT (vv. 37-39)
The last day of the feast arrives. How well the Lord Jesus knew that there were many left unsatisfied by all the forms and ritual of their religious feast. What indeed can their feast provide without Him? He cried out for all to hear, “If anyone thirsts let him come to Me and drink” (v. 37). This was no mere teaching of religious doctrines: what they needed was the person of the Son of God, for in Him only is spiritual thirst satisfied. Absolutely no-one else in the universe could speak in this way: no popular religious leader would think of such a thing, unless thoroughly demented. Such men pride themselves on their ability to impress people with their subtle doctrines, but they know there is nothing in themselves personally to satisfy people's hearts. More than this, the Lord declares that one who believes in Him (not just believes His doctrine) would have living waters flow out from his inward parts (v. 38). John 3:5 has spoken of the water in connection with the Spirit of God quenching one's thirst. John 4:14 speaks of the water as a well, springing up, causing worship; now John 7 tells of its flowing out toward others, the power of the Spirit in testimony.
Verse 39 explains that, as to rivers of living water flowing forth, the Lord was speaking of the Spirit of God in His people, when all believers, after the coming of the Spirit of God in Acts, would be indwelt by Him. It was of course first necessary that Christ should suffer and die, and be raised and glorified before this marvelous blessing could come to His saints. Such rivers of water we see flow out in all the book of Acts. Peter, Stephen, Philip, Paul, and many others were so blessed, and became a blessing to others.
ANOTHER DIVISION AMONG THE PEOPLE (vv. 40-43)
Honesty on the part of the people could not refrain from expressing the conviction that this must be the true Prophet of God, the Messiah. How could any serious-minded person escape this? But others sought arguments to evade it. Because He had recently come from Nazareth in Galilee, they did not care to enquire as to where He had been born. Certainly scripture had spoken of His coming from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), and of the seed of David; but both were perfectly true of Him. Why did they not have concern enough to find out? Their ignorance therefore issues
in a division among the people because of Him. In chapter 9:16 we see a division because of His works: in John 10:19 a division because of His words.
PHARISEES FRUSTRATED AND ANGRY (vv. 44-52)
Some of the officers who had been sent to arrest Him were still desirous of doing so, but did not: they were powerless before God's time. They returned to the Pharisees with a most reasonable excuse for not arresting Him: “No man ever spoke like this Man” (v. 46). Certainly the Pharisees themselves could not have taken Him in the face of such words as He had spoken. But they express the fear that the soldiers are deceived, as they also consider the people to be. What of the Pharisees and rulers, those who were the sublime examples of the nation? Had any of them believed on Christ? Why did the soldiers and the people not follow the example of the Pharisees? They pronounce the people as under a curse because not knowing the law (v. 49). But the law had not cursed those who did not know it: it cursed those who did not keep it.
However, from their own ranks a voice speaks out. Nicodemus was both a Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews (John 3:1), and he appeals to the law they spoke of: “Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?” (v. 51). He himself had taken time to listen to the Lord (John 3:1-21), and all he asks for is a fair consideration, as indeed law requires. He does not here even take sides with the Lord Jesus, but he calls for righteous judgment. Later, in chapter 19:3, he does fully and plainly identify himself with Christ, after His crucifixion.
But they dismiss his words with the prejudice of unrighteous judgment, suggesting that he too must come from Galilee, and giving advice that they had not themselves followed, or if they had, were guilty of brazen falsehood in saying that no prophet arises out of Galilee (v. 52). Jonah was of Gath-hepher in Galilee (2 Kings 14:25), and Elijah, though living in Gilead, was a Tishbite (1 Kings 16:1), likely from Tishbeth in Galilee. More than this, if they had searched and looked, they would have known that Christ had been born in Bethlehem of Judea, not in Galilee, but in perfect consistency with all the prophecies concerning the Messiah in their own scriptures. However, if their loud, confident tone outwardly won the day, one wonders what thoughts honest men had when they went to their own homes, and if some perhaps were stirred sufficiently to search and look.
A WOMAN CAUGHT IN ADULTERY (vv. 1-11)
While others went to their homes, the Lord spent the night in the mount of Olives, away from all the words and thoughts of men, in the calm of His Father's presence. Nor does He leave Jerusalem after the feast, but comes early in the morning to teach the people. Scribes and Pharisees have been divinely thwarted in their efforts to kill Him, and again they resort to subterfuge.
Bringing a woman whom they say has been caught in the act of adultery, they want Him to pronounce either His agreement or disagreement with the law of Moses (vv. 3-5). In either case they were prepared to accuse Him. But since they were the rulers, why did they not judge the case themselves without reference to Him? Moreover the law had said that not only the woman, but the man also was to be put to death for such sin (Deut. 22:22). Where was the man? In such cases men considered that the woman's guilt was greater than the man's and the Pharisees were willing to forget him!
All of this the Lord does not mention, but stooped down and with his finger wrote on the ground (v. 6). Of all present, only He would humble Himself at the thought of sin in another. Yet it is the same finger that wrote the ten commandments, and it seems clear that the Lord's finger confirmed the pure justice of the law. Christ had not come to destroy the law. Yet neither had he come to condemn sinners, but to save sinners. In ignorance they continue to press Him for an answer. When He, standing erect, speaks for the first time, it is with words for which they were totally unprepared, and which cut like a knife into their hardened hearts: “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (v. 7). Of course He was not speaking as a judge, for He had not come as a judge, nor was the place a court of law. He spoke in grace and truth, He who deals with the needs of souls in matchless grace, yet in no degree sacrificing righteousness.
For the second time He stooped down and wrote on the ground (v. 8). Does this not teach us that, if the sentence of law was against her, it was also against them, for the law did not condemn only exposed cases of adultery, but sin of every kind. Where then did they stand? Yet, even in writing the sentence against them the blessed Lord of glory humbled Himself!
They had no standing whatever. Convicted in their consciences, they silently leave, beginning with the eldest. How revealing and how shaming to every one of them, but specially those older, who ought to have had more sense. Only One could stand there with a perfect right to condemn the woman, He who was without sin. He asks her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” (v. 10). Her answer is, “No one, sir” (JND Trans.). There is no indication at all of her heart having been reached: the Lord assures her only that He does not condemn her, and tells her to sin no more. She was evidently not prepared for anything more than this. There was no awakened sense of need in her heart, as with the woman at the well (John 4), who did not need to be told to sin no more, for she was born again. Who knows however whether the Lord's manner and His few words might have been the beginning of exercising her conscience and heart, and whether eventually her sinfulness might have driven her to the Lord?
THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD (vv. 12-20)
How appropriate at this time it was for the Lord Jesus to announce Himself as the Light of the world! (v. 12). He had certainly exposed the darkness of the hearts of scribes and Pharisees. But the light is only valued by those who will receive it: only those who would follow Him would have the light of life: others were in darkness still. This title applied to Him as long as He was in the world (cf. John 9:5).
The Pharisees brazenly deny the Lord's witness as to Himself, in spite of His having proved the truth of it in exposing them. He had before stated that if He bore witness of Himself His witness was not true, that is, in the sense of valid (John 5:31), yet now He insists that in doing this, His witness is true. The answer is not difficult. If He were merely a witness independent of the Father, this witness would have no weight. But in point of fact, His witness was not merely “of Himself,” that is, an independent witness, but in total unity with the Father, from whom He had come and to whom He was going (v. 14). In conscious knowledge of the Father's having sent Him, and of His returning to the Father, having completed the work for which He was sent, He bears witness of absolute truth.
They could not have told that He had come from the Father, nor that He was returning to the Father: in fact, no other witness was available to them. They would judge matters only by their natural senses, which could never discern the things of God. He Himself, however, though the Light of the world, judged no man: He had come to save, not to judge. In the future of course He will judge. If and when He judges, His judgment is absolutely in truth, for He judges in perfect co-ordination with the Father, not independently. He appeals to the law given to Israel, which regarded the testimony of two men as true. In this case, He Himself and the Father were the only competent witnesses upon whose testimony Israel could depend. The very works of the Lord were manifestly the Father's works, not merely human works. Also the Father had audibly borne witness to Him for all to hear at His baptism by John (v. 18).
But in irritated unbelief they ask, “Where is Your Father?” His answer is not for their intellects, but for their consciences, to the effect that their ignorance of the Father was because of their ignorance as to Himself. It was not for want of evidence that they disbelieved, but they willingly ignored the clear evidence as to the unparalleled dignity of His person: they had hardened their own hearts.
He has been speaking in the very center of Judaism, the treasury in the temple (v. 20), and it is evident that again the Jews would have arrested Him if they could, but His hour had not come: they could do nothing. We can imagine the fierce frustration of these men that eventually led them to use the treachery of Judas, so as to apprehend the Lord Jesus in the absence of the crowd, of whom they were afraid. But at that later time His hour had come.
HE PREDICTS THEIR DEATH AND HIS DEATH (vv. 21-29)
As to that future hour He speaks in verse 21: He would go His way to a place that they could not come, of course the Father's house. They would seek Him, but to no avail: they would die in their sins. For again, it would be seeking the Messiah only in view of material advantage.
The Jews question among themselves whether He might kill Himself (v. 22). The fact was that they were seeking to kill Him, and this would take place in God's time. But He solemnly tells them that in very nature they are far removed from Himself, they being from beneath, He from above; they being of the world, and He not so. Nor were they interested in what He had brought from above, not concerned about the forgiveness of sins by faith in Him personally: therefore they would die in their sins. Note that He uses His great Godhead name, “I Am:” “If you do not believe that I Am, you will die in your sins” (v. 24). Their unbelief as to His being the eternal, self-existent Son of the Father left them to the tragic doom of death, with their sins yet upon them.
Though the great name, “I Am” ought to have bowed their hearts in utter submission, yet the Jews, unsubdued, petulantly ask, “Who are You?' Certainly this was the vital question, but He had plainly told them He was the One sent from the Father, the “I Am.” When John the Baptist was asked the same question, he answered, “I am not the Christ” (John 1:20). How different the answer of the Lord Jesus, “Just what I have been saying to you from the beginning” (v. 25).
On their part, they were willing to judge Him without accepting the evidence that was plain and decisive: now He tells them He has many things to say and to judge of them: this was putting matters in proper focus. But it was not this that He was primarily engaged with: He had rather a positive message to the world from Him who had sent Him, Him who is true. It is this that should have penetrated their darkened hearts with the sweetness of eternal light. But they did not understand.
He goes further then to speak of His death at their own hands, they lifting Him up in crucifixion (v. 28). When this took place, they would know that He is the sent One of the Father, not acting merely on His own, but speaking as the true representative of the Father. So indeed it was true that His death on Calvary had startling effect on every witness, the truth as to His person being clearly witnessed, so that their consciences could not escape it; though sadly their hardened minds fought their consciences, and many refused to bow to what they knew. Likely many others were truly brought to God at the time.
The Father was with Him: the proof of this was in His every word and action, and in the very character He displayed. He was not alone in His coming into the world, for every detail of His life was of pleasure to the Father, and certainly the Father's own presence backed up His every word and action. Who else could ever say that he had done always those things that please God? (v. 29).
FREEDOM ONLY BY THE TRUTH (vv. 30-35)
Such was the truth and power of His words that we are told, “many believed on Him.” Yet as regards them, He shows nothing of the deep joy that filled His heart at the conversion of the woman at the well (John 4:32). Repentance in this case is evidently lacking, for He does not own them as His disciples: the proof of their discipleship would be continuing in His word. In that word they would find the knowledge of the truth, and by the truth they would be made free (vv. 31-32). So it is clear that these people were not as yet free.
Verse 33 shows that they knew nothing of repentance. Claiming to be Abraham's seed (a boast merely in natural relationship), they protest that they have never been in bondage to any man. How vain a statement, when at the very time they were under the rule of the Roman empire!
But far more solemn than this was the fact that the Lord now emphasizes with another double “verily:” that is, that they were under the dominating bondage of sin (v. 34). Which of them would deny that he practiced sin? And this very practice showed that they were the servants of sin. They had not faced this honestly in self-judgment. In that present state of servitude they could not abide permanently in the house, the Father's house. But this was the proper home of the Son, who is indeed free. Nothing is said here of the great work of redemption on His part to effect this liberation, for the vital emphasis is in this case on the person of the Son.
ABRAHAM'S SEED AND SATAN'S SEED (vv. 37-47)
But these same Jews, who were Abraham's seed naturally, had been seeking to kill the Lord: He knew this attitude had not changed, in spite of their outward professed belief. Many today are the same, claiming to believe in Christ, yet actually His enemies: His word really has no place in them.
In very nature the Lord Jesus and these professed sons of Abraham were in total contrast: He faithfully spoke what He had witnessed with His Father; but this was foreign to them, for they had willingly accustomed themselves to the service of Satan, whom the Lord calls their father (v. 38). By their own pride Satan had deceived and enslaved them. Such pride is evident in their haughty reply, “Abraham is our father” (v. 39).
Similarly today, Jews and Mohammedans boast in their natural relationship to Abraham, while in moral and spiritual reality they show themselves utterly contrary to Abraham in their concerted enmity against the Lord Jesus. It is this point that He presses on the Jews: if they were really Abraham's children, they would act as Abraham did. The principle of God as to this is clearly stated in Galatians 3:7, “They which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.”
But their murderous intentions against Christ, because of His telling them the truth, proved them to be devoid of faith and their professed belief an empty pretense. Abraham did no such thing as they: their deeds therefore were from another father.
They hotly protest, and claim God as their Father. But the Lord's answer is positive and solemn: if God were their Father, they would love the Lord Jesus; for, first, He proceeded forth and came from God; and secondly, God sent Him (v. 42). The first intimates His own divine and voluntary coming, the second, His perfect interdependency with the Father, as being sent by Him. Both are true: He came in voluntary, divine grace, yet not independently of the Father, but sent by Him. Being therefore the perfect representation of the Father, He certainly attracts the love of every person who loves the Father.
But to all this their minds were blinded, and He questions why they did not understand. He Himself gives the answer: “Because you are not able to listen to My word” (v. 43). Basic, callous unbelief rendered them impervious to the plain, pointed declarations of His lips. They had given themselves up to the blinding power of the devil; and He pronounces upon them the awful truth that they are of their father, the devil, willfully determined to engage in the lusts that have ensnared their father (v. 44). We cannot at all say that every unsaved person is a child of the devil, though all are children of Adam and children of wrath (Eph. 2:3). A child of the devil is rather one who has, by hardening himself against what he knows to be true, given himself up to the service of Satan. Not that he would admit this, but his own pride and deceit are prominent. Two things are here said of the devil. First, he was a murderer from the beginning; not from the time of his creation, but from the time of his attempt to “be like the most High” (Isa. 14:14). His murderous spirit is seen in his temptation of Eve: he was determined to accomplish her destruction. Secondly, he abode not in the truth, for the truth is not in him: he is a liar, and the father of it. Terrible designation! Of course it was by falsehood that he deceived Eve. Only Satan and antichrist are in scripture directly called liars, as well as these to whom the Lord speaks (v. 55); though the term is used to describe the general character of the inhabitants of Crete (Tit. 1:12-13). One must be soberly careful in his use of this term.
Observe too the force of verse 45: it is not, “in spite of my telling you the truth,” but “because I tell the truth, you will not believe Me.” They had become so accustomed to falsehood that, when truth is presented, it is the very thing they will not believe! A lie would be much easier for them to accept.
His challenge to them then is most appropriate. Could any of them convict Him of sin? This would be the easiest thing in regard to any other person. But they can point no finger at any occasion of sin in Him. Then it follows that everything He says is truth. Why do they not believe Him? One who was “of God.” that is, having any true relationship to God, as subject to Him, would certainly hear His words. Therefore they were not of God: this was proven in their refusing God's words, spoken by His Son.
HE IS BEFORE ABRAHAM (vv. 48-59)
In bitter hatred the Jews denounce the Lord Jesus as a Samaritan, which of course was totally false: He was neither born in Samaria nor had resided there. But because of their bigoted pride they despised Samaritans, therefore wanted to class Him with them. But more wickedly still, they accuse Him of having a demon (v. 48). This was not because of any sin they could find in Him, but because His divine discernment of them was so evidently supernatural that they resorted to this lying accusation in order to defend themselves.
With calm, firm insistence, however, He will speak in such a way as to not allow them to have the last word. He who spoke only truth answers, “I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me.” No one else could speak in such a way as this, nor say, “I do not seek My own glory.” But the believer adores Him for the truth of such words. There is One (the Father) who seeks, that is, searches out in perfect discernment and judges every motive of the heart.
Now again He uses a double “verily,” or “most assuredly,” as pressing the urgent reality of the truth He declares, “If anyone keeps my word he shall never see death” (v. 51). Any honest, serious person would have realized that the Lord's words had a deeper meaning than appeared on the surface, and would be concerned to inquire about this. But the Jews, in stubborn pride, declare more emphatically that He has a demon, and adduce as proof the fact of the death of Abraham and the prophets. They did not consider the truth of what the Lord had told the Pharisees, that God is the God of Abraham, and He is not the God of the dead, but of the living (Matt. 22:31-32).
Was He greater than Abraham? Tragic indeed is the fact that they did not know that He is infinitely greater than Abraham and all others. For, though He had humbled Himself, rather than honoring Himself, yet the Father honored Him in bearing witness to who He was; and they claimed that He was their God! He refuses their claim. They had not known God. He Himself knew Him: He was speaking the truth. He would not be a liar like they were, for He both knew the Father and kept His word (v. 55). Was He greater than Abraham? His answer is that Abraham rejoiced in contemplation of His day. For Abraham was told, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 22:18).
Devoid of faith, and bound by mere human feelings, they dismiss this, saying that He was not old enough to have seen Abraham. Little are they prepared for His final, ringing declaration, “Before Abraham was, I AM” (v. 58). This is the very meaning of the name Jehovah: “I am I who Am” (Ex. 3:14 — Numerical Bible). He is the eternally self-existent One, with no beginning and no end. His word is final: they have no answer. Though claiming to be Jehovah's witnesses, they are filled with bitter anger against the truth of who He is, and take up stones to stone Him. Defeated, they resort to violence, proving the truth of His words. But His time had not come: He hid Himself and passed by.
SIGHT RESTORED TO A MAN BORN BLIND (vv.1-12).
Now that it has been clearly demonstrated that the Jews were determined to kill Him, this chapter witnesses a wonderful contrast to such hatred in the Lord's gracious dealings with one individual whose eyes and heart are opened to give Him the glory that Israel refused Him.
