Study Notes for 8-11-13: Those Whom He Loved

John Chapter 13

As we open up the 13th chapter of John we find ourselves just days prior to the Lord Jesus Christ’s passion.  “The public ministry of Jesus is over” (Morris), and the next five chapters include material that none of the other gospels have. These are called the “farewell discourses”, and there are four major truths I see over the course of these chapters that we need to be on the lookout for:

  1. We will see how Christians are to love others the way Jesus loves us, and is Himself loved by the Father.
  2. We will be able to do this loving by the help and power of the Holy Spirit – the anticipation of Spirit’s mission and power is central these upcoming chapters.
  3. The world will hate us and kill us, but we have no cause for fear on this account because Jesus has overcome the world and its power.
  4. Jesus is the only way to God the Father and is our intercessor.  It is by His intercession and His sovereign choice that you have been saved from utter ruin.

Now as to the immediate context, we find Jesus and His disciples preparing to eat a final meal together in the upper room.  There is much dispute as to whether or not this “last super” is a Passover Meal, or whether it is a meal earlier in the week (Tuesday) separate from the Passover. There are good arguments on both sides, and both sets of arguments seek to harmonize the account of John with the other gospel accounts; we’ll get into that some more later in the chapter.

Let us keep in mind that in His actions in chapter 13, Jesus is setting in motion a series of events that will forever change the world and the destiny of mankind.  No longer will men be enslaved to sin and fear and death. No longer will they wonder when the Messiah will come.  For He has come, and He has done all that is necessary for life – eternal life. His life, death, and resurrection have done for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves.  And so as we continue to read and learn about this final week of Jesus’ life, we watch, as the great exodus is about to begin…

13:1 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

“Jesus Knew”

It is a great and unrealized comfort to our souls that we don’t “know” what is next in our lives. For even though we seem to spend a lot of time anxiously awaiting what is next. it is these roots of anxiety that Jesus urges us to puck up and cast away.

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:25-34 ESV)

I’ve taken a great deal of time to cite this passage, and to make this point because I want us to fully see that while we are often anxious for tomorrow, what we often don’t realize is that if we knew all that was to happen in our future days, our minds could likely not handle the anxiety and pressure that knowledge brought.

In a similar way, can you imagine what it would be like to know that you will die but not a harsh death? We all know that we’re going to die sometime, but what if you knew for certain that your death would be peaceful and easy and that it wouldn’t be from a car wreck or some devastating accident? Interestingly, the Bible gives us just such an example in the case of Abraham.  In Genesis 15 we find ourselves reading a text that is primarily concerned with the covenant between God and Abram, and its easy to miss this fascinating and amazing gift God gives his saint:

As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. (Genesis 15:15)

Most people are afraid of death, but the beauty of being a Christian is that you don’t have to fear death. So for Christians the sting of death has been taken away. But as I’ve heard R.C. Sproul mention off-handedly before, he doesn’t fear death, but he fears how he’s going to die.  That uncertainty can have a tendency to gnaw away at us, especially as we get older.  But for Abram even this was taken off the table. What an amazing gift it was too – to not only know where you would go after death, but that you would “go to your fathers in peace”, now that is a wonderful way to live life!

That being said, the Lord Jesus Christ had none of that.  J.C. Ryle says this:

Our ignorance of things before us is a great blessing. Our Lord saw the cross clearly before Him, and walked straight up to it. His death was not a surprise to Him, but a voluntary, foreknown thing.

He knew not only that He was going to die, but He knew it was going to be a painful and terrible death.  And that is why when we find the Bible telling us that He knew this, and yet spent His last days on earth in loving concern for those entrusted to Him, it ought to blow our minds. Can you image being so filled with love that even days away from your own gruesome death you could think of nothing else but to serve others?

Despite facing the gruesome awful reality of the cross, His love for those around Him, and the millions He would die to save, never wavered even for an instant.  This impeccable, implacable, overpowering love of Christ is what constantly leaves me in awe when I can’t even bring myself to love those closest to me in a godly manner. Jesus loved those who hated him. His mission was to take enemies of God and make them lovers of God. It’s enough to blow you away. The incomprehensibility of His love is enough to keep you writing and reading and praying and crying for a lifetime of lifetimes. He did what we’ll never fathom doing and He didn’t do it begrudgingly, but with a deep love and tenderness that only God could comprehend.

“In the Word”

The first thing to note about this phrase is that He knows where we are. We are in the “world.”  What does that mean?  It means that we are enduring trials, struggles, and persecution. But this knowledge and reality does not leave us cold or hopeless, for later Jesus promises this:

Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:32-33 ESV)

This is a great comfort to us. To know that He knows where we are, and what that means. It means that sometimes life really sucks! Yet, here was God, poured into a man’s flesh. He took on the flesh of a man, and could feel frustration and pain and hurt and sorrow. He knew what it was to be upset and angry. He felt the sting of disappointment, of rejection, of sadness and depression creeping at the gate. Yet despite all of this He triumphed over it, and because of that we know we can as well through His power – and that power comes from Him and His Spirit and will be a big part of what is discussed by Jesus over the next few chapters.

He Loved His Own

Secondly, it is worth noting here that Jesus’ mission was very specific – it was specific to those whom the Father had predestined to be saved from before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1-2). And this group of people, theologians refer to as ‘the elect of God’, are those to whom John is referring when he says “his own.”

It is my personal view that for those who disagree with the doctrine of “definite” or “limited” atonement, the next 5 chapters present so many hurdles that theological gymnastics are required to acquit anyone proposing a variation of a “general” or “universal” atonement. We will see, for example, that in Christ’s High Priestly Prayer He prays for those who are His and not for those in the world:

I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. (John 17:9 ESV)

What is so comforting about this doctrine is the fact that Christ had a mission to save YOU from the foundation of the world. Look at just a few of the verses from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6)

And so we see that the phrase “the world” and “his own” combine in an idea that signals God’s peculiar love for His chosen people.  He is drawing people out of this world in order to fashion a new creation.  Listen to what D.A. Carson says on this point:

The ‘world’ is important in these chapters: it occurs forty times, primarily to draw a sharp contrast between Jesus’ ‘own’, his disciples, and the mass of lost humanity, the ‘world’ from which they were drawn and in which they must live until their final vindication. If God loves the world (3:16), it is in order to draw men and women out of it. Those so drawn out constitute a new entity, set over against the world: the world loves its ‘own’, Jesus loves his ‘own’ (15:19). The object of the love of God in Christ, in these chapters, is therefore not the lost world, but the newly forming people of God, the disciples of the Messiah, the nascent church, the community of the elect. Jesus had loved his own all along; he now showed them the full extent of His love.

Surely, with a plan that has been in place so long, He will not fail to finish this plan, and keep your salvation safe to the uttermost, and that leads us to the next part of what John says…

To the End

Here it does not only stipulate that Jesus loved His disciples, and those for whom He was about to die, but that He loved them up to the very end of His earthly life.  We see this also demonstrated when, hanging from the cross, He takes pains to ensure His mother Mary is taken care of in her old age.

In this we also see that everlasting, enduring love of Christ for all of those whom He has ever set His love upon. He loved his own “to the end.” And because of this, we can be assured that as Christ acted on earth so He will act in heaven and hereafter. For He doesn’t change, His purposes are everlasting. So it is that He will never give up on His own sheep, He will ensure that for those whom He has set His love upon there will never be a death like the one all others face.  Physical death for those elect of God is but a transition from life to life everlasting.

Listen to what Christ says earlier in chapter six:

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. [38] For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. [39] And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. [40] For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:37-40 ESV)

 13:2 During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him,

The Destiny of Judas

I want to note here something very sad, and perhaps even a little frightening. It doesn’t matter how close you are to Godly people, how much you attend church or serve your community. Until you have a supernaturally changed heart by the power of the Holy Spirit by the promise of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, you can and will fall, and ultimately you will end up in Hell. This is what happened to Judas Iscariot.  Listen to how J.C. Ryle put it:

He (John) shows us the uselessness of the highest privileges, unless we have a heart to value them and turn them to good account. Privileges alone without grace save nobody, and will only make hell deeper. He shows us the uselessness of mere head-knowledge. To know things with our brains, and be able to talk and preach and speak to others, is no proof that our own feet are in the way of peace. These are terrible lessons: but they are true.

It is a hard thing to think on, but the reality is that this man was a disciple of Jesus, he probably was sent out with the 72 when Christ sent his disciples out to preach the good news. He likely shared and preached in Jesus’ name. And we know that Jesus Himself showed Him love. But there is a difference, as we see here, between saving love and common gracious love. It is hard to illustrate this well without stepping on a minefield of inappropriate comparisons, but the one might think of the difference between how one loves a stranger (as we are called to do), and how one loves a spouse or child. This is a very specific kind of love that is infinitely more powerful between spouses than that which is set graciously upon a stranger (perhaps a poor man you are serving). So it is with Jesus, only to a much higher and more powerful degree. Christ has, in His eternal wisdom and plan, set His special specific love upon certain people. He has elected some to life, and some to eternal wrath; some to justice and some to mercy. He has raised some from spiritual death to spiritual life. I know not why He chooses to do this, or why He chooses some and not others, I know only small finite bits of data; all that He has revealed to us in Scripture.

I know not why this man Judas was chosen for wrath and justice, except that from all eternity it pleased God to choose him for a task other than that which He chose, say Peter, for. This same mystery is not ignored by the Biblical authors, but grappled with – especially in Paul’s letter to the Romans:

So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:18-24 ESV)

And so we see here that not only was Judas not picked for eternal life with God, but he was sovereignly chosen as a “vessel of wrath”. Why? I think, even though this is hard/difficult for us to fathom, Paul even tells us that.  He says God desires to “show his wrath”, “make known his power”, and also “make know the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy.”  It all comes back to the fact that God is glorified in this. It is hard for us to understand it, but it magnified His power, His wrath, and His glory.  And so it is at moments like this that we need to close our mouths and accept that God is God and we are not, and praise Him for who He is, for that is His desire for us.

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Study Notes 8-4-13: Beholding the Character of the Father in the Person and Work of Christ

12:44-45 And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. [45] And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.

I think there are probably several points within this paragraph that need examined closely, including justification by faith, Christ as the incarnate Word of God, Christ as the radiance of the character of God the Father, and the duel nature of Christ.

Justification by Faith

Christ begins by calling us to “believe” in Him in order to be saved. And therefore in His statement we find the solution to our eternal problems: believe! Have faith! This is nothing new to us in this study of John, it has been the message of Jesus from the get go. For example, if you look back to chapter 6, you’ll see that some people came up to Jesus and asked what they needed to be doing to be godly and be saved. How He responded must have astounded them:

Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:28-29 ESV)

This is justification by faith alone! All you need to do is believe. There is nothing added to it. There are no works of penance, there are no coins to add to the coffers, there are no meritorious pilgrimages, weddings, confirmations, good deeds, NOTHING of that kind is mentioned here by Jesus. Simply “believe in him who he has sent”!

