Study Notes for 10-27-13, John 14:15-24

Below are study notes for John 14:15-24

14:15-17 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. [16] And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, [17] even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

“If” You Love Me

Here we see that the prerequisite for obedience to Christ’s commands is a love for Him.  That makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?  I mean, if we are in love with the Lord Jesus, then of course we will want to obey Him!

But the next thing that should come to mind is that we can’t obey the law even if we do love Jesus.  The disciples don’t even get a chance to ask the question, which should be: How are we supposed to follow all of your commands, or even want to do that all of the time? Instead, Jesus anticipates the problem and promises the Holy Spirit to them.  Until now they have had Him as their helper – that is why Jesus says “another” helper.  The first “helper” was Jesus, and the second is the Spirit (later I will explain the term “paraklētos” which is the Greek term translated “helper” here).

If we examine the passage closely, we’ll notice that all the way from verse 15 or so through about verse 26 there is a theme that Jesus develops for the disciples, namely, that the Holy Spirit will come to represent Himself.  Jesus is going away, and He wants to comfort the disciples and prepare them for that absence by explaining not only what they will need to do, but how they are going to do it.

Now the Holy Spirit’s role is obvious from the verses we read here, and what we’ll read below. Here the Spirit is said to help us by causing us to love Christ. You might not see that immediately, but that is the clear implication.  For those who love Christ obey His commands, and because its clear that Jesus knows we need help to obey commands, we must also need help to love Him.  John would write about this in his epistles:

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. (1 John 4:11-13)
 
We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)
 

And so it is that the Spirit is the one who creates in us a love for God. He softens our hearts, and speaks softly to us, explaining the great truths of God’s gospel.  Without His initiative, we would still be dead in our trespasses.

Jesus explains here also that “the world cannot receive Him”, that is to say that on our own we cannot receive the Spirit of God. It isn’t up to us who receives the gift of the Spirit. God is the one who sovereignly chooses who He will to abide with. We’ll address this in more depth in just a moment…

You know Him Already

The last thing Jesus says in these three verses is that the disciples already know the Spirit. This is a mysterious thing.  Pastor Scotty Smith writes:

As Jesus continues instructing his disciples in advance of his ascension we enter the most profound teaching about the Trinity to be found anywhere in the Bible. There is much mystery here, but let us affirm what is clearly in the text. The better we know Jesus, the more Trinitarian we will become. The gospel is the means by which we enter the fellowship, love, and joy shared by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit throughout eternity – a staggering thought indeed.
 

Therefore, we should look closely here at what Jesus is saying and marvel a bit…Jesus can say, “You know him” Because, “he dwells with you and will be in you.” Let’s not miss this, because I think it’s a really important statement. What Jesus is saying is that even though they don’t yet have the Spirit living inside of them, they have been with Jesus, and that is tantamount to knowing the Spirit already. For not only is Jesus filled with the Spirit, but when the Spirit comes it will be as if they have Jesus right there with them – only now instead of having Jesus walking the hills of Judea with them, they will have Him in their hearts.

Why is this important?  Because you have that same Spirit, Christian! You have the Lord Jesus’ Spirit living within you, you are the temple of the living God. His mind, His will, His love for you is embodied in the fact that He sent His Spirit to you.  What I mean by this is that He has a plan and a love for you, and He is working that out through the power and person of the Holy Spirit.

To have the Spirit is to have Jesus, and to have Jesus is to have the Father, as we shall soon see…

This is why it is vital to understand that our God is a triune God, and that He is three persons, each with different roles.

14:18-20 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. [19] Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. [20] In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

First, I want to note that at the end of verse 18 we see here that Jesus says, “I will come to you.” This just further shows what I mention above about how Jesus Himself is coming to us in the form of His Spirit.  They are not one in the same person, rather, they are so alike in their mind and purpose that we cannot tell them apart.  They are on the same mission, and they are both part of the One Godhead. Having the Spirit is tantamount to having Jesus live within us – that is what Jesus is saying here.

The entire idea is tied up together in verse 20, “I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” That is the whole idea!  This is DEEP water we’ve just wandered into.  But what an amazing thing.  Jesus is teaching us something about the Trinity here, and about how role in the Kingdom. He is saying that His bride, that’s us, will be “in Him” and He will be “in us” just as He is “in” the Father. Don’t miss this. Cherish this. This is such profound, such wonderful truth that you can’t forget it.

What are the consequences?  Well I can think of several, but especially one: if we are that close to Christ and that “in” the Trinity, then surely there is nothing (as Paul writes in Romans 8) that can separate us from His love!  In other words, to separate us from the love of Christ would be like separating Jesus from the Father, or the Spirit from Jesus.  It is unthinkable, in fact, it is impossible.

Adoption and Love

Now, secondly, since we have seen and laid the foundation for understanding how Jesus will be with us, and how it is that we will do those greater works (in and because of the Spirit), we see that there is a side-benefit to having Christ go away…we are adopted into His family!

I think that verses 18 and 20 are closely tied to 21 and 15.  What I mean by that is that Jesus is saying that by loving Him, it shows that you are part of His family. Love is a by-product of family membership. Love happens for two reasons: First, because the Spirit has adopted us into the family by regenerating us to everlasting life and enabled us to love as Christ loves, and secondly, because of His work we have a desire to love. So there is His initiating action here, and our obedient response.  Jerry Bridges calls this “dependent responsibility” because not only to re require Him to start us off on the path, but we rely on His help to stay on the path.

So we see here that love is a mark of family membership.  We love because we are adopted!

Lastly, and more particularly to this passage, I want to note how Jesus says, “because I live, you also will live.”  What He means here is to signify the importance of the resurrection. Because we are “in” Him, that means that when He conquered death, when He arose from the grace, when He ascended into heaven, that we, too, arose and are guaranteed heaven.  Why? Because, again, we are “in” Him.  To be “in” the Lord is to be guaranteed all of the promises that He has earned for us.

Listen to how Paul describes the Spirit’s interaction with our spirit in reminding us of this great promised adoption:

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:15-17, ESV)
 

Therefore, because He earned life, we get life. Because He was perfectly righteous, we are made perfectly righteous in the eyes of God. Because He broke the bonds of sin and death, we too have been loosed from sin, and will never taste spiritual death.

Think about the significance that the resurrection now has in your mind and your life. If Jesus never rose from the grave, then all of this is moot (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). We’d still be dead in our sins. But Jesus is here saying (ahead of all of this even occurring, mind you) that when He rises from the dead, we too will walk in “newness of life.”  This is what Paul was saying in Romans 6:

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:4-11)
 

Later Paul adds:

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:9-11, ESV)
 

14:21-24 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” [22] Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” [23] Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. [24] Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.

Here we have once again the reiteration of what Jesus said earlier.  Verse 21 and verse 15 are almost identical. If we love Him we keep His commands.  It harkens us back to the sermon on the mount where Jesus said that those who bare fruit are those who are His.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:15-20)
 

The second thing that Jesus says here is that, “my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”  This is very much like verse 20 when He said, “I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”  The idea here is that not only is Jesus in us, but that the Father is also in us.  This would have been enough to blow the minds of the disciples.

NOTE: this passage, along with others, has been historically used to support to filioque insertion in the Nicene Creed which states that the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. It is this addition that eventually helped create a schism between the Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin/Catholic) church (the major historically recognized year of this is 1054, even though the problems and disagreements started well prior to this). 
 

We read earlier how Philip said ‘just show us the Father and that is enough for us Jesus!’  And I explained how the Jews thought of seeking the face of the Lord, and the face of God, and how Aaron’s benediction embodied this idea of being blessed by the revealing of God’s face to us one day. The idea derives from the time when Moses learned that no man can see God and live, but was allowed to view God’s “hindquarters” (in anthropomorphic language).  The idea being that God’s face is so glorious and so bright and resplendent that to view it would be too much for a finite creature to handle – we would die instantly.

Now here we begin to see the sweetness of the revelation we have in NT times. Not only has God sent His Son to us in the incarnation, not only did He die for our sins and impute to us His own righteousness, but He has gone a step further still.  He is going to live within us – His Spirit abiding in us! Meaning, as Jesus says here, that the Father and the Son will essentially be using us as their temple on earth.  They will be manifesting their presence on earth through us!

Have you stopped to consider the ramifications of this? We have become to used to the idea of the immanence of God, that we forget who it is we’re talking about here. We forget so easily in our day that this Being who inhabits the believer is the same one who spoke the universe into existence!

If that doesn’t lend some sobriety to your walk with Christ I don’t know what will.  Because Jesus is reminding us here that if we really love Him, you will pursue Him, you will obey Him, you will understand the reality that the God of heaven and earth has deigned to come down and live – in you!

D.A. Carson is right to mention that, in a very strong way, this passage builds on antecedent passages about the Spirit, the one that I want to mention most particularly is in 4:23-24 where Jesus (speaking to the Samaritan woman) says:

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, ESV)
 

Oh the sweetness, oh the condescension, oh the love of God in this! Can you not see how crucial this is to understand?  God has sought out those who will worship Him in “spirit and in truth” – He is doing this by putting His Spirit within us. He wants us to know Him properly, and for our minds to do this He must be the first to act.  He must take the initiative, and He must powerfully work within us. As we read earlier:

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. (John 6:63, ESV)
 

Jesus is urging us on here to think DEEPLY about the reality of what is going on here. You must take this seriously and understand the privileges and responsibilities associated with being a Christian. This is a call to loving, awe-filled obedience to your Lord.

Not to the World

Lastly, I didn’t want to skip over what Judas says here because he has a good question. He has heard Jesus say already, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  So if God loved the “world”, why is it that He won’t manifest Himself to the world?

The answer is that while God loves His creation, He has a special and specific plan of redemption for His chosen sheep. We start with the prerequisite understanding that the world cannot receive Him because the world does not want Him.