The man blind from his birth is no doubt a picture of Israel, and indeed of all mankind by nature. Of course the root of this is sin, but not, as the disciples supposed, some particular sin (v. 2). It is strange that they could think that one might have committed such a sin before birth as to render him blind when born! But sin, the root of sins, has infected the very nature that we all have as children of Adam. This is the reason for all sickness and for spiritual blindness from birth also.
But the supreme wisdom of God is above this, and He has decreed that this particular man should be born blind in order that the work of God in superior power should be manifested in him. Can we not say of every case of trouble or illness, that God has a special reason for allowing it? A submissive spirit will learn the reason, and be blessed, while insubjection will resist God's working and suffer the consequences.
As long as He was in the world the Lord was working the works of the Father: He was the light of the world (vv. 4-5). His own presence made it daytime, as it will again in the millennium. While He is absent now, the world is in darkness.
But in order to give light to the blind man, He first practically confirms his blindness. Spitting would speak of the shame of what sin has done. This being mixed with the dust of the ground, adds the thought of humiliation. If the spiritual condition of mankind is shameful and humiliating, calling therefore for genuine repentance, it was necessary too that the Lord Jesus should come down to the shame and humiliation of the cross in order to save sinners.
The picture is complete in the Lord's telling him to wash in the pool of Siloam, which we are told means “sent” (v. 7). This indicates an outstanding truth of John's writings, that is, that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world (1 John. 4:14). In other words, the man is virtually told to wash in John 3:16, if we use the spiritual application. He obeys and immediately sees.
Among his neighbors this awakens astonished interest, some thinking he must be a man only resembling the blind man. But frankly, straightforwardly he settles it: “I am he.” In answer to their questioning he tells them the simple facts, giving the credit to “a Man called Jesus.” This was all he knew of Him at the time, but when one honestly confesses what he knows, he will learn more. As to where the Lord was, he confesses he does not know (v. 12).
THE PHARISEES' CRUEL INQUISITION (vv. 13-34)
His neighbors know that this is so great a matter that they must make it known to the religious leaders, the Pharisees, and they bring him to them. Again he tells them frankly what he knows to be true. But it was the sabbath day when this took place, and their religious prejudice immediately consumes them. Imagine one spitting on the sabbath day and putting clay on a blind man's eyes! This proved, they thought, that this Man could not be of God. Others at least were sober enough to question as to how He could have given sight to a blind man if God was against what He did (v.16).
In John 7 we read of “a division because of Him.” Now we find a division because of His works. In John 10:19 a division is caused on account of His words. Because the man had been healed, the Jews were apprehensive that he might have good thoughts toward the Lord, and they interrogate him. He answers simply, “He is a prophet” (v. 17). This certainly could not be disputed, if He had given sight to a blind man.
But being unable to contest the fact that one able to heal a blind man must be a prophet, the Jews seek to disprove the miracle. But their efforts to do so only result in more decided proof. His parents confirm that he had been born blind, but disclaim any knowledge as to how he had been given sight (vv. 18-21). Their son must have told them, but they were afraid of any involvement because of the Pharisees' prejudice against Christ. The man is left to face their inquisition alone.
He is called by them and told decidedly that he can give God the praise for his healing, but must give no credit to Christ, for they claim to know that Christ is a sinner (v. 24). This is the callous deceit of claiming to honor God while dishonoring His Son by wicked denunciation. But if they say God is responsible for the man's healing, why do they not denounce God for doing this on the sabbath?
In simple honesty the man replies, “Whether He is a sinner or not, I do not know. One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see” (v. 25). Indeed, every true believer may use the latter part of this statement this with a full heart; but by having known the Lord Jesus we absolutely know that He is not a sinner.: He is the living Son of the living God.
Determined to find some flaw somewhere, however, the Pharisees make an effort by cross examination to trap Him: “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?” But the honesty of the man saw through this immediately. He had told them once, and they wanted to disbelieve it. Would they be persuaded only by his repeating it? If they are really interested,would they honestly consider being also the disciples of the Lord Jesus? (v. 27). They had wanted to put him on the defensive, but he wisely takes rather the offensive and challenges them to be honest enough to give Christ the place that is His by right.
Changing their tactics then, they try intimidation by railing and ridicule. He was Christ's disciple, they said, but they were Moses' disciples. There was no doubt that God had spoken to Moses, in fact giving them the law in which they liked to boast, while not keeping it. But Moses had written of Christ, and this fact they ignored: now that Christ had come, they admittedly knew nothing of Him.
But they have trapped themselves, and the man sees it. Is it not a marvel, he says, that they, the religious leaders, were ignorant of One who had opened the eyes of a blind man? God does not hear sinners, that is, He does not give His approval by miraculous ability to one who is sinful in character. It is one who truly worships God and does His will who is in this way approved by God (vv. 30-31).
He adds what was devastating to the unbelief of the Jews: never in history had one before opened the eyes of the blind. If they had cared to consider it, the opening of the eyes of the blind was one of the distinctive marks of the Messiah of Israel (Isa. 42:1-7). Never had this happened until He came. This ought to have deeply spoken to the consciences of the man's inquisitors, and the more so when he presses on them that if this man were not of God, He could do nothing of this kind at all.
The truth, however, simple and unquestionable as it is, draws only their bitter enmity. As in John 8:59, defeated, they resort to violence, and throw the man out (of the synagogue evidently). He is rejected from the fellowship of his own nation, certainly not a light matter for any Israelite. But his Master had been rejected before.
STILL MORE GREATLY BLESSED (vv. 35-41)
How wonderfully sweet is the fellowship he receives in exchange for the hostility of unbelieving Israel! He had stood alone for Christ, though not yet realizing the greatness of His glory, and the Lord Jesus finds him at the moment he needs help (v. 35). Marvelous sight for his opened eyes! Though he had received such blessing from the Lord before and had evidenced his real appreciation of this in his firm stand with the Pharisees, yet he needed more than this, as does every believer. He needed the person of the Lord Jesus as an Object to satisfy his heart. He is asked, “Do you believe in the Son of God?” For as yet he was ignorant of the great glory of his Blesser, in spite of the fact that he had suffered for standing firmly for what he did know of Him. How his soul would thrill then with the revealing words of the Lord Jesus, “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.” With no hesitation his adoring lips respond, “Lord, I believe!” More than this, “He worshiped Him” (v. 38). Christ has become, not only his benefactor, but the Object of his adoring worship, no less than the eternal God manifest in flesh. Neither Peter (Acts 10:25-26) nor an angel (Rev. 22:8-9) would dare to accept such worship, but Christ fully received it, for He is God.
Now the Lord has words for more than the man, spoken, no doubt, that they might reach the ears of the Pharisees. Though He had not come to judge the world (John 3:17), yet He had come for judgment that would distinguish between men, as indeed it did between the formerly blind man and the Pharisees. This was with the object of giving sight to those confessedly without sight, yet at the same time blinding those who professed to see. It is of course spiritually that He speaks. There are those who admit the truth of their blind condition, and His grace was immediately operative toward them: He gave sight. Others would proudly claim to see, while refusing Christ. His presence then would render them manifestly blind (v. 39).
The Pharisees cannot escape the implications of this, though instead of confessing their blindness, they indignantly ask, “Are we blind also?” The answer of the Lord is solemn. If they would honestly take the place of being blind, they would have no sin, that is His grace would take their sin away. But they would admit no such thing, and proudly assumed themselves without imperfection. Very well, they saw no need of change: their sin therefore remained, with none but themselves to blame.
THE SHEEPFOLD AND THE SHEPHERD (vv. 1-18)
Now the Lord speaks in parabolic form, again in verse 1 doubly pressing the truth of His words. One climbing the fence of the sheepfold (rather then entering by the door) was a thief and a robber. The connection with chapter 9 is evident. Pharisees were blind leaders of the blind. The sheepfold was Israel as established by God under law, separated from Gentiles by an enclosure of laws and ordinances that were God-given. Pharisees, willfully blind as to the ways of God, sought to dominate the sheep: they were not the shepherd, but thieves and robbers (v. 2). The door was God's appointed entry, that by which Old Testament prophecy declared as to who the true Shepherd would be. He would come to Israel at the appointed time, in the appointed way. He must fit every prophecy concerning the Messiah of Israel: only thus would the door open for Him.
Only One could do this, and the Doorkeeper opens the door to admit Him (v. 3). The Doorkeeper is evidently God by His Spirit making the way fully clear for the Lord Jesus to enter into the sheepfold, which was His own possession, to do with the sheep as His divine wisdom decides. For of course He is the true Shepherd who had in the first place established the sheepfold, and He alone has the right to make any changes.
Here we see the great dispensational change that He Himself came to introduce. He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out of the sheepfold . This leading is not a national movement in Israel, but a movement in individual hearts, just as we see in the blind man of John 9. He was thrown out by the Jews, but met immediately by the Lord. Throughout John's Gospel we see this precious personal dealing of the Lord.
Yet while He leads His sheep personally, He also “brings out His own sheep” (v. 4), that is, there is necessary pressure on some who may be slow to respond. This is seen in the first part of the book of Acts, when Christ was forming the Church, and many were slow to leave Judaism. Still, He does not drive His sheep: He goes before them. They follow Him because they know His voice. His word has for them a living power of attraction such as no other voice has. They do not need to know what is wrong with a stranger's voice in order to avoid it, but simply that it is not the Shepherd's voice (v. 5). Acquaintance with His word is a strong protection against the deception of strange teachings.
The parable not being understood, the Lord in some measure explains, but adds more in His following words. With another double verily He declares Himself to be the door of the sheep (v. 9). This is of course not “of the sheepfold,” for He had entered by that door. But He is the entry for the sheep into all the blessings of this present dispensation of grace.
Others who came before Him, seeking to attract followers, did not come with blessing for the sheep, but to rob them. His own sheep did not hear them. Verse 9 then shows Him to be the door of salvation and of the blessings connected with it. The sheep find a new liberty that enables them to “go in and out and find pasture;” that is, they are not limited either to the Old or to the New Testament as to finding fresh, living food for their souls. In the sheepfold they had previously been dependent on being fed in whatever measure by priests, Levites or prophets: now they may find the fresh food for themselves. This involves now our having the Spirit of God by whom we may learn the word of God in fresh reality, finding green pasture in both Old and New Testaments.
The thief (a false spiritual leader) had the object of stealing, killing and destroying, causing the ruination of God's work (v. 10). Christ, the true Shepherd, came that the sheep might have life and have it more abundantly. What a contrast! For He Himself is the source of life, the living God, on whom the sheep are totally dependent. Of course true believers had life before ever Christ came into the world, but that life was even then dependent on Him, and manifested to be so when He came. He Himself being the full manifestation of eternal life, then in Him, come into the world, the sheep find abundant fullness of life.
But the life given to believers even in Old Testament times, and at all times, is dependent on the fact of the Good Shepherd laying down His own life for the sheep. God gave life in the Old Testament in view of the certainty of Christ's sacrifice. Compare John 12:24.
In contrast, the hireling has no genuine care for the sheep. He is not of course a thief or a robber, but because only hired to care for the sheep, he thinks more of himself than of the sheep, so that when the wolf comes, he deserts them. The Lord does not hire servants for money. If one willingly serves with love as a motive, the Lord will sustain and reward him; but it requires love to stand against the wolf, the type of Satan in his destructive enmity, whose object is to catch and scatter the sheep. But the Good Shepherd knows His sheep in a vital, intimate way, and His sheep know Him.
Only a comma should be found at the end of verse 14, intimating that the Lord knows His sheep as they know Him, just as the Father knows Him and (not “even so”) He knows the Father. Wonderful is this vital, eternal knowledge given us in Christ Jesus! This relationship of sublime love is connected with His laying down His life for the sheep.
The “other sheep” of verse 16 are manifestly Gentile believers, not of the fold of Israel. They were to be brought also, as a result of the death of the Good Shepherd, and to be joined with the Jewish sheep, but not brought into the fold. Rather, “there will be one flock and one Shepherd.” The one flock is the Church of God composed of all believers of the present age, whatever their race. It is not a fold, where restraints of laws and ordinances are present, but a flock, free of legal encumbrances, in order to follow the Shepherd to the green pastures. For the Shepherd is present: He is their resource, their leader, their protection. It is the sense of the abiding presence of the Lord Jesus that is so essential to the true welfare of the Church in her entire history. Let us settle for nothing less.
Though the Lord Jesus is the Son of the Father's love from eternity past, yet His willing sacrifice is a fresh reason for His Father's love toward Him (v. 17), as indeed it is a cause for our love too. He laid down His life: it could not be taken from Him: He had perfect control as to this. On Calvary He Himself dismissed His spirit, after crying out with a loud voice, certainly not therefore dying of exhaustion. Since He is without sin, death had no authority over Him. His death was a miracle performed by His divine power, willingly because of His great love, and with the object of taking His life again. He had authority for this Himself, as the sent One of the Father.
Such words from His lips give occasion for another division among the Jews. Some callously, senselessly accuse Him of having a demon, because of course His words evidenced more than mere human power. Others at least were reasonable in considering the evidence and dismissed any idea of demon influence.
The dedication of verse 22 was a celebration of the re-dedication of the temple in the days of Judas Maccabeus, and took place in December., about two months following the feast of tabernacles (John 7:2).
Now He to whom the temple was dedicated walks in His own residence, yet is petulantly accused by the Jews of making them to doubt as to whether or not He was the Messiah. The very question bothers them greatly, which shows that they were not really convinced that their opposition was right. But they did not want their Messiah to be of lowly, faithful, pure character.
His answer is plain: He had told them and they disbelieved. Also His works, done in His Father's name, were an unquestionable witness. If there were any doubts, this was their fault, not His. But their unbelief was evidence that they were not of His sheep. For His sheep were subject to Him: they had ears for His voice: He knew them as vitally His own: they followed Him.
He declares these things as absolute facts. He attaches no conditions to them whatever. To the above three He adds four more, giving a seven-fold assurance of the eternal security and blessing of every child of God. “I give them eternal life,” a free, unconditional gift, not temporary, but eternal. Then He further presses, “they shall never perish.” What clear assurance to the believing heart! Further, “neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand,” and also, “no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand” (vv. 28-29). They are held by the double power of the Father and the Son for eternity, and this is sealed in sublime dignity and beauty, “I and My Father are one.”
ANOTHER ATTEMPT TO STONE HIM
The Lord's words of such living power, ending with “I and My Father are one,” (not “My Father and I”), have surely fully substantiated, in answer to the Jews' question (v. 24), that He is the Christ. But they react, not only in doubt, but in bitter enmity, taking up stones to stone Him. Yet they are powerless to put into execution their base intentions. His word, calmly, simply spoken, has power that holds them helpless. He had done many good works, He says, all of them proceeding from the Father. For which of these works did they intend to stone Him? (v. 32).
How plainly the issue now comes to the fore: they disavow all reason for their enmity but one, that is, they say, that He made Himself God; and they considered Him only a man. He is condemned for telling the truth as to who He is.
He certainly does not back down from this position. Quoting Psalm 82:6, He speaks of Jewish leaders to whom the word of God came as being “gods.” This was because they had been entrusted by God with authority to represent Him, and only pure truth could represent Him properly. But if they were called “gods,” then the Lord Jesus, set apart in pure truth from all others, sent directly by the Father to do His will, certainly could be depended upon to rightly represent God, and tell the truth. When He said, “I am the Son of God,” He was representing the Father in so saying: He was speaking truth from the Father. For He was infinitely higher than all human authorities who had ever come before Him. The Jews knew of His public sanctification and anointing of the Spirit at His baptism, and of the Father's declaration at that time, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). God had trusted Him with representing Him in a way high above all others: then certainly He told them the truth of God.
If He had not done the works of the Father, then they would have cause to disbelieve Him, but since they could not at all dispute the fact that His works were manifestly of the Father, they should at least believe the works, which proved that the Father was in Him and He in the Father.
Frustrated in their intention of stoning Him, yet stung by the truth, the Jews sought to arrest Him (v. 39). But He simply left, for His hour had not come, and went to the Jordan, to the scene of John's first baptizing, a reminder that repentance is imperative if one is to genuinely receive the Son of God. In all of these things the lowliness of the character of the Lord Jesus is of great beauty indeed. In fact, it was this lowliness that the Jews so despised. But He would put forth no show of power and might, easily as He could have done so, either to intimidate or to impress His enemies. He would represent His Father in His Father's way. How different it might have been for the Jews too if they had but taken to heart the lessons of the river Jordan.
Many, however, did take such things to heart, resorting to the Lord in the place of John's testimony. In such cases, John's ministry had done its good work, and they were prepared to receive the One who fulfilled John's faithful prophecies. They too consider a very pertinent fact, that John, in contrast to the Lord, did no miracle: yet this did not at all take anything from John's value as a prophet. On the contrary, they give a wonderful commendation to John's ministry when they say that “all the things that John spoke about this Man were true” (v. 38). How much better is this report than any reputation of working miracles! Honesty could easily perceive these things: only dishonesty therefore can explain the blindness of the Pharisees.
THE DEATH OF LAZARUS
The raising of Lazarus in this chapter is a striking witness to the fact that the plotting of the Jews to kill the Lord Jesus was vanity; for He Himself is superior to death. Since He is able to raise Lazarus, then supposing they do kill the Lord, He will rise again. Besides this, the eternal life with which His sheep are blessed, given them on the basis of the sacrifice of Himself, the Good Shepherd, is here clearly implied to be resurrection life, a life linked with Him now beyond the power of death. How futile and foolish then is the murderous opposition of the Jews!
The Lord's company had no doubt been deeply valued at Bethany before this time (Luke 10:38-42), and the sickness of Lazarus turns the thoughts of the sisters to Him as their true resource. Verse 2 is an interesting note here, of which the history is found in John 12:1-8. The message they send is only to the effect that Lazarus is sick, but with the reminder of the Lord's love for him: the sisters are evidently confident that the Lord would know what to do.
For the time however He does nothing; but speaks of the sickness as being not unto death. Not however that Lazarus would not die, but the end in view was not death, but for the glory of God, and that the Son of God would be glorified. It was to be another clear proof of His glory as Son of God (Cf. Rom. 1:4).
Because of his love for the two sisters and Lazarus the Lord remained where He was for two days. His delays in answering prayer are always because of a love that is wiser than we understand.