As Paul states in several areas:

So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (Romans 9:16)

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

So great is the promise of God, that our response of faith to the words of His Christ, Jesus, will save our souls for all time. By placing our faith in the words of Jesus and believing that He is indeed the Son of God, and died for our sins, we shall live forever with Him and no longer “remain in darkness.”

Most people I know would rather be in a room with light than one filled with darkness. Its hard to get anything meaningful accomplished in life if you don’t know the purpose for which you were created, and you’ll never know those deep and wonderful mysteries outside of the person and work of Jesus Christ. He is the confluence of all questions and all answers, and the meaning of life is hidden in His purposes and designs. He is the One for whom and through whom all things have been made – and that includes you!

Christ is the Radiance of the Glory of God

The glory and beauty of the attributes and nature of God are bound up in the person of Jesus Christ, and seen in His works.

This is what is meant by the statement He makes, “And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.” Jesus has labored hard to show us that He is the radiance of God’s glory and that all things He speaks are from God and all things HE does are from God, for He is God! As the author of Hebrews says:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (Hebrews 1:1-3)

When we take this to heart, we realize that it makes all the sense in the world to place our faith on Christ. Listen to what John Calvin says on this passage:

“The reason why the stability of faith is firm and secure is, that it is stronger than the world, and is above the world. Now, when Christ is truly known, the glory of God shines in him, that we may be fully persuaded that the faith which we have in him does not depend on man, but that it is founded on the eternal God; for it rises from the flesh of Christ to his Divinity.”

The Two Natures of Christ

If I may, just dwell a bit here on what it means that when we see Jesus, we see God the Father. Paul says that, “…in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19), and Puritan Thomas Goodwin says, “If there were infinite worlds made of creatures loving, they would not have so much love in them as was in the heart of that man Christ Jesus.”

In emphasizing His brilliance and glory, I do not want to neglectfully state that He was also fully man. This simply is an assumed truth by Jesus to his listeners here in chapter 12. He isn’t working to show them that He is human, they already assume He is human. He displays all the characteristics of a human being. The task before Jesus here is to explain that He is also fully God.

And so we must keep these things in mind as we read His words, and understand that the mystery of the incarnation is not without difficulty for us. Christ was both fully God and fully man. As Dr. Joel Beeke has said, “The Western church has always distinguished between the two natures of Christ, who is both consubstantial (homoousios, “the same in substance”) with humanity and consubstantial with God.”

The reason it is important to distinguish between the two natures of Christ is because we must not mar God’s character in a way that brings the divine down to a place where it ought not to be. Both of Christ’s natures were distinct, and both were fully realized (that is to say, that Christ as man wasn’t sub-human, or more than human, He had a weakened post-fall body as we do – see the works of Puritan John Arrowsmith), and yet distinct.

One example why the distinction is important is given us by Goodwin who explains that the two natures, “could not be changed into the other, for God was immutable; and it was impossible that the Nature of Man should become the Nature of God, since the Essence of the Godhead is incommunicable.” Thus, as Joel Beeke points out with the help of Goodwin, “the perfections of Christ’s human nature come infinitely ‘short of the Attributes that are essential to the Godhead.’”

Nevertheless, it is Christ’s goal here to show how He is God, and that when we look upon Him, we are looking upon the second person of the Godhead. This has enormous consequences for how we read and digest His teaching, as well as His works in the gospels.

12:46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.

Christ is the Rescuer of Mankind

I love verse 46 because it so well encapsulates the mission of Jesus. He is the pure light, the Rescuer of all mankind, and He has come to save us from the darkness of our sin and sadness.

This is also how we ought to teach our children and others about Jesus – especially as we teach them the entire Bible from Genesis through Revelation. We must endevor to show how the entire story of Scripture is about Jesus and His rescue plan.

For example, when we read Genesis, we read about the fall and the promises of God, we must see those promises as fulfilled in Christ and teach that way. When we read Revelation, we must see how Christ is going to come back and fulfill the promises He made during His time here on earth. The entire story revolves around Him (2 Cor. 1:20).

Here are some examples of what I mean:

I will put enmity between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and her offspring;

he shall bruise your head,

and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

Jesus is the Seed who will one day rescue mankind by bruising the head of the serpent, and freeing us from the domain of darkness, He will set us free from that slavery (Romans 6), and bring us into life everlasting.

And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:15-18)

One day there will come forth from Abraham’s body a line of descendents that will bear a king, and that king (Gen. 50) will “possess the gate of his enemies”, and the gospel of that King will bless all of the bless all the nations by bringing them into eternal life – that is the promise of Jesus to all who believe in Him, to the Jew first, and also to the gentile (Romans 1:16).

And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the statute of the Passover: no foreigner shall eat of it, but every slave that is bought for money may eat of it after you have circumcised him. No foreigner or hired worker may eat of it. It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones. All the congregation of Israel shall keep it. If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it. There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you.” (Exodus 12:43-49)

Just as God instituted the Passover meal to help the Israelites remember His delivering them from the slavery of Egypt, so He has given us a Passover Lamb, which is Jesus, who was slaughtered for our sins, and has by His death, burial, and resurrection rescued us from the consequences of those sins and from the death we were to receive as their payment. Jesus has fulfilled once and for all the Passover. God gave the Passover as both a way of remembrance, and a look into the future as a shadow of things to come when He would deliver His people from their bondage permanently!

These are just a few examples of how to see Christ in the Old Testament. He is the center of all history, and has come as our Rescuer. So when we read here that He says He has come to the world as light, we remember John’s words that He is the light, and that light was the life of men! He was from the beginning, and that is why I have stated that the entirety of Scripture is about Him, it is His story.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)

12:47 If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.

As I have mentioned in the past, the main mission of Jesus during His earthly ministry was not judgment but rather salvation. That being said, the very fact that He is the light of the world necessitates a kind of “judgment” because light is a separating force. You cannot have light and darkness co-existing in the same space. Therefore, the light, by nature of its being, will cause separation from the darkness and this separation is apparent to anyone who is an observer. And so it is that simply by His life and ministry and preaching of the kingdom of God, Jesus brought judgment into the world, even while still having the main mission of salvation.

In the story of Zacchaeus, Luke records Christ’s words for us which give a similar encapsulation of His ministry:

And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:8-10)

Just as important as it is to understand what Jesus is saying about His mission to save, it is important to know that He is coming back again, and on that day there will be a separation between those who believed His words and those who did not…

12:48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.

His Words are Law

Now Jesus will one day come back and have another mission: the judge the world by what they did with His words. Christ’s mission was that of salvation during His earthly ministry 2,000 years ago, but when He comes back His mission will include the judgment of all who did not believe in His words.

Listen to the words of Christ that we studied earlier in chapter five:

For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:21-24)

This is a fearful and awful thing to contemplate – especially in light of what the erroneous claim that Jesus was merely a “good teacher.” These are not the words of a man without authority. For one who is merely a teacher only, or a prophet only, does not have authority with which to judge the nations based on his words! Which leads us to verse 49…

12:49 For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. [50] And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.

A Question of Authority…

When you look at the words here compared to those I quoted earlier from chapter five, there may seem to be some confusion as to whether Jesus is saying He has authority or does not have authority etc. Keep in mind though, it is not as though He is saying “I do not have authority”, but rather “I have not spoken on my own authority.” So first, at the outset, we must realize that He isn’t saying He has no authority, but rather is using that authority which has been vested in Him by the Father.

Therefore, He is not contradicting Himself here, but rather explaining to us (in the context of the nature of the Trinity) that his mission on earth (2,000 years ago) was to save the lost, to give the words of life (of the gospel of the kingdom), and to do so on the authority of the Father. Whereas His mission upon His return will be to bring those who are His into His consummated kingdom, and to judge the world based on what it did with His words. This will be a judgment based on authority that has been given over to Him – an authority that is His by right and by nature of His Being (it is an authority which inheres in Him by the fact of who He is ontologically – He is God, therefore He has all authority). In the future, upon His return, reigning from His heavenly throne, He will exercise authority as the second member of the Godhead.

It is perhaps difficult to understand why He would choose to express Himself in this way, because He never ceased to be fully God, and it seems like He should always have had authority necessarily simply because of who He is/was ontologically.

However, I think He chose to express Himself this way because He wanted to reveal something of the Trinitarian reality (and how the Godhead was and always is in full agreement with itself), as well as show us the specific connection between Himself and the Father. This would have been particularly helpful for the Jews who were listening to Him and saw Him as simply a man from Nazareth. Therefore, it is not as though He ever stopped being invested with the inherent right to judge, but rather that He chose not to exercise that authority at the time of His first incarnation. This was a voluntary act, and one that fit in accordance with His mission at the time (as stated in Phil. 2…for He moves from a state of humiliation to exaltation as most orthodox theologians have stated).

This passage in Philippians shows us how Christ momentarily set aside His rights in order to accomplish the mission at hand:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

Just Another Prophet?

As a sort of side note, I have asked myself this question: If Christ was simply another prophet (as the Muslims and others claim) would He have had the authority to speak the way He spoke here? Can you imagine a prophet or a teacher claiming that he would come back and judge the world by the authority of his words! Wouldn’t that be an amazing claim? These questions have prompted me to realize once again how very seriously we must take the words of Jesus. I cannot simply brush them under the rug as the warnings of another prophet or teacher; He is the Lord of all life and all life finds its source in Him (in a few chapters we’ll see Christ say that He is the “way the truth and the life”).

Beneficiaries of His Work

Lastly, this statement of Christ’s has very practical applications for us today. Look now at the sum of all that we have been studying. First, we see that Christ Himself is the radience of the glory of God, and that for us to behold Him we are beholding the Father. This truth adds heft to whatever it is that follows it. First Jesus has said: I am the ultimate authority in the universe. It therefore follows that whatever He says we must listen very very carefully!

And what is it that He has chosen to follow such statements of authority? The thing He has chosen to say is that which comes from God, the “commandment” as He calls it here. And that commandment is “eternal life!”

What an amazing thing, and this is why it is amazing. He has chosen to use all of the authority vested in Him as God of the universe to express something that is to the praise of His glory, and to the unique benefit of US, namely that we should have eternal life.

Christ has first had us dwelling on who He is, and now He expresses the reality of what we will gain by what He will do for us. All of this is bound up in Him, and that it includes us, and that we are the beneficiaries of His work, is beyond comprehension and very difficult to express adequately. This is why Peter writes as He does in his first epistle:

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9)

Study Notes June 16: The Triumphal Entry

12:12-13 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. [13] So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”

How the Crowd Reacted

First, the crowd here seems to have been part of the large group that came from all over Israel to the annual feast, and not specifically those who were Jerusalem dwellers. As Morris points out, many of these folks probably knew Jesus from His ministry in Galilee, and so there was likely a familiarity with Him. Which leads us secondly to the fact that there is an intentionality of the crowd that is significant. John says that they “went out to meet him.”  It isn’t as though He was gathering a crowd around Him.