And contrary to the rejection of Christ, the world will not have a “choice” to accept the Spirit in the same way they saw the incarnate Christ and rejected Him. For the Spirit’s mission, though a continuation of Christ’s, has different objectives, that is to say that Christ is working to accomplish something new through the Spirit (the next phrase of His redemptive plan), namely the quickening of all those whom the Father has predestined to life and the reside within them, fashioning them after His image, and keeping them (preserving them) until the day Jesus Christ returns or we die and join Him in Heaven.

Be sure of one thing: Jesus knows who will believe and who won’t (see John 6:64), and He will not cast pearls before swine. He will not reveal His glory to all. Those who receive the Lord Jesus and the joy of eternal life are those whom He has chosen, those whom His Spirit has softened and called to Himself.  This is, of course, the work of the Spirit. He is the one doing the softening and calling and regenerating.

The world cannot receive the Spirit, not because the Spirit isn’t the one doing the work, not because the Spirit can’t soften the hearts of men. But simply because the Spirit isn’t going to soften the hearts of all men. He isn’t going to be sent to the whole “world”, but rather to those for whom Christ died.

Study Notes 9-15-13: You Will Deny Me

This post covers the final few verses of John 13. In this section we’ll look at the denial of Peter, and the effectual prayer of our Lord, among other things.

13:36-38 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” [37] Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” [38] Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.

Unperceived Promises

Jesus promises Peter that he will follow him where He is going “afterward.”  This promise is tantamount to Christ saying, “you will be with me in heaven”, and yet the promise of heaven is not yet able to be perceived by the disciple. So dull is his mind to the great heights of the promises of Christ even after three years of walking with Him. This ought to accentuate in our minds the great privilege of having God’s own Spirit dwell within us that we may be able to perceive the great mysteries and promises that He has given unto us.

Though Peter does not yet realize these great promises here, later he will:

According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3b-5)

True Courage is Revealed and Refined by Testing

And so it follows that his complaint is that he ought to be able to go with Jesus wherever it is that He is going. Peter’s remark is sealed by his (supposedly) courageous statement, “I will lay down my life for you.” But as D.A. Carson points out, he is “less interested in the new commandment (in 34-35) than in the departure of their Master.”

Let us learn this, dear friends, from the statement of Peter: untested boldness manifests itself in words, but those who love Christ suffer much and endure much for His cause (Luke 6:46-49, 11:28). As Carson articulates in stingingly honest words, “Sadly, good intentions in a secure room after good food are far less attractive in a darkened garden with a hostile mob.”

Listen again to what Peter says later in his first epistle:

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 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 1:6-9)

And so it is that through “various trials” your faith will be tested, and that as a result your faith will end in “praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” These trials Peter did not realize at the time, but later came to understand the fullest sense of the meaning (both spiritually and physically) of Christ’s command to “take up your cross.”

But let us also learn by Peter’s example not to be arrogant about the trials we face in the future. Who are you boasting in, truly?  Is it Christ, or is it your own experience when you say “I’ve been there and done that; I can handle it!”  It is a great truth that through trials we can have confidence that Christ will never leave us or forsake us.  Indeed, no power or tragedy can come between us and our Lord Jesus (Romans 8:31-39), and yet let us not spit into the wind and foolishly and arrogantly face the unknown in the power of our flesh.

As J.C. Ryle says, “Like Peter, we may think we can do wonders for Christ, and like Peter, we may learn by bitter experience that we have no power at all.”

It is instructive at this point for us to listen to Luke’s account of what Peter said:

 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” (Luke 22:31-35 ESV)

If you feel as though you can carry the cross of the Lord on your own, and do not stop to pray or saturate yourself in the word for the renewal of your mind and heart, you will indeed have no armor of God to protect you from the Evil One and He will “sift you like wheat”!

And so it is that through trials we are tested, and proven true. Thanks be to God for the testing of our faith, that we might know He is truly with us and watching over us.

Why Peter Could Stand, and Why We Can Stand

As we turn to examine Peter’s denial some more, we have to ask the question: what is the difference between Peter’s denial and Judas’ betrayal?  And what kept Peter from being caught up in utter shame and despondency after it was over? Well there are significant differences between Peter’s denial and Judas’ betrayal.  First, Peter didn’t intentionally and methodically betray Jesus.  He fell into sin, but didn’t hatch a plot.  Peter was a true believer, Judas was not. These are the foundational differences I believe.

But there is still another, that is significant and one I want to draw some attention to now. Namely, once the deed was done, why is it that Peter was not completely ruined and anathematized, as it were, from Christ?  Simply this: Christ prayed for him.  It is the sovereign intercessory work of Christ that keeps the feet of Peter from being forever caught in the net of Satan.

The next thing we ought to notice is that in Luke’s gospel Jesus says, “but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” Later in John we read Christ say this as He’s praying to the Father, “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”  (John 17:14-17 ESV)

And so it is both the intercession of Christ’s spoken Word on high on our behalf, and the written word of His Scripture that safeguard His pilgrims!

Look how plainly we are also told by Paul that it is the Word that protects us as a sword to fight the battles that rage around us:

…and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, (Ephesians 6:17-18)

And so we stand by power of Christ’s intercession, and have His Word to help fight off the flaming arrows of the Evil One.  We stand in the “evil day” because He is standing next to us and has given us armor and sword.

You Will Deny Me

Now as we consider more specifically this final verse, I want us to think for a moment what Peter must have been thinking. I imagine a million thoughts must have rushed through his impetuous mind, and he must have felt Jesus’ statement drop like a bombshell in his heart. So quickly and so fervently had Peter just pledged his every loyalty to Christ, only to be put down in such an odious and embarrassing manner, surely it must have cut him to the quick.

There is a great deal to learn from this, but I want to focus on two things:

  1. We do for Christ what He has called us to do, not what we want to do
  2. God who is sovereign over all matters, is sovereign over those which hurt us as well

First, we notice that Peter is overanxious to do what he feels is necessary.  He is ready to die, or to go to prison (as some other gospels record).  And there is at least some truth to this, for as Morris points out, “His use of the sword in the garden shows that he was ready in certain circumstances to face death boldly. There was truth as well as error in his words. But he was not ready to stand for Jesus when all seemed lost. That demanded a different brand of courage and devotion.” But the lesson here is plain: we must not be so impetuous to die for Christ if that is not what He has called us to do. He wants obedience more than sacrifice (1 Sam. 15:22; PS/ 40:6-8; Prov. 21:3). We must be obedient to His calling, and bear the cross He has given to us not to someone else. And you can only know what that calling is through diligent time spent in His word, because it is there that the Spirit speaks to you and you become convicted of what you must obey. This is about obedience, I’m afraid. But the beauty of obedience is that when we love Christ, and are walking in the Spirit, obedience is a lot easier.  In fact, God’s will seems a lot more clear when we’re in step with the Spirit.

We must not seek to gratify the flesh and take on the calling of someone else simply because it seems to be the grand and noble thing to do. For Christ only minutes later would tell the group the following:

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

It may be that you’re not called to preach but to clean. It may be that you’re not called to clean but to evangelize. It may be that you are called to lead a small group or a Bible study, but not yet. Too often we mistake our own passions for the will of God. We frequently want something so badly that we project those feelings onto what we read in Scripture. We must be careful not to rush headlong into something unless we have tested it, prayed about it, sought counsel from godly people about it, and truly have a peace about the way forward.

In Conclusion

Peter was a sort of traitor here, not to the level of Judas, for he didn’t mean to betray Jesus, but he did deny Him in utter cowardice nonetheless. But if you think about it, we are all traitors against God’s law, are we not?  This is what R.C. Sproul called “Cosmic Treason” because we have all sinned against the God of the universe. For instance, consider these passages:

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, (Colossians 1:21-22)

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:10 ESV)

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 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—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. (Ephesians 2:1-3)

Yet He has chosen some of us traitors to be His children. Though we still continue to fall – if Peter call fall, certainly we can also – He still welcomes us to His cross and His throne. He reminds us that there is no righteousness we have to earn in order to be welcomed into His family – He has already done that for us. That’s the measure of His love for us, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

And so I want to conclude by listening to Christ’s own words, which drip with such mercy and love that their beauty cannot be denied. Because He has interceded for us, like Peter, we can rest in His work and His love:

 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:20-21, 24-26)

Study Notes 9-8-13: A New Commandement

This passage of our study on John covers 13:31-35

13:31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.

First, its probably worth nothing that Jesus says, “now”, and that this seems to give us a demarcation between Judas’ presence among them, and this time afterwards when He would give His last instructions and teaching to His disciples.  It is often thought that from verse 31 onward the ‘farewell discourses’ of Christ begin since Judas has now finally left, and only His chosen ones are left.

And as we get into the meat of the text, we see that Jesus is pointing toward an impending event – one that is imminent. R.C. Sproul’s study notes point us to Pauline theology which hangs so much on the shame that Christ was about to suffer in just a few hours from now, and the contrast Sproul notes is how John sees this as an hour of shame, yes, but mostly of glory. Jesus saw His imminent death as a source for His greatest glorification. As John MacArthur writes, “His entire ministry pointed to the cross (Mark 10:45), making it the glorious climax of the life He lived perfectly in keeping with His Father’s will.”

All of this is simply hard to imagine logically. But J.C. Ryle helps frame the problematic contrast between the way we think of “glory” typically, and the way that Christ and the Father had in mind:

This was a dark and mysterious saying, and we may well believe that the eleven did not understand it. And no wonder! In all the agony of the death on the cross, in all the ignominy and humiliation which they saw afar off, or heard of next day, in hanging naked for six hours between two thieves, – in all this there was no appearance of glory! On the contrary, it was an event calculated to fill the minds of the Apostles with shame, disappointment, and dismay. And yet our lord’s saying was true.