But when He announces to His disciples that they are to return to Judea, they can only think of the danger of His being stoned (v. 8), for the animosity of the Jews toward Him had had little time to abate. The answer of the Lord is important. He always walked “in the day” of His Father's guidance, not in any measure of darkness. Those who walked in the night would stumble, for they had no light internally. But the light of the Father's presence and direction was always in Him.
He speaks to them of Lazarus sleeping, and of His intention of wakening him. Considering the time it would take to journey to Bethany, His disciples ought to have realized that He spoke of something more than literal sleep, but not so: they reason contrarily to His words, thinking that sleep would be good for him; so that He plainly says, “Lazarus is dead.” (v. 14). To the Son of God death is no more than sleep. But for the sake of (not only Lazarus and his sisters, but ) the disciples, He was glad that He had not been there. If He had been, no doubt Lazarus would not have died (vv. 21, 32), but it was necessary that he die if the Lord were to show in him His resurrection power, and stimulate reality of faith in His own.
Thomas, in verse 14, shows evident doubt that they might be preserved from death if they went to Judea, yet he had genuine love toward the Lord in his willingness to go. Of course implicit confidence in the Lord's pure love and wisdom would have been far better, but this he seems to have little known until his experience of John 20:24-29).
It is likely that Lazarus had died before the message of his sickness had actually been received by the Lord, for when He arrived at Bethany, Lazarus had already been four days in the grave. v. 17). The Lord knew this to be the precise testing time for the sisters, and of course such time having elapsed left no doubt that death had actually taken place.
Bethany being only about two miles from Jerusalem, many from there had come to comfort Martha and Mary. Martha, anxious to speak to the Lord when she heard He was coming, went to meet Him. Mary, more quiet and less impulsive, remained in the house.
No doubt the words of Martha, repeated by Mary in verse 32, show what had been continually in the minds of the sisters: “Lord, if You had been here.” Yet there is no value in brooding over an “if.” How little she realized that the Lord knew well what He was doing! Still, she did give Him credit with such a relationship with God as to receive from Him whatever He asks.
He answers this simply, “Your brother will rise again” (v. 23). But she can think of this as nothing but the orthodox doctrine of a future general resurrection. How little comfort even true doctrine has in it apart from the person of Christ! Marvelous indeed is His reply, “I am the resurrection and the life.” In Him personally is the answer to her every need, as of all creation. “I Am” implies His deity, and certainly resurrection and life are resident only in God. He does not merely say that He can raise the dead and give life: this whole subject is rather dependent on His person.
The question of resurrection is met in the end of verse 25, that of life in verse 26. The full truth of this could only be manifested in His own (then future) resurrection, but identification with Him by faith was the certain means of one Him would never die (v. 26). That is, the life He gives is not at all subject to death: it continues vital and real, even if natural death takes place. The words He speaks are spirit and they are life, not material and fleshly.
He asks her, “Do you believe this?” Though doubtless she did not fully understand His meaning, yet her answer is good. She believed Him, for she was persuaded that He was Christ, the Son of God (v. 27). What He said she knew was right, however feeble her understanding may have been.
MARY AND THE MOURNERS
Then she left to call Mary, her sister, with the message that the Lord had called for her. In so many words the Lord had not said so, but Martha no doubt sensed that the words of the Lord were more for Mary than for herself, Mary having a more meditative and understanding mind, and choosing the habit of sitting at the Lord's feet (Luke 10:39-42).
Such a message brings her quickly to the Lord, outside the town. (v. 29). How little the Jews understood her haste: certainly if she were going to the grave, it would not be with such alacrity: it was the One in whom there is life by whom she was attracted. This time, rather than sitting at His feet, she falls down at His feet, her soul in deepest sorrow and need; and she repeats the heart-wringing words of Martha, not even with the addition of confidence that even now God would answer His prayer in some helpful way.
Martha was at least more matter of fact, Mary so crushed by her sorrow as to be hardly able to look up. This, together with the weeping of her comforters, deeply weighed on the spirit of the Lord Jesus. How real is His sympathetic concern for the sorrows of mankind occasioned by sin! To His question as to the grave of Lazarus they answer, “Lord, come and see” (v. 34). This expression has been used twice in chapter 1, first by the Lord, inviting others into His circumstances (v. 39), and by Philip inviting Nathanael to see the Lord (v. 46). But all that man has to show the Lord is a grave! How could He forbear thinking of His own imminent death and burial for the sake of mankind in its sinful, ruined state? He wept. But this was not merely for Lazarus, as they supposed (v. 36). His was genuine sympathy for the sake of the sisters, and no doubt true, divine sorrow in contemplating the sad results of sin in the world. Some made the suggestion, could He not have prevented the death of Lazarus, since He had done other amazing works? How much greater was He than they supposed! But He made no reply to this.
LAZARUS RAISED FROM DEATH
They come to the grave over which a heavy stone has been rolled. When the Lord commands that the stone be taken away, Martha, allowing her practical mind to take precedence over faith, objects to the removal of the stone (v. 39). The Lord firmly reproves her unbelief. Natural thought must not intrude itself when the Lord of glory is working. Let us note that, while only the Lord can give life, others can remove the stone. So the stone reminds us of the hard, cold demands of law that virtually keep man shut up in bondage, in a state of death, never able to give life. By the preaching of the gospel of pure grace we may remove the stone today.
When this was done the Lord first prayed (vv. 41-42), not asking for the resurrection of Lazarus, but in calm, conscious unity with the Father, to show those who stood by that he did nothing apart from the Father's will. The Father heard Him always: He did not plead with Him at all; for He speaks not as the dependent Man in Luke, but as being One with the Father. With a loud voice He calls, “Lazarus, come forth!” It is not therefore in answer to prayer that Lazarus was raised, but by the Lord's own authoritative, divine word. In spite of being bound hand and foot with graveclothes, Lazarus came forth. His face too was bound (v. 44): he could not see where he was going, but the power was in the voice that called him, the power of resurrection life. The miracle is accomplished fully and perfectly.
Then again others may do their work: “Loose him and let him go,” the Lord says (v. 44). The graveclothes would speak of law in a different way than the stone; for the law too can keep in bondage one who truly has life. A renewed person is not to be left fettered by these, but set free. For grace, not law, is to be the power of the new life, and God's servants are to be the ministers of grace. But life itself is entirely in the hands of the Son of God.
FURTHER PLOTTING OF THE JEWS AGAINST HIM
Many of the Jews could not but be brought to believe in Him after such things. On the other hand, some, currying the favor of religious leaders, report to the Pharisees what the Lord had done (v. 46). These, with the chief priests, become more deeply alarmed, rather than deeply impressed, and gather a council to consider how they may silence One who, as they admit, does many miracles: the pride of their own position was in jeopardy.
They were well able to disguise their motives with the foolish suggestion that if they let Him alone, it would lead to the Romans taking the Jews captive (v. 48). Their reasoning is that He would become a leader who would challenge the authority of Rome. But they knew well that there was no slightest indication of political aspirations on His part. In fact, their not leaving Him alone, but crucifying Him, led to the very thing they claimed to fear. Selfish pride, as seen in the expression “our place and nation,” was the means of defeating its own end.
Caiaphas, we are told, was high priest that year, for Herod set up and deposed high priests to suit himself at any time, of course a contradiction to God's original appointment. Evidently inflated with the pride of his own position, Caiaphas haughtily declares the ignorance of his cohorts, and indicates his superior wisdom in finding some justification for their murdering the Lord Jesus. “one man,” he says, “should die for the people (vv. 49-50).
Behind his words of course was subtle wickedness; but here is a striking illustration of how God can use the evil of man, and have him speak words which have a far higher meaning than the man himself intends. Christ's death would not save Israel from being scattered and decimated at that time, but it would accomplish a greater end. Therefore, though it was with wicked motives that Caiaphas spoke of one man dying for the people, yet God, in allowing him to speak, had higher thoughts in these very words, words too which are applied not only to Jews, but to Gentile believers scattered abroad, for the death of Christ was the means of gathering them together in one (vv. 51-52), though Caiaphas would have resented the very thought of such gathering together.
The Jews then are easily persuaded that it is right to put Christ to death, for they have the plausible excuse of trying to save their nation: they agree in plotting His murder. Still, His hour had not come: He withdrew to a city called Ephraim, to the north and east, on the edge of the desert (v. 54). In spite of all these occasions in which the Pharisees were frustrated in their efforts to arrest Him, they seemed blinded to the significance of this fact. In fact, when they did take Him (at God's time), it was at a time when they had planned not to do so (Matt. 26:5).
The Passover being near, many were drawn to Jerusalem with the intention of being purified before the day of the feast (v. 55). There is much speculation: will the Lord come, or will He not, for the feast? Little indeed did they know that He Himself is “our Passover” (1 Cor. 5:7), and it was on that day that God had ordained that He should be sacrificed. Certainly therefore He would willingly come.
The chief priests and Pharisees had by now increased their evil efforts to take Him, by ordering that any of the people who knew His whereabouts should inform them (v. 57). Being the willing tools of Satan, they were blinded to the fact that God is in control of all these things.
A SUPPER FOR HIM AT BETHANY(vv. 1-8)
Six days before the Passover He returned to the area of Jerusalem, coming by way of Jericho, as Luke shows us (Luke 19:1-28). These days He spent in ministering mainly in the temple (Luke 21:37); yet the enmity of the Jews could do nothing until God's appointed Passover Day.
At Bethany a supper is made for Him (in the house of Simon the leper — Matt. 26:6), for there has been much affection awakened toward Him in this village. We may be sure He valued the comfort of this love of His disciples in view of His imminent suffering and death. Special notice is given of Martha, Lazarus and Mary (vv. 2-3). Martha served in evident thankful devotion. Lazarus, in communion with Him, sat at the table. Mary, in adoring worship, anointed His feet with costly ointment, wiping them with her hair.
Here are characteristics that should be true of every believer. For though one may have more outstanding ability for service, another more attracted by communion, or fellowship, another specially delighting in worship, yet all should be true of every child of God in some measure at least. The house being filled with the odor of the ointment pictures for us what should be true of the house of God, the assembly.
At this, however, the greed of Judas cannot be silent, though he deceitfully speaks about the poor to cover his true motives. We are told now that, being treasurer for the disciples, he was stealing from that fund. Certainly the Lord knew this; but the case of Judas is a solemn warning that deceptions can too easily creep in among saints of God. He is a warning also to all who would dare to imitate his wretched example.
The Lord defends Mary with simple, gentle words. She had done this in view of His burial (v. 7). They had the poor always with them, but not the Lord. Who was most important? Other woman came too late to anoint His body, for He had risen then (Mark 16:1-4).
THE CHIEF PRIESTS PLOT TO KILL LAZARUS (vv. 9-11)
News of the Lord's coming to Bethany reaches Jerusalem, and many Jews came to Bethany, not only because He was there, but also to see Lazarus because of the wonder of his being raised.
Yet how true are the words of the Lord Jesus in Luke 16:31: “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.” The chief priests are so incensed against the truth and against the Son of God, that they plot, not only to put Him to death, but Lazarus also, because the reality of his resurrection had influenced many Jews to believe on the Lord Jesus (vv. 10-11). Did they not consider that, if the Lord had once raised Lazarus, He could do so again? In that case the results would be most humiliating for them. But unbelief is blind.
THE KING RIDING A DONKEY
The Lord goes to Jerusalem, for His time is about to come: He will accomplish that for which He was sent, yet with some days first of fullest testimony to the glory of His Father, which all the efforts of the Jews could not thwart.
He is by no means hidden. The Jews ordered that anyone who knew where He was should report it. Yet here everyone knows where He is, and the Jews have no power to take Him. Many come to meet Him with palm branches, the symbol of victory and prosperity, and acclaim Him as the King of Israel come in the name of Jehovah (vv. 12-13). Fulfilling prophecy, He rides into Jerusalem on a donkey's colt, coming in lowliness and in peace, rather than on a war-horse of powerful conquest, as He will in the day of His glory (Rev. 19). No doubt it would seem out of keeping for the Messiah to come in so lowly a way, and the prophecy itself ought to have occasioned such interest as to have prepared Israel for this unusual event.
It is the common people whom God prepares to give honor to His true King, a witness from many lips that ought to have shamed the leaders to a realization of their own willful blindness.
Verse 16 shows the sovereignty of God in the fact of the people being so moved at this time: the disciples themselves did not understand why they acted in this way, but realized after the ascension of the Lord Jesus the great import of this, together with the fact that these things were prophesied in the Old Testament.
But at this time there was the testimony of those who had witnessed the raising of Lazarus, a confirming assurance that Christ was entitled to the honor given Him. Indeed the miracle was proof of His being the Son of God (Rom. 1:4).
The Pharisees were nonplused and afraid of popular opinion, which they saw as favoring the Lord. This infuriated them, and served to bring out all the more fully the wickedness of their hearts (v. 19), for they had to wait for the treachery of a false disciple, and for darkness in which to arrest Him.
CHRIST THE FRUITFUL GRAIN OF WHEAT (vv. 20-26)
Greeks, strangers to Israel, were more discerning of the glory of the Messiah: they desired to see Jesus, and seek the mediation of Philip to this end, for they show a respectful recognition that the Jews had the nearer place to the Messiah (vv. 20-21). Philip is evidently cautious as regards whether the request is in order: he enlists Andrew, and together they tell the Lord.
However, He answers that His being glorified is close at hand (v. 23). It is really only on this basis that Gentles can approach Him, for the promises had not been made to them, but to Israel. All this however shows us that God had prepared Gentiles to receive Christ at the very time that Israel was plotting His death. Yet the blessing of Gentiles must wait for the accomplishment of this, and His resurrection and ascension. He uses the title “Son of Man” as indicating His far wider work than that of the Messiah of Israel; for “Son of Man” involves His relationship to all mankind.
Verse 24, with another “most assuredly” is of vital importance here. The Lord Jesus must, as the grain of wheat, fall into the ground and die before He could bring forth “much fruit.” This embraces far more than the borders of Israel, but the field of the world. In resurrection He is Himself the firstfruits, the promise of an abundant harvest. So the Greeks must wait, but not for long, as the book of Acts shows, to have a real sight of the Lord Jesus.
Deeply involved in this is the question of whether one thinks more of his life in this world than he does of eternal life. Christ was perfectly willing to give up His life in this world in view of infinitely greater blessing. Jewish leaders were not: they loved their own lives, but would only lose them. Here is a test of the reality of faith. The expression “hates his life” is intended to be strong, in contrast to loving one's life. It is a question of which life is of vital importance. Are we not gladly willing to leave this present life at any time, when we have that which is eternal and pure?
If one therefore would serve the Lord, he is told, “let him follow Me” (v. 26). True service is in taking the same path of rejection as the Lord Jesus did, and giving up life in this world. But it is in view of being where He is, on the other side of death, in resurrection life. Would we shrink from such discipleship? Let us think of the wonderful recompense of being where He is; and besides that, having the Father honor us for our devotion to His Son!
ANTICIPATING HIS DEATH (vv. 27-36)
Yet certainly this means deeply felt sacrifice. For Him, how much deeper than for all others! Anticipating His death, His soul was troubled. He could say to His own, “Let not your heart be troubled” (John 14:1); but it is because He has taken voluntarily the trouble into His own soul, and has borne the judgment that we could not bear. The hour before Him He knew would be unspeakable agony (v. 27): would He pray that He might be spared from it? No, for He had come this far with the settled, sublime purpose of facing this hour in the infinitely great sacrifice of Himself. He would unfailingly perform the most marvelous work that the universe has ever known. For He came to do the Father's will, and therefore His prayer is simply, “Father, glorify Thy name.”
Immediately, just as God had spoken at His baptism, so He speaks again, and so resonantly that some said it was thunder; yet so clearly that others said an angel spoke to Him. Why will they not believe in the Father's direct approval of His Son? Yet the Father says that He had already glorified His name, no doubt in the incarnation and devoted life of the Lord Jesus. He would glorify His name again in His matchless death and resurrection (v. 28).
The voice was plain, the proof was clear, and the Lord declares that this voice was not for His sake, for He knew perfectly the truth of these words; but for the people. Yet in only a few brief days they joined in crying out for His crucifixion!
That solemn event of the cross is the judgment of this world: by it all the power of Satan, the prince of this world, has been annulled. The Lord announced it as “now” (v. 31). The world is therefore no longer under probation, but under sentence of judgment. The cross has ended the world's trial: it has been there manifested as criminally guilty; and by the cross of Christ, the strong man (Satan) has been bound, the blessed Lord triumphing over him in the very thing in which Satan thought to have destroyed Christ.
By this He has drawn all men to Himself (v. 32). He does not speak of salvation but of judgment: His death brings all under His authoritative judgment: He has the right to judge as regards all: none can escape having to do with Him.
Though the Lord had spoken so plainly, not leaving the least question as to the fact that He Himself is “the Son of Man,” and that He would be lifted up, yet the people were bewildered. They wonder whether He is speaking of Himself or of another. If He is the Messiah, as the evidence seems to indicate, then how is it possible that He would die? For at least they had understood that the scriptures had prophesied of Christ as abiding forever. They had totally missed the many scriptures that spoke of His death, as for example Isaiah 53:8, 12 (this in fact also including His resurrection).
The Lord does not answer their questions, for it was not merely their intellect that needed correction. If they needed enlightening, they must realize that He Himself was the light, and put their confidence in Him rather than in their own understanding, which left them only in confusion. Let them walk, that is, follow Him, instead of settling down in the morass of their own rationalizing. While light was there, make use of it, or they would be plunged in deeper darkness than before, ignorant of where they were going (vv. 35-36). All they really needed was to believe in Him, the true Light, in order to be children of light. If they refuse this, then they are not ready for teaching. So He leaves them, hiding Himself from them.
WILLING BLINDNESS AND JUDICIAL BLINDNESS (vv. 37-41)
Solemn is the divine comment that His many miracles did not persuade them to believe Him personally, as Isaiah 53:1 had prophesied. No doubt many knew this prophecy, but blindly fulfilled it in refusing Him. More solemnly still we are told “they could not believe,” because God had blinded their eyes and hardened their heart. (vv. 39-40). But we must not suppose that God did this without reason. Just as Pharaoh first hardened his own heart against God before we read of God's hardening his heart (Ex. 5:1-2; Ex. 7:3), so when the Jews hardened themselves against the Lord Jesus, then God confirmed their blindness by His judicially blinding them. Let men dare to go too far in opposition to God, and this may be the awful result.