But what was their mindset? Morris says, “When on this occasion he (Jesus) did not reject their acclamation their enthusiasm knew no bounds.”

The ESV Study Notes have some solid insight as well:

Most of the crowd probably understood the title King of Israel in a political and military sense, still hoping that Jesus would use his amazing powers to resist Roman rule and lead the nation to independence. Like Caiaphas (John 11:49–52), however, they spoke better than they knew, as his disciples later understood (12:16).

What has always been interesting to me is this waving of Palm Tree branches. From what I read (Morris also mentions), Palm branches are symbolic of victory. Morris comments, “In John’s mention of them (palms) here we must detect a reference to the triumph of Christ.”

D.A. Carson gives an in-depth background on the use of the palm trees, as does John MacArthur. Carson says this:

From about two centuries earlier, palm branches had already become a national (not to say nationalist) symbol. When Simon the Maccabee drove the Syrian forces out of the Jerusalem citadel he was feted with music and the waving of palm branches which had also been prominent at the rededication of the temple. In short, waving palm branches was no longer restrictively associated with Tabernacles (the Feast of the Tabernacles).

MacArthur also mentions Simon the Maccabee and his victory and says, “Perhaps many in the crowd had that incident in their mind as they waved their palm branches. Maybe, they hoped, Jesus would prove to be the great messianic King and military conqueror who would liberate them from the yoke of Roman (rule) and establish the promises to Abraham and David (Gen. 12:-1-3; 2 Sam. 7:1-16).

What the Crowd Said…

First, the crowd began to shout “Hosanna!” which is literally translated “give salvation now” and as D.A. Carson notes, “had come to be a term of acclamation or praise. Every Jew knew of its occurrence in Psalm 118:25, for Psalm 118 is part of the Hallel (Pss. 113-118), sund each morning by the temple choir during the Feast of Tabernacles but also associated at this period with the Feast of Dedication and with the Passover…The connection was so strong that many Jews referred to their lulabs (used in the Feast of the Tabernacles) as hosannas.”

Secondly, they said “blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” – this is also from Psalm 118 (verse 26) and should be understood as a messianic title. They clearly see Jesus as their messiah, although as we have mentioned before, their version of what the messiah would be and what the messiah actually ended up being are completely different things altogether.

Lastly, Morris notes that the part “even the King of Israel” was not an expression that is from prophecy, but is rather the crowd’s addition. It also brings us to mind how Nathanael called Jesus the King of Israel in 1:49. This just further goes to show the fact that while the crowd saw Jesus as a political power and savior; in their ignorance they spoke truer words than they knew. For Jesus indeed was the King of Israel and of the whole of creation!

How Jesus Reacted…And What He Said

Luke records for us what Jesus said after reaching Jerusalem, and far from the “giddy” (MacArthur) crowd’s reaction to His coming to town, Jesus was heartbroken over the shallowness of the people.  He knew the nature of their interest in Him.  Listen to what He says:

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, [42] saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. [43] For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side [44] and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” (Luke 19:41-44 ESV)

This is a powerful, and painful, passage.  We see that Jesus was really the only one who understood the gravity of the moment.  He was the only one who really knew what was about to happen. Knowing what He did, how could He not have grieved over a people who were so faithless, and so blind.  The same holds true today. People lap up the teaching of prosperity gospel preaching because that’s what they think they need to hear. They want all that “positive reinforcement”! All the meanwhile they’re missing the gospel. They’re missing the atonement and the fact that they NEED an Atonement. While the people here in Jerusalem desired a savior from their political oppression, what they needed was the same thing we need, a Savior from the oppression of our own sinfulness!

Christ didn’t come to set us free from political bondage, but rather to free us from the bondage of sin that has enslaved the entire human race (see Paul’s discourse in Romans 6).

The Moment Had Come!

And so Christ came to set us free. That was His mission. When He began His ministry He quoted several prophecies that bore witness to this:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, [19] to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19 ESV)

Furthermore, this entry into Jerusalem marked the fulfillment of Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy. Listen to what MacArthur says about this:

The exact day that the Lord chose to enter Jerusalem fulfilled one of the most remarkable prophecies of the Old Testament, Daniel’s prophecy of the seventy weeks (Dan. 9:24-26). Through Daniel, the Lord predicted that the time from Artaxerxes’ decree ordering the rebuilding of the temple (in 445 B.C.) until the coming of the Messiah would be “seven week and sixty two weeks”, that it, 69 weeks total. The literal translation is “seven sevens and sixty-two sevens”, seven being a common designation for a week. In the context of the passage, the idea is 69 weeks of years, or 69 times 7 years, which comes to a total of 483 Jewish years (which consisted of 360 days each, as was common in the ancient world). Several different systems of reckoning have endeavored to determine the chronology of the 483 years after Artaxerxes’ decree, putting the date at either A.D. 30, 32, or 33, depending on the actual decree date and the complex calculations through those years…it is best to understand the triumphal entry as taking place on 9 Nisan, A.D. 30. But even the other dates offered by these authors leave one thing remaining undeniably clear: whatever may be the precise chronology, Jesus Christ is the only possible fulfillment of Daniel’s prophetic timetable.

Peter Gentry and Steven Wellum agree with Dr. MacArthur (although not on the dating):

Thus, the seventieth sabbatical is from A.C. 2-34 following Zuckerman or A.E. 28-35 following Ben Zion Wacholder. Halfway through this time, i.e., A.D. 31, the Messiah is cut off, but not for himself. Astonishingly he dies, but his death is vicarious. The phrase commonly rendered “and he will have nothing,” is better translated “but not for himself”…The point in the vision is that the coming king dies vicariously for his people.

And so as was predicted long ago, Christ came to set the captives free and lead a new exodus (a third one counting the Mosaic and Babylonian ones), only this one would be the beginning of a mass exodus spiritually from the bondage of sin and death that will one day culminate in the glorious day of the Lord.  Listen to Isaiah who mentions this:

In that day from the river Euphrates to the Brook of Egypt the LORD will thresh out the grain, and you will be gleaned one by one, O people of Israel. [13] And in that day a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were lost in the land of Assyria and those who were driven out to the land of Egypt will come and worship the LORD on the holy mountain at Jerusalem. (Isaiah 27:12-13 ESV)

12:14 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, [15] “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”

The quotation here is from Zechariah 9:9 which says, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

Delivery From Oppression

“Fear not” is how John chose to interpret “rejoice greatly” (it could also be taken from Is. 40:9 according to the ESV Study Notes), and it is a poignant expression because when I think of the situation that the Jews were in at the time, they were being oppressed and under the rule of yet another foreign nation (this time the Romans). They longed for the day when a great king would deliver them – not from another nation, but from within their own people. They knew that the Scriptures spoke of such a Messiah, and they new that when that great leader came they could have no reason for fear of oppression any longer.

The people were right to expect a great leader who would deliver them from bondage, but this would not be a physical exodus but a spiritual one. Jesus came to set the captives free (Luke 4:18) and deliver His people (the elect) from bondage and usher in kingdom (Matthew 10:7; Mark 1:14-15; Luke 9:2, 60; Acts 28:31 etc.) that would not be of this world (John 18:36).

A Humble King

We also see the mode of Jesus’ transportation – a donkey. And as R.C. Sproul says in his description of the triumphal entry, these donkeys are not the traditional American donkeys we picture in our minds – they are much smaller.  In fact to our western eyes the sight of a grown man on one of these small animals might make us chuckle, but this is the creature that Jesus chose to ride into town on just days before He would die a gruesome death for His people.

As Leon Morris puts it, “But he rode intro Jerusalem on a donkey to symbolize a conception of messiahship very different from that of the crowds. They hailed him as the messianic King. He came as the Prince of Peace.”

So why a donkey? I think the picture of a grown man riding on such a lowly beast is the exact opposite of the picture that the Jews were hoping for. They wanted a powerful political warrior king who would ride into Jerusalem and kick the Romans out. But Christ came to be a servant, a meek man and humble king. This picture embodies His humanity – He is the Son of Man as well as the Son of God. We humans like to picture ourselves as more than we really are, but Jesus Christ shows us what we are, we are small and weak creatures in comparison to the King of kings and Lord of lords.  This is the picture He paints, that in His humanity He identifies with us – but He doesn’t puff Himself up as we do, instead He shows what true humanity is like, what it was meant to be like in the beginning with Adam (Romans 5:12-21). He is the last Adam, the perfect obedient Son who will deliver His people from their sins.

He is also the Greater Son of David who is fulfilling the Davidic Kingship role. He is going to not only deliver the Jews and be their King, but He is going to be a King for all His chosen people from all corners of the world (Matthew 28:19).

12:16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.

I love how John inserts editorial notes like this so we understand better the work of God, His character and will for our lives. John is saying here that the Holy Spirit, who came at Pentecost, illuminated the minds of the disciples and brought them into all truth and helped them understand all that had happened during the life and ministry of Jesus. The man they saw do some many amazing things had mystified them for years, they had only understood a very little. But when the Spirit came they began to understand all that had taken place – can you image all the pieces being put together for them like that! They had just lived a three-year roller coaster of learning through difficult and amazing circumstances, and not only were they beginning to recount all of that, but all of their learning of the Old Testament as well. Their minds must have been spinning! Like when you watch a mystery television show or a movie that’s billed as a thriller, its not until the end when all the pieces start coming together and you see the main characters start to get really excited (or really fearful) as “it all begins to make sense.”

Christ predicted this would happen, and we’ll look at this passage a little later in our study of John’s gospel:

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. [13] When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. [14] He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. [15] All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:12-15 ESV)

What This Means for the Christian Life

As Christians we have an amazing advantage to learning and growing in maturity and understanding – not only of the things of Christ and His Word, but in understanding the ways things are in this world. What I mean by that is that for thousands of years philosophers and scientists have been trying to figure out the nature of being, life, the transcendent, mankind and more. The problem is that they start from the wrong places – they’re essentially trying to “solve for x” without allowing themselves to believe “x” exists!

And so these great minds have either begun their work from an incorrect premise that there is no transcendent personal God who created all things, or they work from the premise that there is a transcendent God or Creator or Mover but He is not personal and therefore He is unknowable. In other words they have an epistemological problem.

Francis Schaeffer saw this and pointed out that Christians don’t have an epistemological problem. We believe that God is a personal transcendent Being, and that we were created in His image. We believe that because we were created in His image and because we communicate using language, that therefore we are meant to communicate with Him and get to know Him. Enter revelation. As Christians we believe that because we can communicate and because we are made in God’s image, we inherently know we are made to communicate with God. He has made us for a relationship with Himself (as Augustine says in his Confessions).

