The 7th Seal: Revelation 8:1-5

Notes on Revelation Chapter 8, Verses 1-5

8:1 When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.

The Context

Here we have arrived at the 7th seal. If you recall from our previous study, the seven seals began at the start of chapter 6, with the first four represented by horseman – a visual that was used by Zachariah as well (Zechariah 1:7-17). The first five seals represented the time between Christ’s first coming and His return. As the 6th seal was opened we read that the end had come with a climax of all the horrible afflictions that mankind has had to deal with only in more manifold way.

After the first 6 seals were opened, the destruction became so intense that the question became “who can stand (the Lord’s wrath)?” Chapter 7 was the unequivocal answer to this question: those who are washed in the blood of the Lamb can stand in the midst of the wrath of God because they are covered by the altar of the Lord and His blood. These are Christians – you and me.

Now the author’s aside (or “interlude”) has concluded, and John writes of the breaking of the 7th seal.

The 7th Seal – Silence and Awe

What are we reading here? What is this 7th seal supposed to represent?

The 6th and 7th seals represent the final judgment of God – the day of calamity, the great and awesome day of the Lord. These scenes are the final judgment upon unbelievers for their wickedness and rebellion.

The language in these verses closely parallels other recapitulations of this scene later in the book, especially chapters 11 and 16. In those chapters we’ll see the same fourfold signs of God’s presence coming down to earth in judgment (which we’ll discuss momentarily in more detail). Those chapters’ context is specifically the final judgment, and yet we read a very similar description of events:

Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail. (Revelation 11:19)

The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, “It is done!” [18] And there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake. (Revelation 16:17-18)

So what we are reading about here in this 7th seal is clearly the final culmination of God’s judgment upon the world.

Interestingly, at first glance, the seal seems void of any substance. For we read that there is silence in heaven for half an hour. But (contra Ladd) this doesn’t mean that the seal is void of substance, rather that the breaking of the seal introduces such awe at the devastation of God’s judgment that no words are uttered.

Beale says:

The main point is the horror of the divine judgment, which has such an awesome effect that no human is able to verbalize a response. However brief the description, this idea of judgment composes the seventh seal.[i]

That the silence lasted about “half an hour” might refer to the seeming suddenness of the final judgment. At a time when no one expected it, the Lord inaugurated the end of days with the coming of Christ, and at a time when no one expects it, Jesus will return in glory and judge the quick and the dead.

The literary tool of describing the judgment of God being accompanied by silence is one used in the OT as well[ii]. For example:

O LORD, let me not be put to shame, for I call upon you; let the wicked be put to shame; let them go silently to Sheol. (Psalm 31:17)

Isaiah re: Babylon:

Sit in silence, and go into darkness, O daughter of the Chaldeans; for you shall no more be called the mistress of kingdoms. (Isaiah 47:5)

Two verses Beale finds very relevant are:

But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.” (Habakkuk 2:20)

Be silent, all flesh, before the LORD, for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling. (Zechariah 2:13)

Lastly, commentators do not mention this, but perhaps it would be appropriate to mention that Jesus Christ, who took our judgment upon Himself, did so in silence:

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7)

Therefore, one might appropriately say that this silence speaks for itself.

8:2 Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. [3] And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, [4] and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. [5] Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake. (Revelation 8:1-5)

A Few Notes about the Text

There are one or two bullet points that I want to mention before I get into the body of this passage.

  1. In verse 2 we read that the seven angels are given the 7 trumpets of God. This is a way of introducing the trumpet judgments, which we will read about shortly, it whets the appetite for the next vision. It may seem a bit disjointed, but its something that happens in other areas of Revelation as well I believe.
  2. Some folks get hung up on the intermediary role of angels here. But remember that Angels have served in these kinds of roles throughout scripture. They are messengers and warriors and do God’s bidding. They are not offering up the prayers on our behalf of their own initiative, for we read that they are “given” the incense. The prayers have been offered to God have met His approval and are now being burned as an aroma before Him.

O.T. Background

Like so much of the book of Revelation, the Old Testament imagery used here adds a depth and a richness to the narrative that otherwise unknown would leave us to speculation and conjecture.

In this particular passage, it would seem that these verses bring to mind a lot of what we read in Ezekiel 9 and 10. In Ezekiel 10:1-7 we read about an angelic figure who is given coals from before the throne – a safe assumption is they come from the altar as these coals in chapter 8 do. The coals are then spread over the city of Jerusalem in judgment. What is so interesting about this is that this vision of Ezekiel’s takes place immediately following chapter nine’s description of slaying all the unfaithful who did not have the mark of the Lord on their foreheads. In that chapter we read:

And the LORD said to him, “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.” [5] And to the others he said in my hearing, “Pass through the city after him, and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity. [6] Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one on whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.” So they began with the elders who were before the house. (Ezekiel 9:4-6)

This is extremely similar to what we just studied in Revelation 7 where all those who are spared from the final judgment of God are those who are “sealed” by the Lord. It is also similar to the picture of divine protection that we find in the book of Exodus when the angel of death passed over the Israelites who put the blood of a spotless lamb on their door lentils. This blood prefigured the blood which would be shed by the spotless Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ (John 1:29, 36).

Additionally, we see in the rumblings, lightning, thunder, and earthquakes even more OT imagery. G.K. Beale says, “This fourfold chain of cosmic disturbance has a precedent in the OT, where it also refers to divine judgment.”[iii] Some of the relevant verses are as follows:

On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. [17] Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. [18] Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. [19] And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. (Exodus 19:16-19 ESV)

The Psalmist recounts these times:

When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; indeed, the deep trembled. [17] The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth thunder; your arrows flashed on every side. [18] The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lighted up the world; the earth trembled and shook. [19] Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen. [20] You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron. (Psalm 77:16-20)

Isaiah uses these same descriptors to explain the nature of God’s judging presence:

But the multitude of your foreign foes shall be like small dust, and the multitude of the ruthless like passing chaff. And in an instant, suddenly, [6] you will be visited by the LORD of hosts with thunder and with earthquake and great noise, with whirlwind and tempest, and the flame of a devouring fire. (Isaiah 29:5-6)

Nature simply cannot contain the glory of the Lord. It is as if nature itself melts before Him when He descends in His glory. And should we be surprised that the One whose words create land and water and lions and birds and human beings out of nothing, causes that same creation to quake when a glimpse of His glory is let loose upon it?

What do we make of this? I think we must acknowledge that the Lord is powerful. He is a God who is unparalleled in glory and power. All other gods are pretenders to the throne.

The Prayer of the Saints

One of the most striking things about verses 2-5 are the prayers of the saints and their role in igniting the fiery coals of judgment which are poured on the earth. These prayers are likely those which we read about in the fifth seal:

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. [10] They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” [11] Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been. (Revelation 6:9-11)

Jim Hamilton rightly points out that the cry of “How long O Lord?” has been going up to the heavens for thousands of years. “How long until the suffering ends? How long until God shows his glory and puts those who mock him to shame?”[iv]

Hamilton points out this sentiment reverberates throughout the Psalms:

Psalm 4:2: How long will the wicked dishonor the Messiah and love what is worthless and seek lies?

Psalm 6:1-3: how long until we’re healed and no longer do things that provoke God’s wrath?

Psalm 13:1, 2: how long will it seem like God has forgotten us and is hiding his face while the enemy exalts over us?

Psalm 35:17: how long will the Lord look on before he delivers?

Psalm 62:3: how long will the righteous be attacked?

Psalm 74:10: how long will the enemies of God scoff and revile his name?[v]

And on and on and on…

These verses are meant to ensure us that eventually the glory of the Lord will descend, and His people will be caught up to Him, and judgment will commence on all who despise His name. In that day, we recall from chapter 7:

“Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. [16] They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. [17] For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:15-17) 

Conclusion and Application

What we read here is a depiction of the end of the world. There are three things to be taken away from this:

  1. 1. In His majestic holiness, God will come to judge all of the earth. Those who are not protected by the seal of the Lord will be slain and cast into outer darkness. There is a penalty for refusing to accept the Lordship of God and of His Christ. Many might verbally say that they “believe” in God, but yet live lives of rebellion from His authority. They openly rebel again the Lord who causes nature to melt before Him, in an act of cosmic treason[vi], for which they will be liable.
  2. The prayers of God’s saints serve as the catalyst for inaugurating the final judgment. These prayers are not cries for revenge, but are primarily concerned for justice, and especially for the reputation of God and of His Son, Jesus. They are prayers in response to the pain caused by sin, and the death and destruction it has wrought in the lives of the saints, and the world we inhabit.
  3. All of the sealed, the 144,000, the “great multitude”, will be saved to the uttermost. As Beale says, “The seal is what enables them to enter before the divine throne and to swell there forever.”[vii] Therefore the people of God will be protected by the great sacrificial crosswork of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. And for this we rejoice and have reason for joy in our hearts even now before the consummation of God’s work.