The idea that the chosen one, the Christ of God would be glorified was not an unfamiliar one, for as Isaiah said:

And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified (Isaiah 49:3).

Yet at the same time we see Jesus use the name “Son of Man” to describe himself.  And so we see that there are two themes colliding that the Jewish audience of the day could not have seen coming together: the Christ will be a man who will bring glory to Him own name, who will usher in a glorious kingdom, but will do so by suffering in humiliation and agony. More than just a martyr, Jesus was actually accomplishing something for His people – freedom and eternal life.

In light of this, I really love Carson’s comments on the nature of Christ’s glorification:

Even in the Prologue, the glorification of the incarnate Word occurs not in a spectacular display of blinding light but in the matrix of human existence (1:14). Now, bringing to a climax a theme developed throughout this Gospel, the Evangelist makes it clear that the supreme moment of divine self-disclosure, the greatest moment of displayed glory, was in the shame of the cross. That is the primary reason why the title Son of Man is employed here.

Pastor John MacArthur says that Christ was glorified in three ways by the cross: “by satisfying the demands of God’s justice for all who would believe in Him”, by destroying “the power of sin”, and by destroying “the power of Satan, ending the reign of terror of ‘him who had the power of death.’”

The Father Receives Glory as well

But not only did Jesus receive glory from the cross, but as He says, “God is glorified in him.”  This means that the Father would also receive glory in the cross-work of Christ. I see this happening in primarily two ways: In the righteous obedience and character of Christ, and in the knowledge of what Jesus was accomplishing for those whom He loved.

You see, God’s character was put on full display as Christ showed that God was holy, faithful, and loved His people. His law had consequences, and yet He was willing to pay the price for our breaking of His law. I hear recently that it’s a habit of Christians to talk as if we need to be guilty for the death of Jesus – that He died for us, and that this deep sense of shame pervades them for their sin. Well this is only a half-correct way to think about it.  Yes we should feel shame for our sins, but Christ did what He did not out of compunction, and not out of duty.  And as Pastor Tony Romano was so keen to remind us recently, God did what He did in sending His Son not out of some cosmic law that says He has to behave this way, but because He finds pleasure in doing so.  God loves to save sinners, and when His Son hung on that tree it magnified who He is! It screams for all the world to see that God is love; and it shouts from the mountaintops that He is just and righteous and holy. For He is God, and there is none like Him.

In Sum…

We often have a difficult time at first glance with some of these ideas. For what has “glory” to do with something so painful and horrific and hanging from a tree all bloody and bruised? What God does is expand our way of thinking. He is offering us a look at Himself.  He is inviting us to behold His character, His majesty there at the cross. The cross confounds our fleshly sensibilities and offers to us another paradigm of thinking: heavenly thinking.

I imagine that for the disciples it would have been difficult to comprehend how these two concepts (glory and shame) fit together apart from the help of the Spirit (which would come later).  We live on this side of the cross, and on this side of the cross we have the privilege of the Spirit’s abiding work within us. This work of His is helping change our thinking to be more like Christ’s thinking (1 Cor. 2:16).”

The same thing eventually happened with the disciples, you know. The suspended disbelief of this group of me will soon turn to faith in action, empowered by the Holy Spirit, that would prove to be of such a deep nature that most everyone in that room would suffer and die for their Lord many years later.

13:32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once

The Logical Progression of Glorious Events

Jesus also saw that not only would the Father be glorified, and not only would He be glorified by His actions on Earth, but that soon (“at once”) He would join His Father in Heaven once again and enjoy the glory He had with Him from the beginning. And so this comment “will also glorify him in himself” is an anticipation of His glorification. Jesus trusted and knew that His death would result in ultimate victory.  Jesus was not a fatalist; He did not march to death with no hope for future life. And so we too can face physical death knowing that those chains will never hold us back from the bosom of the Father.

This statement from Jesus therefore shows us that He was looking beyond the cross toward the joy that awaited Him:

Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2 ESV)

The way D.A. Carson explains it may be helpful:

Instead of focusing on the glorification of the Son of Man and the correlative glorification of the Father in the Son’s voluntary sacrifice, one may reverse the order. If God is glorified in the Son, it is no less true to say that God will glorify the Son in himself…the entire clause has much the same force as 17:5. Christ’s glorified humanity is taken up to have fellowship with the Father…in the eternal presence and essence of his heavenly Father, partly because by this event he re-enters the glory he had with the Gather before the Word became incarnate (1:14), before the world began (17:5). The entire event displays the saving sovereignty of God, God’s dawning kingdom.

13:33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’

“Little children” is a beautiful saying of Christ, and (as Ryle notes) is the only time Jesus referred to them in this way. It reminds us of our adoption into the family of Christ.  In J.I. Packer’s classic book ‘Knowing God’ he devotes an entire chapter on the subject of our adoption.  Packer says that, “Our first point about adoption is that it is the highest privilege that the gospel offers: higher even than justification…Adoption is higher, because of the richer relationship with God that it involves” (pg. 206-207).

That Jesus would offer the disciples this title after just speaking of His impending cross-work seems to me a special and wonderful revelation; a small peak into the blessings to come.

13:34-35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. [35] By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Introduction

A few introductory thoughts to this important passage. First, this “new commandment” is not new in the sense that God had not called His people to love one another in the OT (Lev. 19:18), but rather that this will be a new covenant. In the OT God’s people were never able to keep the commandments. Jesus is saying that this is an entirely new paradigm, a new covenant enacted on better promises (Heb. 8:6-13).  He is going to change not simply the way (or what) we obey, but the fact that we will be able to obey, and will actually desire to obey, and that when we fail we will not need to make sacrifices for our sin – for He is our sacrifice.

Secondly, by issuing the command to love, He is anticipating the coming of the Spirit, which will enable them to actually keep the covenant – in other words, He’s making new creations that will be covenant keepers rather than covenant breakers.

Lastly, this obedience will be so radical (love for enemies etc.) that it could only come from God – it has to be supernaturally motivated. The people called by the name of Christ (“Christians”) will behave in such a way that marks them as something completely “other” (“called out” and “holy”). People will ask, “Why do these people march to their deaths, love their enemies, and speak kindness and love in the face of hate, persecution and scorn?” There will be only one answer: They are Christians.

Not “New”, Yet “New”

This “new command” is not a new “rule” but rather a new covenant, a new way that God is dealing with His children.  As far back as the time of Moses we read that the Israelites were called to “love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18).” Yet even the new covenant Jesus is ushering in isn’t something that ought to be totally foreign to these disciples sitting around the room that evening with Jesus. For we read in several places that this new covenant was going to come one day – a brand new covenant with better promises, namely eternal life and righteousness earned by Christ plus sanctification worked out by the power of God’s own Spirit.

Look, for instance at what both Ezekiel and Jeremiah had to say about this great impending day:

 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. [23] And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. [24] I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. [25] I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. [26] And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. [27] And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. [28] You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. (Ezekiel 36:22-28)

And…

So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. [11] Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ [12] Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. [13] And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. [14] And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.” (Ezekiel 37:10-14)

And…

 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, [32] not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. [33] For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. [34] And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

Covenant Keepers

This leads us to the next logical step, which is that in giving us His Spirit, and issuing a new covenant with His people, He has a goal in mind.  He will shortly break the power of death and sin by His atoning work on the cross, but He hasn’t stopped there.  God not only sent His only Son to die in our places, and to give us His own righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21 – double imputation), but He wants to have an intimate relationship with His people.  He has promised to dwell among us.  How is this going to happen?  By sending His Spirit to live within us.

The consequence of this is that He is transforming us from covenant breakers into covenant keepers. Listen to what Paul says:

You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. [3] And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.[4] Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. [5] Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, [6] who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:2-6)

Baptist scholar Stephen Wellum outlines the importance of Christ’s obedience in reconciling us to God in the context of the inauguration of this command and the New Covenant, “…this is precisely the problem: God remains faithful to his promises, but we do not. It is only if God himself provides an obedient son – his Son – that the covenant relationship will be what it was intended to be from the beginning.”

Wellum continues:

What is needed is such heart transformation tied to the forgiveness of our sin, literally being born of God’s Spirit, so that human being will fulfill the purpose of their creation, namely, obediently living in relation to their covenant Lord and to each other (KTC, pg. 629)

In the New Testament, the Spirit is presented as the agent who not only gives us life but also enables us to follow God’s decrees and keep God’s laws, thus making us covenant keepers and not breakers (KTC, pg. 648).

Previously we were unable to keep the commands of God, yet we are told by Paul that they were a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24). This new command will be possible because the law will be written on our hearts (Jer. 31:33). This is the great fulfilling of the promise of a time when God would dwell within us and help us to obey. What we could not do in the flesh, God has done for us in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:3).

The Coming of the Spirit

It is important to understand that this commandment comes from Christ by was of introducing the rest of what He is going to say to the disciples. The remainder of His conversation (and prayer) in chapters 14-17 is saturated by the promise that when He leaves He will send the Spirit. It is only because of this promised coming of the Spirit that this command, this new covenant, can be taken with joy and not complete consternation and (if they were being honest with themselves) the anticipation of utter failure.

This “new commandment” is the great “royal law” (James 2:8) which Christ has given us, a law which we could not keep if it were not for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. There is more going on here than we might realize, because as I’ve labored to show, Jesus is saying that he is going to transform us from covenant breakers to covenant keepers, with the goal that we might enter into a relationship with Him, and fulfill the reason for our creation in the first place – what was originally meant for us in the garden, and has been won for us by the work of the ‘Last Adam’, the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5).

The Mark of a Christian

Jesus’ words signal the announcement of a new covenant, a better covenant enacted on better promises (Heb. 8:6), and a people whose actions of love will set them apart as a clear distinction from all others in this world.