And this is where the Holy Spirit comes in.  The Holy Spirit is God’s way of showing us that He wants a deep and intimate relationship with us, and that He cares for and loves us. We normally would look to the cross for this, and indeed we should! But as I consider the third member of the Trinity, I am amazed at the level of investment that God has made in us, His creatures. He so condescends to us that He indwells us with His presence and leads us into “all truth.” And why does He do this? Because He wants us to know Him. He seeks for us to have knowledge of Him. He is truth, and therefore being led into “all truth” is being led into a more clear understanding of who He is, His character, and His desires for us and this world.

There is simply no other religion that comes close to this kind of epistemology. All other religions are simply forms of ignorance and the inventions of man’s own mind. For though we can perceive that God exists and even have a sense of His moral norms from without our souls, yet He has revealed Himself outside of ourselves, both in His Word (special revelation) and in nature (general revelation).

This truth is amazing, and it ought to cause us to worship.

12:17-19 The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. [18] The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. [19] So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”

I love what Leon Morris says about the irony and hyperbole of the Pharisees’ statement in verse 19, “It is ironical. They are concerned that a few Judeans were being influenced. But their words express John’s conviction that Jesus was conquering the world.”

The religious leaders were beginning to see the situation go sideways. They were obviously concerned that the Romans would not welcome the noise and start clamping down on the people – though they were not truly concerned for the people, but for their own power.  The reaction of Jesus to their concerns is captured in another gospel:

And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” [40] He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:39-40 ESV)

The reason for this is that unlike the lying hearts of the Pharisees, the creation is subject to its Creator and knows its creator. It’s an apt analogy because indirectly Christ is saying that He is Lord of all the earth! Little do most people realize the power that God has over you as well as nature. We think that we hold complete sovereignty over our lives sometimes, over our minds and our souls. But this is simply not the case. For one word from the Spirit of God spoken sweetly to your heart is enough to forever awaken your soul and implant in you a love for Jesus you never knew before. He is the Lord of all creation, and we are part of that creation.

Paul agrees in his doxological burst of praise in Romans 11:

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:36 ESV)

Conclusion: Ultimate Triumph

Although the crowds didn’t truly have a good understanding as to the nature of Christ’s impending triumph, we have the privilege of looking back at that week in history and seeing the pregnancy of this moment. The most heinous of all crimes was about to be committed, and these fickle people would soon be cheering, “crucify Him” instead of “hosanna!”  Yet we today have reason (a great reason!) to be shouting “hosanna!”  We can see the triumphal entry for what it really was: a precursor to Christ’s great triumph over sin and death, not simply for Himself, but for you and for me.

John 1-11: An Overview

Well tomorrow morning my Sunday School class will be diving back into the book of John.  But before we dive headlong into where we left off 3 months ago, I wanted to provide a few notes by way of an overview of the first 11 chapters.  By no means are these comprehensive, but rather they express the key ideas from the first half of John’s gospel.  I hope they prove helpful – please note that they are my notes and not meant to be much more than an outline with some thoughts, so if I’ve erred in grammar or spelling feel free to chuckle and continue on!  (:

The Gospel of John: An overview of the first 11 chapters

Chapter 1

The Prologue

John begins his gospel by describing the eternality of the Second Person of the Godhead, and by stating in no uncertain terms that Jesus is that Person.  Jesus is the Messiah, He is the Christ, and the Word of God incarnate.  By Him and through Him and for Him are all things created and made that have been made.

Verse 14 says: And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

The very word that called all being into being has condescended into His created being with the mission of inaugurating a new creation within His chosen ones in order that they would fulfill that for which He originally created them: the bear His image, to rule over all creation, and to bring Him glory and joy (Jn. 10:10).

The Calling of the Disciples and the Angus Dei

John the Baptist’s mission is described here, as well as his relation to the Christ, “he whose comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (vs. 27).

When John saw Jesus coming toward him the next day he proclaimed “behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”  This is what is known as the “Angus Dei” (Latin for the Lamb of God), and by stating this John is saying that Jesus has come to die for the sins of His people – a people not limited to ethnic Israel, but rather from all nations and ethnicities (“the world”).

After this, Jesus called His disciples – and John makes special mention of the calling of Nathanael “an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” Nathanael marveled at the knowledge of Christ – supernatural knowledge that only God could know.  Yet Jesus surprised him further and invoked the image of Jacob’s ladder by stating, “truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (vs. 51).

Chapter 2

The Miracle at Cana – Water to Wine

Jesus’ ministry opens in this gospel not with a description of His desert temptation, but with a miracle at a wedding feast.  John’s intentions in his gospel are set forth near the end of his gospel:

…but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31)

Therefore, John sets forth 7 signs and 7 discourses throughout his book to show forth the deity of Christ and make the case that we ought to believe, and by believing “have life in his name.” Each sign points to something greater than itself (hence the name “sign” used by John as opposed to “miracle”).

At the wedding feast Jesus scandalizes our traditional thinking about wine, and what is “necessary.”  For He didn’t come to simply heal some people, but rather to give life and that more abundantly.  The wine He made was good wine, and it was abundantly served to a group of people who were already likely a bit tipsy.  The point is that the wine Christ has come to give overflows, as does His grace.  It is the best kind of wine, it is rich and full and deep and never ending. His wine is the new wine of the gospel and it makes the heart glad!

The First Temple Cleansing and Christ’s knowledge

One of the first things Christ did was enter into the temple at Jerusalem and drive out the corrupt businessmen who had been charging ridiculously high interest rates.  This was done in a premeditated way (vs. 15 states that He made a whip of cords which would have taken some time).  This wasn’t an uncontrollable anger, it was a righteous anger.

In this act of cleansing, He signified the importance of the temple as the house of God, and pointed to Himself as the greater fulfillment of the temple:

So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” [19] Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” [20] The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” [21] But he was speaking about the temple of his body. (John 2:18-21)

After this John tells us that when He was teaching in Jerusalem many started to believe in Him, but that Christ didn’t “entrust himself” to any man.  The reason?  Because He knew what was in man.  Christ knew the nature of man; He knew his depravity and his deceit.  He didn’t entrust Himself or His mission to others but took upon Himself the entirety of the mission and trusted in the will of the Father alone.

Chapter 3

Nicodemus and Being Born Again

Perhaps one of the most important passages in Scripture is found in the first parts of the third chapter of John.  A ruler of the Jews named Nicodemus comes to Jesus in secret at nighttime and begins to ask Him what he needs to do to be saved. Jesus gives a seemingly enigmatic answer:

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)

What He meant was this: you cannot by the work of your own hands, or deeds be admitted into the kingdom of God.  You must be born again of the Spirit. The Spirit must quicken your soul to life before you can “see the kingdom of God.”

Jesus also sets forth the sovereignty of God in salvation:

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)

In other words, it is God who chooses who is saved, and you cannot control this, but rather you must obey the Spirit and submit to the work of God, for He is sovereign and His ways are not our ways. The conversation ended with a rebuke of Nicodemus, who though he was a teacher of Israel did not understand these things. The implication is that as a teacher of Israel and one familiar with the Scriptures, he should have been able to put two and two together. Therefore condemnation would indeed have been just.

Moses’ Serpent, and the Love of God

Christ tells Nicodemus that the Son of Man must be “lifted up” as Moses “lifted up the serpent in the wilderness” – this is a reference to a time in Israel’s history when they were dying in droves of poisonous snake bites in the wilderness. Moses was instructed by God to set upon a poll a bronzed serpent, and whoever looked upon the serpent would be healed. Of course the implication here is that by looking to the cross and the work of Christ alone we are saved.  There was nothing the Israelites had to do other than look and have faith and God would heal them.  They simply had to obey and believe – now the implication is that some did not even do this. It seems so easy, so simple.  Trust and obey.  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved (vs. 15 says “whoever believes in him may have eternal life). But because of man’s depravity we still protest and refuse the great gift.

Jesus goes on to explain that God’s love has been made manifest to the entire world in His Son, and that because of this manifestation the entire world stands under condemnation. How many of us are familiar with verse 16 but stop without reading 19-21? Listen to these important verses:

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. [20] For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. [21] But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:19-21)

The chapter ends with John’s description of John the Baptist’s desire to see Christ’s ministry set above his own and we read the famous words, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” The reason the Baptist wants to decrease if for his own joy.  For he remarks:

The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. (John 3:29)

There was no improper pride in John the Baptist, his joy was completely in Christ, and he reveled in the glory of his own humility before the Son of God. He counted himself nothing before the ministry of Christ.

Lastly, John sets the stage for further arguments about the authority of Christ by stating:

He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. [32] He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. [33] Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. [34] For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. [35] The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. [36] Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:31-36)

Chapter 4

The Samaritan Women and the Official’s Son

Most of chapter four is spent describing the scene of Christ at the well with a woman of Samaria.  We find here in this encounter that Christ has a divine knowledge that surprises the woman, and that He is the bearer of eternal life, a theme which John weaves throughout the book.  Listen to what Christ says to this woman:

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, [14] but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)

The woman doesn’t understand this saying at first, but Christ is so gracious and so condescending that He reveals to this Samaritan woman more than He does to the leader of the Jews. He tells her no parable, but give her a beautiful description of His person and gift:

The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” [26] Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” (John 4:25-26)

Furthermore, He reveals to her something we ought to note, namely that in His coming there was a change in paradigm. He came to usher in a new covenant, and with it a change in the nature and even geography of worship.

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. [24] God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24)

Here is where so-called “temple theology” comes to the fore. We need to understand that there is a certain amount of discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament we see a central place of worship, God dwells with man but it is in a temple in the Holy of Holies. Now, the greater manifestation of the Temple has come, and when He ascends to heaven He will send His Spirit to indwell His children thereby making His dwelling with men, and transforming us into His temples.  No longer do we need a temple to gather close to God, for His dwells in each of us, just as Jeremiah predicted.

Lastly, in going to the Samaritans Christ is showing that salvation has come to all men, not simply to the Jews, and in this crucial way God’s covenant with Abraham is going to be fulfilled:

I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, [18] and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:17-18)

And what is perhaps most amazing to me about this is the call of Christ for us to enter into His work, for He states:

Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. [36] Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. [37] For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ [38] I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” (John 4:35-38)

Therefore John has laid forth both the sovereignty of God in salvation (chapter 3) and now the privilege of entering into His work as His hands and feet to take the gospel to the field which are white for the harvest.

The chapter ends with John telling of how Christ healed the son of an official – the second of the signs that John describes in his gospel. The key to this sign is understanding that it was these miracles that were confirming the word of Christ. The miracles in and of themselves were only a way to point people to the person and word of Christ, and that is why John notes that the miracle led to belief in the household of the official (vs. 53).