As I studied this passage, I was struck by the great protection we have in the Lord – He truly is our “fortress.” For in the words of the Psalmist:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. [2] Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, [3] though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah [4] There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. [5] God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. [6] The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. [7] The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah (Psalm 46:1-7)

 

Footnotes

[i] Beale, from the longer commentary, Pg. 447. He goes on to make the point that the silence doesn’t therefore need to be filled with content from the 7 trumpets. It struck me that Hamilton is sort of saying that the trumpets are introduced by the silence of the 7th seal, but he doesn’t seem to commit to that view which Beale is arguing against.

[ii] Consequently, Jewish literature is full of very similar quotations, per Beale – see the longer commentary, pages 448-450.

[iii] Beale, Longer Commentary, Pg. 458.

[iv] Hamilton, Revelation, Pg. 197.

[v] This compilation is from Hamilton’s commentary, Pg. 197.

[vi] Of course it is R.C. Sproul who first coined this term “cosmic treason” for all sinners who rebel against the Lord God. The term especially conjures the fact that those who are unbelievers are effectively in open rebellion against God. One need only think of pop culture icons to receive a good example of this. Billy Joel’s old song ‘My Life’ provides a nice example: “I don’t care what you say this is my life! Go ahead with your own life, leave me alone!”

[vii] Beale, Longer Commentary, Pg. 460.

Study Notes: Revelation 1:9-16

Here are the notes from today’s lesson Revelation 1:9-16

The main theme in these verses is the character and appearance of the son of man – there are strong ties to Exodus 19, Daniel 7, as well as Daniel 10 (particularly verse 6), and Zechariah 4 (the lampstands).  I hope you enjoy!

1:9 I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.

Unity in the Kingdom

We have here the obvious beginning of a new section of the text. Now it is John speaking again, and he begins by saying he is a “brother and partner” in their trials – their “tribulation.” He is a partner in both their tribulation and also in the kingdom. If this doesn’t scream, “inaugurated eschatology” I don’t know what does…

John is already enduring tribulation – and he wants them to know that they aren’t alone.

Indeed, John’s humility must have been a great comfort to them. For as John MacArthur says:

John was an apostle, a member of the inner circle of the twelve along with Peter and James, and the human author of a gospel and three epistles. Yet he humbly identified himself simply as “your brother.” He did not write as one impressed with his authority as an apostle, commanding, exhorting, or defining doctrine, but as an eyewitness to the revelation of Jesus Christ that begins to unfold with this vision.[i]

John also reminds them that they are partners, not only in tribulation, but also in “the kingdom.” He is speaking in the present tense, by the way. He is speaking about the kingdom of God, which John considers as already existing and as having been ushered in at our Lord’s resurrection.

Furthermore, he says that he is with them in “patient endurance that are in Jesus.” Endurance that is a fruit of being “in Jesus.” All of these descriptors are modified by this phrase “in Jesus.”

Listen to Beale explain this so clearly:

John and his community are people who even now reign together in Jesus’ kingdom. But this is a kingdom unanticipated by the majority of Jews. The exercise of rule in this kingdom begins and continues only as one faithfully endures tribulation. This is a formula for kingship: faithful endurance through tribulation is the means by which one reigns in the present with Jesus. Believers are not mere subjects in Christ’s kingdom. “Fellow partaker” underscores the active involvement of saints not only enduring tribulation, but also in reigning in the midst of tribulation.[ii]

Hanging Out on Patmos

Next we learn where John is/was when he saw the visions. Most of the commentators seem to think he either wrote part of the vision down on the island, or later afterward.

The island itself wasn’t a very hospitable place. MacArthur describes it as, “a barren, volcanic island in the Aegean Sea, at its extremities about ten miles long and give to six miles wide, located some forty miles offshore from Miletus (a city in Asia Minor about thirty miles south of Ephesus; cf. Acts 20:15-17).”[iii]

Ladd says it was, “a bare, rocky volcanic island with hills rising to about a thousand feet. There are references in Roman literature to support the view that such islands were used for the banishment of political offenders. There is no evidence that John’s exile was any part of a general persecution of the church in either Rome or Asia.”[iv]

Thomas Brooks once used the island to as analogy to the human heart:

Our hearts naturally are like the isle of Patmos, which is so barren of any good, that nothing will grow but in earth that is brought from other places; yet Christ can make them like a watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters fail not.[v]

We don’t know for certain exactly why John is on Patmos, except that it is in connection with His service to our Lord and likely the spread of the gospel.

1:10-11 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet [11] saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”

Lord’s Day

Because of the Lord’s resurrection coming on the first day of the week – Sunday, as we call it now – the people of the early church began to gather in celebration on that day and eat and fellowship together. It is likely that when John refers here to the “Lord’s Day” he is not referring to the scriptural concept of the eschatological “day of the Lord”, but rather to that day which Christ followers had set aside to celebrate their Lord’s resurrection and victory over death and sin.[vi]

That they celebrated the resurrection day was closely tied to their motive to overcome trials. If Jesus overcame, and they were “in” Jesus, then they too could overcome. Jim Hamilton magnificently states that…

Because of the resurrection of Jesus, we can face suffering, imprisonment, testing, and tribulation without fear. Because of the resurrection of Jesus, we can be faithful unto death (cf. 2:20). The resurrection of Jesus guarantees that though we suffer we will not be crushed, though we are tested we will not fail, though we face tribulation we will be preserved, though we die we will rise.[vii]

In the Spirit

Beale notes that John’s use of the phrase “in the Spirit” is similar to Ezekiel’s use of that same phrase to connote a vision from God. He then mentions that behind him he hears a loud trumpet-like voice, which reminds us a little of God’s revelation to Moses. One such example is:

On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. [17] Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. [18] Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. [19] And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. [20] The LORD came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. (Exodus 19:16-20)

When God speaks to His prophets in this way, it seems like there is little room for doubting who it is that is speaking! I might just add there that this isn’t the way in which false angels/demons or Satan speaks. He doesn’t have that majestic presence that God does. God alone is ruler and proclaimed as such by all of heaven. His voice is described by Ezekiel in this way:

And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the east. And the sound of his coming was like the sound of many waters, and the earth shone with his glory. (Ezekiel 43:2)

We’ll see this same language used in just a few more verses (1:15).

Write What You See to the Churches

John is commanded to write what he sees down in a book. Similar to the OT prophets who were often commanded to write down what they had seen (Beale, for example, cites Ex. 17:4; Is. 30:8, Jer. 37:2 – in the LXX[viii] – and so forth), and often those writing contained judgments toward Israel. So the reader who might have studied the OT might have been already catching a hint of what’s to come by way of judgment (cf. Beale).

Now we see that Jesus has asked John to write all the things he is seeing down on a book or scroll to be sent to these seven churches. We’ve spent some time already discussing the churches, the importance of the number seven, and some of the viewpoints surrounding different views on why these specific churches were mentioned.

One unique view is that the order of the churches mentioned here is significant because it corresponds to a specific time frame in history. This is known as the “historist” view. Once again Beale give a nice overview that I find worth citing in the full:

There is apparently no significant to the order in which the different churches are addressed, although some have attempted to say that it foreshadows the church age after John: the spiritual condition of the seven churches prophetically represents seven successive stages in church history. However, there is no indication of such a prophetic intention nor does church history attest to any such pattern. What is likely is that the number “seven” refers to the church universal in both a geographical and temporal sense and that the conclusion of each letter extends its application to all the churches. Therefore, what we find in the letters is potentially relevant for the church of every time and place.[ix]

I won’t here take the time to describe each church and what we know about them, because we’ll get a chance to look at that when we get to each letter specifically.

1:12-13 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, [13] and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest.

Here John turns around and sees the voice and when he does he sees seven golden lampstands. Later we’ll find that those lampstands are the seven churches. We’ll discuss that more again when we talk about verse 20. But let me just quote from Jim Hamilton on this:

The church is not a building but believers who are “living stones” (cf. 1 Peter 2:5). Zechariah’s lampstand, which symbolized the presence of God in the temple, is fulfilled by the seven lampstands of Revelation, which symbolizes God’s presence in the seven churches to whom John writes. Zechariah’s “two sons of oil,” Joshua the high priest and Zerubbabel the royal descendant of David, are fulfilled in Jesus, who stands among the lampstands as God’s presence in his church. Jesus himself fills the offices of High Priest and High King of Israel. The vision of the lampstand and the two olive trees in Zechariah guaranteed that God would empower the rebuilding of the temple. Similarly, John’s vision of Jesus among the lampstands guarantees that God will accomplish his purpose in the building of the Church.[x]

Then he says that in the midst of the lampstands there was “one like a son of man.” When you hear the phrase “son of man” whom do you think of? Jesus. This was Jesus’ own favorite self-designation and it comes from the book of Daniel, which we’ve seen in previous weeks.