A LAST MESSAGE TO THE HALF-HEARTED AND TO THE WORLD (vv. 42-50)
Many among the chief rulers however did believe on the Lord Jesus, but fear of the Pharisees hindered a frank confession of Him, for their reputation before men was more important to them than God's approval (v. 42). Whether these were true believers or not, they, together with all the Jews, required the warning of this last message of John's Gospel to any who were not decidedly for Him. This is given in verses 45 to 50. The Lord cried with a loud voice, intended for all. One who believed on Him was also believing on God the Father, who had sent Him. For in the midst of darkness He had come, shining with the light of God's glory, in order that every one who believed on Him would no longer be part of the surrounding darkness.
Yet, though He was the Light that exposed evil, if men refused to believe on Him, He was not here to judge them (as He will in a future day); for He had come in pure grace, not to judge, but to save the world. Of course grace despised will bring eventual judgment, but salvation has been offered now to the world for nearly two thousand years, showing the great heart of this blessed Savior.
Nevertheless, one who rejected Him and His words is forewarned that the same word He has spoken will judge that person in the last day. For His word is absolute truth that cannot be frustrated: it will triumph.
He had not spoken from Himself, that is, independently, but at the commandment of the Father. Whether in the general import of His words, or in the finest details of every word, He spoke precisely what was given Him from His Father.
More than this: the Father's commandment is life everlasting, not as the ten commandments which brought condemnation and death; but bringing eternal life for the vital blessing of mankind. Then He ends this earnest appeal with a firm confirmation of His having perfectly communicated the words of the Father in all that He spoke (vv. 49-50).
WASHING HIS DISCIPLES' FEET (vv. 1-17)
We are brought now to consider the last hours of the Lord Jesus before the cross. No longer does He minister to the world, but to His own disciples, from chapter 13 through 16; and it is marvelous that He makes every spiritual provision for them before leaving them.
With calm, measured steps all is ordered here. He knows His hour is come, but it is not said His hour to die, but to depart out of the world to the Father (v. 1). How sweetly do the counsels of divine knowledge shine out here! The end was the presence of the Father, though the way of course involved the agony of the cross. But all that faced Him now no doubt deeply pressed upon His heart, for He knew every detail of the malice of Satan, of the treachery of Judas, of the denial of Peter, of the forsaking of all the disciples, of the bitter persecutions of the Jews and of the Romans, of His being crucified; and more dreadful than all, of His having to suffer the judgment of God for our sins. These things are not mentioned here, but His love toward His own remained as full and pure through all these circumstances as it had been from the beginning.
Events fit each into place, as ordered by a sovereign hand. As supper has come, Satan (only as allowed by God) has influenced Judas to betray the Lord. But though the Lord knew all this, He was also conscious of the blessed fact that the Father had given all things into His hand (v. 3). He had come from God: He was now to return to God; the intervening sufferings are quietly disregarded here.
With this consciousness He rises from supper: the sweetness of communion is to be followed by lowly service. He laid aside His garments, an implied reminder for us that He laid aside His garments of Godhead glory and dignity in order to serve in subject Manhood. Then taking a linen towel He girded Himself, for His object was the blessing and comfort of His disciples.
The water poured into a basin (v. 5) is typically a sufficient quantity of the word of God for the present need (cf. Eph. 5:26): it is not to bathe them, nor to overwhelm them, but only to wash their feet. Without doubt too, it would be neither too hot nor too cold. Such washing of feet was common, of course, because of the use of sandals in walking through a country often dry and dusty. But for the Lord of glory to do this was a most striking and instructive humbling of Himself.
Peter, confident as to his own evaluation of the matter, evidently felt it too great a humiliation for the Lord, and refused to have his feet washed, in spite of the Lord's telling him that he did not understand at the time what the Lord was doing, but that he would know later (v. 8). Why did he not trust the Lord's words, instead of his own assumptions? This same question we may well ask ourselves sometimes.
Verse 7 is clear proof that the Lord was not intending by His example a mere literal washing of feet to be thereafter carried on by the disciples, but something more important, of which feet-washing is typical. For this speaks of the application of the word of God to the details of our walk through a defiling world (Eph. 5:26). Contact with defilement requires contact with the word, if the defilement is to be removed, and who is more gentle and thorough than the Lord Jesus in applying that word?
When the Lord answers Peter that if He does not wash him, then Peter has no part with Him, Peter blunders into an opposite extreme. instead of simply submitting to the Lord's wisdom in the matter. So the Lord patiently informs him that he had already been bathed, so that only his feet needed cleansing now (v. 10). The complete bath is indicated in Titus 3:5. Every believer has had this at the time of his regeneration once and for all; but feet washing must be done often. New birth is a wonderful cleaning process, bringing a decided change in one's character and habits. This is the bath, while foot washing is a provision for daily conduct. Judas however had not even had the bath: he was not clean (vv. 10-11). Verse 12 pictures the return of the Lord Jesus to glory, His sitting down on the right hand of God in His rightful garments. So that the instruction He gives is virtually that which He gives us today.
They called Him Teacher and Lord, and He approves this, yet He Himself reverses the order of these (v. 14). Our viewpoint is too frequently that of making teaching the most important, with Lordship practically stemming from teaching. But Lordship is first, and in submission to His authority teaching is then of proper value and properly productive. Whether one understands or not, he should be fully subject to the Lord's authority. He had taught them by example, and they too ought to wash one another's feet.
This feet washing is the lowly ministry of applying the word of God to the need of one another's souls, for the cleansing or preservation from the defilement of our daily contacts with the world. We all need this restoring ministry, and we should all engage in it for the help of one another.
If we are hesitant to obey this word, then we need to be reminded that the servant is not greater than his Lord (v. 16). How vast an understatement is this! Yet in our pride we may too easily act as though we were greater than He! It is necessary that we have pressed upon us the fact that happiness lies, not in knowing merely, but in acting rightly upon that knowledge.
WARNING OF A BETRAYER (vv. 18-30)
Yet He spoke not of all the disciples: there was one among them who was false, who would therefore not act upon the truth at all. Scripture had foretold this, though this fact does not in the least palliate the guilt of Judas: he was himself responsible for the callous deceit of eating with the Lord while plotting to betray Him (v. 18).
In speaking this prophetically of Judas, the Lord Jesus did so in order that this might later strengthen the faith of the disciples as to the glory of His own person , the self-existent “I Am.” He adds to this the absolute confirmation that when He sends a messenger, there is such authority in this that the receiving of such a messenger is the receiving of Himself; and more than that, the receiving of Himself is the receiving of the Father who sent Him (v. 20). For He Himself was leaving, and in all this dispensation of grace, others would now carry His message.
As regards Judas, at that time the Lord was troubled in spirit: He deeply felt, not merely the treachery of Judas against Himself, but the condition of the man's soul. It is instructive here to note that Judas had been able to keep his own character so covered that he was no more suspect in the disciples' eyes than any other (vv. 21-22). Deceit may thrive for a long time, but is eventually always exposed.
It was John, the writer of this Gospel, who leaned on the bosom of the Lord Jesus, a place which, spiritually, every believer is entitled to enjoy. But his nearness to the Lord influenced Peter to motion to him to ask who the betrayer might be (v. 24). The answer of the Lord shows His genuine love for Judas, love not tainted by bitter resentment, as would be the case with mere men. For the sop was a special morsel given to a favored guest. Yet Judas had already steeled himself against the love and grace shown him; and this last overture being refused, Satan is allowed to enter into him (v. 27). Satan cannot do this without the willing consent of his victim; but such is the dreadful alternative when one has stubbornly refused the love of the truth.
The Lord's words to Judas were not understood by the other disciples. One wonders too what Judas thought of those words: for the Lord left him with the decision as to what he would do. Why did he not stop and think that the Lord was reading his very heart? But Satan had blinded him, for he was willing to be blinded. After receiving the sop, he went immediately out, and ominous words are added, “and it was night” (v. 30). He heard no more thereafter of the Lord's ministry in chapters 14 to 16, nor was he present at the institution of the Lord's supper, which is not spoken of by John in his Gospel.
A NEW COMMANDMENT (vv. 31-35)
Now the Lord speaks positively of the time having arrived of His being glorified, and God's being glorified in Him. The thought of His suffering is not mentioned, though indeed it is by His sacrifice of Calvary that He is eternally glorified, and by this has glorified God. Though His sufferings were imperative, yet these are not emphasized in John, but rather the glorious results of His atonement.
Since God would be glorified in Him by virtue of the perfection of His sacrifice, God would also glorify Him in Himself, and this without delay (v. 32). We know the fulfillment of this in His raising Christ from the dead and giving Him glory.
So that it would be only a little while that He would be with them. He would leave them. He had told the Jews that they could not come where He would be. Now He speaks similarly to His disciples. There is of course a difference: the Jews could never come there, while the disciples only at that present time could not come where He went (cf. v. 36).
However, He has one striking new commandment to leave with them. It is not a legal commandment, as those given by Moses, and nothing that would tend to puff up the flesh. He had loved them: let them show the same love toward one another (v. 34). Indeed, His love was because of His very nature: they too had been given this blessed nature by new birth. The command therefore is really to allow that nature its proper expression. In this all men would recognize them as His disciples.
PETER'S DENIAL FORETOLD (vv. 36-38)
But these words of the Lord Jesus seem to have little real effect on Peter at the time, just as we too may easily ignore ministry that presses our personal responsibility, and he asks, “Lord, where are You going?” (v. 36). The Lord's answer to this is in John 14, but first He answers Peter's implied desire. Peter could not follow Him then, but would do so later. But Peter had sadly not yet learned to truly submit to the Lord's word, in spite of his humbling experience of verses 6 to 9. For while then the Lord was washing feet literally, in the latter part of this chapter He is seeking to wash feet spiritually, giving the word to have effect on hearts and consciences. Judas had resisted it absolutely and gone out. Peter resists it in another way, unhappy because he could not accompany the Lord now; and insisting with bold words that he would lay down his life for the sake of the Lord (v. 37). No doubt there was love toward the Lord in his heart, but there was also self confidence, not the submissiveness of confidence in the Lord. Little does he realize the significance of all this, and he must learn by sad experience that the words of the Lord are absolute truth.
So the Lord presses upon him, with decisive insistence, the truth of His own words, which make Peter's bold words collapse in shame. Three times, he is told, he would deny his Lord before the cock crew (v. 38). How strong an emphasis this is as to the untrustworthiness of the flesh, even in the most zealous and devoted of disciples; and on the other hand, of the perfect trustworthiness of the word of the Lord! If Peter was not yet convinced, at least he could only be silent, and thereafter learn by experience the sinfulness of his own heart and the grace and truth of the Lord Jesus.
MINISTRY OF ENCOURAGEMENT
CENTERED IN CHRIST PERSONALLY (vv. 1-6)
Had the Lord spoken the last words of John 13 with the object of discouraging Peter? By no means. For His next words are “Let not your heart be troubled.” Their true protection was in Him personally, not in their own faithfulness. They had faith in God: let them have the same faith in the Lord Jesus. Though Peter himself failed, yet his faith did not fail (Luke 22:32). He certainly thought just as much of the Lord afterward as he did before his failure, if not much more; for his fall worked in the end to strengthen his faith.
Now the Lord was to return to His Father's house, and though they could not follow Him then, yet He assures them of the many dwellings there, — far more than the limited number of rooms for priests that surrounded the temple. Nor would Peter's sin exclude him from that marvelous eternal blessing.
If in John 13 the ministry of restoration is seen, in John 14 it is the sweet ministry of comfort, or encouragement. Yet the Lord does not even speak of “heaven,” rather “My Father's house.” He was going to the Father, and the pure comfort of believers is found in the personal knowledge of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (cf. vv. 7 and 17). The place that He would prepare for them would be where He was. We know that He has already prepared the place by virtue of His blessed sacrifice, His resurrection and his return to the Father's presence. Man's place on earth had been forfeited because of his sin: how much better a place are we given by grace!
Just as certainly as He has died and risen again, in order to prepare that place, so certainly will He come again, to receive believers to Himself (v. 3). His promise is absolute, and we look for Him at any time, when all His living saints will be caught up together with those who have died (they being resurrected), to meet the Lord in the air.
When He tells them however that they knew both where He was going and the way, Thomas objected. At least he does not consider himself conscious of knowing where the Lord was going, and consequently how could he possibly know the way? But the Lord has spoken pure truth. Thomas actually knew, but did not realize how much he knew. The Lord answers first the question as to the way. He Himself was the way, the truth and the life (v. 6). Thomas knew Him, therefore he knew the way. More than that, since they knew Him, they also knew the Father, to whom He was going. To know the Son personally is to know the Father personally, and this is the true character of Christianity, not merely to know facts or rules and regulations as under law; but to know the living God as revealed in His beloved Son.
Christ is the way to the Father: He is the truth as revealing all that the Father is: He is the life, the source of all blessing for all creation, the expression of the same life that is in the Father. Therefore, believers both know and have seen the Father.
HOW IS THE FATHER SHOWN? (vv. 8-11)
While Thomas says no more, Philip struggles with the difficulty of this question, feeling it would only be sufficient if the Lord would show them the Father. How little can man understand the greatness of the person of Christ! — for in Him, as He tells Philip, the Father is truly seen. What a fact of magnificent wonder! For this to be true, Christ must be Himself absolutely God manifest in flesh.
The Lord asks Philip, did he not believe that there is such essential unity between the Father and the Son that both facts are true, — He is in the Father and the Father is in Him (v. 10). Who else could ever dare to speak in such a way? Yet more than this, all the words He spoke were not independently self-conceived, but were directly from the Father. Who else could say this of every word he spoke? Also, all the works He did were in actual fact the works of the Father, who dwelt in Him. His nature, His words and His works were all identical with the Father, absolute perfection.
He asks them that they believe Him because it is true that He is in the Father and the Father in Him. Yet if this seems difficult, at least believe Him for His works' sake (v. 11): these themselves were conclusive witnesses to His glory.
GREATER WORKS CONNECTED WITH THE SPIRIT (vv. 12-26)
Again He speaks with conclusively absolute words, this time saying that believers, after He returned to His Father, and because of this, would do the same works as He Himself had done. None before had ever done such works (John 15:24); but after His resurrection and ascension His disciples would do even greater works than these. Why? Because they were identified with so glorious a person, then to be at His Father's right hand, having accomplished the greatest work that eternity can ever know, in the sacrifice of Himself.
What greater works have His disciples done after His resurrection than He had done before His death? This cannot refer to physical miracles, for He did more of these (including raising the dead) than did his disciples. But the disciples were used, by the power of the Spirit of God, in the conversion of great numbers of people, three thousand on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), large numbers at Samaria, through Philip (Acts 8), the Gentiles at Caesarea (Acts 10) and later at Antioch (Acts 11); and also in the marvelous unity produced by the Spirit of God between Jewish and Gentile believers through the ministry of Paul (cf. 1 Cor. 12 & 13).
Linked with these wonderful works is the Lord's promise of answering prayer in His name (v. 13). In His name certainly involves consistency with the character of His name, therefore subjection to His authority; for we cannot expect Him to answer prayers of which He does not approve. If it is honestly in His name He will approve it and will do what is requested, for in this the Father would be glorified in the Son. Thus, as the Son is fully united with the Father, so He encourages His saints in such unity of heart with H imself that their prayers will be consistent with this, and therefore answered.
In verse 15 it is because of love for Him that His own are asked to keep His commandments: it is the opposite of a legal spirit. His commandments are not the ten commandments given by Moses, but those laid upon us as the living fruit of faith and love (cf. 1 John 3:23). In view of His leaving, He promises that He will pray the Father, who would unfailingly answer by His giving another Comforter, the Spirit of God, who would never leave them, as Christ was doing, but abide forever (vv. 16-17). The perfect interdependence of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is evident here. While the Spirit cannot be seen or known by the world, He is yet “the Spirit of truth,” a living person, just as is true of the Father and the Son; and the Lord insists, “ye know Him,” just as they knew the Father and the Son (v. 7). As the Father dwelt with them in the person of the Son, so the Spirit dwelt with them in the same way. They knew the Spirit just as they knew the Father and the Son. Wonderful knowledge!
The Spirit of God dwelt with the disciples in the person of the Son of God (v. 17). “And shall be in you.” In this the Lord spoke of the Spirit coming at Pentecost (Acts 2) to dwell in believers, for they could receive Him only on the basis of an accomplished redemption, and after Christ had been glorified (John 7:39).
The Lord would not leave them orphans (v. 18), that is, without care and direction: He would come to them by the Spirit of God, invisible, not in bodily form, but in vital reality nevertheless. For just as the Spirit of God is in Him, so He is in the Spirit: the Father is in Him, and He is in the Father.
The world would see Him no more, but believers would see Him. This of course is the vision of faith made real by the power of the Spirit of God. Compare Hebrews 2:9. They would live because He lives: in resurrection life they would be linked with Him by the power of the Spirit, who is the life-giver.
By this power too they would know the reality of the fact that Christ is in the Father, and connected with this, that believers are in Him and He in them (v. 20). Notice that these were facts when the Lord spoke, but the disciples did not understand this until the Spirit of God came. This illustrates the fact that Old Testament saints had more than they knew they had.
Verse 21 shows that obedience to His commandments is the proof of loving Him. This is the true character of a believer. If one refuses to keep His commandments, he is not a true believer at all: he does not love Christ. One who loves Christ however is loved by the Father. This is the love of a Father toward His children, and to this is added the love of Christ and the precious fact that He would manifest Himself to the obedient one. Of course, in this He refers back to His word in verses 15 to 18: it is by the Spirit of God that today He manifests Himself to believers.
Judas (not Iscariot) is puzzled by this, as to how the Lord could be manifest to believers yet not before the world (v. 22). The Lord does not explain this, for only when the Spirit of God came could they understand this precious reality; but He does further encourage their love and obedience. One who loves Him would keep His words (not only His commandments). For love does not stop with merely performing what is required: it desires to please Him in regard to His expressed desires. This is true, normal Christian character, which should be true of us at all times, yet it is no doubt true of all believers in some measure, feeble as our measure may be.
This love cannot but draw the love of the Father; and the promise is precious, that both the Father and the Son would come and make their permanent dwelling with one whose love was evidenced by obedience. This is certainly by the Spirit of God, who dwells in true believers today.
One who does not love Him does not keep His words (v. 24): he is not a believer. Yet the word spoken by the Lord was not merely His own, but the Father's, this being another insistence on the fact that He was in no detail of His ministry independent of the Father: no one therefore has a valid excuse for not loving Him.