Now, this is why Jesus says that, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This isn’t because of our own wisdom or knowledge, but because the Holy Spirit will be so markedly making a difference in our lives that we will act differently than all other people. It is both a stunning pronouncement on the evil of humanity, and the amazing promise of God’s work within us that “love” for others will be the most pronounced indicator of our inclusion in His heavenly family.

Scripture tells us that God’s people are a holy nation, not geographically, but spiritually (Gal. 6:16). We are a called people, called out of the world (ekklesia), called to be holy, live a holy life (1 Peter 1:15, 2 Tim. 1:19), and called to love each other (Matt. 22:38-40). This love is a sign of the working of the Spirit.

This is what Frances Schaeffer called ‘The Mark of a Christian’ (Sproul & MacArthur both cite Schaeffer in this way) and it is not simply an emotional reaction to His goodness, it is much more. It is an outpouring of His Spirit’s work within us. It controls us. It motivates us to action. And it is these actions that justify outwardly our identification as His children. As John Stott says, “Christian love is not the victim of our emotions but the servant of our will.”  And this “will” has been changed by Him from a will bent on sin and resulting in death, to a will inclined toward the things of God.

One need only look to church history to know that the love which Christ has given His children has driven them to do and say things they never would have otherwise. Peter, the blustering big-talking fisherman became a man who could speak before councils and kings.  He was transformed from a cowardly traitor into a bold proclaimer of the Gospel, and eventual martyr.

Only a supernatural kind of love could possibly affect this kind of change – church history is littered with case after case of this testimony. From Peter and Paul and James, to Ignatius, Polycarp and Justin. Time after time men and women gladly marched to death rather than surrender their affiliation and love for Jesus.

Lastly, but certainly not “least”, it is worth noting that if we are truly filled with the Spirit, we will know we’re never going to be lost. He will preserve us until His return, or our death. What a wonderful assurance! If we are filled with His Spirit, then surely He has adopted us into His family and ushered us into His kingdom.

John tells us in his first epistle, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren” (1 John 3:14 – also 1 John 2:29, and 3:7 tell us this truth).  This love is a result of the Spirit’s work within us, and the Spirit is given to us when we are born again (John 3).

And as Wellum remarks, “In this age, Christ sends the Spirit to all believers and the Spirit becomes the previous seal, down payment, and guarantee of the promised inheritance of the last day.”  The indwelling presence of the Spirit the guarantee of our inheritance (Eph. 1:14; 2 Cor. 5:5), and the proof that one day Christ will come back and consummate the kingdom He inaugurated 2000 years ago.

Study Notes 9-1-13: A Traitor in Our Midst

These notes cover John 13:21-30, the announcement by Jesus that a traitor is in their midst. 

13:21-25 After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” [22] The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. [23] One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side, [24] so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. [25] So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?”

Electricity and Tension…

It seems as though the disciples still are in the dark as it concerns what’s going on with Judas.  There is an entirely separate narrative playing out before them, and they’re working to figure it out.

We see that in verse 22 “the disciples looked at one another” in stunned silence.  Morris points out that, “It is clear that the news took them completely by surprise. It is interesting that neither here nor elsewhere does anyone express suspicion of Judas. He had covered his duplicity well.”

Furthermore, no one willing to say a word, not even Peter is willing, at this point, to interject an obtuse question. So in verse 23 and 24 we see Peter “motioning” to John, here described as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, to find out more about what Jesus could mean.  Think about this “motioning” that John records here. The text betrays for us a closeness of friendship that reminds us once again of the pain that Jesus will soon feel when those who are His closest friends will desert Him.

It’s also apparent from the text that Peter and John are close friends.  I am guessing that you likely have similar experiences with friends or your spouse. You are so close that it only takes a glance of the eye, a raise of the eyebrows, or a quick nod of the head to communicate a thought – and be on the same page completely.

Peter and John had spent three years walking, talking, eating and serving together.  They had cast out demons in the name of Christ.  They had healed children, men, and women, and had seen their master do miracle upon miracle. Their faith had been tested together, their weaknesses exposed to one another; they had traveled the road of faith side by side under the tender care of their Shepherd.

We also see how close John was to Jesus, sitting close enough to have leaned back and asked in hushed tones, “Lord, who is it?”  As John is said to have leaned back against Jesus, it reminded me of the final chorus of the old and wonderful hymn ‘How Firm a Foundation’:

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,

I will not, I will not desert to its foes;

That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,

I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

 I love the idea of John leaning back against Jesus to ask this question. The mental picture of this is nothing like the Da Vinci portrait which comes no where near faithfully depicting what we are reading here.

Interestingly, there is much scholarship devoted to figuring out who sat where at this last super.  It seems that the “place of honor” is devoted to the one sitting on the left with the right closely behind.  From the sounds of the discourse, and what numerous scholars seem to indicate, Judas could very well have been sitting on the left hand of Jesus, and John on His right.  Though, despite all of this, I’m not sure any of it really matters.

What seems most relevant here is the revelation that Jesus is about to be betrayed.  This shocking statement on Passover night, during the gathering of such close friends, and in the middle of a city swarming with Pharisees who would love nothing better than to see Jesus killed, must have been enough to electrify the room.  You can hear the murmuring already…the silent glances…the presuppositions and judgments each was making about each other. The tension in the room is so think you could cut it with a knife…“What is going on here? Who could He be talking about?!” they wonder, and in verse 26 they get an answer.

13:26-27 Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. [27] Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”

The Sop

First, we see that Jesus has given a “morsel” (or in some translations “sop”) of bread to Judas. The context of the word and the way it was used historically at the time has led D.A. Carson to speculate that this would have been a choice piece of the meal, as when someone wants you to taste something and they put together a nice bite for you to taste so you gather the best impression possible with the most flavor possible.  It is as if Jesus, acting in one final movement of love (or “last appeal” according to Morris), has given kindness to those who didn’t deserve it. There is nothing not good that comes from God in heaven (James 1:17), yet perhaps that goodness turned to bitterness in the heart of Judas. So it is with the gospel when offered to those who have hardness of heart.  Carson says, “Instead of breaking him and urging him to contrition, it hardened his resolve.” It often just embitters them more, but to those whose hearts have been softened by the Spirit of God the bread of life is sweetness in our mouths, and life to our souls.

Complete Control

If there is one central impression I got from these verses it is the command of Christ to Judas, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”  This ought to remind us once again of the words of our Lord regarding His impending death:

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:17-18)

The circumstances surrounding the betrayal and death of Jesus were completely in His hands. It isn’t as though some things were set in motion beyond His control.  This isn’t a chain of events beyond His ordaining or guiding hand. Yet we know that men, when left to their own devices, will run to evil, for it is our natural choice. We do what we desire most (John 3:19-21), and we often desire what is sinful before Christ frees us from that slavery (Rom. 6:17-18).

His absolute sovereignty rings through the words “do quickly.”  Not only does Judas eat what Jesus gives him, but then he obeys what Jesus tells him!  John tells us that Satan then entered into Judas, and Carson indicates that the word seems to indicate possession. Satan is using Judas.

Let us not be confused about the circumstances of our own lives and the times in which we live as we see what must surely be the plans of Satan playing out all around us.  Let us remember that Satan does not do, and cannot do a single thing until Jesus’ lips move with permission (Job. 1:12).

13:28-30 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. [29] Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. [30] So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

I have come to think that the dinner they are eating at this point is likely the Passover dinner, which means that it is Thursday night (properly “Friday” at this point of reckoning from the Jewish perspective now that the sun has gone down). Why was Judas going to buy something right now? Carson explains:

Judas was sent out (so the disciples thought) to purchase what was needed for the Feast, i.e. not the feast of the Passover, but the Feast of Unleavened Bread (the hagigah), which began that night and lasted for seven days…Purchases on that Thursday evening were in all likelihood possible, though inconvenient. The rabbinic authorities were in dispute on the matter.

The second possibility that popped into the mind of the disciples was that Judas could have been going out to “give something to the poor.”  Carson provides more historical context for their thinking:

Moreover, it was customary to give alms to the poor on Passover night, the temple gates being left open from midnight on, allowing beggars to congregate there). On any other night other than Passover it is hard to imagine why the disciples might have thought Jesus was sending Judas out to “give something to the poor”: the next day would have done just as well.

Ironically, while the disciples thought Judas might be giving money to the poor, he was actually enriching himself at the expense of their Lord (Morris).

Carson’s notes give us good reason to believe that the meal they are eating is the Passover meal. Although John does not record for us the institution of the Communion Sacrament, he does give us an amazing picture of Jesus’ sovereignty and the contrast of closeness to Jesus with the betrayal of one of his followers.  For we see here that Judas “immediately” goes out at the command of Jesus.

Judas is dismissed, and walks out of the room into the darkness, for “it was night.”  The darkness that enveloped Judas that evening was far more penetrating than the evening’s weather. This man was off to betray the Son of God.

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.

Study Notes 6-9-13: Jesus Anointed at Bethany

John Chapter 12

This chapter begins the final week of the life of Christ.  James Boice has a great summary of what we’re about to read:

The events of this week contain the anointing of Jesus at Bethany, the entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the cursing of the fig tree, the Olivet discourse recorded by the Synoptics, the final discourses with the disciples recorded by John, the Last Supper, the arrest, trials, and crucifixion of Jesus, and the embalming and burial of the body by Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus. After three more days the events of this week are climaxed by the resurrection.

12:1-2 Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. [2] So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table.

It’s perhaps helpful to read Mark’s Gospel as well, to add more context to the passage:

And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. [4] There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? [5] For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. [6] But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. [7] For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. [8] She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. [9] And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” [10] Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. (Mark 14:3-10 ESV)

We first notice that it is only a short time before the Passover, and Jesus is in Bethany once again. He was dangerously close to Jerusalem, and even though He could have taken a more direct root into the city from Ephraim, He chose instead to go this route and stop here in Bethany. Everything He does has meaning and a reason. He knows fully what is going to happen, and yet He takes His time, and does all things in His own timing.