Jesus is described as “clothed with a long robe” and with “a golden sash around his chest.”

I was really interested in why He would be described like this, until George Ladd helped point me in the right direction: “this was the garb of the high priest (Ex. 28:4, 39:29). However, prophets could be similarly garbed (Zech. 3:4), so it is not clear whether this is intended to designate specifically our Lord’s high priesthood, or merely the dignity of his person.”[xi]

Beale mentions that the garb He is wearing could indicate a kingly or priestly function, but because of the scene – which seems to be a temple or church-like picture – the likelihood is that its priestly garb.

The overarching idea seems to be that Jesus is both priest and king. The “son of man” reference connotes Daniel 7’s clear royal kingship emphasis, but the garb is priestly it seems. Thus, like the passage in Zechariah 4 that describes the lampstands, there are two olive trees, one is the high priest and the other is the king. Jesus is both, and walks among his people keeping them secure and ensuring that He will finish the work He began. 

1:14-15 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, [15] his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters.

Now I don’t want to “unweave the rainbow”[xii] here, but let’s concisely examine the descriptors used here of Jesus – many of which are taken from either Daniel 7, or Daniel 10.

The passage in Daniel 10 isn’t one we’ve examined yet. The prophet had a terrifying vision of a man, and, as Jim Hamilton puts it, “Daniels vision have to do with the son of man who receives an eternal kingdom, and in Daniel 10:14 Daniel encountered a man from Heaven who told him that he ‘came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.’”[xiii]

The description of this man who spoke to Daniel is found in verses 5 and 6:

I lifted up my eyes and looked, and behold, a man clothed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from Uphaz around his waist. [6] His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and the sound of his words like the sound of a multitude. (Daniel 10:5-6)

So John is greatly influenced in his descriptors by the vision of Daniel. Remember that Daniel was told to “seal up” the vision he saw (Daniel 12:4), whereas John is instructed to not seal up the vision (Revelation 22:10). In other words, as Hamilton says, “what was prophesied by Daniel is fulfilled in Revelation.” [xiv]

Now back to Revelation 1, the white hairs on Jesus’ head are also a picture from Daniel, but in Daniel it is the Ancient of Days (the Father) who has the white hair. Jesus, the Son of Man, is now described in this way. For as Ladd says, John used them (the hair) to show that Christ shares eternal existence with the Father.”[xv]

He has eyes that are described as a “flame of fire”, which Beale and others say could symbolize judgment, though Mounce says, “It expresses the penetrating insight of the one who is sovereign, not only over the seven churches, but over the course of history itself.”[xvi]

Ladd sees both ideas in the description of His eyes and says, “We may conclude that it symbolized omniscience combined with holy wrath directed against all that is unholy.”

The “burnished bronze” feet of the Lord which are described as having been “refined in a furnace” could describe the moral purity of Christ.

1:16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.

The idea of Jesus holding the seven stars in his hand we will come back to in a bit when we look at verse 20.

We read that issuing from the mouth of the Son of Man there is a two-edged sword – and its “sharp.” It’s sharpness connotes effectiveness. This isn’t a dull blade – it will accomplish what it seeks to do:

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11)

This undoubtedly is speaking of the Word of God. Jesus himself is the Word, and his Gospel goes out among the people of this world and conquers their hearts.

Johnson sees an interesting connection between the two reasons why Israel first wanted a king, and the function of Jesus as Warrior and Judge:

But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, [20] that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” (1 Samuel 8:19-20)

Johnson says, “Although Saul failed to demonstrate either wise justice or courage in battle, David exemplified the king as a bold warrior and Solomon, the king as a wise judge. Yet David and everyone in his dynasty fell short of David’s poetic profile of the perfect ruler (2 Samuel 23:1-7) – until Jesus, the Son of Man, who is supremely wise in judgment and fierce in battle.”[xvii]

Lastly, John says that Jesus’ face was “like the sun shining in full strength.” Undoubtedly this is speaking to the magnificent glory of the Lord Jesus.

I couldn’t help but remember the passage in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians where he speaks of the reflected glory of the Father onto the face of Moses. Moses’ face would just shine for days after meeting with God. So much so, that he had to wear a veil to keep from blinding the people.

Paul makes a connection between the glory which Moses beheld which was fleeting, and that which we behold in the Word of God, which actually causes us to burn brighter with the rays of the Lord’s light. Of course the key verse in the passage is:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

And in a way, I think it’s fitting to end this section thinking of this verse because that’s what we’re doing now. We’re beholding the glory of the Lord as mediated through His word.

Sometimes I’m going to be able to make a direct application – especially with the letters to the churches coming up. We’ll be able to examine those and examine our own lives to make sure we’re living in accordance with God’s Word.

However, there are other times, like today, where we are simply “beholding.” We simply read and admire the glory of the Lord knowing that it isn’t a waste of time to meditate on His character and attributes. In fact, it changes us significantly by having an impact on how we view ourselves, His care for us, and His power and care over all history.

Footnotes

[i] MacArthur, Commentary on Revelation, Volume I, Pg. 40.

[ii] Beale, (the longer commentary) Pg. 201.

[iii] MacArthur, Volume I, Pg. 41.

[iv] Ladd, Pg. 30.

[v] Brooks, ‘Smooth Stones Taken from Ancient Brooks’, Pg.’s 5-6.

[vi] See esp. Ladd Pg. 31, and MacArthur pg. 41 for why the phrasing of this indicates John is speaking of “Sunday” and not the eschatological “day of the Lord.”

[vii] Jim Hamilton, Commentary on Revelation, Pg. 41.

[viii] Beale, the longer commentary, Pg. 203.

[ix] Beale, the longer commentary, Pg. 204.

[x] Hamilton, Pg. 46.

[xi] Ladd, Pg.’s 32-33.

[xii] Mounce, Pg. 78.

[xiii] Hamilton, Pg. 47.

[xiv] Hamilton, Pg. 48.

[xv] Ladd, Pg. 33.

[xvi] Mounce, Pg. 79.

[xvii] Johnson, Pg. 59.

The Earth Remade and Christian Mission

Sunday I took a departure from the Gospel of John and prepared a devotional for both Sunday AM and Sunday PM that looks at Isaiah 66.  This isn’t a sermon, so its not as lengthy as one might expect my notes to be on this kind of passage, but I hope its an encouragement to you.  If you’re a Christian you can take comfort in a passage like this where your place in the larger scope in God’s redemptive tapestry is evident.  From front to back, the Bible proclaims the centrality of God’s glory and our mission to bring Him glory and worship.  Here is just one more passage that points to these truths.

A New Heavens and a New Earth

Isaiah 66:17-24

Our text comes from the final verses of the book of Isaiah.  This is not meant to be a sermon, but rather a short lesson to stir up your minds to worship God as you leave this place.  The goal of this lesson is to show that from first to last, from Pentateuch to Prophets to Gospels and General Epistles, God’s purposes and plans have not changed.  They are being fulfilled even now in the church, and will be consummated upon Christ’s second coming.  

The context for our passage is that in the final chapters of Isaiah’s writing (particularly 65-66, though the entire section from 40 onward is markedly different than 1-39) we are learning about what will occur during the interim of the Anointed One’s two advents, as well as some things which will occur upon His final return and kingdom consummation…The notion of “kingdom” and “mission” looms heavy here, but the overarching thrust of the passage is that the end and goal of all things is the glory of God.

As we walk through the passage, I want you to notice FIVE points of importance to our discussion this evening:

  1. The centrality of worship and the glory of God
  2. The mission of God’s people
  3. The scope of God’s kingdom and our mission
  4. The justice of God
  5. The renewal of all creation, and revelation of God’s glory

Alec Motyer sums up the passage this way, “…this final section spans the first and second comings of the Lord Jesus Christ: his purpose for the world (18), his means of carrying it out (19-21), the sign set among the nations, the remnant sent to evangelize them (19) and the gathering of his people to ‘Jerusalem’ (20) with Gentiles in full membership (21). Jerusalem is not the literal city but the city of Galatians 4:25-26; Hebrews 12:22; Revelations 21. Exactly so but for Isaiah, not privileged as we with hindsight, it was a vision of staggering proportions.”

First of all, this is a passage that tells us of the purposes of God for His people and all of creation.  Central to those purposes is that God’s glory is His primary concern.  His glory and fame and our worship of Him make up the main theme not only of this passage, but also of all redemptive history.  God desires worship from every tribe tongue and nation (vs. 18-20).  Furthermore, the central end (teleos) of all history is that God will receive glory. In fact, we were created for this end, as was all of creation.  Therefore it makes sense that the mission of His people, and the end goal of all things is, “they shall come and shall see my glory” (vs. 18) and that “all flesh shall come to worship before me” (vs. 23).  This is not an isolated bullet point, but the truth that permeates this entire passage.