The Lord spoke these things while He was with them in order that, when the Spirit of God, the Comforter, was sent from the Father, the disciples would see clearly the vital connection between His ministry and that of the Spirit, who would enlighten them and bring to their remembrance what the Lord had spoken. Only this marvelous gift would enable them to enter into the truth of what He had spoken on earth and what would yet be given (v. 26).
HIS LEGACY OF PEACE (vv. 27-31)
Now the Lord leaves a legacy of peace to His disciples in a world of seething unrest (v. 27). “Peace I leave with you” is the peace with God that results from His accomplished redemption, peace left for every redeemed soul. “My peace I give unto you” refers rather to the calm tranquility with which He faced all the contrary circumstances of distress, sorrow, hatred and persecution in the world. The contemplation of this will preserve our hearts from being troubled and afraid. While the first peace here is ours at all times, the second is “the peace of God,” only known as we are in practical communion with the thoughts of the Lord Jesus (Cf. Phil. 4:6-7).
Though He was going away, this should not discourage them. In fact, they ought to have rejoiced for His sake, because He was going to the Father. Real love for Him would rejoice that His time of rejection and suffering in the world was at an end, to be exchanged for the unspeakable joy of the Father's own presence. “For,” He says, “My Father is greater than I.” Though in eternal deity Father and Son are one, yet the Father's position was greater, because He had not come down to a path of voluntary humiliation on earth. Certainly the Son's moral and spiritual greatness are equal with that of the Father, but He had taken a place of humiliation in coming down, not a place of greatness.
Verse 29 shows that He was preparing His disciples for His departure, for though they understood little, they would believe later. After that evening He would not talk much with them. The power of Satan was about to be exerted in utmost hatred against Him: He would be betrayed, arrested, subjected to criminal abuse and a mock trial, and crucified. In all of this He said little indeed, even to Pilate, the judge. But as to Satan, He only says, “he has nothing in Me.” Wonderful words! All that Satan, the prince of this world, could do was to confirm the fact of the perfection and purity of the Lord Jesus: he was defeated by a Stronger than he.
All this would prove to the world that the Lord Jesus loved the Father (v. 31), and as in His life, so in His death and resurrection, He was obeying the commandment of the Father (cf. John 10:18). “Arise, let us go from here,” He says. Though these words literally spoke of leaving the upper room, yet there is a deeper spiritual lesson here. He was leaving the world behind, and they too were to be identified with Him in this. As He is not of the world, neither are they. It appears that John 15 and John 16 were spoken as they walked toward Gethsemane.
THE MINISTRY OF EXHORTATION
CHRIST THE TRUE VINE (vv. 1-8)
The Lord's ministry of comfort, or of binding up, has been seen in John 14. Now in John 15 it is that of stirring up, or of exhortation. If, as we have seen, the sacred presence of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is a precious sanctuary, yet our feet walk on earth, and there must be the trial of faith, the practical test of reality.
Israel had been the vine brought out of Egypt and planted in the land (Isa. 5:17), but in bringing forth wild grapes had proven rebellious, not true to the proper character of the vine. She must be set aside, and Christ, the true Vine, take His place as the source of all fruit for God. For the Father both cares for the vine and its branches and He receives the fruit.
There are branches that bear no fruit, and they are all taken away (v. 2). These compare with John 6:66, disciples who, not being born again, do not continue. True believers, on the other hand, bear fruit, no doubt in different measures, but faith always bears fruit. These are “purged,” which surely involves pruning, the cutting back of that which cannot be called evil, but which may hinder the fullest measure of fruit. The Father does this by His word, the same word which has once cleansed every believer. Verse 3 is true of the eleven disciples, and true of every believer today.
Verse 4 presses the total dependence of the branches on the vine. Independently the branches cannot bear fruit. The word “abide” involves permanency of dwelling, the life of the vine flowing into the branches. It is by faith that one abides, and this is true in a vital way of all true believers: they abide in Him. Yet they are still told to abide, that is, to be in daily practice what they are in principle. For life in Christ is the vibrant principle by which we abide.
Verse 2 has spoken of fruit and more fruit. Now verse 5 adds “much fruit.” Such is the development of the new life: it is not “works” here, but “fruit,” which is the development of the very nature of the child of God, not just the things he does, though his nature will be seen also in what he does. Compare Galatians 5:22-23.
Note in verse 6 it is not said, “If you do not abide,” but “if anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered.” The Lord refers to one who is outwardly a Christian, but not inwardly, a disciple but not born again. There is no life from the Lord Jesus resident in him. The figure of grafting into the olive tree (Rom. 11:17-21) is instructive here. None of us is by nature in the vine: we are grafted into a stock altogether different than we are by nature. If the graft takes effect, the life of the vine flows into the branch: if it does not “strike,” then no life is transmitted: the branch withers and is burned. The good graft is the true believer, the ineffective graft the mere professor of Christianity. He does not abide.
Verse 7. On condition of this vital abiding in Him and His words abiding in the believer, he is promised an answer to his prayers. For this abiding is drawing from Him the vital energy of life, and His words abiding in us means that His words become so vital a feature of our existence that we ask what accords with those words: our own wills are not independent, but clinging to Him. Asking consistently with this spirit of dependence, we shall not be denied.
In this the Father is glorified, for it involves the bearing of much fruit. Not only is the fruit itself for the Father's glory, but He is glorified by the fact of His laboring with us as the Husbandman, to produce this fruit (v. 8). In this too we shall be Christ's disciples, not only in name, but in practice. Dependence and fruit-bearing will prove the reality of faith. Notice that we are not told to bear fruit, but to abide in Him, for it is this abiding that produces fruit spontaneously.
OBEDIENCE AND COMMUNION (vv. 9-16)
From verse 1 to 9 we have seen the subject of dependence and fruit-bearing: Now the subject is that of obedience and communion. This too is begun in a most significant way, for the Lord first assures the disciples of the Father's love to Him as being the same love He has toward them, and encourages them to abide in His love. When He had said “abide in Me,” life is more prominent, that is, to depend on Him for the life by which to bear fruit; but to abide in His love emphasizes that love as the dwelling of the soul, the warm, precious comfort of communion with One who delights in the fellowship of His own. But if we are to abide in His love, obedience to His commandments is an important requisite. As a child obeys his father, so he enjoys his father's love.
Abiding in the love of the Lord Jesus is necessary in order that, as He says, “My joy might abide in you.” Before this He had spoken of ”My peace” (John 14:27), that blessed tranquility with which He faced all the circumstances of evil that opposed Him; then of “My love,” the love that was fully devoted to pleasing the Father; now “My joy,” the joy of doing the Father's will in His willing self-sacrifice (cf. Heb. 12:2). It is His joy abiding in the soul that causes our joy to be full. Compare 1 John 1:4.
Having spoken of His commandments, now in verse 12 He shows that love is the very essence of His commandment, love that willingly relinquishes its own rights and comfort for the sake of the blessing of others. His love to us is its measure. None can be greater, for the next morning He would be on the cross, to lay down His life for those whom He calls friends. What a Friend indeed He was to them! Yet also, all who obey His commandments are His friends, that is, of course, those who give Him the supreme place of authority in true reality. In them only divine life is operative. Mere outward lip-service, as in Judas, was not enough.
Verse 15. As He is about to suffer, He no longer calls His disciples servants, but friends; for a servant's place is not to enter into and understand his master's affairs in such a way as the master may desire to make known to his friends. So the Lord had made known to His disciples all that the Father had given Him as matters of revelation. At the time their understanding of it was no doubt very limited, but His imminent death and resurrection and the coming of the Spirit of God would illuminate these things for them in a most wonderful measure.
The credit for this was in no way due to them, but to Him: He had chosen them, not they Him (v. 16). He had ordained, or appointed them for the purpose of going out in the world to bear fruit. It is He only who ordains His messengers: this is never to be in the hands of any man or group of men. Christ is the source of their authority, and the source by whom they bear fruit, for He is the vine. Fruit from this source will abide. Then He confirms what He had said in verse 7, but adds the value of His own name in reference to their prayers to the Father. The Father honors the name of the Son, and that which accords with the proper honor of that name will receive its answer from the Father.
SEPARATION AND SUFFERING (vv. 17-25)
Just as we have seen that dependence and fruit-bearing are connected, and obedience and communion are inseparable, so in this section separation and suffering go together. This begins with the repeated command to love one another, for believers are unitedly separate from the world. Among themselves let love be a powerful, living reality, for from the world they may expect hatred: it had certainly shown its hatred toward their Lord, and they, being chosen out of the world, were therefore not of the world. It is not surprising that this incurs the world's hatred with its accompanying persecution. For while we remain in the world, there is yet a moral separation that becomes intolerable to the world, because its immoral, unholy ways are condemned by such moral separation.
Here we need that word, “remember.” If we tend to feel resentful or discouraged because of the world's attitude, how imperative that we keep in mind the history of our Lord among men, as He had emphasized to them in His words. The servant cannot expect better treatment than his Lord, for his Lord is greater then he. Those who have persecuted Christ will do the same to His followers: those favorable to Him will be favorable to them.
What encouragement there is in verse 21 for the suffering believer! He may accept whatever persecution that may come as for Christ's name's sake, remembering that the world is ignorant of the Father who sent the Son, and therefore does not understand the significance of the evil it is doing.
Yet God takes full account of all of this, and having sent His Son, will use this means of manifesting the true character of an evil world, a world which successfully keeps its corrupt condition in measure covered up, so long as there is no contrasting standard presented before its eyes. But the Son of God has come, and has spoken. If He had not come, “they had not had sin,” that is, their sin would not have been brought to the light, manifested for what it actually is. Now they were exposed, with no cover-up left them.
Instead of this leading to their broken confession before God, it incurred their hatred of Christ, which proved their hatefulness toward His Father too, whatever may have been their claims of knowing God.
In verse 22 He has spoken of His person, as coming, and His words: in verse 24 He adds to this His works done among men as fully witnessing to the glory of His person and the truth of His words, a threefold, substantial presentation of God's own standard of pure truth. No other had done, or could do, what He did. In all this the Father had been manifested, but by the world both He and His Father had been hated.
Yet God was in perfect control. He had foretold this in ”their law,” where the Messiah is represented as saying, “They hated Me without a cause” (Ps. 35:19). So the Jews ignorantly fulfilled their own scriptures by their hatred and rejection of Christ. Nothing can thwart the fulfillment of the word of God.
THE MINISTRY OF POWER
POWER BY THE SPIRIT OF GOD (v. 26 — ch. 16:15)
Verses 26 and 27 properly belong to John 16; and here again the Comforter is introduced, who has not been spoken of since John 14:26, where He is linked with the Lord's ministry of consolation. But now the ministry of power is emphasized, the Lord giving through the Spirit the capacity and energy for witness in a hostile world.
Let us observe the great beauty of verse 26 as indicating the pure unity and interdependency of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Comforter would come, sent by the Son, but from the Father. Yet again, He would of His own volition proceed from the Father. The Son sent Him (John 10:7); the Father sent Him (John 14:26); and it is just as true that He proceeded of His own volition. Precious unity indeed!
His coming is with the object of testifying of Christ as the One rejected and crucified by the world, but raised from among the dead and glorified by His God and Father. Yet more than this, the disciples of the Lord Jesus would have the blessed dignity of being identified with the Spirit of God in this great work of bearing witness to the grace and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, for they had companied with the Lord from the beginning of His ministry (v. 27).
This itself was a valuable present reward for their fellowship with the Lord Jesus in His sufferings, that is, to have fellowship with the Spirit of God in witness to Him. Let us also deeply value the honor of being linked with Him in whatever measure of suffering and witness. Because of this too our future prospect is to reign with Him.
All that the Lord spoke on that memorable night was intended for the preparation of His disciples for what would face them in view of His death, resurrection and return to the glory. There would be stern tests for them such as they had not yet seen, and He prepares them that they should not be stumbled and faint under the trial. They would be put out of the synagogues (v. 2), just as had the man recovered from blindness (John 9:34), a dreadful experience for a Jew, for this meant rejection by his own people. More than this, there would be those who considered that they were really serving God by the murder of believers. Saul of Tarsus is one example of this perverse attitude (1 Tim. 1:13).
But let believers not be embittered or discouraged by such persecution, for it stemmed from ignorance, not merely ignorance of certain principles, but of the Father and the Son personally (v. 3). The Lord was forewarning them in order that, when these things occurred, they would remember His perfect wisdom as being really in control of all that transpired. What calmness and rest this would give in the face of such tribulation!
It had not been necessary at the beginning of His ministry to speak to them of these things, for He Himself had been their support in person. Now He was returning to the Father: they would be left to be tested without His personal presence to sustain them: therefore His word was of vital importance. But He says, “none of you asks Me, Where are You going?” (v. 5). This may seem a contradiction of John 13:36, but in that case Peter's interest was not really awakened at all in reference to the Father's presence, of which the Lord spoke. The Lord had sought many times to exercise them as to what it meant that He was going to Him who had sent Him, but they had not sufficient concern to enquire about this. They thought only of a mere location.
If they had realized that His return to the Father's presence would be pure joy and bliss to Him, this should have given them joy too; but instead sorrow had filled their heart. Yet His leaving was profitable even for them. He insists that in this He is telling them the truth, for they were dull of hearing. He must go away in order that the Comforter, the Spirit of God, would come (v. 7). For the Spirit's coming to dwell in the Church is the result of redemption accomplished and Christ raised and glorified at the Father's right hand. Only then would He send the Spirit to them.
The profit of this is wonderful. Christ in bodily form could be present only in one place at any time. The Spirit has indwelt every believer of the present age the world over, providing inward grace and strength for all. Moreover, this inward power gives understanding of the word of God such as they could not have before. Also, the saints have now an Intercessor within them and one above them, Christ in glory. All this would stimulate within them the vital exercise of faith.
Having come, the Spirit would present to the world a clear demonstration as to the serious facts of sin, righteousness and judgment, facts that the would would rather ignore, but which God requires to be faced (v. 8). First, sin is demonstrated by the fact that the world does not believe in Christ. For Christ is the Son of God, the Creator: refusal of Him is dreadful sin. The names of men generally are not treated with contempt, as His is. Sin is the plain reason for this.
But if sin exists, so does righteousness, and righteousness is demonstrated by the fact that, though man has crucified the Son of God, yet God has raised Him from among the dead, and He is received at the Father's right hand (v. 10). Righteousness has triumphed and vindicated Him whom sin had slain. So the Spirit of God directs attention to Christ glorified in order to demonstrate to man the fact of righteousness.
Moreover, if there is such a thing as sin and such a thing as righteousness, then there must be such a thing as judgment. This is demonstrated by the fact that Satan, the prince of this world, has been judged by Christ's triumphant death and resurrection
(Compare John 13:31). This judgment is now accomplished, not that which is future. To this the Spirit of God bears witness, He Himself being the power by which believers present this present-day demonstration to the world. It is good to pay close attention to these things if we are to be in the current of the Spirit's present work in testimony to the world.
But the Lord could not tell the disciples all that He desired them to know: they were not at that time able for it (v. 12). He must first suffer and die, and be raised again, and the Spirit of God be sent to indwell them. It was He, the Spirit of truth, who would guide them into all truth. Also, just as Christ had not spoken from Himself, that is, independently, so is this true of the Spirit. He is in perfect concord with the Father and the Son. As Christ had heard from the Father, so He spoke. Just so, the Spirit speaks as He hears, and He would reveal, not only things for the dispensation of grace, but things to come, which certainly includes the rapture and what the book of Revelation declares.
As Christ had glorified the Father, so the Spirit today glorifies Christ: He is the special Object of the Spirit's testimony (v. 14). The Spirit receives of all that belongs to the Son and reveals this to believers. Also, all that the Father has belongs to the Son. Compare Genesis 24:2, the servant of Abraham's house ruling over all that Abraham had. This is typical of the Spirit of God, Abraham being a type of God the Father. Verse 36 adds that unto Isaac (type of Christ) Abraham had given all that he had. The unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is again clearly emphasized here. The work of the Spirit will certainly lead to deepest reverence toward the Father and the Son.
THE MINISTRY OF OBJECTIVE POWER — CHRIST IN GLORY (vv. 16-32)
We have seen in the first part of this chapter the subjective (inward) power given to believers in their having the Spirit of God. In this latter part of the chapter our attention is focused on Christ in glory, who is the objective power to enable us for meeting whatever needs may arise. As an illustration of this, though Stephen, when he bore witness before the Jewish council, was filled with the Holy Spirit, yet this was not his object (Acts 7:55-56). Because Christ was his Object in glory, this imbued him with the living energy of faith. Thus, the Spirit worked in conjunction with Stephen's appreciation of Christ.
For a little while now they would see the Lord Jesus. He speaks of His being in death, when they would leap and lament. but again they would see him, for He was going to the Father, which involved His resurrection and ascension in bodily form. Note however that at this time He does not say that again they would not see Him. For their seeing Him in resurrection would give them fully opened eyes, to see Him by faith at God's right hand. Compare John 14:19 and Hebrews 2:9.
But they are perplexed by His words (v. 17). How little could they understand at the time! When this had taken place, however, and the Spirit given at Pentecost, His words surely would come back to them in precious reality. Yet at the time they were reticent to ask Him, though desirous to do so. So He gently asks as to their inquiring among themselves, and seeks further to prepare them for the ordeal of their seeing Him taken by wicked hands and crucified (v. 20). Though He had told them this before, they had not taken it in. Compare Luke 9:21-22; 44-45.
Now He tells them only that they would weep and lament while the world would rejoice. This of course would be at the time of their not seeing Him. “But,” He hastens to add, “your sorrow shall be turned into joy.” His illustration of the travailing of a mother in childbirth is lovely (v. 21). The pain and sorrow must come before the joy. How wonderful though that the Lord speaks here of the sorrow of His disciples, not at all of His own sorrow, which in fact was infinitely deeper than theirs. In the face of all that He knew lay before Him, He occupied Himself in tender grace on behalf of them in their sorrow. This is pure, unaffected love. He encourages them in the knowledge that the result of the travail in birth of a child is such joy that the sorrow is forgotten.
They now had sorrow in being told He would leave them. Of course that sorrow would increase greatly in their witnessing the dread experience of His crucifixion. But He would see them again in resurrection and bring great joy to their hearts such as none could ever take away (v. 22). This was true though He Himself would then leave them to return to His Father. For His seeing them implies a nearness continued throughout this dispensation of grace, by the power of the Spirit of God.