It reminds me of how He waited for two days before going to raise Lazarus, and we’ll see that as the Pharisees mocked Him on the cross, yet He stayed up there. They saw that as a sign of Him not being in control, but it was actually a sign of Him having full control!  He did all things in His time, for time is God’s doulos!

A Reminder of the Resurrection and Power of Christ

In their midst was a sign of inaugurated eschatology and the great hope for the future that Christ provides. Lazarus, who was raised from the dead, was a preview of the power that Christ held over death, not only for His own resurrection, but ours as well.

We need to understand what vital importance the concept of resurrection is to the Christian. Paul says this:

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. [20] But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. [21] For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. [22] For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:19-22 ESV)

J.C. Ryle celebrates this reality well:

If we believe that Jesus rose again, we need not doubt the truth of His Messiahship, the reality of His acceptance as our Mediator, and the certainty of our own resurrection. Christ has risen indeed, and wicked men may well tremble. Christ has risen from the dead, and believers may well rejoice.

It is a beautiful truth to cherish that Jesus has the power over death and hell. It gives us great comfort.  The fact that death will not have the final word allows us to live a life with no fear of the one thing that all men fear. We have not only been set free from our slavery to sin, but also from the end game of all sin (death).

Not only this, but we have been given the keys to loose others from death by the spread of the gospel! We have this mission from Christ who has all authority and is the real power behind our work:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. [19] Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, [20] teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)

Here sitting in their midst was a living picture of the work of Christ. The works of His ministry could be summed up by looking around this room: men raised from the dead, sinners forgiven, His kingship exalted, His servants learning at His feet.

12:3 Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

NOTE: “nard” or “spikenard” is an oil extracted from the root and spike of the nard plant, grown in India according to D.A. Carson.  The amount of the nard seems to have been 11 ounces.

To Mary, who gave her expensive “nard” (perfume) to anoint Christ, this was not worthy to be compared to the value of Jesus.

This precious ointment was worth about one year’s salary for people at that time, but Mary used it all in seconds. This was extravagant love. There are times for extravagance, and it is always time for an extravagant manifestation of adoration to Christ. What could you and I possibly do that would be too extravagant in honoring Jesus, too extravagant in praising Him, too extravagant in giving Him glory? – R.C. Sproul

She would have given everything to honor Jesus.  This was the Resurrection and The Life. This was the man who raised her brother from the dead. The great majestic King of kings was reclining at her table and it was not lost on her!  She cast her all before the throne.

J.C. Ryle Comments:

At this very moment she saw Lazarus, alive and well, sitting by her Master’s side, – her own brother Lazarus, whom He had brought back to her from the grave. Greatly loved, she thought she could not show too much love in return. Having freely received, she freely gave.

But more than simply give Him the gift, she served Him in a most self-abasing manner. She took what was the glory of women (her hair) and used it to clean the dirtiest part of man in those days (their feet).  It was an act of humility as well as an act of giving.

Morris comments, “The act is more striking in that a Jewish lady never unbound her hair in public. This was apparently seen as a mark of loose morals. But Mary did not stop to calculate public reaction. Her heart went out to her Lord, and she gave expression to her feelings in this beautiful and touching act.”

I believe that Mary’s sense of her own indebtedness were a strong motivation for these actions.  Those who have a great sense of debt, have a greater sense of gratitude!  This reminds us of the of a similar incident in Luke’s gospel where another woman had anointed Jesus at the house of a Pharisee. This woman was described as a sinner, and after her anointing of Jesus with her tears, the reaction was not a positive one by some of those near Jesus.  But what is Jesus’ reaction?  Listen to this:

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. [42] When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” [43] Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” [44] Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. [45] You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. [46] You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. [47] Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:41-47 ESV)

Because we have been forgiven SO much, we also ought to love much. Mary had nothing to give that would equal the way she felt about Jesus. Christian, do you feel that way?  Do you act this way?  Do you lavish upon Christ the honor he is due? Are your prayers ornamented with rich adoration and thanksgiving for what he has done for you?

In truth, there is nothing that we can do apart from Christ that would please Him, but the fact that what Mary’s actions did please Christ tells us something, it tells us that she was led be the Spirit to do this and it pleased Christ.

12:4-6 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, [5] “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” [6] He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.

The Reaction of Judas is the Reaction of the World

Judas was a thief, so of course he was angry at this display of selfless giving. Why didn’t this gift come into his wise stewardship first? “It could have been given to the poor!” He protests.  Judas reminds me in many ways of a television evangelist in that he’s stealing the gifts of those who want to see the kingdom expanded. The only difference is that many televangelists are much more open about their thievery: “I need you to give right now, the jet I’ve been flying around on needs to be upgraded!” Judas at least kept it private. This was the man who Jesus says would have been better off never having been born!  How can you trump that?  And yet the Joel Olsteens of the world are even more blatant!

I mention this because it is a modern day plague we face in America – false teachers who value their own success and financial health over the health of the church and the success of the Gospel.

The Great Contrast

Judas’ words smack of dishonesty, but more than that they betray a truth that we need to take note of going forward, namely that what we prize most of all is what is made manifest in this passage.   The world and all those under the control of Satan prize money, success, and luxuries in this life. What do they all have in common?  They are finite.

Ryle’s comments can’t be easily overlooked:

A day is soon coming when a wondering world will see that every cup of cold water given for Christ’s sake, as well as every box of precious ointment, was recorded in heaven, and has its rewards. In that great day those who thought that any one could give too much to Christ will find they had better never have been born.

Compare this to Mary who prized that which is of infinite value: peace with God, eternal life, eternal rewards, forgiveness of sin, and of course our Lord Jesus who is the giver of all these things.

12:7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. [8] For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

It is impossible to see this as some kind of slight to the poor, for Christ had already given much to the poor and the sick during His ministry. Rather this was His way to once again helping the disciples realize that this was a special time in history. This was the short blip on history’s timeline when the timeless One had come to usher in His kingdom and forever change the paradigm of this world. There would be plenty of time for fasting (Matt. 9:14-15) and serving once He was gone. Now was the time to listen, to watch and to learn.

James Boice makes an interesting point about the perspective of Mary.  For some time now Jesus had been telling His disciples that He was going to die in Jerusalem – on the road from Ephraim to Jerusalem He told them this, and yet they didn’t seem to understand His words:

And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, [33] saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. [34] And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”(Mark 10:32-34)

Yet Mary seemed to understand exactly what was going on, and Boice says that the reason for this was likely the fact that she spent her time learning from Jesus and listening to Him.  She was at His feet learning and listening.  When I digest this for myself it makes me want to be like Mary. Am I learning at the feet of Christ? In other words, am I in the Word?  Am I devouring His words with the same hunger and eagerness that Mary did? Once I have heard my Lord’s words, do I turn and serve Him the way that Mary did?

12:9-11 When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, [11] because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.

The Courage of Jesus’ Friends

The first thing that’s apparent here is that this dinner in honor of Jesus was not a private affair, but had become public knowledge.  James Boice comments on how must courage it must have taken for the friends’ of Jesus to hold a public celebration in His honor less than two miles from the heart of Jerusalem at a time when the religious elite were seeking to kill Him.

The Desperation of the Pharisees

The second thing that’s apparent here is just how desperate, and how foolish these religious leaders were. In their desperation they had tried time after time to silence Jesus, to arrest Him, to kill Him, and now they wanted to kill not only Jesus but Lazarus as well. I don’t know about you, but I got a chuckle out of this. The more I thought about it the more I thought, “these guys think it’s a good idea to try and kill the guy who was just raised from the grave? …Ya, that will work!”  But you can see into their demented minds, can you not?  The same motivation that caused the religious leader to ask the Romans to guard the tomb of Christ is the same thing motivating them to want Lazarus killed: if they can expunge these men from the earth, and they go away without any hope of return, then they will be able to confidently mock their power (as they did to Christ on the cross), and triumph over them.  They will be able to repaint the narrative to the people in their own words, and have the last word on the ministry of Christ.

But what happened? They would indeed succeed in mocking Christ, in killing Christ, in guarding His tomb, in beginning to repaint the narrative, and then they would themselves be crushed as their schemes imploded around them. They killed the Author of life (Acts 3:15) but Christ would burst through the power of death and conquer the grave! Did these mere mortals think their scheming would be a strong enough net to cast around the creator the time, space, and all of mankind?  What arrogant fools. Read what Peter said shortly after Christ rose from the grave and ascended into Heaven:

…this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. [24] God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. (Acts 2:23-24)

This same Jesus who has conquered the grave has crushed death to death and will one day loose you from the pangs of death and sickness.  He will wipe away every tear from your eyes. We must live in light of this reality, and give Him the honor He is due, just as Mary did 2000 years ago.

The Attractiveness of a Life Changed by Christ

The last thing we notice here is that Lazarus was a sort of attraction. People were coming to see him – not because of something he’d done, but what had been done to him by the Lord Jesus. James Boice challenges us to ask if the same can be said of us. Primarily it is the Lord who is in us that makes us attractive. It is not anything inhering in me, but the work of Jesus in me that makes me attractive, different, and, in short, like Jesus. I hope the same can be said of you.  Ironically, the firs step to being like Jesus is to surrender and stop trying but rather submit to His will and Lordship. Believe, that is what He wants. Humble yourselves under the might arm of God and allow Him to create in you a new and clean heart.

Acts Study Notes 11-1-12

PJ’s Notes on Acts

Acts 1:12-2:13

1:12-14 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. [13] And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. [14] All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.  

The first thing that is striking about this portion of the text is that the apostles were in a situation in which their Lord had once again been taken away, and now they were to wait for the promised Spirit, yet they didn’t all disperse.  They all gathered together, and made sure to stay as a group in proximity with one another so that they could, no doubt, encourage one another, and pray with one another.