The second thing we notice here is the mission of God’s people.  In verse 19 we read that God will “send survivors to the nations” who will “declare my glory among the nations. And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations, as an offering to the Lord…” As Peter Gentry says, “This text in Isaiah comes close to the Great Commission in Matthew 28.”  Motyer says this “is the clearest Old Testament statement of the theme of missionary outreach.”  Hundreds of years before the Great Commission, God had already expressed to Isaiah a plan to send us out to the nations as His Ambassadors (2 Corinthians) who would bring back converts to the Lord – literally turning people toward the Lord in repentance in order to bring Him glory.

He does this by setting “a sign among them.”  This sign is likely either meant to be the cross of Christ (Motyer, Gentry), the gospel of Christ, or the Spirit of Christ (Calvin), which indwells all believers. This work, this mission of bringing people back to the Lord will be our “grain offering” to the Lord (vs. 20).  What is likely in mind is the grain offering or the offering of “first fruits” (Motyer), which is appropriate because as James says, “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (James 1:18 ESV – see also Rom. 8:23).

In fact Paul says in Romans 12, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1).  So we see why we were created, and now we see the purpose of our mission as well – to spread the good news of the Gospel to people all over the world in order to bring glory to God.  This is our spiritual act of worship, to obey the Lord in the spreading of His glorious message.

The third thing we see is that the scope of the mission is worldwide.  Remember the context of when God is speaking to Isaiah – this is 700+ years prior to the birth of Christ. Going to reach the nations with the message of God’s kingdom wasn’t exactly on the minds of the Jews right now.  If I had to guess, I’d say they were most concerned about fending off the Assyrians from invasion.

This isn’t because the Jews were unaware of the scope of God’s redemptive plan, but rather they simply had forgotten it, or refused to believe it. As Motyer says, “they (the Jews) knew that the promise that was first their unique privilege was destined to be the privilege of all the earth.”Here are two places in the Pentetech where God’s plans for the nations were mentioned:

  • First in Numbers 14:21 God is speaking through Moses and talking about judgement the Jews will receive for disobedience, and almost as a “throw away” line He mentions that one day the entire earth will be “filled with (His) glory!”  That “glory” comes first in the person of Christ, second in the spreading of His gospel, and finally in the consummation of His kingdom.
  • Secondly, God had promised Abraham in Genesis 22:17-18 that He would bless the nations through His seed. “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”  There is a clear tie-in with vs. 20 “your brothers from all the nations” and vs. 22 “your offspring.”  This is a clear reference to the spiritual seed of Abraham – that’s you and me!

Now as we continue to see the worldwide scope of this glory-spreading that we do, we read in verse 19 of a list of cities.  The list is indicative of the worldwide nature of the mission, and the fact that nothing will block the message from achieving its end.  As Alec Motyer says, “The place-names are intended to be impressionistic rather than literal, creating a sense of world outreach.” All the nations will receive this message (vs. 19) and it will cross all bounds of communication, technology, travel method, or means (vs. 20).  As Motyer says, “No distance or difficulty will stand in the way of bringing the brother’s home; every transport will be put under contribution.”

So this plan is expansive in scope, and its blessing will initially be carried to the nations by us, the church, His chosen people who are spreading the message of the gospel of peace.  As John Calvin rightly says of this passage, “The time when he (Abraham) became ‘the father of many nations’ was when God adopted the Gentiles, and joined them to himself by a covenant, that they might follow the faith of Abraham. And thus we see the reason why the Prophet (Isaiah) gives the name of ‘brethren’ of the Jews to us, who formerly were aliens from the Church of God.”

This is clearly articulated by John in his gospel when explaining the prediction of Caiaphas regarding Jesus, “He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad” (John 11:51-52).

But Isaiah takes it a step further!  Not only will the Gentiles be adopted into the family of God as “brothers”, but in vs. 21 we read that God will take some of them for priests and Levites!  How sacrilegious would this have been to Isaiah’s audience!  And this group of Levites and priests are those saved by the blood of the lamb.  Listen to what Peter says

“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. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10).

That is your mission to “proclaim the excellencies” of God. Truly “Now Israel as a royal priesthood includes Gentiles; the context puts an emphasis on honor, privilege, absorbing the riches of the nations, and nearness to Yahweh” (Gentry).

The fourth thing we note here is justice and righteousness of God.  God’s reign is like God’s plan for blessing – they both extend to more than simply Jews.  God is the sovereign ruler of all nations and people, and at the consummation of our Lord’s kingdom He will judge every nation and every person ever born on this planet.  He has the right to judge every man and every woman because He is the Creator, but more than that, He judges in perfect righteousness because of His omniscience. 

This is what is assumed by verse 18 when He states, “I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues.”  This verse follows a statement in verse 17, which describes what Jesus would later call “the tares” in the church – the pretenders. Jesus promised that all things that are hidden would eventually be brought into the light (Luke 8:17), and that includes those who “sanctify and purify themselves” (vs. 17) and spend their days in the church, while their hearts are far from God. Here He declares, they “shall come to an end together.”

John Oswalt rightly says, “Those who are depending on mechanical rituals and physical membership in the elect people are not the servants of God about whom Isaiah spoke so eloquently in chapters 41-46. They are nothing more than the rebels who were described with equal eloquence in chapter 1. It is those who gladly keep God’s covenant, whether they be Jews or Gentiles, who are God’s true servants.”

We do not do the judging – we do the worship (vs. 18, vs. 23).  God is the One who does the judging. God is able to judge all men (vs. 24) because He can rightly and righteously judge based on His omniscience.  Calvin says, “The Lord here testifies that he sees and observes their works, and that one day he will actually manifest that none can be concealed from his eyes.” Not only is He omniscient, but because He is perfectly holy, he will rightly judge according to his own character.  The warning is that “there is a cemetery beside the city (of Jerusalem)” (Moyter).  The hope of the gospel message (vs. 19-20) resides alongside the absolute reality of eternal punishment for those who reject this message (vs. 24).

Finally, God will finish the work He began.  Upon this great consummation He will reveal to us His glory (vs. 18) – a glory mediated now through the person of Jesus and His gospel of peace (John 1:14) will one day be manifested for all to see.

We read here that upon His return He will renew the heavens and the earth (vs. 22) – a completely new creation which He began inside you and will consummate physically throughout the entire earth when He comes back.

How do we know He will do this?  Well, as Peter Gentry says, “His name and his offspring are preserved because now God has joined Jews and non-Jews into one family. The new world involves two things: a new place and a new people. Verse 22 shows that both of these are certain because they are in God’s mind; he can actually see them before him.”  His promises are sealed by the trueness of His own character – He sees it, He knows it, therefore it’s a done deal.

Oswalt brilliantly sums up:

God has re-created his world, and sin can never stain it again. The tragedies of the old world, which called into question the very faithfulness of God, are gone. God had promised to Abraham a name and seed, children, but the sin of Israel and the rapacity of the world rulers made it seem as if even God could not keep his promises. Nonetheless, God is greater that human sin and human pride and is able to keep his promises. The old heavens and earth had been called to witness the justice of God in punishing his people (1:2); they had also been called to burst into song over the redemption of those people made possible by the work of the Servant (44:23; 49:13). Now the eternity of the new heavens and earth stands as a testimony to the eternity of God’s promises.

So Jesus is the light to which men are drawn or repulsed in blindness (John 3:19-21), and His gospel message is a glorious message that either blinds or softens.  As Matt Chandler says, “The gospel is such power that it necessitates reaction…The heart of the hearer of the gospel must move, either toward Christ or away from him” (The Explicit Gospel).

Paul tells us, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4).  This is the message that is going out to all the nations. But this message, this glory, which is going out to all the nations right now, will be most fully revealed upon the consummation of the kingdom when Christ returns, for as John says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

In conclusion, we ought to be encouraged and awed by God’s plan for us and by the scope of His plan for human history, for it far outstrips our own perspective.  Yet the role we as Christians play is enormously important. We are chosen people, priests to God, and are sent on a mission to proclaim the “excellencies” of Him who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light – a light that will one day cover all creation (Num. 14) and transform us into the likeness of His beloved Son (2 Cor. 3:18).  Until that time, we have a “missionary obligation” as a church: “to create a magnetic community” (Motyer) that reflects that glory of Christ and turns people toward the glory of God, and shares a saving message of the hope of the gospel (Motyer), without which those who reject it will perish in eternal fire and torment (vs. 24).

This passage makes clear the linear nature of history to which all things are driving; the urgency of our mission could not be more apparent.

 

John 16:25-33: He has Overcome the World

Below are my sunday school notes from today’s lesson on Christ’s Overcoming the World.  This passage is a sweet one, and the notes cover verses 25-33 of chapter 16 in John’s gospel.  I hope you enjoy them!

PJW

16:25 “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father.