Chapter 5

The Healing at Bethesda on the Sabbath

By this time in John’s gospel we have seen how the signs that Christ is doing point to a larger significance about who He is and what He has come to do. In a similar way, Jesus has been showing how Old Testament traditions, laws, and even buildings such as the temple, point to Him.  Thus Christ is the great fulfillment of what was only previously seen in shadow.  The way Paul sums this up in 2 Corinthians is worth noting:

For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. (2 Corinthians 1:20)

Now we find that as Christ heals a man who was both blind and paralyzed the Jewish leaders become incensed. Why? Because He healed on the Sabbath (vs. 16). They are not happy for the healed man, and have no joy over the work of God.  Christ’s healing on the Sabbath was meant to point to two great realities:

  1. He was/is the fulfillment of the Sabbath.
  2. He is Lord of the Sabbath

The former is a matter of typology, and the latter of authority.

About the fulfillment of the Sabbath, the author of Hebrews says, “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his (Hebrews 4:8-10).” And Paul says, “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord” (Rom. 14:5-6a).

Concerning the authority of Christ, John focuses on this for the remainder of the chapter, and he shows that the Jewish authorities were also focused on this point – for they saw that Christ was making Himself equal with God” (vs. 18).

In this chapter, Christ sought to show that His authority came directly from God, and that the prophets pointed toward Him (vs. 46-47). A few key passages are as follows:

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. [20] For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. [21] For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. (John 5:19-21 ESV)

“I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. [31] If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true. [32] There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true. (John 5:30-32 ESV)

But more than just describing the authority He had from God, Jesus also described how He had authority in himself granted by the Father simply because of who He was:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. [26] For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. (John 5:25-26 ESV)

This is an amazing statement of power.  Christ had been given the power to grant life, and the power to deal out judgment leading to death. Is there a greater authority in the universe as we know it?  No indeed.

Lastly, the blindness and depravity of man is set forth by Christ as the reason for their mishandling of His ministry:

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, [40] yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. [41] I do not receive glory from people. [42] But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. [43] I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. [44] How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? [45] Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. [46] For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. [47] But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:39-47)

They cannot believe because they seek their own glory and have not the Spirit of God within them.  I don’t think He could have made the case any more plain to these puffed up men.

Chapter 6

Jesus Feeds the 5000 and Walks on Water

The 4th and 5th signs are performed by Christ in the first part of chapter 6 which boasts of some of the most difficult and profound doctrine we have encountered thus far.  First, we learn that the Passover is once again at hand (vs. 4 – probably the 2nd of 3 Passover feasts that mark His ministry) and thousands of men and women and children have been following Him to hear His teaching. This is perhaps one of the pinnacles of His ministry as far as shear mass of following is concerned, but as we’ll see soon, by the end of chapter 6 many of these people will fall away because they cannot stomach the difficult doctrine of predestination and God’s sovereignty.

When Christ feeds the 5000 here, there is a beautiful sense in which once again His bounty and overflowing grace is on display. We also see that He doesn’t want any of the food to be lost (vs. 12), perhaps pointing toward His own power of preservation for those who have been saved. After the miracle is finished, the people are so enraptured by His power that they move to take Him by force and make Him their king. He alludes them, however, and goes up onto a mountain by himself – a picture of what we ought to do when the world tries to force its will upon us, we need to flee to the mountain or the quiet place and commune with God, taking safety in the cleft of His might.

After the feeding of the masses Christ’s disciples have gotten into a boat and are attempting to cross over to Capernaum. But the sea, which often becomes tempestuous due to its geography, became enraged and made the crossing very difficult. It is then that John describes Christ’s coming to them – but not on a boat or another vessel – rather, He has come to them by walking on the very surface of what is not a surface at all: He is walking on water. It is worth noting that the reaction of the disciples is one of fear (vs. 19).  They were perhaps more frightened by the sight of Christ walking on water than of the prospect of losing their lives in the storm.

After Christ comes to them, the boat immediately finds itself on the opposite side of the water. His words are telling “It is I; do not be afraid.”  When Christ is with us, all objects of fear melt in the face of His calming power.  Indeed, the God incarnate was the only object worth of their “fear”, and He was the one ministering to their souls, and bringing them safely (if not instantly) across the sea.

The Bread of Life and a Hard Saying

In this difficult discourse, Jesus shows men for who they really are, and sets forth a doctrine that is most difficult – the doctrine of the sovereignty of God in salvation. Let’s look at how the chapter unfolds in a few succinct bullets:

The Nature of Man: People come seeking Jesus but really only seeking his bread – we seek after the things he can give us but not himself (vs. 26). We want the benefits of God. But no one seeks after God himself (Rom. 3:11-12).

Faith Alone: How do we do the works of God? This is the work of God, to believe in him whom he has sent. (vs. 28-29) This passage shows faith alone apart from works is what leads to salvation.

The Claims of Christ and Eternal Life: I am the bread of life (vs. 35) – whoever comes to me shall never hunger and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

Assurance: All who believe in Christ are those whom the Father gives to Jesus, and these people He doesn’t cast out (vs. 37-40) and will raise up on the last day. What a powerful statement! We can lean on His power to keep us until the end.

Sovereignty: Christ proclaims now that no one can believe – or “come to Jesus” – unless the Father draws him! (vs. 44-46) Therefore, God is the sovereign initiator of the drawing of men to Christ and therefore salvation.

The Response: The disciples say, “This is a hard saying!” (vs. 60) Not because it is tough to understand, but because it is tough to swallow. But Christ responds and says that the flesh will not help them understand the things of the Spirit (vs. 63).  Then in verse 65 Jesus says that it is the Spirit who gives help in coming to the Father.  Therefore we see that the role of the Spirit is being set forth here: it is the Holy Spirit who brings us into newness of life and draws us to the Father.

The Result: The people can’t stomach His doctrine, just as they can’t stomach it today!  How dare He impinge upon the freedom of mankind to make their own choices without aid from God! So they leave Him: “After this many of disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (vs. 66). But the disciples stayed with Christ, but even in this Jesus exalted His own work in them (“did I not choose you, the twelve?” vs. 70).

Chapter 7

The chapter opens with Jesus being rejected by his brothers (vs. 5), and ends with Him declaring himself to be the bearer of “living water.” Chapter 7 is the first of three chapters whose background is the Feast of the Tabernacles, and this is the final fall feast before the last 6 months or so of Christ’s earthly ministry.

The progression of events once Christ goes up to the feast is as follows:

He speaks with divine knowledge even though He’s never been formally trained – people marvel at this (vs. 15)

He once again asserts His authority, and claims that His teaching is from the Father (vs. 16-18)

The Sabbath question comes up again and Jesus uses the rite of circumcision as an example of “lawful” work that takes place on the Sabbath as a way to show their lack of understanding of (and lack of ability to keep) the law. (vs. 19-24)

The reaction in Jerusalem is mixed – but all are fearful of speaking outwardly about Him – such is the tension in the city over this man from Galilee (vs. 13). People even begin to declare that He is the Messiah (vs. 31).

Christ begins teaching about half-way through the feast, and due to the response of the people, the Pharisees issue an arrest warrant but are unable to apprehend Him (vs. 32, 45-49) due to the power of Christ’s speech (vs. 46), the sway of the populace (vs. 43-44), and the sovereignty of His timing (vs. 30).

The chapter ends with an interesting vignette of Nicodemus discussing the matter of Christ before others on the council, and their rejection of all justice or lawfulness indicates that the spirit of lawlessness has completely taken hold of the religious leaders of the day (vs. 50-52).

Chapter 8

The Woman Caught in Adultery

John now takes us to an incident that presumably occurs during the feast, where a young woman has been brought before Jesus as a way of testing His teaching and knowledge of the law. The woman has been caught in adultery, but given the circumstances it seems likely that this is a vile and reprehensible setup that the religious leaders have used in order to take Jesus down (see James M. Boice’s excellent commentary on the passage).

Christ’s response to the circumstance is one we’re familiar with: “let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”  It is an amazing rebuke of the crowds.  So often we are hungry to judge others – we want justice until it comes to our own sentence, then we want mercy!

The Light of the World and the Freedom of Christ

Christ began again to teach in the temple and proclaimed that He was the “light of the world” – He used the metaphor of light and darkness to draw people to Himself, and show them what kind of life he came to impart to them.

It was here also that Christ taught about the freedom He offered to all who believed:

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. [35] The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. [36] So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:34-36)

Paul also expounded on this:

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, [18] and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:17-18)

The Sonship of Christ, and the Children of the Devil

One of the key concepts of Chapter 8 is the Sonship of Christ. He begins to explain this to the leaders and other listening in verse 19:

“They said to him therefore, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” (John 8:19)

He is claiming to be the very Son of God – a bold and clear statement of deity.

Another key concept from this chapter is that there are only two kinds of people: sons of God and sons of Satan.  You are either under the power of the Devil and a pawn in his control, or you have been born again and adopted into the family of God, having Christ as your brother.

These statements irked the Pharisees who thought of Abraham as their father, but when Christ explained to them that they were not sons of Abraham, they winced and desired to kill Him.

Once again Christ was explaining what it meant to be a true son of Abraham.  Paul explains this to the Galatians:

“Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.” (Gal. 3:7)

What had merely been a physical promise to Abraham of blessings of land, children, and blessing the nations was now being realized in a spiritual way. This angered the Pharisees to no end as I mentioned above, and the resulting conversation ensued:

Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” [52] The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ [53] Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” [54] Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ [55] But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. [56] Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” [57] So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” [58] Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” [59] So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. (John 8:51-59)

These are just excerpts of one of the most intense and important conversations that Jesus had amongst the people during the feast.

Chapter 9

The Man Born Blind

This chapter centers on an amazing miracle (the 6th one of the 7 major signs) of healing to a man who was born blind. Like Job’s friends, the disciples saw the man and naturally thought that he or his parents had committed a sin in order for him to wind up in such a state. But Christ corrects their misunderstanding, and adds to it a level of profundity that places the will and prerogative of God above our understanding:

Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. (John 9:3)

Indeed it was the sin of mankind that has led to disease and calamity, but it isn’t necessarily specific sins that cause sicknesses or trouble in this world. Rather, God works through all things to sharpen us, and cause us to be conformed to the image of God, thereby bringing Him glory (Romans 5:1-8) and us great joy.

The resulting upheaval from the healing was amazing. The religious leaders questioned the man’s parents, then questioned him, and since he didn’t know who Jesus was he didn’t really have much to answer. After questioning him and his parents they questioned the man a second time (vs. 24) and demanded that the man recant of giving any credit to Christ, but rather demanded that he give “God glory” (vs. 24).  The response of the man is truly great reasoning and evoked the following exchange:

He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” [28] And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. [29] We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” [30] The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. [31] We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. [32] Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. [33] If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” [34] They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out. (John 9:27-34)

It was after this that Jesus found him, and the man became a believer.

Chapter 10

The Good Shepherd

The I AM statements of Christ are prevalent throughout the gospel of John, and here we have two more of those famous statements: I am the good shepherd, I am the door.