The second thing, and perhaps the most obvious thing, that stands out here is their activity. They were “devoting” themselves to prayer. The men and the women were all praying together. Can you imagine being there? To see Mary, and Peter, and John and James and 120 other people gathered together in a room for corporate prayer…it must have been an amazing thing. The tension that they must have felt waiting to see what would happen, the expectancy of the moment would have been high, the words of these saints would have been precious. Oh to be a fly on those walls!

John Stott says this, “We learn, therefore, God’s promises do not render prayer superfluous. On the contrary, it is only His promises which give us the warrant to pray and the confidence that He will hear and answer.”

1:15 In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, [16] “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. [17] For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” [18] (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. [19] And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 “For it is written in the Book of Psalms, “May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and “’Let another take his office.’

God Foreordained it to Take Place

There’s a difficulty here for some folks because of the fact that Judas, it says, was prophesied to have defected – now his name is never mentioned of course, but God knew all along that this would happen and He spoke of it by the mouths of His prophets. But we need to recognize that just because God is completely sovereign, that does not mean that we are not personally responsible for our actions.  Stott agrees and quotes Calvin who says this, “Judas may not be excused on the ground that what befell him was prophesied, since he fell away not through the compulsion of the prophecy but through the wickedness of his own heart.”

Different Accounts?

Matthew’s gospel is the only other place in scripture that gives an account of Judas’ death, and he says that Judas hanged himself.  Here we read from Luke that Judas fell down in a field and his intestines burst out. Is there a contradiction?  No, there need not be.  For as Stott, Grudem, and many other scholars have pointed out, it is likely that Judas simply fell from the tree on which he was hanging and had his body burst open in the field. Greek scholars have said that this is perfectly plausible given the words used here (for more details see Stott’s commentary on the word “prenes”).

Matthew also says that the field where Judas died was purchased by the Pharisees with Judas’ money, whereas Luke says it was purchased by Judas – both can be correct.  It was still Judas’ money that was used to purchase the field.

Lastly, Matthew says that people called the field where Judas died the ‘field of blood’ because of the blood money that was used to purchase it, and Luke doesn’t directly say one way or another, but seems to infer that it was called this due to the way Judas’ body was found. It’s possible that it was called this for both reasons by independent traditions – so neither account is wrong, but are correct.

The Apostles’ Understanding of Old Testament Scripture

One of the things that we need to be keeping in mind as we study the book of Acts is the way that the Apostles understand the Old Testament Scriptures. During the time between the resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ, He spent time “opening up their minds” to the truths of Scripture (Luke 24:45).

Why is it important that we understand how the Apostles interpreted the Old Testament? Well its important because so often we come to the Bible with a man-made system of understanding it and we often end up “wrongly dividing” the word of God.  What happens is that many Christians grow up learning to view the Bible through a system, be it dispensationalism, or traditional covenant theology, and then a passage(s) in the New Testament confront us with the scary prospect that the way we’ve viewed the Bible may have been incorrect altogether.  Then what happens is that in our pride we adapt the passage in the New Testament to fit what we see as the metanarrative of our system.  We don’t do it purposefully, or maliciously, but since we assume our system is correct, then that must mean that our assumptions about this or that passage in the New Testament are correct, when they may by completely off base.

This may seem like a lot of theological mumbo jumbo, but it is from these pitfalls that we get disagreements about whether or not infants should be baptized, whether or not there’s a “secret” rapture, and so on.  These are issues that don’t materialize from simply misinterpreting a single passage; rather these issues materialize because when we read New Testament passages about this or that doctrine, we often come to them with presuppositions.  Some are good, and some are bad.  But we ought never to think so highly of our own systematizing of the Bible that we believe ourselves to be dogmatically infallible and averse to correction.

Therefore, when we see the Apostles dealing with the realities of the New Covenant, and the promise of the Spirit, and the mission they’ve been given, we see that their interpretive lens is a Christ-centered lens – because it was Him who opened up their minds to understand that He was the central focus of all Scripture in the first place.  They see the entirety of Scripture through the words and work of Jesus Christ. And that is how we ought to see Scripture as well.  So, throughout Acts, we will see the Apostles quoting Old Testament passages, and when they do, notice what they say.  Don’t glance over them quickly to get to the next part in the passage.  Take some time and see how they apply Old Testament passages to the realities of the New Covenant.

1:21-22 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, [22] beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.”

What are the qualifications listed here to be an apostle?  Well, it seems that they wanted someone who they knew and who had been with Christ from the beginning, but the main purpose of this was stated lastly, namely that this man “become with us a witness to his resurrection.”  So this man had to have been a witness to the resurrected Savior, and he had to have been taught directly from the mouth of Jesus Christ, or have spent a good deal of time with him.  These men spent three yeas with Jesus, and I don’t know if this is simply irony or not, but before Paul even came to Jerusalem and was counted among the brethren – before the launch of his public ministry – he also spent 3 years learning from Christ after seeing the resurrected Lord on the Damascus road (Gal. 1:17-18).  Just some food for thought…though some say that Paul didn’t fulfill this second more “full” (Stott) qualification.

The last qualification is that the Apostle had to be chosen by Christ himself. This was certainly true of the original Apostles and of Paul who came later, and we see it is true of Matthias.

1:23-26 And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. [24] And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen [25] to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” [26] And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

SIDE NOTE: The name “Matthias” means “gift of God” (MacArthur)

The Method of Choosing

John Stott points out that there are three things that the Apostles used to pick out the one who would replace Judas.

  1. They used Scripture.  They went to the Scripture and were convinced that the Old Testament Scriptures pointed to a need for replacing Judas.
  2. They used Common Sense.  The Lord ultimately made the selection, but the apostles still combed through those whom were present of the 120, and found that two that met the qualifications.
  3. They Prayed.  What a crucial part of the process.  They prayed and acknowledged their dependence on the Lord for His help in the matter.

In these three things – plus the blessing we now have of the Holy Spirit – we ought to emulate their decision making process even today.

A Note About the Casting of Lots

I believe this is the last time that the casting of lots is mentioned in Scripture.  Notice that this is prior to the giving of the Holy Spirit – another great dichotomy between the old and the new. This is also the last time we see the Apostles, or any Christian, use this form of finding out God’s will in a matter.  It ought to throw into sharp relief the immense blessing we have as Christians in the New Covenant.  With the power of the Holy Spirit, we are able to being God’s hands and feet all over the world.

You Know the Hearts of All

Peter begins his prayer in this way, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen”, and I think there are a few significant things he says here.  First, he exalts the knowledge of the Lord. Peter knows that the Lord cares about the hearts of men first and foremost (1 Sam. 16:7; Matt. 15:17-20), and that He knows the hearts of all men (John 2:24).

The second thing that’s significant is that Peter knows that Jesus has already chosen someone – He already knows the man who will replace Judas.  Note that Peter says, “you have chosen” in the past tense. This reminds us of the great truth that Jesus Christ, though He was a man, was also fully God.  He was and is and is to come.  He is a member of the triune Godhead, and as such He has foreordained all that is to come, and there are no surprises to Him.  He has orchestrated His plan from the beginning and is completely sovereign over all history – past, present, and future.

Conclusion of Chapter 1

The scene is now set for the first Pentecost.  The disciples are waiting in Jerusalem for the fulfillment of the promise of Christ.  It won’t be long now before they will be “turning the world upside-down”!

Chapter 2

2:1-4 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. [2] And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. [3] And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. [4] And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

The Day of Pentecost

The word “Pentecost” means “fiftieth” and, as John MacArthur explains, is “the New Testament name for the Feast of Weeks (Ex. 34:22-23), or Harvest (Ex. 23:16), which was celebrated fifty days after Passover. In post-exilic Judaism, it also celebrated the giving of the Law to Moses. The Spirit’s coming on that day was linked to the pattern of the feasts in the Old Testament.” He continues, “Fifty days after the first Sunday following Passover, the Feast of Pentecost was celebrated (Lev. 23:15). At Pentecost, another offering of first fruits was made (Lev. 23:20). Completing the cycle of the typical fulfillment of the feasts, the Spirit came on Pentecost as the first fruits of the believers’ inheritance (cf. 2 Cor. 5:5; Eph. 1:13-14). Further, those fathered into the church on that day were the first fruits of the full harvest of believers to come.”

There are seven days in a week, and seven days in a feast, and so the “feast of weeks” is like 7×7 which is 49 days – Pentecost is the fiftieth day following this post-Passover countdown.

“Suddenly”

In the ESV version of this passage it says that, “suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind.”  The disciples had been told to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit. No doubt they waited eagerly for this amazing event, and it reminded me of how it will be when the Lord Jesus comes back again. No one will know that hour exactly, but we await it with eager expectation. We long for that day, and we pray for it to come soon – as John did at the end of his apocalypse.

John says, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20 ESV).

The Fire and Wind

It is significant that the coming of the Spirit was accompanied by “rushing wind” and that the tongues came as “fire.”  Both fire and wind or cloud are used to manifest the presence of God on this earth (This is wonderfully outlined in R.C. Sproul’s commentary on Acts).  This is a theophany of the most amazing kind. They saw what looked like fire and heard what sounded like wind.  But it was neither fire, nor wind, it was the outward manifestation of God the Holy Spirit in their presence.

When we read of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, we read that the Lord God descended in a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night.

So often we read this passage, and we marvel at the gift of tongues, and the sort of bewildering image of all these men and women speaking in different languages, and we completely pass over the significance of what is happening here.  God Himself, the Deity, has come down from heaven to indwell His chosen ones from among humanity.  His Holy Spirit, One of (and co-equal with) the Trinity, the eternal Godhead, has come down in a visible manifestation of wind and fire!  Yet how quickly we focus our attention back onto man.  How quickly we shift gears away from the awesome presence of a Holy God and to the outward manifestation of His gift to us.  It is fine to bless God for the gift, but let us first bless God for who He is, let us bless Him for His awesome character and condescension that He would inhabit us – lowly sinners!  That the pure and holy God of the universe would descend and empower us to do His will for His glory because it was His pleasure to do so! What an incredible reality.