They would no longer have Him present to bring to Him their concerns and requests, but He tells them to ask the Father in His name, insisting that the Father will definitely answer such prayer (v. 23-24). We must remember, of course, that this does not mean merely the formal expression in prayer, “in Christ's name,” but rather if truly in His name, our prayers will be consistent with all that His name implies, therefore in true subjection to His authority.
While He was with them, they of course had not asked in His name: now they are encouraged to find such delight in that name that they ask with firm, holy confidence for that which will honor that name. In this their joy would be full.
He had used a parabolic form of speaking, for they could not have in any measure understood if He had spoken in abstract terms as to the Father and matters of spiritual import (v. 25). No doubt their understanding of the significance of His parables was very limited, but they were intended to awaken exercise that would eventually have its answer when the Spirit of God should come. By the Spirit the Lord would then show them plainly of the Father, for it is only by spiritual means that spiritual things are properly communicated (1 Cor. 2:13).
Christ being then personally absent, they would ask in His name. He does not mean that He would be the Mediator in their asking, but rather that they would have direct access to the Father in His name. For He encourages their confidence in the Father's love for them. He does not want them to feel that He Himself is more accessible than is the Father. He has revealed the Father, whose love is certainly the same as His own, and who loves them because of their faith and love toward His Son.
In verse 28 He speaks, as they themselves say, “plainly.” Proceeding from the Father, He had come into the world: now He would leave the world and return to the Father. While there is no doubt as to the simplicity of His words, as they acknowledge, yet how little did they take them in! When He actually was taken and crucified, they were so unprepared as to be utterly crushed and uncomprehending.
Yet they confess their certainty that He knows all things, and that His greatness is therefore beyond all questioning of men. This can be true of none but God, and they at least acknowledge that they know He had come from God (v. 30). It is precious that their faith went beyond the limits of their understanding, for it is evident that they were far from understanding the significance of all that was involved in the Lord's words.
The Lord asks the disciples, “Do you now believe?” For they little understood all that was involved in His words. Is He really God manifest in flesh? If so, then nothing could possibly defeat His wisdom and purpose. He is to be absolutely depended upon. But He says that the hour was upon them that they would scatter from Him, each in his own independent direction, leaving Him, the Son of God, alone! Which of us would have been any different? How sadly weak is the faith we profess!
“Yet,” He adds, “I am not alone, because the Father is with Me” (v. 32). When the test came they would all fail, but in the Father and the Son all faithfulness and stability remained unshaken. The prince of this world could find nothing in Him, no slightest proclivity to yielding to temptation. This too was the basis of their peace. Though in themselves was weakness and confusion, yet in Him they had peace (v. 33). Blessed resting place for faith! Though in the world they could expect persecution, He exhorts them to be of good cheer, for He (not they) had overcome the world. Confidence was to be, not in themselves, but fully in Him.
HIS MINISTRY OF INTERCESSION (vv. 1-26)
In chapters 13 to 16 the Lord has completed what He had to tell His disciples, ending with the empowering ministry of chapter 16. He has made every provision for them. But in chapter 17 He adds to this His own faithful intercession on their behalf before the Father's face, His speaking to the Father for them. How marvelous it is that we should be privileged to hear this precious prayer, the communing of the Son with the Father on behalf of His beloved people. He speaks as being co-equal with the Father, so that the calm, sublime dignity of His Godhead glory shines out beautifully in all the prayer.
Observe too that this prayer was spoken before He went into the garden, where, prostrate in agony, He anticipated the dread sufferings of the cross (c. John 18:1; Luke 22:39-44). His spotless, holy Manhood is most evident in Luke 22, but in John 17 He lifts up His eyes to heaven (v.1), as the One Himself in pure fellowship with the Father and in perfect control of every circumstance that was to meet Him. There could be no question as to His supreme victory before ever we see Him in agonizing prayer in the garden.
COMMUNION, AS EQUAL WITH THE FATHER (vv. 1-8)
He begins, not with entreaty, but telling the Father that the hour had come and that now the Father was to glorify His Son, that His Son might glorify Him. How beautifully here is seen the pure equality and unity of the Father and Son. He passes over His imminent sufferings, for the end in view is what occupies His thoughts. In His return to glory, both He and His Father would be glorified.
His glorification would demonstrate too that the Father had given Him authority over all flesh. He says nothing of what that authority involves in reference to the ungodly, but it does involve His giving eternal life to all whom the Father has given Him. Giving life is a prerogative only of God.
What is eternal life? Verse 3 tells us, not by giving a definition of it, but by directing us to its blessed fountain, the knowledge of the Father, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the sent One of God. We can only know it as it is expressed in persons. In measure we see glimpses of it in every believer, but only in the Father and the Son do we see it in fullness and perfection.
No other could be able or be entitled to declare before God that he had glorified Him on earth, for neither had any done so, nor is any other able to pronounce as to this, nor as to whether he has really completed what he was sent for. Verse 4 therefore indicates His perfect divine intelligence, as well as His work of divine perfection.
In verse 5 therefore His being glorified involves no less than full sharing of the glory of the Father, and He speaks here of the same glory He had shared with the Father before the world was. He had come to earth in voluntary humiliation, veiling the glory that is rightly His. Now He was to return to that place of ineffable, eternal bliss which is known only by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
In verse 4 He has said, I have glorified Thee,” and 'I have finished the work.” Following this he uses the expression “I have” eight times, in each of these cases elucidating on His first words. He had manifested the Father's name to those in whom the Father had worked, to present them as a gift to His Son. They understood, while the world did not, for they were chosen out of the world. Though they had been the Father's possession, yet only the Son had made the Father known to them, and He says, “they have kept Thy word.” He is not speaking of how fully they have kept it, but of the fact, which is true of every believer.
Verse 7 is lovely in showing that everything seen in the Person of the Son is a direct communication from the Father. Believers have known this, and no doubt should know it in a more conscious and consistent way.
All the words the Father had given Him (no less and no more) He had given to His own. They had received them, not without perplexity and questioning in some cases, yet in vital reality of faith they had done so; and this gave them absolute confidence that Christ had come out from the Father (v. 8). Notice that this expression shows the Son's personal energy and initiative in coming forth; while it is added, “they have believed that You sent Me,” and this indicates the Father's initiative. Both are true, for Father and Son are One.
PRAYER FOR HIS DISCIPLES (vv. 9-19)
“I pray for them.” How wonderful to hear His intercession before His Father's face! Yet He does not pray for the world. In fact, for the world as a system away from God there is no hope: it is appointed to judgment (Acts17:31), But the true disciples are the Father's gift to His Son; and since He is leaving them for the time, He especially commends them to the Father's tender care, for they remain just as really the Father's as the Son's.
So that verse 10 confirms that all that is the Father's He shares in common with the Son, and all that is the Son's He shares in common with the Father. Moreover, the Son is glorified in them. In them is wondrous proof of the greatness of His work, though He has been here in lowliest humiliation, seeking no glory for Himself.
But He was leaving the world and leaving His own in it while He Himself was returning to His Father, whom He addresses as “Holy Father” because of the relationship of a Father with His children. He is sanctified, apart from all that is evil, loving what is good, and He deals with believers in such holiness, not simply in righteousness, as with the world (v. 15), in which case He is judge. He asks the Father to keep in His own name those who are given to the Son. The Son had kept them while He was with them, and this care would not be discontinued because of His absence. None of His own were lost: if Judas seemed an exception, it was because he was “the son of perdition,” never a true disciple at all (v. 12). Scripture had foreseen the treachery of Judas and his sad end in judgment: if he seemed to be a true disciple, this was due only to his deceit in covering his falsehood. But the word of God would triumph. Verse 13 is clear that this prayer of the Lord is spoken and recorded for the sake of His true disciples, that His own joy might be fulfilled in them; that is, the joy of direct communion with the Father.
As to this, the Father's word was vital, and the Son had given them this full communication of the mind of the Father. It was this that drew out the world's hatred toward them, because it separated them from the world. In fact, in the same measure that Christ is not of the world, so are His disciples not of the world (v. 14). His word clearly draws the line.
But the reality of their sanctification is to be proven by their being left in the world for the time. The Lord prays that they might be kept out of the evil that so permeates the world, while they pass through the midst of it. In this connection He repeats His words at the end of verse 14. While He was in the world He had been morally apart from it in purest reality: He was both their Object and their Example.
They required the truth, the word of God, to accomplish this practical sanctification. He asks the Father to apply this, for without such sovereign power we should be helpless. The Father Himself gives effect to His word.
As the Son had been sent by the Father into the world, so the Son sends His disciples into the world, not to be part of it, but as His own representatives. Wonderful dignity indeed! For their sakes He was about to sanctify Himself in a complete way, that is, through leaving the world entirely, returning to His Father, in order that His disciples might be sanctified in truth. How beautifully this is seen later in the book of Acts: Christ, set apart in glory, becomes such an Object that His disciples' eyes are so turned toward heaven that the world loses all appeal to them: theirs becomes a vital, real sanctification, the truth of the word holding living power over their souls. If sanctified from the world, it is because of the positive power of sanctification to Christ in glory.
PRAYER FOR ALL BELIEVERS (vv. 20-26)
But not only did He pray for His disciples of that day: He adds to them all who would believe on Him through their word, which of course includes every believer following that time, for they have been brought in by the word of the Lord communicated to His disciples and recorded in scripture. He prays for the unity of practical life among them as based on that unity of eternal life that is implied in verse 11. Thus, the unity in nature is spoken of first (v. 11), then the unity of practice (v. 21), then the unity of future glory (v. 23). In verse 21 the desired result of unity in practice is that the world may believe that Christ has been sent by the Father. Though our practice in this is feeble indeed, yet it is seen in measure by the world. May we increase that measure!
Now the Lord speaks of glory which the Father has given Him, in contrast to the glory He had with the Father before the world was, for this latter glory is exclusively that of deity. It cannot be shared with man. But what the Father has given Him in virtue of His great work in Manhood, His voluntary humiliation and sacrifice, He delights to share with those for whom He has died. This glory is now given to believers, but will only be displayed when we are with Him, we being brought into a oneness with Himself that is measured by His own oneness with the Father.
Verse 17 speaks of the perfection of unity that we shall fully realize at the coming of the Lord Jesus, and in this case it is said, not only that the world may believe, but that it may know that the Father has sent the Son and has loved believers as He has loved His Son. All will be fully manifest then. But to be loved by the Father as He loves His own beloved Son is a matter that surely fills our hearts with wondering appreciation. It is true, absolutely, and intended to give calm, firm confidence before His face. The world will know it then: we are to know it now.
Further, how sweetly that love is seen in His expressed desire of verse 24. For love cannot be satisfied apart from having its objects near. He prays for this, which we know will be accomplished at His coming, as He has said in John 14:3. We may be sure He desires this more than we do. Then we shall actually see the glory the Father has given Him: though we share in it even now, yet we little realize the precious fullness of that which He has acquired through His lowly path of suffering on earth and His blessed work of redeeming grace.
Notice that the infinite distinction of dignity in Himself as far above us is carefully maintained; for though we share His glory and are loved by the Father with the same love, yet it is His glory we are to behold, and it is He Himself whom the Father has loved before the foundation of the world.
Verse 25. Because the world is so ignorant of righteousness, it is also ignorant of the “righteous Father.” One must face the truth of His righteousness, as in the epistle to the Romans, if the Father Himself is ever to be known. But the Son, the righteous One (1 John 2:1), has intimately known the father, and divine grace has so worked in the hearts of true disciples as to give them the vital knowledge that the Father has sent the Son.
In verse 6 He had said that He has manifested the Father's name to believers: now He adds to this His declaration of the Father's name. The first has to do with His character and actions: the latter with His words. Both were in perfect accord. But in resurrection also He would still declare the Father's name, as He did to Mary Magdalene (John 20:17), and as He does now by the Spirit of God and the written word given to the Church of God. By this He shares with them the love of the Father toward Himself, and they are blessed with His own presence “in them.” Apart from His own declaration, how could we ever know these things to be true? Wonderful then is the value of this prayer for our own encouragement!
BETRAYED AND ARRESTED (vv. 1-12)
The Son of God goes calmly, steadily on to the great conquest of Calvary, each step of the way perfectly measured by divine wisdom. The fact of His going into the garden of Gethsemane is mentioned, and His disciples being with Him, but nothing is said here of His prayer of agony in the garden, being prostrate in supplication “with strong crying and tears.” For that prayer belongs to the lowliness of His spotless Manhood, not to the sublime glory of His deity. In John we see Him as perfectly in control of all the circumstances that faced Him, His way being in every moral respect the triumphal march of a Conqueror.
How pathetic is the deceitful treachery of Judas! How grossly deceived by Satan is the poor, blinded “son of perdition!” How totally is he a stranger to the pure grace and truth of the heart of the Son of God! In the callous ignorance of unbelief he fulfills scripture. Judas knew well the Lord's accustomed practices, but knew nothing of His heart. He could not find the Lord as his Savior, but it was no difficulty for him to find Him in order to betray Him to His enemies! He brings the soldiers and officers, well equipped with lanterns, torches and weapons (v. 3), a formidable array to accomplish the arrest of a Man whom they knew was no revolutionary or rabble-rouser! All of this on their part was vain folly, for it was demonstrated to them that their show of strength was abject weakness in His presence, without His showing the least resistance, physically speaking.
Observe in verse 4 that He knew all things that should come upon Him. All the power of the enemy was being concentrated now: religious leaders, the Jews, the Gentiles and their rulers would all unite in vicious hatred against the Son of God; a true disciple would deny Him, a false disciple was betraying Him, all would forsake Him; and far more than this, that He would suffer the awesome judgment of God against sin on the cross of Calvary. Yet in calm, blessed dignity He went forth. Wondrous, adorable Son of God!
Face to face with this militant band He asks simply, “Whom are you seeking?” Their answer is “Jesus of Nazareth.” Because Nazareth was a place despised by the Jews (cf. John 1:46), their speaking in this way was intended to belittle Him. But He says only “I Am.” This is His name as the eternal, self-existent One (cf. Ex. 3:14), whose glory is infinite. (Note that it is stated at this point that Judas stood with them, on the side of those who defied the living God.) But it is no wonder that at the words “I Am” they immediately all drew back and fell to the ground (v. 6). Powerless, they are prostrated at His feet.
Again He asks them the same question. If it is necessary for the Son of God to ask the same question a second time, it is evident that the first answer was deficient. Indeed, their being humbled to the dust ought to have changed their attitude toward Him; but they answer again in the same slighting way. Such is the blinding power of Satan.
He firmly insists that He has told them that “I Am.” If they seek Him, then as to the disciples He says, “let these go their way” (v. 8). He will bear full responsibility, alone. For His word must be fulfilled: He would lose none of those His Father had given Him.
How little does Peter understand this! Though he had seen the power of his Lord's word in prostrating His enemies, he seems to think it appropriate that he should be the defender of the Lord of glory! Evidently the soldiers had been allowed to stand again, and Peter uses his sword on the servant of the high priest, apparently aiming at his head, but only severing his ear from his head.
But there is no further action. The word of the Lord prevails: His own presence stops all violence. We read in Luke 22:51 that He touched the servant's ear and healed him, but in John the power of His word, rather than His gracious action, is emphasized. He presses the fact that it was from His Father's hand He would receive the cup: He would not shrink from the cross, nor fight with men who were only tools to accomplish His Father's will, ignorant of this as they were. How beautifully He fulfills all that of which the burnt offering speaks, glorifying the Father by the complete devotion of Himself in willing sacrifice.
Only “then” (v. 12), after the Lord speaks of drinking the cup His Father had given Him, are His enemies allowed to bind Him. Having seen His power so calmly exercised over them, it is almost amazing that they would dare now to take Him in this way. But neither shame nor fear moves them from the blind folly of their way. These of course are not Roman soldiers, but Jewish, and in the employ of the Jewish authorities.
IN THE COURT OF THE HIGH PRIEST (vv. 13-27)
They take Him to Annas, father in law to the high priest, Caiaphas. The Romans had made a practice of requiring a change in the high priesthood frequently, a totally unscriptural thing, Annas had been high priest at a previous time, and possibly the Jews still desired to give him this place, though they could not do so officially. In verses 19 and 22 he is even spoken of as the high priest, for the hearing before Annas continued till verse 24, which is properly translated, “Annas therefore sent Him bound unto Caiaphas.” Only John speaks of this hearing, and does not give any account of the hearing before Caiaphas, as do the other Gospels. It may have been that both of them were occupying the palace of the high priest. But it was Caiaphas who had urged the death of the Lord.
Verse 15 assures us that Simon Peter followed Jesus, though Luke 22:54 speaks of his following “afar off.” He was true, but faltering, as is sadly the case with too many of us who are believers. Another disciple (evidently John, the writer of this book) followed and went with Jesus into the palace of the high priest. He was known to the high priest, who evidently therefore knew of his identification with Christ . Before this all the disciples had forsaken Him (Matt. 26:56), but grace had apparently recovered John, so that he went calmly in, and later also stood by the cross of Jesus while others stood afar off (John 19:25; Luke 23:49).
Through John's influence Peter is allowed inside (v. 16), and the girl at the door naturally asks him if he was not also (as was John) one of Christ's disciples. We may wonder at the fear of one so naturally bold, but in the things of God one cannot depend on his own strength, and this was his downfall: words come from his lips that must have torn his inmost soul, “I am not.”
Therefore he does not evidently stand with John, but with the servants and officers who were warming themselves at a fire. Before Peter is questioned a second time, however, attention is drawn back to the Lord by the questioning of Annas (v. 19). Peter was given a little time to think of the previous warning of the Lord as to his denying Him three times, but it seems that Peter's fear had practically paralyzed him.
Verse 19 demonstrates that the Jews had no charge to lay against the Lord. This was not a trial, but an inquisition in which they were seeking to find an accusation. The Lord answers in perfect truth, and becomingly. He had spoken openly to the world, teaching in the synagogues and in the temple, and having nothing to hide. There is no reason whatever therefore that He should be on the defensive in seeking to explain His teaching to the high priest: others had heard this: if witness was required, it was not He Himself who should be such a witness. Testimony could easily be obtained from anyone who had heard Him. Certainly these plain words were a reproof to the high priest's manifest lack of judicial sense, and he is made to feel that he is under the tribunal of the Son of God rather than the reverse.