The key to understanding Christ’s teaching here is understanding the role of a shepherd and the role of the sheep. The sheep come at the voice of a shepherd. Shepherds in the ancient near east did not herd their sheep, they led their sheep, and the sheep would only follow those whose voices they recognized.  Also, the door of the sheepfold was the one way in or out of the sheepfold. By saying that He was the door, Christ was saying that He was the only way into the kingdom of God.

The themes here tell us of God’s sovereignty in salvation (vs. 4, 14, 15), His goodness in provision for His sheep (vs. 10), and His abundant love for us that ensures not one of His sheep will be lost (vs. 16) and that He will lay His life down for the sheep (vs. 11, 17, 18).

The Divinity of Christ and the Deadness of Man

This next section takes place “during the feast of the dedication” which was in winter, about three months from the final Passover of Christ’s earthly ministry.

The crux of what occurs here is a dispute between Jesus and the Pharisees over His divinity. Christ claims that His works bear witness about who He is (namely the Messiah). But the Pharisees still can’t find it in their hearts to believe, and Christ addresses this using the same motif He used earlier in this chapter (no doubt why John chose to put these two in sequence):

Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, [26] but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. [27] My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. [28] I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. [29] My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. [30] I and the Father are one.” (John 10:25-30)

So Christ tells them in plain language that:

  1. They don’t know Him because they are not of God
  2. They aren’t of God because they aren’t His sheep
  3. They aren’t His sheep because they don’t have His spirit
  4. Those who aren’t His sheep will perish: therefore they will perish
  5. He is the giver of eternal life: eternal life is for His sheep
  6. He gives eternal life by the power of His Father who is more powerful than all
  7. The Father will not allow anyone to snatch His sheep out of His hand
  8. He and the Father are one

It is this last statement that offends them so much because, like in 8:58, He is using the divine name as His own personal moniker, and saying in plain language that the God of the universe and Himself are “one.” What an astonishing claim!  The response to this is:

The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. (John 10:31 ESV)

Jesus ends up talking them down from their folly, but leaves and goes into the countryside across the Jordan River. This is the last time many of these people will see Him before the triumphal entry.

If there are two things we can learn from this chapter, they are that the nature and operation of salvation is a mysterious thing that God sovereignly ordains and brings to pass, and secondly, that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God and equal with God the Father the creator of heaven and earth.

Chapter 11

The chapter begins by Jesus learning that Lazarus is ill, and we see Him making plans to visit Lazarus, but only in His divinely appointed time. Throughout the chapter the great love of Jesus for people in His care is made manifest (vs. 3, 5, 33, 35 etc.), and His humanity shines through so that the chapter combines the power and wisdom of His divinity with tenderness and empathy of a man who fully understood what it meant to suffer.

The entire chapter is a grand display of Christ’s majestic character, but perhaps the most significant texts are as follows:

Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, [15] and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” (John 11:14-15)

Christ says that the purpose of Him staying behind was so that they might believe.  He did all of this for His purposes.  He heard that Lazarus was sick, and He knew that Lazarus was going to die, and what was His response?  He waited. He stayed put.  Can we doubt His complete control over all things?  He is sovereign!

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, [26] and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

Christ asserts that He is the resurrection and the life.  The Jews (other than the Saducees) believed in the resurrection of the dead on the last day. But here Jesus is again taking a truth understood from of old and claiming that HE fulfills that truth.  He is the second Adam, He is the great son of David, He is the prophet that Moses spoke of, He is the fulfillment of the temple, He is the center of all history and He is the resurrection and the life. There is no life that has life or will have life or did have life apart from Him. He claims here nothing less than full control and power over life and death, and therefore nothing short of ultimate divinity.

The upshot is that we are to place our faith in Him – see how He leads Martha to that “Do you believe this?”  This is the question that all people who live are faced with. Do we believe the claims of Christ?

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. [34] And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” [35] Jesus wept. (John 11:33-35)

Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. (John 11:38)

We forget the sense of what it means here that Christ was “deeply troubled” – this essentially means that He was not pleased, perhaps even angry.  He was disturbed, but not by the death of Lazarus, rather He was disturbed by the unbelief of the people, as well as being saddened for the loss.  These people were likely professional mourners, so their display of grief would have (perhaps) been less than sincere. It is hard to know, of course, but the sense of the situation here is that it is the unbelief of the people in the power of God that has caused Christ to be “deeply moved” and therefore He responds in vs. 40, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” [44] The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:43-44)

The picture of Christ’s sovereign power over death is unmistakable.  Not only that, but the method in which He loosed Lazarus from the grace was emblematic of how He called life into being thousands of years before. By His voice He commanded Lazarus out of the grave – like the Divine Fiat (Augustine) He commands life into existence.

Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” [51] He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, [52] and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. (John 11:50-52)

Caiaphas unwittingly and prophetically pronounces the coming of the kingdom and the further fulfillment (assuming a partial fulfillment in the work of God through Joshua) of the Abramatic Covenant in verse 52 and, of course, the atonement offered by Christ in verse 50. An amazing thing to consider from this passage is the way in which God uses the mouths of the wicked to show forth the excellencies of His plan. Not that these wicked men have been singled out by some kind of privilege, but rather the plan that was put in motion from the beginning of time was not going to be stopped by any evil force – they even confess the plan of God and His sovereignty unknowingly, so complete is His power and so inevitable is His victory.

Christ: the Center of all Biblical Covenants

Christ: the Fulfillment and Center of all Biblical Covenants

Earlier this evening, while teaching a small group study, I mentioned how the Biblical covenants serve as the backbone of the entire Biblical-theological narrative.  To understand how the covenants work and how they point to Christ is to have an understanding of how the Bible is put together, and how God’s plan of redemption has been played out over thousands of years. Well as I was reading this evening in Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum’s excellent book ‘Kingdom Through Covenant’, I found a nice summary of this idea and wanted to post it here for those who might be interested.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

 

…The covenants, then, reveal first and foremost the incredible sovereign-personal triune God of Scripture who is our covenant Lord, who makes and keeps his promises – and as such they can never be thwarted. It is for this reason that all of the biblical covenants are unconditional or unilaterally guaranteed by the power and grace of God. Whether it is with Adam in the garden or with other covenant heads, God’s commitment to his image-bearers and creation, tied to his promise in Gen. 3:15, will never fail. That same promise runs across the entire Canon, and it is developed through the biblical covenants until it comes to its most profound fulfillment in the coming of God’s own dear Son. It continues in the Noahic covenant; it is given more definition and expansion in the Abrahamic; it undergirds the old covenant and the Davidic, and, as noted, it reaches its crescendo in the person and work of Christ.

On the other hand, all the biblical covenants also demand an obedient partner. God as our Creator and Lord demands from his image-bearers, who were made to know him, complete devotion and obedience. In this sense, there is a conditional or bilateral element to the covenants.  This is certainly evident with Adam as he is given commands and responsibilities to fulfill, with the expectation that he will do so perfectly…Furthermore, in the Noahic covenant, obedience is also demanded, which is also true of Abraham, the natio of Israel, David and his sons, and in the greatest way imaginable in the coming of the Son, who obeys perfectly and completely, in every aspect of his life and especially even unto death on a cross (Phil. 2:6-11).

Yet, as the biblical covenants progress through redemptive-history, this tension grows, since it becomes evident that it is only the Lord himself who remains the faithful covenant partner. From his initial promise in Genesis 3:15 to reverse the effects of sin and death; from his increasingly greater promises made through the covenants; from the beautiful picture of covenant initiation in Genesis 15, which demonstrates that he takes the covenant obligations solely upon himself; from the provision of a sacrificial system to atone for sin (Lev. 17:11); from repeatedly keeping his promises to a rebellious and hardhearted people, God shows himself, time and time again, to be the faithful covenant partner. By contrast, all the human covenant mediators – Adam, Noah, Abraham, Israel, David and his sons – show themselves to be unfaithful, disobedient covenant breakers – some to a greater extent than others. As a result, there is no faithful, obedient son who fully obeys the demands of the covenant. Obedience must be rendered, but there is no obedient image-bearer/son to do so. How, then, can God remain the holy and just God that he is and continue to be present with us in covenant relation? How can he remain in relation with us unless our disobedience is removed and our sin is paid for in full? As one works across the covenants and the tension increases, there is only one answer to these questions: it is only if God himself, as the covenant maker and keeper, unilaterally acts to keep his own promise through the provision of a faithful covenant partner that a new and better covenant can be established. It is only in the giving of his Son incarnate that our redemption is secured, our sin is paid for, and the inauguration of an unshakeable new covenant is established.

It is only be maintaining the dual emphasis on the unconditional/conditional in the biblical covenants, leading us to their fulfillment in the unbreakable new covenant grounded in God’s obedient Son, that we appreciate Scripture’s incredible Christological focus.  The story line of Scriptures told by the covenants leads us to him. He is the one, as our great prophet, priest, and king, who accomplished our salvation. It is in Christ alone, God the Son incarnate, that the covenants find their fulfillment and this built-in tension finds its resolution.

God’s Sovereign Sustaining Grace

This week our church is in a study of ‘Grace’ – an apropos topic leading up to the Easter holiday.  One of my favorite passages on grace is Ephesians 2:1-10, and that’s what we’ll be looking at in class on Sunday morning.  Here are the notes, enjoy!

Ephesians 2:1-10 God’s Sovereign Grace

2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins

For thousands of years mankind has rebelled against the idea that he is sinful, or immoral, or in anyway imperfect – at least as long as that “imperfection” is measured against an absolute standard. He’d be perfectly willing to admit he’s not perfect, but by his own independent subjective standard.  One of the champions of this kind of thinking was 18th century philosopher Jean Jaque Rousseau whose romanticism philosophy declared that man is basically “good” until corrupted by outside influencers. This humanistic philosophy is alive and well in or own day as well.  In high school I remember a popular song by Sarah Mclachlan called ‘Adia’ whose refrain was “we are born innocent, believe me Adia, we are still innocent.”

Contrary to this, the Bible tells us that we are born in sin (Ps. 51:5), and it is not unintentional that Paul begins this section of his letter by pronouncing very clearly the true state of mankind before the intervention of God.

Paul surely realized the nature of what he was about to convey, more than a theory of being and nature, it was the very essence of truth.  In fact Paul was painting here a picture of reality that is so dark, so bleak, so scary, that only against the blackness of this backdrop will he lay forth the most precious light and purity of the gospel.

Steven Lawson, in his series on the Doctrines of Grace in John, gives the analogy of the black velvet display case you would see at a jeweler.  The jeweler uses the black velvet as a contrast against which he can lay the diamonds he’s selling you. Certainly the diamonds are intrinsically glorious and beautiful, but when set against he rich blackness of the velvet their worth and brilliance seems to shine all the more brightly.  So it is with the gospel of Jesus Christ when set against the darkness of our sin riddled lives.