John Stott comments, “We must be careful, however, not to use this possibility (the event being one of a kind in history) as an excuse to lower our expectations, or to relegate to the category of the exceptional what God may intend to be the church’s normal experience. The wind and the fire were abnormal, and probably the languages too; the new life and joy, fellowship and worship, freedom, boldness and power were not.”

2:5-13 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. [6] And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. [7] And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? [8] And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? [9] Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, [10] Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, [11] both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” [12] And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” [13] But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”

People from All Over the World

Luke takes great care in naming all the regions from which there were representatives at this amazing event. He moves from East to West in his minds eye (Stott) and, though he may not even fully realize this, those whom he names includes members of all three major branches of the Noahic family.  Stott comments, “Luke does not draw attention to what he is doing; but in his own subtle way he is saying to us that on that Day of Pentecost the whole world was there in the representatives of the various nations.”

What does this mean?  I think it shows how the message of the gospel was being prepared to go out to every tribe tongue and nation!

In his commentary on Acts, John Stott has some amazing insight into the significance of this event, and the reason for such diversity in people being present:

“Nothing could have demonstrated more clearly than this the multi-racial, multi-national, multi-lingual nature of the kingdom of Christ. Ever since the early church fathers, commentators have seen the blessing of Pentecost as a deliberate and dramatic reversal of the curse of Babel. At Babel human languages were confused and the nations were scattered; in Jerusalem the language barrier was supernaturally overcome as a sign that the nations would now be gathered together in Christ, prefiguring the great day when the redeemed company will be drawn ‘from every nation, tribe, people and language.’ Besides, at Babel earth proudly tried to ascend to heaven, whereas in Jerusalem heaven humbly descended to earth.”

The condescension of Christ is sometimes overwhelming to us as we stare up at the cross, or peak down into the manger. But we often overlook how the entire Godhead is of one mind and one heart, and here we see the condescension of the Spirit of God.  That the Holy Spirit would come down to dwell within us is a remarkable thing.  That He would empower us to do the works of God is an amazing thing.  That He would touch our minds and hearts and breathe the breath of new life into us so that we can see God, that is an astoundingly gracious and merciful thing, too great to fathom, too deep to plumb.

In Their Own Languages

It is significant to me that the text says several times above “in his own language” because there are some today who say that these tongues that are speaking are some kind of heavenly language.  It seems that from the text that this is not a heavenly language, but rather human languages. In fact the text even tells us which languages in verses 9 through 11.

MacArthur comments, “The text, however, is not ambiguous. Far from being ecstatic speech, the tongues spoken on the Day of Pentecost were known languages.”

The purpose of tongues was a sign for unbelievers and, as MacArthur argues, was associated with being filled with the Spirit – not with being baptized by the Spirit. Paul lays out the purposes of this in 1 Corinthians: “In the Law it is written, ‘By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.’ [22] Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers” (1 Corinthians 14:21-22).

Modern Day Tongues?

One of the things that the modern day Pentecostal movement would like to point out is that the tongues as describes in Acts 2 differ from the ones described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12-14.  The differences, they say, are that the tongues in Acts 2 are known languages, and the tongues in 1 Corinthians are some form of ecstatic speech.  They also say that the purpose of the tongues in Acts 2 was to communicate the things of God to men, whereas the tongues in 1 Corinthians seems to describe the edification (or lack there of in the case of the Corinthian church) of the body of Christ.

Despite this, there is no specific description of the tongues in 1 Corinthians.  The only place in the Bible where we have a specific description of this phenomenon is in Acts 2, and its very clear what the purpose and type of activity was going on there.  As John Stott wisely says, “Acts 2 is the only passage in which it (tongues – glossolalia) is described and explained; it seems more reasonable to interpret the unexplained in the light of the explained than vice versa.”

Because we now see people in the church speaking these odd tongues that are often not interpreted (as Paul instructed in 1 Corinthians), it leads me to be very skeptical on the matter of modern day tongues.  Because this is a matter of interpretation, and one of the important “rules” of interpretation is humility, I am open to correction on this matter. But from what I have studied, the overwhelming evidence points to a more cessationalist position on this matter.

“New Wine”…the Reaction

The world’s reaction to the mysterious working of the Holy Spirit is to call these men ‘crazy’ or ‘drunk’, when in fact they had been given a divine gift as a confirmation of the empowerment and filling of the Holy Spirit.

We often face similar reactions today when we explain Scriptures or give testimony of the Lord Jesus.  It comes across as “foolishness” to those who we share with, when in fact it is the very word of God.

Study Notes 9-2-12

This week we finished off the 6th chapter of John’s gospel and in two weeks we’ll begin the 7th chapter.  Below are my full notes on the section (about 7 pages worth I believe).  I included all of them instead of bullet pointing because I think there’s probably a lot more below than I covered in class + I didn’t get to record the audio (oops!!).  Hopefully this is sufficient.  Enjoy!

6:67-69 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” [68] Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, [69] and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

Before we go into what it is that Peter says, I wanted to note something that Calvin says about this shift in dialogue. “As the faith of the apostles might be greatly shaken, when they saw that they were so small a remnant of a great multitude, Christ directs his discourse to them, and shows that there is no reason why they should allow themselves to be hurried away by the lightness and unsteadiness of others.”

This is one of the things I love about Calvin; he’s always putting himself in the situation so that he can explain the context to us more accurately than we might initially compose it in our minds. And what it is that he draws out here is the compassion of Christ.  He directs His attention to the disciples because He knows their hearts and thoughts and wants to be sure that they understand the truths He’s teaching.  He does the same with us, don’t you think?  So many times when I get shaken about something I’ve read or learned, I turn to Christ in prayer and He settles me down.  He speaks soothing words to my heart and helps me understand what it is that He’s made known in His word.

The Bible and specifically the words of Christ, aren’t always easy things to understand.  Carson points out that Peter’s understanding of what Jesus had been saying thus far might have been a bit “muddy.”  The same is often true of myself. That is why it is so comforting to see this example of the attention Christ is giving these men.  His desire is for us to learn more about Him.

Peter’s Confession

Peter makes a great confession here. He must have thought to himself, “what am I to do? What can I say to this”?  This is the same thing we might think from time to time.  We get frustrated with something we face in life and we blame God.  Or we can’t understand the difficult mysteries of Scripture so we get turned off by them and don’t read anymore, or we get rubbed wrong by a pastor or leader and stop coming to church etc.  But Peter, while acknowledging that Christ’s words are difficult – note that he doesn’t deny this – still admits that Christ is the only one with the words of life.  And so He is. We must therefore approach the throne of grace with confidence, but with humility, knowing that these mysteries are difficult even for those who spent time in the very presence of God incarnate.

John Piper talks about the vast wisdom and knowledge of Christ in his book ‘Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ’ and says that the greatest knowledge Christ had was of who God was.  He had this knowledge because He was God Himself!  And this is what Christ is trying to get these people (and us) to understand: that He is God.  Here’s what Piper says:

Nothing greater can be said about the knowledge of Jesus than that he knows God perfectly. All reality outside God is parochial compared to the infinite reality that God is. What God has made is like a toy compared to the complexity and depth of who God is. All the sciences that scratch the surface of the created universe are mere ABCs compared to Christ’s exhaustive knowledge of the created universe. And even this knowledge of the created universe is a dewdrop on a blade of grass compared to the ocean of knowledge that Jesus has of the being of God himself. While the universe is finite, God is infinite. Complete knowledge of the infinite is infinite. Therefore to know God as Jesus knows God is to have infinite knowledge.

And so this is the reality that Peter came to at the end of this discourse.  And this is why verse 64 is so significant, it all points to Christ’s knowledge.  He knows everything from before the foundation of the world.

There are other instances of this in Scripture.  For example, in John 18:4 it says “Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him…” and earlier in John 2:24-25 it says, “But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.”

I also love the example of a time when the Pharisees were trying to question Jesus to see how smart he really was, and He ended up asking them the questions instead.  The passage is Matthew 23:41-46:

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

I just love that last verse – the reaction to His scriptural example is that “nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions”!  What a great verse!

This is where Peter found himself, only his reaction was one of confessional worship, while the Pharisees were simply silenced in their embarrassment.

6:70-71 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” [71] He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him.

First we notice that Christ makes certain that His disciples understand that it is He that is doing the choosing and not themselves. This is perhaps a very clear example of election, though MacArthur says “He is not here referring to election to salvation, but rather selection to apostleship.” God knows who His chosen ones will be, as He also knew who Jesus’ disciples would be. Peter makes his declaration of faith, first and then Christ reminds him that it wasn’t Peter who chose Christ for His words, but rather Christ chose Peter that he might hear His words and choose to follow Him. So while we see that Christ might not specifically be talking about salvation, the principles of sovereignty are the same – in all things He is sovereign.  As D.A. Carson says, “Ultimately, the twelve did not choose Jesus; He chose them.”

Very interesting that Jesus would choose to react in verse 70 to Peter’s confession this way.  In another discourse Peter makes a more clear confession of faith and Christ responds slightly differently, but the point is really the same.  That confession is found in Matthew 16:16-17.

Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

There are some wonderful parallels between this passage and the one we’re looking at here in John.  As you recall, we said that being taught of God is the same as being drawn or chosen by God.  And these two verses demonstrate this all the more.  The Matthew passage shows us that what Peter understood about Christ did not emanate from within himself, but rather from God who revealed it to him.  We might call this being “taught” of God.