But immediately a gross violation of justice occurs in the court, under the eyes of the high priest, who does not so much as reprimand it. An officer struck the Lord with the palm of his hand because he was irritated that the Lord had discerned the high priest's violation of judicial order. But evil could not draw from the Lord of glory any resentful, bitter response. Rather, He asks, if He had spoken evil, then let the officer bear witness of the evil, as is the only proper procedure in court, but if He had spoken well, why this violence? Again, only the Lord acts with the calm, judicial fairness of a righteous judge.
Annas was defeated, and very likely fearful of being more humiliated, he sends the Lord Jesus bound to Caiaphas, as verse 24 tells us. Caiaphas is evidently more adamantly determined that Christ must die.
To observe the Lord's calm, faithful witness to the truth has not awakened Peter out of the weakness of his fear. He is asked again as to his being a disciple of the Lord Jesus, and again denies it (v. 25). But of course he is in the wrong company, warming himself at the world's fire. If our hearts are cold, we may no doubt try this, but it is no substitute for the warming of the Lord's near presence. He is pressed a third time by a relative of the servant whose ear Peter had cut off, and who had seen him in the garden. At Peter's third denial, the cock crew. Luke adds to this the Lord's look at Peter, and Peter's going out and weeping bitterly (Luke 22:61-62). He was not there to see any more of the Lord's faithful and true witness. What agony of soul must have been his from that time until meeting the Lord in resurrection!
BEFORE THE ROMAN JUDGE (vv. 28-40)
For the hearing before Caiaphas we must compare Matthew 26:57-68 and Matthew 27:1, for John is silent as to this. But these two hearings occupied the whole night, so that it was early in the morning when the Lord was led to Pilate's hall of judgment (v. 28). How intent were the Jews upon His destruction with no delay! For evil cannot afford to wait for the due processes of sober, careful, deliberate judgment, lest it should be exposed.
They would not enter the judgment hall themselves, for they religiously considered this a defiling thing: yet they would require the Lord Jesus to enter. They themselves would remain outside and clamor loudly for the death of the innocent victim! They knew the eating of the Passover did not allow of outward defilement, but the Lord had told them that the evil coming from their own hearts is that which defiled them (Matt. 15:11). They had tried to avoid taking Him on the feast day (Matt. 26:5), But God had decreed that the Lord Jesus should be sacrificed on the day of the Passover, and it was this day that Judas found convenient to betray Him.
Pilate, the Roman judge, must go out to the Jews to inquire as to their accusation against Christ. In answer they have no accusation whatever, but haughtily tell Pilate that he should consider Christ a malefactor simply because they brought Him to Pilate (v. 30)! Had Pilate then only acted justly, he should have declared that the prisoner must be set free, for there was no specific charge against Him. But not at all being qualified as a just judge, he desired to slip out from any responsibility, an attitude he continued to maintain until he had enmeshed himself in the folly of history's most dreadful injustice.
Pilate tells the Jews to judge the Lord Jesus according to their law, for he knew well that the whole matter was one of religious prejudice, not a major criminal case, which the Romans did not allow the Jews to handle. But they had already determined, before any trial, that He was to be put to death, and they could not legally do this themselves; therefore they demanded that Pilate should condemn Him to death. More than this, the Lord Himself had foretold that His death would be that of crucifixion (v. 32), the Roman means of capital punishment, rather than that of Jewish stoning.
Certainly Pilate ought to have immediately refused this, but he returned into the judgment hall and asked the Lord a question that had nothing to do with judging the case. But he was evidently afraid that there was some substance to the report that He was King of the Jews. He asks as to this, and the Lord in reply asks him a pertinent question (v. 34), as to whether he had personal concern about this, or was it something reported to him that was really of little consequence? For Christ had certainly not laid claim to Israel's throne.
Pilate was quick to disclaim all responsibility, by questioning, “Am I a Jew?” But why had he then asked his first question? Of course it was true, as he said, that the Lord's own nation and their rulers had delivered Him to Pilate. But Pilate's responsibility was to judge righteously as regards any charge brought against the Lord. Yet no charge had been laid. He asks the Lord, “What have You done?” This again was no question for a judge to ask: it was for the accusers to lay the charge as to what He had done, and the judge was to consider strictly this charge.
The Lord Jesus therefore ignores his question and tells Pilate something to give serious concern to his conscience. His kingdom is not of this world: if it had been so, his servants, according to worldly principles, would fight for His protection (v. 36), and Pilate knew that neither He nor His servants had clamored for authority on earth. His kingdom was from another source. Pilate understands nothing of this, but asks if then Jesus is a king. The Lord's positive answer leaves Pilate with an uncomfortable conscience. In pure reality He is a king, being born and coming into the world, not to reign, but to bear witness to the truth (v. 37). Here is true moral kingly character proven in lowly grace and rejection before the time of His reigning as King of kings. This bearing witness to the truth of God amidst evil has in it an exquisite royal dignity and beauty that will attract every honest heart. The Lord further declares that everyone (not only Jews) who is of the truth hears His voice, for in Him is absolute truth.
Pilate, fearing to find himself exposed under the searching light of this uncomfortable and searching “truth,” again slips out of responsibility by lightly affirming (rather than asking) “What is truth”? He wanted no answer, since he moved in an atmosphere accustomed to ignoring the truth. He went out and tried again to give the Jews the responsibility of setting the prisoner free, for he himself, though he found no fault in the Lord, wanted no responsibility either in freeing or condemning Him.
Therefore he resorts to a political move. A custom among the Jews allowed that they could secure the release of a prisoner at the time of the Passover. Pilate suggests to them therefore that they should accept the release of the Lord. This was morally wrong, of course, for He was entitled to release altogether apart from this: He was not guilty. Likely Pilate was shocked by the Jews' demand instead for the release of Barabbas, a notorious robber (also a rebel and a murderer — Luke 23:19).
CRIMINALLY ASSAULTED IN THE COURT! (vv. 1-12)
Pilate then tried another desperate move, having the Lord scourged. This was gross injustice, yet he hoped by this to placate the Jews' enmity, considering that they might be satisfied if only the Lord was humiliated, and therefore not insist on His death. The soldiers added to this the scorn of crowning Him with thorns and clothing Him in purple, in derision of His being a king, then striking Him with their hands (vv. 1-3). Thus Pilate orders and allows criminal assault to take place in his court!
After such cruel abuse, Pilate went forth to announce that he will bring Christ forth to make it clear before all that he has found no fault in Him. He presents Him with the words, “Behold the Man!” But the crown of thorns and the purple robe made no difference to the bitter determination of the chief priests: they cry out for His crucifixion, though as yet they have laid no charge (v. 6).
Pilate tells them to take the responsibility for crucifying Him, for he for the third time says he has found no fault in Him. But it is not within their jurisdiction to pass judgment that He be crucified, and they are determined that Pilate should do so. Yet it is their own Jewish law to which they appeal, declaring that their law demands His death because He had acknowledged to them that He is the Son of God. Certainly Roman law would not consider this as a criminal charge. Nor could they point to a specific tenet of their own law that would confirm their words.
Though Pilate had been afraid because of the calm, unusual dignity of a prisoner such as he had never before faced, he is the more afraid, for he cannot but think it may be true that He is the Son of God (v. 7). Why did he not then immediately release Him? Simply because Pilate had made himself the victim of his own vacillating. Troubled, he asked the Lord, “Where are You from?” Again, for a judge this is a totally irrelevant question: the Lord did not answer.
This irritated Pilate and he used his judicial authority unjustly again in an effort to intimidate the Lord, speaking as being the final authority as to whether one should be released or crucified. But in fact, the only authority had was to judge righteously according to the evidence. More than that, the Lord reproves him solemnly with the assertion that Pilate had no authority at all except that which was allowed him from above (v. 11), for there is no authority but of God. Every other authority is only delegated by Him (Rom. 13:1). But the Lord adds that the high priest, who had delivered Him to Pilate, had the greater sin. For the high priest had used his position of spiritual authority as derived from scripture in a manner grossly contrary to scripture and to God's authority therein clearly declared. He was more responsible, therefore his sin was greater. Yet Pilate's misuse of authority was sin also: the Lord would not allow him to slip of his responsibility.
Conscience evidently pressing him, Pilate seeks some means by which he might release the Lord; but the Jews are ready with another weapon. They tell him that such action would show no friendship to Caesar, claiming that the Lord had made Himself a king and was therefore declaiming against Caesar. In fact, this meant nothing to the Jews themselves, but they gain their deceitful end by making Pilate fearful as to his own position and recognition by Caesar. This overrides his conscience.
CONDEMNED AND CRUCIFIED (vv. 13-24)
Pilate is defeated by his own political maneuvering. He has decided to give in to the Jews, then takes his place on the judgment seat set outside apparently for this occasion (v. 13).
The expression “the preparation” arose first from the custom of preparing food, etc. for the sabbath day, and referred to the sixth day of the week. This particular preparation was that of the Passover, — not a preparation for the Passover, but of the Passover. It was in fact the very day of the Passover, which began the previous evening. The time mentioned is Roman time (not Jewish), that is, six a.m. as we know it, so that three hours intervened between the time that Pilate declared “Behold your King!” and the actual crucifixion.
Pilate, irritated by his own defeat, speaks in this way, “Behold your king” to further irritate the Jews, though he is himself afraid that his words are true. Viciously they clamor again for the crucifixion of their King.. Of sober reasoning or of evidence there is none. Pilate protests: why crucify One whose very bearing shows Him to be worthy to be King of the Jews, not to speak of His being innocent? In cold, determined hypocrisy they respond that they have no king but Caesar. Actually they hated Caesar's domination, but would not say this to Pilate: just now they would say anything to persuade Pilate to kill their King.
There was more that took place at this time, during the three hour period, as the other Gospels indicate, but John shows plainly the deciding factors, both on the part of the Jews and of Pilate. The Jews claimed He should die because He acknowledged the truth that He is the Son of God. This was no valid charge under Roman law, so before Pilate they put him in opposition to Caesar, as claiming to be King. Pilate knew that only envy prompted this hostility (Matt. 27:18), but fearing for his own position, he acceded to their harshly unjust demands and passed sentence that the Lord of glory should be crucified (v. 16)
Though it is notorious in men's courts that sentence against evil is not speedily executed, yet this evil sentence against One perfectly righteous is executed as rapidly as possible. Wickedness cannot afford to be calm, careful and judicious in order to gain its ends.
The Lord alone is spoken of here as bearing His cross. As they went, we read elsewhere that Simon was commandeered to do this after Him (Luke 23:26). for it must be shown that there is a sense in which believers are identified with Him in the bearing of His cross, — not bearing God's judgment, but bearing rejection by the world. John however focuses all attention on the blessed Son of God Himself. Let us here remark that there is no suggestion in the history that the Lord was overburdened by the weight of the cross, as some have said: this is merely human imagination.
In the place of a skull He is crucified, with another on each side of Him (vv. 17-18). No more is said in John of these two, for again it is the person of the Son of God who must be prominent in John's Gospel. The inscription Pilate places on the cross is evidently intended by him to chasten the Jews. Only in John are the words “of Nazareth” reported, for John tells us of Him who is the eternal Son of God put in the place of lowest humiliation, the Object of the Jews' hateful despite. Likely the full title was “This is Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews,” but each of the Gospel writers reports only that part that specially suited the character of his book. Or, the wording could have been a little different in each of the three languages in which the title was written. In these all mankind is represented, the religious world (Hebrew), the intellectual world (Greek) and the political world (Latin); all being guilty of the crucifixion of the Lord of glory.
The chief priests object to the title, urging that it be written only that Christ claimed to be King, but Pilate refused to change it (vv. 21-22). God had decreed that the truth should be written. The Jews had gained their major end from Pilate, and he will bend no further to them. Thus they are made to feel their victory is less than complete.
The four Roman soldiers responsible for His execution share in despoiling Him of His garments. What a picture of the unbelief in the world that robs the Son of God of that which belongs to Him alone by right! The coat being without seam reminds us that His own nature is perfectly “woven together,” every detail of His character united together in perfection of unity. Divine sovereignty rules that this was not to be torn. Thus scripture was fulfilled in every detail (vv. 23-24).
SOME STANDING NEAR THE CROSS (vv. 25-27)
In Luke 23:49 we read of His followers who “stood afar off, beholding these things.” But here we see standing by the cross “His mother, and His mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” Warmth of love toward Him is that which overcomes fear. John, the writer of this book, is nearby also. It would seem that there were three Mary's present besides His mother's sister, who is not named.
The Lord speaks from the cross in tender consideration for His mother, indicating to her that now John was to be her son; and to John, telling him, “Behold your mother!” (vv. 26-27). We know that she did have other sons by natural birth (Mark 6:3; Ps. 69:8), but John 7:5 tells us, “Neither did His brethren believe on Him.” How much more strong is the spiritual relationship than the natural! John took her after this to his own home. Her other sons had deprived themselves of such a privilege through unbelief. Yet after His resurrection His brothers were found in the upper room with the disciples. Apparently through His death and resurrection they were converted to God. Yet they had lost the dignity of caring for their mother.
THE WORK FINISHED (vv. 28-30)
Between verses 27 and 28 there was much that took place, including the three hours of darkness in which the Lord Jesus endured the dreadful wrath of God against sin. John says nothing of this, nor of His cry of abandonment, for it is the burnt-offering aspect of His sacrifice that is prominent here, all ascending as a sweet odor to God. God's delight in His sacrifice therefore is prominent, not God's judgment.
After the three hours of darkness, knowing that all was perfectly accomplished, the Lord Jesus said, in fulfillment of scripture, “I thirst.” He who gives the water of eternal life has Himself, in accomplishing the will of God, deeply thirsted. But men gave Him not water, rather vinegar, with the intention of adding bitterness to His sufferings. Previously they had mingled gall with vinegar, but He would not drink, for this was stupefying (Matt. 27:34).
Now He receives the vinegar, and says, “It is finished.” Luke tell us that it was with a loud voice He cried out (Luke 23:46), and followed this with the words, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” John simply says, “and having bowed His head, He delivered up His spirit.” This was His own personal act: He laid down His life. Though as to intent and purpose His enemies were guilty of His murder, yet they could not take His life from Him (John 10:18).
HIS SIDE IS PIERCED (vv. 31-37)
Having gained their evil purpose, the Jews urge Pilate to have the legs of the three men broken to hasten death, and their bodies removed before the Sabbath began at sundown; for on this “high” sabbath they must be very religious and not allow the reminder of their gruesome wickedness to mar their holy day (v. 31).
Pilate agreed to this, but the soldiers, having broken the legs of the robbers, find that the Lord was dead already. They disobey orders and one instead pierced the side of the Lord Jesus with a spear. This had to take place, for scripture had foretold this very thing, and also that no bone of Him should be broken (Zech. 12:10; Ex. 12:46). The bones, the framework of the body, speak of the fundamental truth as to His person, which is unchanged, unbroken through the midst of His dreadful sufferings.
But the piercing brings forth blood and water, and this is solemnly witnessed to as absolute truth by John himself, who saw it. It has been said that there is a sac near the heart that, in cases only of extreme suffering, will release a considerable amount of water, which of course is unusual. But on the other hand this may have been entirely a miracle of God. 1 John 5:6 comments on the blood and water, inferring its spiritual significance. Blood is for the judicial cleansing from the guilt of sins. Water speaks rather of the moral cleansing accomplished by the word of God in new birth (John 5:3; John 15:3; Eph. 5:26 Verses 36 and 37 again insist that every detail of prophetic scripture must be fulfilled. If people had seen only a few prophecies fulfilled concerning any event, they would consider this amazing; but when God prophesies, every detail is fulfilled perfectly. Yet many choose to disbelieve Him!
A ROYAL BURIAL (vv. 38-42)
The world — religious, intellectual, political — has done its worst: they have crucified the Lord of glory. But on His part, He has finished the work God gave Him to do. Now God intervenes. He has prepared two men for this occasion, Joseph, a counselor of the Jewish Sanhedrim, but whose heart had been drawn to the Lord Jesus, and Nicodemus, spoken of for the third time, who first came to Jesus by night, now coming in the daylight, to be identified with this blessed One in His death, though not previously in His life. Wonderful is the work of God in souls drawn by His marvelous grace to a true faith in His beloved Son, even at a time when He has been put to death. Joseph went secretly to Plate, however, lest there should be opposition of the Jews. Yet Mark tells us also that he “went boldly unto Pilate” (Mark 15:43), that is, with true courage of faith.
Certainly it was not secretly that they took the body of Jesus: this would be well known by the Jews, and they would be marked men. But here is the beautiful record of their faith and love for the Lord enshrined in the word of God for eternity! The timidity of Nicodemus has been exchanged for the boldness of bringing so large an amount of spices, to signify that the death of the Lord Jesus has in it a sweet fragrance to delight the heart of God the Father for the ages of eternity. The wrapping in fine linen is the reminder of the perfect purity of the life of the Lord Jesus in every detail, a life laid down for the time, in sacrifice, but in prospect of being taken again.
Only in John do we read that it was a garden in which He was buried, and we are told that the grave was new, never before used. For His was a death altogether unique, a death introducing that which is eternally new. He was buried then on the Jews' preparation day, just before the Sabbath began at sundown. They observed their hollow holiday in vicious rejoicing, while the Lord of glory lay in the grave. It was a day of rest, but how far from rest was the state of their guilty consciences!
THE GRAVE: OPEN AND EMPTY! (vv. 1-10)
Though others besides Mary of Magdala went together to the grave early on the first day of the week, yet in John she is singled out, a woman devoted, but incredulous, not able to take in the wondrous fact that her Lord was raised from the dead, despite the evidence, until she sees Him, and even then she does not realize the significance of this marvelous resurrection from among the dead.
The stone was removed, she knew not how. Nothing is said here of the soldiers who guarded the grave, for it is not worthy of notice in a Gospel that deals with God's sublime work altogether above man's opposition and unbelief. She runs to tell Simon Peter and John, not the facts, but the only supposition that occurs to her, that someone had taken the body of the Lord from the grave (v. 2), “and we,” she says (indicating that others were with her), “do not know where they have laid Him.” Resurrection was far from her mind, and in fact also from the minds of all the disciples, which gives clear proof that there was no collusion to fabricate a false story to the effect that the Lord was raised. They would not believe it till they had absolute evidence.
Peter and John ran together to the grave, John arriving first and looking in, while Peter went boldly inside. The evidence before their eyes was startling, for John followed Peter in, to see the linen clothes lying undisturbed, evidently just as they had been when wrapped around the Lord's body. They had not been unwound, but he had risen out of them. The napkin for His head was in its place, still wrapped together (vv. 6-7). Very clearly it was no human who had interfered here.