I wish that the only people arguing for man’s innocence were the humanists, but historically, and contemporarily, there have been many in the church who see man as not completely fallen.  They argue for an “island of righteousness” in which man’s will and mind have the power to make moral decisions – most particularly these same thinkers reserve this power of right moral action for the most important “decision” one can make, the choice to follow Jesus.

Paul’s theology cannot be reconciled with such thinking.

The way I like to think of our pre-Christ situation is similar to a scene from the Matrix, where the inhabitants of the Matrix were “living in a dream world.” We thought that certain things were true, they seemed true, but until we took the red pill we were unable to see reality for what it really is/was. We were living in a world, which was mostly a lie – and no wonder, it was Satan who helped weave this lie around and about our minds as we willingly bought into his deceptions.  Now this is only a picture, and like so many analogies there are imperfections.  However, the main thrust is this: before we are born again by the power of the Holy Spirit, we cannot and will not see the kingdom of God (John 3) which is equivalent to seeing the reality of Christ’s reign and absolute power (in fact we will not agree to any absolutes until we realize that all absolutes find their ‘yes and amen in Christ’, but that is another matter).

Our status before Christ burst forth into our lives was like that of Paul before his dramatic encounter on the road to Damascus.  We were not simply dead, we were rebels.  We hated God, because we hated what God stood for – God stood for everything we stood against.  We were independent beings, after all!  We didn’t need anyone bossing us around, telling us what was right and wrong.  We didn’t need someone else’s version of absolutes!  We had our own minds and could think for ourselves, thank you very much!

The deep, deep sinfulness of our sins warranted Divine justice.  Paul wants to be clear as he begins this section that we were completely and utterly cut off from God: dead.

2:2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—

But it gets worse!  Not only were we dead, we were enemies of God (as I mentioned above).  And not only enemies, but also enemies duped into following a commander who was happy to use of and abuse us for his own purposes and his own pleasure and cared nothing for our souls.

Therefore, Paul outlines two concepts…

First, Paul states that we were walking in our flesh, in our sin according to a certain leader, “the prince of the power of the air”, which is Satan.  In Ligonier’s Tabletalk daily devotions this verse is referenced and they say that, “In ancient times, the term air often referred to the spiritual realm of angels and demons.”

Secondly, we learn is that those who follow this “prince” are “sons of disobedience.”  That’s us! In open rebellion against our Creator.  Jerry Bridges puts it this way:

No one ever has a valid reason to rebel against the government of God. We rebel for only one reason: We were born rebellious. We were born with a perverse inclination to go our own way, to set up our own internal government rather than submit to God.

But this disgusting description of our satanic sonship brings to mind the beautiful reality that we celebrate today, namely the fact that we have been adopted by God, that we were once sons of another – sons of the Devil (John 8:44) – but now are sons of God Himself!

2:3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

The result of living as sons of the Devil means that we are going to fulfill the passions of the flesh and the desires of the mind and body. There is a small shift here from Paul’s speaking directly to the gentiles to now addressing mankind as a whole, and the universality of sin on the earth. C.S. Lewis said that, “Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.” Paul contrasts these two types of slavery in Romans 6.

We have gone from being slaves of the enemy, under the cruel Egyptian task master, to being liberated from that slavery into the lovely bondage of Christ. Slavery to Christ may seem like a harsh term, but that’s how Paul described it over and over again.  Furthermore, Jesus reminds us that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. Slavery to Christ is actually, paradoxically, freedom!

2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,

Note that both Greek words used for “love” here are forms of the word agapē – the strongest and most profound of the Greek words for love.  Perhaps the most important word in this verse is the word “but.” This word marks the transition from our old state as sinners following the course of this world to our death, to the story of what God did for us in His richness and mercy.

Someone once said, “thank God for the ‘buts’ in the Bible.”  I couldn’t agree more.  This word is the turning point from Paul’s explanation of who we (humans) are, to what God has done for us, and, in essence, who He is.  He is love, and He cannot act out of His own character.

The most important concept in this verse is comprehending the motivating force behind why God did what He did.  Love – His character.  The fact of the matter is that he did what He did because He couldn’t deny Himself and His own love for His creation and His desire to be glorified by His creation.

He is rich in mercy!  He is a God of great love. And we are His image bearers, and the objects of His great love.

God does what He does because He is who He is.

2:5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—

Two concepts are again brought to bear: life and death.  We are reminded again that we were dead, and that even though we were dead we have been made alive together with Christ.  Paul has undoubtedly in mind the resurrection and powerful triumph over death of our Lord Jesus, and wants us to likewise picture our own powerful triumph over death – not in or of our own power, but by the power of the Lord Jesus Christ we have been “raised to walk in newness of life”(Romans 6:1-14, Eph. 1:20, and Colossians 2:12-13).

We are also brought to understand that if we were dead, then we couldn’t have made the decision to be saved on our own – it was purely by the grace of God.  Remember, grace is an active giving of something that we don’t deserve.  This isn’t passive.  This isn’t mercy, which withholds what we DO deserve.  This is the Spirit of God imparting something TO us, namely, spiritual rebirth.

A.W. Tozer says, “The love of God is manifested brilliantly in His grace toward undeserving sinners. And that is exactly what grace is: God’s love flowing freely to the unlovely.”

2:6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

The amazing and awe-striking paradox of this statement is that while we were the ones who raised Christ to His painful position on the cross, He repays us with grace and raises us up and seats us in the heavenly places.  I think about Rembrandt’s famous painting ‘The Raising of the Cross’ (circa 1633) where Rembrandt depicts the people lifting Christ up to die on the tree, and includes himself in the men who are responsible for the act.  Martin Luther also identified with this reality when he stated, “Take this to heart and doubt not that you are the one who killed Christ. Your sins certainly did, and when you see the nails driven through his hands, be sure to that you are pounding, and when the thorns pierce his brown, know that they are your evil thoughts. Consider that if one thorn pierced Christ you deserve one hundred thousand.”

In addition, I find it worth noting here that we are not only brought to life, not only forgiven of our sins, but we are adopted and then seated with Him in the heavenly places.  This says something of our spiritual royalty.  (Colossians 3:1 says “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”) Christ makes reference to this special place in heaven in Luke 22:29-30 and John makes reference to it in Revelation 3:21.

Lastly, and perhaps this should have been firstly, this verse tells us of the certainty of our salvation.  For what the Lord has gathered in heaven to Himself by the purchase of His Son’s blood will certainly not be foreclosed upon by any higher power in the universe.  As far as Paul is concerned, the matter is done.  Paul speaks similarly in Romans 8 when he says – in the past tense – that those whom God justified He also “glorified”, as if the thing had been done already, for God sees all time at one time. In Schreiner’s commentary on Romans he talks about how this kind of writing is indicative of Pauline theology – specifically, and I paraphrase, “the radical invasion of the future into the present.”

2:7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Notice again that we are said to be “in” Christ Jesus.  Our entire wealth and inheritance comes by way of Christ and what He did to earn it.  We haven’t done anything to deserve this, but are taking part in His wealth and just deserts.

The word “immeasurable” is also “surpassing” and “exceeding” and “incredible” in other translations.

If we contrast the nature of God’s grace with the situation in which we found ourselves prior to salvation we would also be able to use the same adjectives.  We were incredibly, exceedingly, surpassingly, immeasurably separated from God and lost in our sin.  So fallen were we, and so incredibly holy is God that the difference and the chasm that separated us was gigantic.  In Luke 16 that fixed chasm is called “great”, and great indeed it was.  How could we, by some human effort, seek to cross that chasm.  How could we of our own volition find a way across?  We couldn’t, we can’t, and we won’t.  Only by the One who bridges that gap are we saved.  He is the intercessor between God and man.  He is “the way”(the truth and the life) and no man comes to the Father but by Him (through Him).

2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,

Nothing could more clearly outline the basis for the doctrine of “sola fide” which was one of the doctrinal hallmarks of the 16th century protestant reformation. (Gal. 2:15-16 is a great reference – verse 16 says “We also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified”).

In a past issue of the devotional magazine ‘Tabletalk’ there is a great devotional addressing this passage/verse which says, “The man made religions of this world prove that without the work of the Holy Spirit, people think that they are basically good and can contribute something to their salvation. This strips glory from God and gives it to us, for if we can do even one thing to merit salvation, then we deserve some credit.  All belief systems except biblical Christianity encourage us to believe that we contribute our salvation, even if they deceitfully assert otherwise.”

I like what Jerry Bridges has to say in his book ‘Transforming Grace’:

God answered my prayer for only one reason: Jesus Christ had already purchased that answer to prayer two thousand years ago on a Roman cross. God answered on the basis of His grace alone, not because of my merits or demerits.

Lastly, as an aside, how do the Roman Catholics view this?  R.C. Sproul explains their view of the role of faith in salvation, “Contrary to what many Protestants think, Roman Catholicism affirms that we are justified or accounted as right before the Lord by faith in Christ and that no one is saved apart from Him. However, Roman Catholic theologians deny that faith is sufficient for justification. Instead, good works of obedience must be added to faith in order for God to declare us righteous. Justification comes first through the sacraments — justifying grace is poured into the soul at baptism, lost through mortal sin, and restored through confession and works of penance. Rome argues works cooperate with grace to make us righteous, and we are justified only if we have actually become righteous through our faith and works.”[i]

2:9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

A great cross reference on this verse is Romans 3:27, which states, “Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith.” And Paul also states this in 1 Cor. 1:29-31.

The idea here is that in our fallen state we cannot save ourselves, and if we were to somehow achieve a salvation of our own concoction we would then have reason to boast or brag or say that some part of our salvation emanated or originated from ourselves and something we did, thought, or “realized.”  This is the folly of so many other religions. They fail to take into account the holiness of God.  Once that is taken into account, our own radical falleness is revealed and any chance we thought we may have at saving ourselves is utterly destroyed.

The kind of pride it would take to both realize our radical sin and separation from God and yet devise a way of works with an end of salvation is the kind of pride that would certainly negate any successful achieving of this end.

2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Our Purpose: to Bless the Nations and Glorify God

Here we see the ultimate reason for our election.  Some might say that ‘now that we are elect why would we evangelize?’ and this is the verse that contradicts this thinking.  We were elected beforehand unto not only salvation, but unto good works, which are the fruit of salvation.

Because we are so naturally ego-centric, we think of salvation as the end, and that now we need to live this Christian life on our own, but God thinks of it as the beginning of His work of grace in us.

We must not miss the reason for which we were saved: good works. This means not only living a holy life, but also sharing the good news of the gospel to the world. For we are to love our God and to love the world.

In fact, we have been called to bless all the nations of the world through the spreading of the gospel.  This is the fulfilling of the great promise made to Abraham so long ago. It is through the spread of the gospel to a dying world that we bless the world and bring glory to God.