Why is it that Jesus spoke in parables? Some say it was to help those around him better understand what he was trying to explain.  We commonly jump to that conclusion because its how we use figures of speech.  When we are trying to communicate a complex idea to our children, we often resort to more simple analogies to help them understand what we are saying.  The goal is so that no matter the age, they will understand what we are saying because we have adapted it to their way of understanding.

However, this was not necessarily the purpose of how Jesus spoke.  If his purpose had been to make things more understandable, then why just now is He promising to speak “plainly” to them about the Father?  The implication is that up until this time He has purposefully made it more difficult for them to understand.

D.A. Carson wisely explains that Jesus isn’t simply referring to one particularly hard saying, but to His entire discourse (and perhaps His ministry in general).

If the sayings of Jesus are life and a door unto truth, then the Holy Spirit who guides us into “all truth” is the key to that door. In this way Jesus magnifies the ministry of the Spirit in our lives, and the privilege of living in the New Covenant era.

As I quoted above from Hendricksen and Ridderbos, we need to remember that Jesus is ushering in a new era in human history and a new era in redemptive history as well, that is to say that God is about to inaugurate a new covenant with His chosen people.  That covenant will look entirely different than the old one. One of the primary ways it will look different is in the pouring out of His Spirit upon “all flesh” (Joel 2), resulting in our being able to clearly understand His word.

The promise of the Spirit leading us into all truth and helping us understand the truths of Jesus has been covered extensively in previous lessons.  But two key verses from earlier in the discourse may be enough to remind us of this truth:

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (John 14:26)

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (John 16:13)

The Judgment of Parables

There is also a secondary reason that, as a sort of reminder, we might consider for why Jesus’ sayings were so difficult to understand, and why He spoke in enigmatic statements during His ministry.  That reason has to do with the judgment/dividing power of His words.

Remember Jesus was always concluding parables by saying “those who have ears to hear, let them hear.”  Well there are many theories on this, but I believe that just as His righteousness light unto the world, a light that had a necessarily judging or dividing affect so also His teaching (think Matthew 10:34).  He was the light and the darkness necessarily was scattered from Him.  And we know from previous study why we who were in the dark run away – because our deeds were evil (see John 3:19-21).

So the teaching of Christ necessarily separated darkness from light. Though He did not come to judge the world (yet) in an ultimate sense, there is a sense in which His words heaped judgment on the consciences of men for their evil deeds were exposed by His teaching.

Therefore, I must agree with theologians Michael Horton and Kim Riddlebarger that the parables were spoken in judgment (White Horse Inn Podcast).  If these men and women had a heart for Christ, for the things of God, a heart that sought to understand His words humbly, then perhaps they would have been able to appropriate them to their lives.  But instead they rejected Jesus for His words – they hated Him without a cause.  Why?  Because His words, though veiled, pierced their hearts and convicted their consciences (Hebrews 4:12). You cannot be around the Light and not have your deeds exposed (Mark 4:22).

Think specifically of what we learned in John 12 as Jesus was teaching about the words of Isaiah (Isaiah 6).  This is an extended section, but is well worth examining again:

While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”

When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. 37 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us,
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
39 Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,
40 “He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
and understand with their heart, and turn,
and I would heal them.”

41 Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. 42 Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.

44 And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. 45 And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. 46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. 47 If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. 49 For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” (John 12:36-50)

Consequently, the Holy Spirit functions in the same way since Christ has ascended – something we covered in the earlier part of the chapter.  The Spirit is not only to help Christians, but also to convict the world.  It is the Spirit’s light – the light of truth – that convicts the consciences of mankind.

Therefore, when Jesus says that he will now tell them “plainly” about the Father, He is indicating again that they are on the verge of a new era in redemptive history. The judgment that has fallen upon His chosen people for their unbelief will fall upon His shoulders and He will hear it away for them upon the cross at Calvary.  For those who will receive the Spirit of Truth soon after, the teachings of Christ here in the final discourse will become more clear and more precious (and powerful for their ministry) than they were at the time of first apprehending them.

16:26-28 In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 28 I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”

First, He loves them “because” they loved Jesus.  Love of Jesus is the prerequisite of obtaining love of the Father.  Yet, it was He who chose them and loved them first (He is the antecedent to their love, yet their reaction was obedience and love and that is what the Father is pleased with).

Secondly, how amazing is it that the Father loves us? It is an amazing statement here that Jesus says that it isn’t as though He alone loves them, but the Father also loves them – in fact it was His love that set off the mission of Christ in the first place (Ephesians 1:4-6).

For years one of my favorite verses in the Old Testament has been from Exodus 33.  Moses has been describes as having this intimate relationship with God, and to me it has always exuded the love that God had for His people – in particular Moses.

It says, “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent” (Exodus 33:11).

In a similar way, Jesus, the greater fulfillment of the Mosaic mediator role, has provided a way for us to have a friendship with God.  Once we were enemies of God, but now we have been drawn close to Him, and here Jesus urges us to ask for things from Him.  He fills us with His Spirit, and gives us His word, and speaks to us through His word “as a man speaks to his friend.”

Will Jesus stop Praying for Us?

The way this verse is structured in the English translation of the Bible makes it confusing and even seems to say that when the Spirit comes we won’t need Jesus to intercede for us.  This is contrary the clear teaching in other portions of Scripture (Hendricksen agrees and cites Heb. 7:24, 25; 13:15).  Rather the meaning is that they will have reached a maturity level because of the Spirit’s work within them that they can now come before the Father themselves.  They (we) can actually approach the Holy One in His holy temple and offer prayers – this is only done, however, because of the atonement of Christ.  His righteousness is the only reason we are able to be made right with God, and His blood has been spilled to accomplish just that.

Quite a Trip…

Lastly, verse 28 summarizes His whole trip in travel terms: He came from heaven and came into the world, and now He’s leaving the world and going back to the Father. Later the next day He will say the same thing to Pontius Pilate.  Until this time Jesus had intimated that He was leaving, but now He plainly sums up that He is going to be leaving for a heavenly destination.

I love how William Hendricksen sees four movements in redemptive history here, and I think its worth quoting parts of his analysis:

First, “I cam out from the Father.” This refers to Christ’s perfect deity, his pre-existence, and his love-revealing departure from heaven in order to dwell on the sin-cursed earth..

Secondly, “I…am come into the world.” That describes Christ’s incarnation and his ministry among men.

Thirdly and fourthly, “Again I am leaving the world and am going to the Father.” Note the present tense of both verbs. The path of suffering, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension is, from one aspect, a departure from the world; from another point of view, it is a journey to the Father. On the basis of this voluntary obedience which Jesus is in the process of rendering, the Father (in the Spirit) exercises loving fellowship with those who are his own.

16:29-32 His disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.” 31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 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.

There is more than a hint of a rebuke in the words of Jesus when He states, “do you now believe?”  R.C. Sproul says, “It’s almost as if He’s saying ‘Oh, now you believe? Where have you been the last three years?’”

His saying further illuminates their need for the Spirit and the reliance that all men have for God.  We are contingent beings, are we not?  We are creatures – we are not self-sufficient.  Our error comes when we stop thinking that we are contingent and instead assert ourselves as independent and self-sufficient.  When we do this, we make ourselves like God and fall into sin. This was the sin of Satan at the first, and it is the sin of many in our world today.

Calvin puts it this way, “The question put by Christ is therefore ironical; as if he had said, ‘Do you boast as if you were full of faith? But the trial is as hand, which will disclose your emptiness.’”

Side Note: I think that further evidence for Jesus speaking before about His coming again to them in the near future – that is, after the resurrection and not at the second coming – is given here again when Jesus states that “you will be scattered, each to his own home.” He is concerned primarily to reassure their hearts about events that are imminent.

What Christ is saying about the scattering of the disciples was also to fulfill a prophecy from Zechariah 13:7 which states:

“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me,” declares the Lord of hosts.
 
“Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones.”
 

That “sword” is the sword of the wrath of God that has been stored up and is going to come down on the head of Jesus Christ.  Jesus is going to take upon Himself all the wrath of God’s judgment that was meant for you and me.  Matthew Henry is right to cite Daniel 9:26a:

“And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself…”

Now the prophecy in Zechariah 13 is amazing to me for a few reasons:

First, notice how we humans are regarded – we (the disciples in this case) are called “the little ones” and “the sheep.” For all the confidence of the disciples they would later see this prophecy and no doubt feel once again humbled by who they are in comparison to who God is.

Second, here is the “Lord of hosts” (God) declaring from of old that He will strike the shepherd.  This shepherd is “the man who stands next to me.” This is Jesus Christ – the pre-incarnate Son (at the time of Zachariah, if we may speak so of time in relation to the being and existence of God without making a woefully inadequate statement). I can’t help but think of Isaiah 53:4,10 and the “crushing” of the Son, but also of the length to which He has purposefully gone to save us.  For as John would go on to write later:

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. (1 John 3:1)

Furthermore, when we pull back to the passage again and examine what Jesus is saying here, it is good to take note of the mercy of Christ. For not only does He say these things about their imminent cowardice as a warning (“the sheep will be scattered”), but reassures them (and speaks truth to Himself aloud) that though they will leave Him alone, yet the Father will be with Him!