The passage we have in John shows us a similar confession by Peter, though slightly different in the phraseology.  He states that Jesus is the “Holy One of God” and Jesus doesn’t say specifically this time that God revealed this to him, but rather says that it wasn’t Peter that chose to have this knowledge, it wasn’t something within Peter that made him want to stay and be with Christ and follow Him, rather Jesus says that it was Christ who called him out of darkness.  Peter would later write this about what it means to be a Christian:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)

So we see here that Jesus isn’t going away from His main point of this passage, which is that in all things God is sovereign, and particularly in the matter of salvation.

Allowing Evil

The second thing we notice here is what Boice calls “a disturbing revelation.”  He points out is that one of the disciples is “a devil” and John adds a contextual note that Judas will betray Jesus.  Leon Morris says that all the gospel authors make this betrayal clear when they first introduce Judas in each of their accounts.

There is no question that Jesus is stating that He is sovereign over who will be His disciples, just as He is sovereign over salvation and is sovereign over all living things.  He’s already stated this numerous times throughout the passage, and once more again just now.  But why would He allow Judas to be numbered among them?

The answer lies in the fact that, while God hates evil, He allows evil, and even chooses to work through evil situations and people, to bring good to His people.  This is the whole meaning of Romans 8:28.  It isn’t that God simply is sovereign over the good times, and it isn’t as though these evil people are somehow out from under His thumb.  No indeed.  God in His mysterious sovereignty allows evil people to do what they do in order that He might bring about redemption.

This is the kind of thing that baffles us.  Christ ends the passage that is so rich with predestinarian language and teaching that one can’t help but realize that from the beginning of time God had a plan for us and for His Son’s incarnation, death, and glorious resurrection.  Yet we struggle with the purpose of evil.  And we must be careful, because this is where errors can filter into our thinking.

We must guide our thoughts of Jesus’ allowing of Judas, and other evil men, into His plans by what we know is true about God’s character.  God is not the author of evil Himself, nor does He like, or condone it.  Evil is contrary to God’s holy character, it is so fully opposite of who He is that He will not evil look upon sin (Habakkuk 1:13).

And yet His Spirit strives with us while we continue to sin, and He also uses evil to accomplish His will on earth.  This is close to being a paradox – it is something that seems contradictory on the surface, but when we look at God’s character we find it is not so.  God can be both merciful, and holy.  He can be both loving of His sinful creatures, while displaying at least some measure of His wrath at our sin.

We would not call these attributes contradictory in a person, just as we won’t call them so in God.  But we do have a tendency as human beings to assume God’s mercy outweighs His justice and wrath.  We tend to think of God as sort of a one-sided all loving God, or perhaps as a lopsided all-judging and wrathful God.  But the truth is that God’s characteristics are balanced as He sees fit.  We can’t know the “why” of His choosing to be merciful to some and deliver justice to others.  He chose to be merciful to the disciples and deliver justice to Judas.  He had a plan that involved Judas betraying Him.  If He hadn’t have chosen Judas to be one of the 12, there would be no betrayal, no cross, and no redemption for sins.

The Mind of God and Vessels of Wrath

It is impossible to understand fully the mind of God.  For the past several weeks we have been struggling with the operation of God’s choosing some and not others.  We have mostly been focused on how God chose us, and how amazing it is that He would do so – and indeed it is amazing!  But here we’re confronted with the necessary opposite of that choice of His.  Here we see that Judas was not only not chosen for heaven, but was in fact chosen by God for a purpose – as a vessel of wrath to fulfill the scriptures.

This seems even more unacceptable and unpalatable to us that God discriminating who will be chosen to go to heaven!  But the Bible isn’t silent on this either.  In Romans 9 Paul explains the mysterious dilemma we’re facing right now:

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, [7] and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” [8] This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. [9] For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” [10] And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, [11] though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—[12] she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” [13] As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

[14] What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! [15] For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” [16] So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. [17] For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” [18] So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

[19] You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” [20] 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?” [21] 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? [22] 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, [23] in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory (Romans 9:6-23 ESV)

This is an astounding passage of scripture and it would be easy to fall into error if we don’t properly understand what God is saying here.

In one sense, God is both active and in another He is passive.  This is a paradox – not a contradiction (hence why I’ve taken the time in the past to explain this important principle).  God is actively not choosing some men – like Judas, and in the passage above Esau, while He is also not actively putting any kind of evil into their hearts.

This doctrine is called by some “Double-Predestination”, and the idea is that God elects some to life and others to destruction, while not retracting any responsibility from mankind whatsoever. Judas was still responsible for his actions. So then, God knows both who will go to hell and who will go to heaven.  He elects believers to life – we know that because we’ve spent the last few weeks reading all about Christ’s teaching on the matter.  But now we read that He also has plans for Judas – plans that end in his destruction. We can’t escape the fact that Jesus knew what was going to happen, and not only knew, but also chose to have Judas as part of the 12.

But none of this makes God the author of evil, nor does it take away Judas’ responsibility for his own sin. This is why it is so very important that we have a clear understanding that mankind is fallen, sinful, and without God. We are strangers and aliens (Eph. 2:19) to God until He brings us into His kingdom.  Once we understand our radical depravity, we’ll understand how God can not be the author of evil, and yet allow some men (like Judas) to be vessels of wrath.

Just as with Pharaoh, Judas was a sinner who loved the darkness rather than the light (John 3:19-21). We are all the same way. Why did Judas sell Christ out to the Pharisees?  For money!  He was a lover of money and not a lover of God.  It wasn’t as though Christ did something within the heart of Judas to make him do what he did.  No indeed.  We all are bound for Hell regardless of how sinful we are because we’re all sinful at some level – we were born that way.  So all men, in a manner of speaking, are destined for Hell until God intervenes and saves us from that terrible destruction!

But we know that here there’s another more terrible reality.  God actively allowed this man to do what he did.  Judas was a vessel of wrath.  The same was true for Pharaoh.  But in “hardening” Pharaoh’s heart, God was not placing some new evil there, but rather turning Pharaoh over to him own desires.  Paul tells us in Romans 1:24 and 1:26 that God “gave them up” to their sins.

God does actively make His children alive from the dead through the power of His spirit, and God does actively pass over those who are not His children.  But God does not actively implant evil in men – He doesn’t need to!  For we are already evil, and when He lifts His restraining arm of common grace from our lives and turns us over to ourselves, we quickly destroy ourselves.

In all of this, He has a purpose and a plan.

The Answer is Hidden in His Purposes

The “answer” or the “reason” in all of this is that God chooses some for heaven and not others – in fact He hardens some and not others.  And this seems difficult, but we don’t know all of His reasoning, we just know that He does it because for His own pleasure and for His own glory.

You see, as Paul pointed out, God is the creator, and as part of the Trinity, Christ was a part of that creation process.  So Christ saying that He chose these 12 men – including one as a vessel of destruction – is the same as God saying He chose these 12.  Jesus is God, and that is what He’s trying to get across.  He can do whatever He wants with His creation for His own glory and pleasure.  We’re the creatures.  He made us and can really do whatever He wants.

When I was younger I played with Lego men, army men, and GI Joe figurines.  I would make Lego fortresses and ships and zoom them around my bedroom.  Some I kept in pristine condition because I wanted to make certain I could continue to use them the next day, but others I crashed into the floor.  I did so because it was my pleasure to do so, because it brought my joy.  Now God is not an 8-year-old boy.  God’s heart is much more complex and more sincere and loving.  And we are not merely Lego men, but we are creatures and He is the creator and He is absolutely sovereign over our lives and over who will join Him in heaven, and who He will use as vessels of wrath.

Judas was placed where he was because God allowed it.  Boice talks about how this was an ongoing trial for Jesus – even when He was alone with the 12, He had an enemy in His presence.

A.W. Pink says that God chose Judas for several reasons:

  1. Because it furnished an opportunity for Christ to display His perfections
  2. It provided an impartial witness to the moral excellency of Christ
  3. It gave occasion to uncover the awfulness of sin.
  4. The choice of Judas supplies the sinner with a solemn warning – Boice says, “A person may experience the closest possible contact with Jesus and still not come to Him for salvation.”
  5. The presence of Judas shows us that we may expect to find hypocrites among the followers of Jesus.
  6. It affords us one more illustration of how radically different are God’s thoughts and ways from ours.

This is a mystery that will not be solved in one day or in one reading.  We have to have faith that God, who created us and has saved us, also has a plan that is bigger than our finite minds can comprehend.

What Should our Reaction be?

I think the only proper reaction to this is to fear the Lord.  We too easily forget that His ways are not our ways.  His thoughts are not our thoughts.  So often we use that as a cop-out for learning more about God, but this is one instance where His mind and His plans are simply out of bounds.  And I do not mean simply beyond out understanding, but also beyond our questioning.  What He has purposed from eternity past we must not question.  Instead we must bow before Him in admiration for His power, His sovereignty, and His love for us.  For indeed we see evil all around us.  We ourselves were once enemies of God.  And yet, not because of anything in us – “not because of man who wills or who runs” but for His own purposes and His own glory (Eph. 2:8-9) He has chosen to redeem us from our fallen state (Rom. 5:8).  He does this because He wants your worship.  God has saved you for a point.  He has not only saved you from something but also for something (Eph. 2:10).  He wants you to know about these great truths because He wants your to be broken.  He wants you to be humbly relying completely on Him – for surely if He has planned all things from eternity, He can guide you through the rocky shoals of life.

This should cause us to love God. We see what He’s done in us, and though we can’t know His secret purposes, we do know the why of His purposes in our lives and what we ought to do with this new life we’ve been given.  Boice says, “let us learn to trust God in matters for which we can see no reason. Let us humble ourselves before Him. Moreover, since we can se that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, let us learn that our thoughts must change.”

I pray we learn to use this small understanding of His ways to foster a new love for Him in our hearts.  For we love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).