Now God does not leave us alone to this mission.  No indeed, for His grace is with us to sustain us throughout our life through the inward working of the Holy Spirit. John Piper says, “Grace is not simply leniency when we have sinned. Grace is the enabling gift of God not to sin. Grace is power not just pardon.”

So we see that eternal respite from hell and damnation is only the first part of God’s grace.  That is one part of the consequence of salvation, but there is also a plan of action moving forward that God in His righteous omnipotence has designed for us since before the foundation of the world.

Holiness

This means not only that we are to spread the gospel, but that we are to strive for holiness.  We can only do that be surrendering to God’s powerful working within us. We have to trust God, and lean on His truth and His grace.

He will indeed provide us grace in our time of need.  That is the magnificent difference between the New Covenant believer and the Old Covenant Jew.  We can obey.  God wanted to create a covenant with people who could actually keep the covenant (cf. Peter Gentry and Steven Wellum)! This is what Jeremiah emphasized over and over again.  No one was going to need to teach his brother because God was going to put His Spirit within His chosen ones.  HE would be the teacher! He would be the one helping us, enabling us to keep the covenant.

But what if we failed?  He had that part figured out as well.  For Christ would be sent to pay for every failing in the past, present, and future. His death on the cross paid for sins you haven’t even committed yet.  That should blow your mind!  Jerry Bridges puts it this way, “Furthermore, grace does not first rescue us from the penalty of our sins, furnish us with some new spiritual abilities, and then leave us on our own to grow in spiritual maturity.”

He does not leave us alone; His presence is the great blessing of the Christian life.  He is working through us to sanctify and keep us. Augustine said, “Nothing whatever pertaining to godliness and real holiness can be accomplished without grace.” Amen.

Conformed into His Image for a Reason

Lastly, we are said to be “His workmanship” which implies more than simply our good works are at issue here. There is a sanctification piece as well. Our very being, our soul, is at issue here.  He is molding us into a creation that will glorify Himself. (Ps. 138:8; Is. 29:23, 43:21, 60:21; Matt. 5:16; 2 Tim. 2:21) If He stopped at salvation He would certainly receive glory for His heroic and unfathomable love, mercy, and grace, but He doesn’t stop there.  He continues to mold us, shape us and refine us unto His own glory. (Phil. 2:13)

Now being the clay in the Potter’s hand is not always a pleasant experience.  There will be times when we are called to suffer. I do not want to here answer the reason in-depth for suffering except to say that it can be for molding, or discipline, or simply because we are under the attack of the Devil.  Whatever the case may be, we must realize that the servant is not greater than the master.  Christ promised that we would suffer as He did if we publically identified with Him. It is an honor to suffer in the name of Christ, but when we suffer we need to keep a few things in mind:

  1. The suffering of Christ – personally I like to mentally picture the walk of Christ up to the road at Calvary.  Suddenly my situation doesn’t seem so bad.
  2. The power of Christ – I am constantly reminded that the very Spirit who raised Lazaraus and indeed Christ from the dead is at work within me to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13).
  3. The triumph of Christ – when Christ rose from the grave, He defeated sin and death. Revelation 21:3-4 reminds us of this great truth, “ 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

The Ultimate Reason for Conformity…

The reason for this is because He wants to conform you to the image of His Son.  Why? Because He is at work to restore you to the original image in which He made you.  He delights in this because when He restores us to His original image, the image of His Son who reflects all the radiance of His glory and is the very embodiment of His character and goodness, then what He is looking at is a miniature reflection of Himself.  God loves Himself and cherishes His own glory – and when He sees us gradually conformed into the image of His Son whom He loves with infinite love, He smiles.  This is the essence of what it means to bring God glory.  To submit to the work of the Spirit within you, to respond in love both to God and to His image bearers.

Study Notes 2-3-13

11:17-20 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. [18] Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, [19] and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. [20] So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house.

It was about a one-day journey from where Jesus was ministering across the Jordan River to Bethany near Jerusalem. If Jesus had heard the news, then waited two days, then taken a day to travel to Bethany, that means that by the time the messenger arrived at Jesus Lazarus would have already been dead.  This is important to note simply because we see by this timeline that Christ, knowing all that was going on here, did not kill Lazarus by not coming right away.  It isn’t as though His staying away had any affect on the situation materially.  I think that is significant because if nothing else, it shows us once again how Christ in His sovereignty and His obedience to the Father’s plan stayed and waited for a specific reason (which we discussed above) and not to put Lazarus through some struggle unnecessarily or sadistically.

The second thing I want to note here is that Martha is the one who comes running to Jesus when word reaches their home that the Lord is on His way, and is nearing the village.

The reason I think this is significant has to do with what we know from other scriptures about Martha.  Martha was the one who was “busy with much serving”, so busy that she didn’t have time to sit and learn at the feet of Christ.  I don’t want to read more into this than is there, but Martha strikes me as a woman of action.  She is always on the move always doing something, she’s a “type A” personality.  So perhaps its only natural for her to sprint out to see the Lord.

But I think we might safely infer from this passage that Martha’s priorities have shifted from ones that are “busy” and self-centered, to ones that are Christ-centered. The old Martha might have said “I need to stay here and be with my sister.” This Martha realizes the centrality of Christ.  This truth is revealed further in the next few verses…

11:21-22 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. [22] But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”

As we look at Martha’s response to the presence of our Lord it seems at first blush that she is placing a tremendous amount of faith in Him, and indeed her faith here is a beautiful thing.  She unashamedly states that, in her opinion, if Christ had been with Lazarus, he never would have died.  “Jesus” she reasons “would never have allowed my brother to die.”

She is neither scolding Christ for not being there though, but nor is she showing the kind of depth of faith that I first confess I saw.  I thought I saw an Abrahamic type of faith – a gigantic faith.  But that is not the case as we’ll see later on, for when Christ approaches the tomb and asks that the great stone blocking its entrance be removed, Martha protests that there would be a stench!

Why is this?  Well I think its because it probably never occurred to her that Christ could or would  raise someone from the dead…perhaps her mind never got that far.  It wasn’t that she was full of despair, as we see in verse 22, for she knew that one day her brother would rise in Christ.  But she didn’t yet comprehend the power of the man she knew as Jesus.  She didn’t yet understand that this man Jesus was not just the Messiah sent from God, He was the Author of life.  The Man standing before her was the one who’s words sent cosmos flying into existence.

Abraham’s faith was of another variety altogether.  Look at how the author of Hebrews describes the faith of Abraham:

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, [18] of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” [19] He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. (Hebrews 11:17-19)

You see Abraham understood the nature of God and His will and His power. He was able to grasp the fact that since God controlled both life and death, that God could just as easily raise his son from the dead as he could bring him to life in the womb of a 100-year-old woman.

This is a more informed faith.  It isn’t that Martha’s faith is wrong, it is simply not matured, it simply hasn’t grown into a full-orbed understanding of the character and nature and power of who God in Christ is, and what He is capable of doing.

This, consequently, is why we study theology.  This is why we study the character of God. Because when we face the most extreme circumstances that this life can throw at us, we can do so with a full understanding that the one who walked on the earth and felt our pain and our suffering and our daily irritations is the same One who calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee, is the same one who rose from the grave, and is the same one who will one day defeat ALL death and sickness and famine to His own praise and glory.

11:23-24 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” [24] Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

Is it not significant that Martha had a better understanding of the resurrection than the Sadducees?  Now it may seem odd to us, who do not have the full picture of the Jewish culture, that Martha would even know such a thing.  But it isn’t a strictly New Testament teaching.  In fact it was common knowledge that there would be a resurrection of the dead on the day of the Lord.  However, as I just mentioned and have mentioned before, the Sadducees were the most secular (if that’s an appropriate word for it) leaders the Jews ever had.  They didn’t believe in the afterlife or in the spiritual realm.

I like how MacArthur points out that Martha seems to have faith that Christ can and will raise her brother on the final day, but doesn’t seem to connect the possibility of Him having the power to raise her brother now. I think there’s something to this.  So often we mentally ascent to God’s power to do this or that, because we’ve read it in the Bible, but we don’t ever think to apply it appropriately to our lives, as if He is somehow neutered of His power 2000 years later.

But this is not the case. God is the same yesterday, today and forever. His power is immutable, as are all His other qualities.

11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, [26] and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

Here is another one of the great I AM saying of Christ (the 5th one, if you’re keeping track).  This time He says that He is the “resurrection and the life” – this means that Christ raises us from spiritual death to spiritual life!  What a fantastic claim!

This is really a continuation of the New Birth discussion He had before with Nicodemus in chapter 3.  When Christ says that He is the resurrection and the life, He isn’t saying anything new, He is reiterating that life, true life, comes from Him and Him alone.  He has been given all power by the Father to execute His life-saving mission here on earth (see chapter 5).

In this phrase Christ is claiming that, not only does He have the power to raise lost souls from the dead, but He has a plan for them after that – we were saved from something, but also for something.  Consider Ephesians 2:8-10:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, [9] not a result of works, so that no one may boast. [10] For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

We were saved “for good works” – not simply from death, but for good works.

Truths We Must First Ascent To…

Is there a phrase that more encapsulates the mission of Christ than this? He is the resurrection and the life, and those who believe that will “never die.”  Could He have been any more blunt than this? YOU WILL NEVER DIE.  Let that reality sink in!

There is such power in this phrase and in this truth. But we need to acknowledge a few things first before this truth can be true there are other truths that we have to ascent to:

  1. That we are all dead spiritually
  2. That we cannot, on our own, raise ourselves from this death
  3. That we need and depend on the life-saving life-giving power of Christ to raise us from the dead and that He does this of His own initiative
  4. That Jesus Christ is the sole source of this power – He is claiming exclusivity here. He doesn’t say, “I am a resurrection” He says He is “the” resurrection!

What Everyone Must Wrestle With…

Lastly, look at what Christ says at the end of His great claim – He asks the question: Do you believe this?  This is the one question that every human being will eventually have to wrestle with. There is no one here that has not had to face up to this question.  We need to all ask ourselves at some critical point, “Do I believe this?”  If the answer is “yes” then you know that Christ is your resurrection and your life. What a wonderful feeling and a wonderful knowledge that is.

11:27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

This so much reminds me of Peter’s great confession when Christ put a similar question to Peter that He just asked Martha.  Here’s how the exchange went:

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” [14] And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” [15] He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” [16] Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:13-16)

We are told that this is what saving faith looks like.  Paul says this in Romans 10:

…because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. [10] For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. [11] For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” [12] For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. [13] For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13)

What is it that Martha is acknowledging here?  A few things…

  1. The Lordship of Jesus Christ – not only over the world and all created things, but over her life
  2. His deity – “you are the Son of God”
  3. That He is the one who can take away sins – He’s the savior of the world (“Christ”)
  4. That He is working out His sovereign plan in the world and in her life and she is surrendered to that plan – “who is coming into the world”

These are the words and component parts of a person whose heart has been miraculously changed by the Holy Sprit.