There are two great truths here in the final verses of this chapter. The first is this truth that no matter where Christ went, no matter what happened, the Father was with Him.  And the same can be said to us today. This is the first truth – that no matter where we go, He is with us.

The second truth is enumerated in verse 33…

16:33 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.”

The second truth (to continue my thought from verse 32) is that not only is Christ with us but there is a good reason for Him being with us – because He has overcome the world. The fact that He is with us wouldn’t be helpful if He was not also powerful! Not only is there a power here mentioned “overcome”, but also a legal fact.  Jesus is looking forward past the cross and saying that “I have overcome the world.”

I could be wrong, but I think there are two senses in which Jesus overcame the worldFirst, He lived a perfect life – there was no spot or blemish in Him and in this way (as we learned earlier) Satan wasn’t able to hold anything over His head:

I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, (John 14:30)

His perfect life was a life that “overcame” all sin and temptation.

But the second sense is a sense of looking forward to His work on the cross. Jesus is saying that by His death, burial, and resurrection He will triumph over the powers that rule this world. As Paul states:

He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:15)

And so the battle has been won decisively at the cross. And the consequences of union with Christ as that we also have been victorious in Him. His victory is our victory, and His righteousness is our righteousness.

All of this is said in the context of Jesus staring down the barrel of “tribulation.”  Tribulation will mark the lives we lead in this world, but there is a joy, which we can look forward to because ultimately He has “overcome the world.”  Not just “will” overcome, but “has” overcome.

And because of His victory, His power resides in us through the indwelling of the Spirit.  John MacArthur rightly remarks, “After the resurrection and the coming of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the disciples would be radically transformed from men of fear to men of courage.”

The same is true for us.  We who are Christians had once lived a life dominated, indeed ruled, by fear.  Now we live by faith in the Son of God and walk by that faith daily by the power of the Spirit.  I can’t help but think of what Jonathan Edwards said about this in the Religious Affections as he’s describing the nature of the Christian and his gracious affections/fruit of the Spirit as it relates to God’s power working within the Christian:

…that the inward principle from whence they flow is something divine, a communication of God, a participation of the divine nature, Christ living in the heart, the Holy Spirit dwelling there in union with the faculties of the soul, as an internal vital principle, exerting His own proper nature in the exercise of those faculties. This is sufficient to show us why true grace should have such activity, power and efficacy. No wonder that that which is divine is powerful and effectual; for it has omnipotence on its side. If God dwells in the heart, and is vitally united to it, He will show that He is a God, by the efficacy of His operation.

Perhaps the best parallel Biblical passage I can think of to explain this comes to us from Romans 8 where we learn that Christ’s victory guarantees that we will never be separate from Him:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)

The reality of this triumph needs to be applied daily to our lives. Christ applied it to the minds and hearts of His disciples on the brink of what must have seemed to them to be complete and utter disaster.

Therefore, when we encounter trials that we think are “disasters” remember the purposes of Christ in you, and that He has overcome all of these things and has not deserted you.

How the Spirit Magnifies Christ and His Gospel

Today in our Sunday School class we walked through the first 15 verses in John’s 16th chapter.  Even though I was battling strep throat and an ear infection at the time (unbeknownst to me), I thoroughly enjoyed the time in God’s word.  Below are my notes from the day.  Keep on the lookout for two key things about this section of Scripture:

1. How the Spirit magnifies the Gospel in our lives (the gospel not of works of of Christ’s finished work on our behalf)

2. How the Spirit glorifies the Son (note esp. vs. 14)

You will also see that the Spirit has a work beyond just comforting the believers and enduing us with the truth from Christ, and that consists of His work in this world: convicting the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment.

Blessings,

PJW

Chapter 16

16:1-3 “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. 2 They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. 3 And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me.

Verse one is really a sweet verse.  Jesus is about to reiterate some things again to the disciples, and we’ll look at that in a minute.  But here He interjects that He is saying these things “to keep you from falling away.”  There is a genuine concern in the heart and mind of Christ for His disciples.  He wants them to remain steadfast, and grounded in the faith.  And as He called these disciples to remain and not fall away, so He calls us to do the same.

So we remind each other of His words, and we say to each other: remain steadfast! Remain in Me – abide in my words.  I care for you and I don’t want you to fall away.  I want you near Me – I want you to know Me!  So extensively, so deep, so wide is the love of our Savior for you and for me that He wants us to remember over and over again that we need to remain in Him – again, this is the consequence of Union with Christ, as we had seen earlier.

Furthermore, we saw near the end of chapter 15 that people act as they do toward Christians because they don’t know the Father. More specifically this could be for a number of reasons. If the Jews are in view, which I think can be presumed because of the word “synagogues” here, then we ought to take this as Jesus warning against the fact that the Jews did not connect Him with the Father.  They didn’t see Him as the Lord of all life and creation.  They did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God.  So what did they do?  They killed Him. Therefore it only stands to reason that those who follow the teachings of Jesus – and exalt Jesus as the Christ – will certainly receive similar treatment.

Ryle says this of Christ’s prophecy that the Jews will toss the disciples out of the synagogues, “How true the prediction has turned out! Like every other prophecy of Scripture, it has been fulfilled to the very letter. The Acts of the Apostles show us how the unbelieving Jews persecuted the early Christians.”

Therefore, these are things that Jesus has said earlier and is reiterating them, but has added on to them the prediction that not only will the follower of Christ suffer persecution (as Paul also mentions in 2 Tim. 3:12), but He gives them a specific way in which this will happen.

Now, when Jesus says things like this over and over it is for the purpose of emphasizing their importance.  In those days there was no “bolding” or “italicizing” of words.  Rather it was repetition that served as the instrument of emphasis in the ancient world.

So Jesus, knowing that very soon He will go away and that terrible things are going to happen to His followers, wants them to be completely informed of the “why” – He wants them to be able to connect the dots to reassure their hearts, which leads us to verse four…

16:4-6 But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you. I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5 But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.

Here Jesus explains why it is that He is telling them all of these things.  He’s shocking them, truth be told. He’s just told them that they are about to enter into a life of cross bearing, a life of unpopularity, a life of persecution.  He is loading their minds up with truth – truth that will help them later even if they don’t fully understand it now.

This ought to remind us of the sovereignty of Jesus. Jesus, the Son of God, knew all that was to happen to Him and to those elect which He had chosen before the foundation of the world.  And He is reassuring the hearts of His disciples of this fact.  The predictions are horrible, to be sure.  They must have worried the disciples.  But the fact that He knew them, that He confidently told them all of these things once again signified His deity.  And if He is divine, then He will certainly have the power to carry out His great plan.  The disciples can rightfully say to themselves that ‘All of this therefore will eventually make sense because He is who He says He is, and therefore He controls all things and knows all things that He controls’ and so on.

And so we see Romans 8:28 screaming to us from passages like this.  Jesus knows all, is in control of all, and therefore there is a reason and a purpose for our pain and our suffering.  It is working an eternal weight of glory!  It is driving us toward holiness, and it is testifying our identity as Christians, as Christ followers.

Note however, that this doesn’t stop the disciples from being sad.  Their hearts are filled with sorrow.  Jesus is so tender here.  He has compassion for them, because He understands their weaknesses.  That is the advantage – the very great advantage – of having a Lord who understands and can identify with our humanity.

16:7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.

We have to ask ourselves this: how in the world is it advantageous for the Lord to go away?  If you put yourselves in the place of these 11 men, you have to wonder how this was helpful.  In fact, we have to also wonder from our own perspective how its more helpful to have the Spirit than to have Christ.

The answer has a few layers. These men had with them the pre-glorified Christ.  Jesus had not yet been glorified as He is now.  The Jesus that comes back on that final day will appear to us much more glorious than the man who walked 2000 years ago.

This idea of appearance, and glory is more than just physical though.  The reason that, during this age, it is advantageous to have the Spirit is because though they beheld Christ, they did not fully understand all that He said, nor did they truly see Him as glorious – and it is the Spirit of truth that opens the eyes of men to not simply hear the gospel but hear it as glorious; to not only behold the man Jesus in the pages of Scripture, but to behold Him as glorious.  This is what Paul was getting at in 2 Corinthians 4:

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:3-6)

Therefore it is extremely advantageous that we have the Spirit, for He is the Spirit of Truth who helps us see Christ as being glorious and gives us the power to overcome the world (which we’ll soon see), not by our own work, but because the “work” has already been accomplished on the cross.  The plan has been set in motion; we are in a remarkable time in redemptive history.  Let’s us praise God for the great and glorious gift us His Spirit without which we would have an impoverished view of the magnificence of the beauty of the Son.