Nothing of this had even occurred to Mary, but John “saw and believed.” It is interesting that verse 9 is added here, but it tells us that, though the Lord had told them a number of times that He would be raised, their minds were closed to His words through the blindness of natural thought. Then John and Peter know nothing else but to go home. For what did His resurrection mean? Would He again appear to them or not? They might have known, but had missed what He had before told them: they were not prepared.
THE RISEN LORD APPEARS TO MARY MAGDALENE (vv. 11-18)
But Mary's heart was desolate. Home evidently held no such interest for her as did the person of the Lord, even in death. Out of her seven demons had been cast (Luke 8:2), and now she had likely nothing to return to. Magdala had no attraction for her. She knows not where to look for Him whom her soul loved, except at the grave where she had last seen His body laid. As she had no doubt done more than once before, she stooped down to look into the open grave, and this time she sees two angels in white, sitting at the head and at the feet of the place His body had been (vv. 11-12).
But she is unimpressed by so marvelous a sight, for she is preoccupied with the unspeakable sorrow of having lost her Lord. Note here the angelic guarding of the grave of the Lord Jesus. An angel had rolled back the stone from the grave also, to reveal that the Lord had been raised, and had sat on it (Matt. 28:2). Even in death angels had guarded His tomb, as is pictured in Song of Songs 3:7-8, though the soldiers thought they themselves were doing so. But as to His resurrection, no one is to be allowed to disturb the precious evidence of that glorious fact until it is established beyond doubt.
To their question, “Woman, why are you weeping,” she replies, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him” (v. 13). She had not the least interest in angels: she turned her back on them.
As in her sadness Mary turns away from angels, her sorrow and the devotedness of heart had brought the Lord near, though she did not know Him. She had known Him after the flesh, but was not prepared to know Him in resurrection: the earthly relationship was all that she understood. The Lord asked her, not only why she was weeping, but “whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she wanted only to learn of Him where the Lord's body was, and she would take it away. She seems to think it unnecessary to explain who the “Him” is. Nor does she even think of how she would take the body away, or where. In her disconsolate grief, she turns away even from Him!
But one word from His lips changes everything, “Mary.” He calls His own sheep by name, and she knows His voice. Turning again, she says, “Rabboni,” which is more than simply “Rabbi” (teacher) but “my great Teacher.” The wonder of the miracle of His resurrection does not even occur to her: all she thinks of is Him whom she loves now there before her eyes. No doubt involuntarily she went forward to touch or grasp Him.
But He tells her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father.” On the basis of an earthly relationship she can no longer touch Him. His death has set that aside. Compare 2 Corinthians 5:16. But He announces to her a new relationship, and gives her the great honor of carrying this message to those whom He calls “My brethren.” He was to ascend to “My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God” (v. 17). For in resurrection He is the Head of a new creation, not the first creation, of which Adam was head and failed, but one in which God is now in a vital way Father to all who know His blessed Son. It is a spiritual and heavenly relationship, yet He does not say, “our Father,” for His unique Sonship must always have prime place, and a place set apart from all others. The term “My Father involves the fact of the deity of the Lord Jesus, while “My God” involves His Manhood. “your Father implies that believers are partakers of the divine nature by new birth. “Your God” involves our identification with Christ as His brethren in manhood.
The Lord was virtually telling Mary that, though He was all that she had on earth, yet now she was no longer to have even Him on earth, but she would have Him in heaven, in the Father's own presence, all her hopes and her blessings now centered there, together with all the brethren of the Lord. Obediently she bore this wonderful message to the disciples (v. 18).
John does not speak (as Matthew 28:9 does) of the Lord's meeting the women who held Him by the feet, nor of His appearing to the two Emmaus disciples, or to Peter (as Luke does in Luke 24:15, 34). It is a difficulty to distinguish the exact chronological order of all the events following the Lord's resurrection, but each Gospel writer selects what is appropriate to the purpose of his Gospel, and all is perfection as it is written.
JESUS IN THE MIDST (vv. 19-23)
The same day at evening the Lord appeared to His gathered disciples, the doors being closed, but He being suddenly present in their midst. The effect of so startling a miracle on His disciples is not even mentioned here (as in Luke 24:37); but it is a beautiful picture, at the very introduction of the day of grace, of what is the true character of the gathering of the Church of God at all times, miraculous, but real. They were gathered to His name, that name being the one power that drew their hearts together. Now He who has made peace by the blood of His cross, announces peace to His beloved saints, and shows them His hands and His side, the wounds the proof of a finished work and of the reality of His bodily resurrection. Blessed basis for the very existence of the Church, the body of Christ!
In Luke the Lord's hands and His feet are spoken of (Luke 24:39), for it is Humanity there emphasized, His hands telling of both human and divine work perfectly accomplished. His feet remind us of His lowly walk among men; while His side reminds us of the pure love of His heart as the blessed Son of God. The disciples were glad when they saw the Lord, and we also today may just as truly see Him, though by faith, and experience the same gladness.
As His Father has sent Him, so He sends them (v. 21). He had come into an adverse world in lowly grace, taking no official place, but in beautiful moral reality representing His Father. This is to be the character of the assembly, not of this world, but sent into it to represent the Lord Jesus.
His breathing on them is intended to further enhance this picture of the Church of God. They did not receive the Spirit of God at that time, but at Pentecost (Acts 2), but the Lord shows that the future coming of the Spirit is vitally connected with Him personally, for He, as God (cf. Gen. 2:7), is the very Source of the coming of the Spirit. His action here then is anticipative of the actual coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, the Spirit who is the indwelling power of the Church of God all through this dispensation of the grace of God. Notice in these things it is not “apostles” spoken of, but “disciples,” therefore His words have a broad application to cover all who are disciples.
This is true even of verse 23. Certainly the Lord is not speaking here of eternal forgiveness, which is solely His prerogative, but of governmental forgiveness. The case of Simon the sorcerer illustrates this. Philip baptized him (Acts 8:13, in which way he publicly, outwardly forgave him in reference to his previous sinful course. This was perfectly right for Philip to do. But when later Simon proved by his mercenary attitude and words that he was still at enmity against God, Peter “retained” his sins, refusing him any “part or lot in this matter” (Acts 8:18-23). Another illustration of this conditional, governmental forgiveness is found in Matthew 18:23-25, This is connected with the kingdom aspect of the truth, and shows us that the kingdom exists alongside of the truth of the assembly, though not yet in its manifested glory. Matthew 16:17-19 gives another indication of this also.
BELIEVING ONLY WHEN SEEING (vv. 24-31)
This section gives a picture, not of the assembly, but of the later bringing of Israel from their doubting unbelief to a living faith in the Son of God. Thomas had not been present the day of the Lord's resurrection. How much he missed through simply being absent! We too shall greatly lose if we willingly absent ourselves from the gathering of the saints of God. His surname, Didymus, is inserted here. Didymus means “twin” so that its inclusion appears to be a reminder to us that Thomas is not alone in his lack of diligent faith. Perhaps many believers are virtual twins of Thomas!
At least he ought to have considered the united witness of all the disciples that they had seen the Lord. But mere natural reasoning so blinds him that he scorns their testimony. He would have to prove by his natural senses, seeing and feeling, or he would not believe (v. 25).
Eight days later (the next first day of the week) Thomas was with the disciples. Again the Lord Jesus suddenly appears in their midst (for it is His name that gathers them there), with the same precious words, “Peace to you.” Just as miraculously as He appears to the Church today, so will He appear to Israel in a coming day, when they shall look upon Him they pierced (Zech. 12:10). He speaks directly to Thomas, inviting him to do what he said would be required before he would believe. How solemn a rebuke, though administered in gentle kindness.
At the very sight of the Lord Jesus and hearing His words of tender, faithful rebuke, how could Thomas think of carrying out his own words? His sense of feeling he has to ignore, as he responds, “My Lord and My God” (v. 28). But the Lord must further rebuke his unbelief by telling him of the blessedness of those who believe without seeing, in contrast to his having to see first. Since Christ has returned to heaven, how great is the number who have known this blessing! This is the true character of the Church in contrast to Israel, who will first look upon Him before they believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
Now we are told that the Lord did many other signs that have not been reported. Actually His reported history is very concise, occupying far less space (in the four Gospels) than many biographies of mere men of the world. Yet that which He did, all of it being of living, eternal, pure value, far outshines all that the combined energy of all mankind has ever produced. John however writes sufficient for his theme, to so focus attention on the glory of the person of the Son of God as to awaken in souls a genuine faith without the necessity of actually seeing the Lord. Believing, they have life through His name. Marvelous it is that so much is encompassed in this short book!
APPEARING IN GALILEE (vv. 1-14)
The scene now changes from Jerusalem to Galilee. We have seen in John 20:19-25 the picture of the gathering of the Church of God, and in the remaining verses that of the re-gathering of Israel, which is still future. these verse of chapter 21 furnish a picture of the bringing in of Gentile nations, for the sea speaks of the nations (Rev. 17:15) and the fish, of individuals in the nations. All of this blessing is founded upon the work of the Lord Jesus in His death and resurrection.
He had told the women who came to the grave to tell His brethren to go into Galilee to meet Him (Matt. 28:10), and this takes place over a week later than His resurrection, this being only the third time He appeared to His disciples (apart from personal appearances to individuals). See verse 13.
Seven of His disciples were together (v. 2), no doubt waiting for the Lord to appear to them. Peter however was not inclined to have a waiting disposition, and he decided to occupy the time with fishing. The others follow his lead, and though working all night, they caught nothing, as in the case of a similar incident earlier. (Luke 5:5). Though Christ is the Head of a new creation in resurrection, His own have no more power in service than when connected with the first creation, apart from His own direction. Such a lesson must be learned by experience, it seems.
In the morning the Lord was standing on the shore, not recognized by the disciples. This is surely intended to teach us that if we are occupied with our own plans and purposes, it is unlikely that we shall quickly discern what is the actual interposition of the Lord.
He address them as “children,” a gentle, endearing word, in asking if they have caught anything. But their tempers were short: they miss the significance of this, and curtly answer “No.” Then He gives them instruction simply to cast the net on the right side of the boat, with the positive words, “you will find” (v. 6). This also should have awakened interest as to who this Stranger might be to speak as He did, for fishermen generally would not take advice from a total stranger. But they act, possibly because tired and frustrated, and their catch of fish was so great that seven men were not able to draw the net into the boat! It is interesting that. because of the number of the fish, the net was not drawn into the boat, but to shore. This is to be compared with Matthew 13:47-48, where the net was also drawn to shore, for it speaks of the great number of Gentiles who will be drawn by God at the end of the tribulation period, the wicked being separated from the just and cast away, while the good (the just) are gathered into vessels for blessing in the millennium.
Yet its principle is just as important for us today. In fishing for people we shall have no results unless dependent on the leading of the Lord. Yet simple, real subjection to Him will bear much fruit, which we shall then see to be altogether His own workmanship. John immediately realizes that this One can be none other that the Lord Jesus, and so he tells Peter. Impetuous as usual, Peter clothes himself and swims to shore, leaving others to drag the net behind the boat (v. 7). (Naked does not necessarily mean totally nude, but not properly dressed, perhaps only with an undergarment.)
On the shore they find a fire, with fish and bread prepared for them. Their breakfast has nothing to do with their own work: it is the Lord Himself who prepared and served it. We must be reminded continually of our dependence upon His grace. Yet how could Peter forget the fire of coals in the high priest's house? How much better to be warmed at the Lord's fire that at that of the world!
At His word to bring of the fish they had caught, Peter, imbued with strength of affection for the Lord, draws the net to land. It is a hint of the great blessing through his preaching later on the day of Pentecost, with about 3000 converted (Acts 2:41). The 153 great fish here have been said to correspond with the actual number of the nations existent at that time, which would be interesting if it could be verified. In contrast to Luke 5:6, the net was not broken in spite of the great catch. It speaks of the power of God involved in Christ raised from the dead, that power available to His disciples by the indwelling Spirit of God, so that testimony may be maintained without breaking down.
Now the Lord invites them to breakfast, both the bread and the fish speaking of Him as the true food of life. After the toil of labor, it is necessary to have food, and even more important spiritually than naturally. But also the grace of the Lord Jesus is first shown in kind consideration of need, before He does the serious work of probing Peter before all the disciples. In all of this how good it is to see that even in resurrection the blessed Lord of glory is Servant still!
PETER PUBLICLY RESTORED (vv. 15-19)
While the Lord appeared personally to Peter the very day of His resurrection, by which the personal restoration of Peter was surely fully accomplished without a word of this known to the other disciples, yet the Lord has allowed further time to pass before now dealing with Peter in relation to the other disciples. It is precious to see that the Lord Jesus would allow no passage of time after His resurrection before seeking out His conscience-stricken sheep to restore him to personal communion with Himself. But public restoration always takes a little longer, that the Lord may reach deeper still into the soul in order that His servant may be more properly fitted for public service in true humility of faith. More than this, He has the object also of reaching the hearts and consciences of the other disciples, who must learn to judge themselves rather than have any remaining feeling of criticism of their fellow-servant, and thus to wholeheartedly rejoice in his restoration.
Gently the Lord asks, “Simon, son of Jonas, do you love Me more than these?” For Simon had before compared himself with others, saying that, though all forsook the Lord, yet he would not, thereby implying that he loved the Lord more than they did. The Greek word for love here is “agape,“ a word of strong import, used as to God's love for His Son and toward the world, a pure concern for the greatest good of its object. But in response Peter declines to use this word, but uses the word, “phileo” instead, a word that denotes tender affection: “You know that I have affection for You.” In other words, he can no longer trust the strength of his love, but he is honestly attached to the Lord. Nor can he think of saying, “More than these,” after his experience of failure when tested.
Then the Lord tells him, “Feed My lambs” (v. 15). For such precious work there can be no comparing ourselves with others, no feeling higher than they, but having genuine, true affection that comes down to the level of the little ones. Yet it is a work with which we should feel deeply honored to be entrusted.
But a second time the Lord ask the question, only this time leaving out the words, “more than these,” but still using His former word for love, “agape.” It is really questioning whether, if the comparison is dropped, Peter could now use the strong word for love. But not so: he does not trust himself to go that far, but answers just as before. This time the Lord tells him, “Shepherd My sheep.” Peter's sad experience has actually prepared him in measure for such work, and the Lord's words are his authority for it. This work is that of guiding, preserving, helping, strengthening, restoring the sheep. Also, lest any would suppose that Peter's failure would disqualify him from such work, the Lord speaks this way before all the disciples.
For the third time the Lord questions Peter, for Peter had denied Him three times, and the Lord is probing to reach the root of the matter. This time however he no longer uses the strong word, “agape,” but “phileo” (which Peter had used), as He asks, “Do you have affection for Me?” This grieves Peter (and perhaps he would remember too of the Lord's grief when Peter denied Him three times); and he goes further than before, by saying, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I have affection for You” (v. 17). His heart is laid fully bare before his Lord in confession of His great omniscience, and this has become a deeply wrought conviction in Peter's heart, not simply a doctrine to be acknowledged.
This time the Lord tells him, “Feed My sheep.” How clear it is then that true restoration has in it the power of not only bringing back to a state of precious communion with the Lord Himself, but of making one more useful in the blessing of others. The results in Peter's case are certainly seen. Who can doubt that he remembered these words of His Lord when he penned his first epistle, and especially 1 John 5:1-6?
But the Lord adds that which contrasts Peter's youth with his old age. In youth independent and self-sufficient, he had done much as he pleased. But God's ways, disciplining indeed, yet in pure love, would lead to his being girded by another, that is, restrained by the will of another, and forced to go where he did not want to (v. 18). While Peter was to be greatly used by the Lord, yet all for Peter was not be be great conquest. He would suffer, then die a death of crucifixion, evidently, but this would glorify God. It is claimed that Peter was crucified head downward, by request, for he felt himself unworthy to die in the same position as his Master.
Though Peter is to care for the lambs and sheep of Christ, yet it is not them he is to follow: the Lord tells him directly, “Follow Me” (v. 19). Indeed, a true, unfeigned following of Christ will give far more true concern for the blessing of others.
CHRIST'S WORKS UNLIMITED IN THEIR VALUE (vv. 20-25)
Peter was evidently a little disturbed that the Lord had singled him out of all the disciples to speak to him in this way; and instead of showing a thoroughly submissive spirit, he turns to observe John, who in fact was following, and asks, “Lord, what about this man?” But the Lord did not allow him to slip out of the spotlight in this way. What a lesson for us all! The flesh in us will twist and turn every way to avoid direct personal facing of responsibility, but the Lord's work with us will lead to our honest, stern self-judgment. He firmly tells Peter, “If I will that he remain till I come, what its that to you? You follow Me” (vv. 21-22). Whatever is the Lord's will for another should not in any degree influence my thoughts in regard to His will for me. Whatever others may do, I am simply, undividedly to follow the Lord. “You follow Me,” He says to each of us individually.
Yet the disciples so miss the point that they speculate as to John, assuming that the Lord meant that John would not die. How careful we should be to observe precisely what the Lord does say, rather than making inferences from His words. Inference may be correct if it is supported clearly (not ambiguously) by other scriptures; but let us be guided by scripture, not by inference. In answering this misconception, John does not elaborate at all, but simply repeats what the Lord had said. Yet there is no doubt a reason for His words. John did live longer that the other disciples, and his book of Revelation deals with the coming and glory of the Lord Jesus. In this sense it would seem he remained long enough to see the coming of the Lord, at least in the form of a vision.
Verse 24 is decisive as to the many references to the unnamed disciple: it is of course John himself. He speaks solemnly of the absolute truth of what he has written, also using the plural “we” in this regard: “we know.” Just as believers know the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (John. 14:4-7; 17), so we know the truth of the word of God. Let that knowledge then have constant, vital power in our lives.
Verse 25 shows that only a small part of the Lord's history has been recorded. Yet it is enough to engage the whole time of the people of God while they are on earth, and their fullest interest and delight. The number of books written in reference to Him has already gone practically beyond count. But if all He has done were recorded, with its significance and connections explained, John supposes that the world could not contain the books that would be written. For Christ is an infinite person. Therefore what He has done has infinite value, the extent of which we cannot limit. Faith however recognizes the great wisdom of God in giving us His word in so brief a form, a living word, the riches of which can never be exhausted. But the record of the person of the Son of God in this Gospel alone bows the heart of every Christian with adoring worship.
L. M. Grant