16:8-11 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

The role of the Holy Spirit is here expanded to include not only His work within the church, but also His role outside the church in bringing souls to Christ, and shining the light of truth in the darkness of depraved minds under the influence of Satan (2 Cor. 4:4).

Specifically, we see three ways that the Spirit convicts the world: about sin, about righteousness, and about judgment.

Sin: John MacArthur says this, “It is the Spirit’s mission to present the truth about Jesus Christ to the world (15:26); those who reject the truth will be found guilty and judged by the Son and the Father (5:22, 27, 30)…(sin) refers not to sin in general but specifically to the ultimate sin of refusing to believe in Jesus Christ. It is that sin that finally damns people, since all others are forgiven when a person believes savingly in Him (Matt. 12:31-32).”  I think that pretty well sums up the fact that it is the role the Spirit to convict the hearts and open the blind eyes of mankind.  This is a sovereign work – no man can do it for himself, for man on his own is hostile to God, and does not seek to know the truth of God (Romans 1:18-32, 3:10-18).

Righteousness: To again quote MacArthur, “The righteousness here is that which belongs to Jesus Christ by nature as the holy Son of God…When their wickedness is compared to His sinless holiness, their sin is seen more truly for the detestable evil that it is.”  In other words, Jesus Christ is the only righteous one, and it is by His merit alone that a man can be saved. I might term this “the goodness gap” which a sinner sees when convicted by the Spirit.

I imagine that the best example of this visually is that which we read in Isaiah 6.  Isaiah, in the presence of the Lord, is convicted of his utter sinfulness.  When righteousness is manifested so clearly, it is impossible to miss the dark blot of sin that mars our ways (be that words, actions etc.).

Judgment: The Spirit’s work of conviction reveals that the ruler of this world has been judged.  That is to say that Jesus has overcome the power of the one enslaving all of mankind. Look at what is said elsewhere about this:

He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:15)

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Hebrews 2:14-15)

Until the end of this age the Devil will continue to blind the eyes of men, but his fate is known and secured.  The fate of the seed of the woman and the seed of the Serpent are not the same.  For a second Adam (Rom. 5) has taken our judgment upon Himself – the judgment that we deserved (Is. 53), so that now our fate, our futures, our hopes and our souls are joined to His power and His resurrection (Rom. 6).  And just as our fates are tied to the new life we have in Christ, so also are the futures of all those who reject the Lord’s offer of salvation.  Satan’s future has been sealed and thus judgment has been set.  The final consummation of this judgment will come in the last day:

And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. 9 And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, 10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. (Revelation 20:7-10)

We need to remember that when Jesus was anticipated by the prophets it was hard to imagine for the Israelites that their Savior would ever come, yet the word of the Lord is sure.  He will definitely bring about all that He has ordained.  The same is true of His church today.  We sometimes wonder if He will ever come back.  We long for that day, and we get discouraged to see the evil that has ensconced our world, yet we must maintain faith in the Lord that He will certainly bring to pass all that He has promised in His word (Is. 55:11).

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

Supernatural Strength

John MacArthur points out that the contrast between the disciple’s selfishness and Jesus’ selflessness is exhibited in verses like 6 and perhaps here in 12.  But while I agree there is definitely a contrast, I think the accent is not only on the selfishness of the disciples, but also on the weakness of their flesh. They need supernatural strength to bear the task ahead. Certainly they responsible for their actions – and for the knowledge that Christ Jesus is preparing them with in this farewell discourse – but I think that we are here seeing specifically the deficit between the ability of the flesh and that of the Spirit.

When the disciples had the opportunity to stand up for Christ they failed – why?  Because they were sinners, and because they didn’t have the indwelling presence of the Spirit to lean on.  The boldness of the disciples – especially in the example of Peter – is made manifest to us in the first few chapters of Luke’s account of the early church in Acts. In fact, many have commented that the book of Acts ought not be called ‘Acts of the Apostles’, but rather ‘Acts of the Holy Spirit’ due to the empowering work the Spirit did through God’s servants.

Supernatural Understanding and Knowledge

Up until this point Jesus has been their great prophet, declaring in their midst wisdom and future events, and the truth of God.  Now the Helper is to come and do the exact same thing. What an awesome thing to contemplate!

This is what is predicted in Jeremiah:

“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)

I believe I’ve been guilty of harping on this in the past, but we too often do not praise God for the gift of the Spirit!  We have been given the very presence of God living within us and that Spirit who empowered the Lord Jesus Christ during his life on earth has been given to us to guide us, convict us, and bring us into all knowledge.

Look also at the preeminence of Jesus here, as well as the fact that you and I have been drawn into a relationship with all three members of the Godhead.  The Spirit indwells us, and declares to us the truth of God’s word, enlightening us to the meaning of Scripture, and all that He has given has come from Jesus at His behest – for He loves us.  Not only that, but He has given us all that the Father has given to Him.  So that all that the Father has for us is given by Christ and administered by the Holy Spirit.  All three Members of the Godhead functioning in perfect accord within the framework of their own individual role, yet all of the same mind, all executing the same plan – that plan being to enlighten us unto the truths of God.

Surely we can see here that it is God’s deepest desire for us that we know Him!

All Glory Goes to Jesus

One of the things that is uniquely characteristic about the Holy Spirit is His desire to always point glory to the Son.  He always wants to shine the focus on Jesus.  And that is why Jesus can describe Him thus in verse 14.

We mentioned before how the Father is always pointing people to the Son because He loves the Son and wants to glorify the Son and wants us to love the Son.  And the same is true with the Spirit.  These two persons of the Godhead want us to see God personified.  They want us to see the model for conformity, for righteousness and for love.  They want us to see the incarnate Christ and wed our hearts to Him forever giving Him praise for His atoning sacrifice, and imputed righteousness.  Jesus is worthy of our praise – He is worthy of our honor and all the glory we can give Him.

In our text on John 11 I mentioned that there are a few ways in which Jesus can be glorified.  There is the reflection, the revelation, and the praises of His people. The Spirit here will reveal the character of Christ to us, thus glorifying Him, He will mold us to His image in order that we might reflect His character, thus glorifying Him, and He will create in us a love for Him and a clear understanding of all He has done for us thus making in us a well spring of praise to Him which also glorifies the Son.  In these three ways the Spirit contributes to the Son’s glory.

The Mission of the Spirit

Below are my notes for John 15:21-27 which chiefly pertain to the mission of the Holy Spirit here on earth.  I hope you find these edifying and encouraging!

PJW

15:21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.

Jesus is saying that people will persecute His followers for a specific reason – that reason is because they have no fear of God.  If their hearts believed that Jesus was sent by God the Father, then they would not have persecuted Him, nor would they persecute us.

So the problem, Jesus is saying, is not that they don’t believe in God.  The problem is their lack of believe in me. They don’t believe that I am who I say I am. Therefore, you will be seen in that same light.

The Apostle Paul was a man whose life was heavily impacted by this truth.  And he explains for us the situation in this extended quote from 2 Corinthians 4:

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:1-6)

15:22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’

It is not that Jesus is saying these men of the Jews were not sinners, but rather that in their rejection of Jesus as Christ they were rejecting the Father’s salvation and the Father Himself by extension – and this was a sin greater than any other (so MacArthur, Morris, Sproul et all).

F.F. Bruce says, “Had they recognized Jesus as the Son of God, they would have recognized the Father in him; as it was, in repudiating the Son they repudiated the Father also.”

As Jesus said earlier in John 5, “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (John 5:23b).

The unity between the Son and the Father is brought home to roost here.  Morris says, “The guilt of the Jews consisted in this, that they rejected the revelation of the Father that was made known in the Son” and then adds this sharp observation, “Jesus does not speak of ‘the Father’ but of ‘my Father.’ His special relationship to God is very much to the fore.”

In doing this they were heaping judgment upon themselves.  The concept is similar to what we learn from John’s illustration of light and darkness in John 3:19-20.  Those who reject Jesus are judged “already”, because they ran from the light and “loved the darkness.”

“He had come to show them the love of God, but the reacted to his love with hatred, just as, when the he came to them as the light of the world, they chose darkness rather than light (John 3:19). They thus passed judgment on themselves: if they rejected the giver of true life, they shut themselves up to the only alternative – death” says Bruce.

R.C. Sproul summarizes it this way:

Jesus reminded the disciples that the Father had demonstrated categorically that He was God’s Son. He did not just say it, He demonstrated it by the power that was entrusted to Him, by the miracles that He performed in the presence of eyewitnesses all over Israel. No one in that generation could claim ignorance as excuse for rejecting Him.

J.C. Ryle says:

They had seen Christ’s works, and heard Christ’s teaching, and yet remained unbelieving. What more could be done for them? Nothing – absolutely nothing! They willfully sinned against the clearest possible light, and were of all men most guilty.

The guilt is intensified with this generation because of the fact that they saw, they heard, yet they rejected the light of the gospel.  Again Ryle is on point, “To see light and not use it, to possess knowledge and yet not turn it to account, to be able to say ‘I know,’ and yet not to say ‘I believe,’ will place us at the lowest place on Christ’s left hand, in the great day of judgment.”

By rejecting the Cornerstone (Acts 4:11) the Jews had completely undermined their life’s purpose and orientation – this reality would manifest itself physically for the Jews when God sent the Romans to destroy the Herodian temple in 70 AD.

A Final Thought…

What is perhaps most remarkable to me about this is that this all happened so that “their Law (would) be fulfilled.”  And what is remarkable in this is that 1. Jesus fulfilled all of these OT prophesies (in this case probably Ps. 35:19 or Ps. 69:4 cf. MacArthur & Bruce) to the “enth degree” and 2. That He knew this would happen, and that He would be treated in such a way, and yet He still came.

Later, in his first epistle, John sums this up beautifully…

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. (1 John 3:1)

15:26-27 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.

The Historical Background

I agree with Carson that there is a synthetic parallelism here that helps us understand both the unity of the Trinity (namely the Father and the Son) and the sending agent (both Father and Son) which has been the sources of much controversy in church history.

The issue was that the Eastern Orthodox church held that the Spirit proceeded from the Father only, and saw the Son as not above the Spirit in hierarchy.  They couldn’t seem to divorce ontology from mission, or ontology from role.  As a result they saw verses like this as needing interpreted through the lens of their own Father-centric view, especially since they had a tendency to focus on ontology to the degree that they missed the main point of passages such as this, which are namely related to the mission of the Spirit (cf. Carson).

Eventually due to the heavy influence of Augustine on the Western Church the Latins (what I might call the Western Church in Rome) adopted what is known as the filioque. This is simply Latin for the term added to the Nicene Creed, “and the Son.”  This was added and ratified at the Council of Toledo in Spain in 589 A.D.

It was this addition (along with many political and power issues between East and West) that led to the major church schism of 1054 A.D. between the Eastern Orthodox Church in Constantinople and the Western Latin Church based in Rome.

“Maintaining the Cause of Christ”

This passage, however, isn’t mainly concerned with the ontology of the Trinity, rather it is Jesus’ way of reassuring His disciples that when He leaves He will send the Spirit.

As Matthew Henry puts it, “It is here promised that the blessed Spirit shall maintain the cause of Christ in the world, notwithstanding the opposition it should meet with.”  Indeed it is a comforting thought that we do not battle the world, the flesh and the Devil alone. We would utterly fail if this were the case.

I wonder, however, how we practically appropriate this each day.  Do we push through a frustrating circumstance, or do we pray through the problem?  Do we rest in Christ, or do we create anxiety in our hearts over that which we cannot control?

I do not think we spend enough time contemplating or grasping the power we have in the gift of the Spirit.  I do not personally claim and special understanding either practically or intellectually in this realm, but I do endeavor to better submit myself to His comforts and wisdom in the days ahead.

As John Owen aptly remarked, “Our greatest hindrance in Christian life is not our lack of effort, but our lack of acquaintedness with our privileges.”

In His mission the Spirit is the primary witness of Christ, and we are secondary witnesses in that we are simply the instruments, and not the source (cf. Henry & Ridderbos).  Therefore the Spirit uses His vessels (us) to do the Father’s will, which is to point men to Christ Jesus. He does this specifically in the following ways:

He saves us by regenerating power from slavery to sin

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:5-6)

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (2 Cor. 3:17)

He comforts us

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)

He intercedes for us

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)

He bears witness to our spirit/soul (giving us assurance of adoption and salvation)

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 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 8:14-17)

He enlightens us with the wisdom of the gospel

He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:14)

He gives us words to speak

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (John 14:26)

He uses His inspired word to sanctify us

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

Summing it up, the Spirit’s Mission: Ultimately the Spirit’s mission is to save souls and sanctify the bride of Christ. The Spirit is God’s active hand in time and history, bearing witness to Christ, and working through human instruments in supernatural ways to accomplish God’s good will for God’s glory.

And this practically applies toward daily victory in Christ…Calvin explains:

And, indeed, when the world rages on all sides, our only protection is, that the truth of God, sealed by the Holy Spirit on our hearts, despises and defies all that is in the world; for, if it were subject to the opinions of men, our faith would be overwhelmed a hundred times in a day.

We ought, therefore, to observe carefully in what manner we ought to remain firm among so many storms. It is because “we have received, not the spirit of the world, the but Spirit which is of God, what we may know the things which have been given to us by God (1 Cor. 2:12).” This single Witness powerfully drives away, scatters, and overturns, all that the world rears up to obscure or crush the truth of God. All who are endued with this Spirit are so far from being in danger of falling into despondency on account of the hatred or contempt of the world, that every one of them will obtain a glorious victory over the whole world.

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

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

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

Justification by Faith

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

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

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

As Paul states in several areas:

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

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

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

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

Christ is the Radiance of the Glory of God

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

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

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

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

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

The Two Natures of Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christ is the Rescuer of Mankind

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

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

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

Here are some examples of what I mean:

I will put enmity between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and her offspring;

he shall bruise your head,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His Words are Law

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

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

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

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

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

A Question of Authority…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just Another Prophet?

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

Beneficiaries of His Work

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

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

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

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

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

Study Notes 7-21-13: The Mysteries of God

Notes for John 12:34-40 on the mysteries of God and His hardening of some and quickening of others unto His own glory and for His own pleasure

12:34-36 So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” [35] So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. [36] While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them.

Who is this Son of Man?

What the crowd was really saying here is not “who is this Son of Man” but “what kind of person is this Son of Man?”  They were confused about the role of the Messiah, as we’ve discussed before.  They had an odd conglomerate of ideas as to what the Messiah would be and do, but interestingly none of those ideas included the sacrificial death of their great hope!

Lifted Up

Now, as we look at the crowd’s reaction to Christ’s sayings we ought to note that earlier in John’s gospel Jesus has mentioned being “lifted up” – it’s during His discourse with Nicodemus (chapter 3). After telling Nicodemus that he must be “born again” in order to see the kingdom of God, He goes on to tell him “heavenly things”:

If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? [13] No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. [14] And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, [15] that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:12-15 ESV)

The moment in history Jesus was making reference to is recounted for us in Numbers:

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. [5] And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” [6] Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. [7] And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. [8] And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” [9] So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. (Numbers 21:4-9 ESV)

Interesting that when the people were being bitten by serpents they thought it was a good idea to look up at the bronze serpent, but by the time we arrive at this moment in history God’s chosen people were so hardened in their hearts that the serpent was no longer simply an enemy but their leader (see John 8)!  Besides, they didn’t need to look up to heaven for help, they had their laws and their moralism and they were just fine working things out on their own. Sound familiar?  We often don’t deign to lift our eyes to heaven for help and beg for mercy, nor do we trust that it is through the spectacle of the crucified Christ that we find our hope and strength. We would much rather work things out on our own, we would much rather plunge into Canaan on our own. But God will not be with us that way. Only through surrender is there safety for our souls.

Walk in the Light or Darkness will Close in…

During the time that Christ walked upon the earth, people from all over had the opportunity to listen to Him and repent, but few did that. Not until His resurrection and the sending of the Spirit and proclamation of the gospel did many millions of souls come to faith in Him.

Yet His call is not simply for those within earshot but for us as well. We all can guess at what it means to walk in the light, but we may easily miss what Jesus says in verse 35, “Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you.”  The presumption here is that without the help of Christ, there is no hope. When the light is gone we cannot manufacture light on our own! No amount of moralism or good deeds will bring you safely across the threshold of eternity. No amount of self-generated piety will create light enough for you to see your way through the darkness of the death that surrounds you.

In short, without Jesus’ light you are damned to the darkness of this world, and of Hell after you die. Outside of Jesus there is no light and there is no life.

Look how Paul describes people who are searching for God during his discourse at Mars Hill:

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, (Acts 17:26-27 ESV)

These people were searching around, feeling with their hands for the light switch. But it was not far from them…

Listen to what Christ stated in chapter eight of John’s gospel:

“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” (John 8:12)

And so let us not presume that we can generate a life outside of the life Christ gives us that is worth living. All “life” outside of Christ is darkness and a life of living death. It is a life of darkness, insecurity and eternal peril. Furthermore, if we have been given this light, why would we seek to turn off the light switch and live in darkness? Let us walk as people who can actually see their steps, and not trip over things we see very well but others do not. Let us walk in a manner worthy of our calling. As Paul says:

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, (Phil. 1:27)

12:37-40 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, [38] so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” [39] Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, [40] “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.”

The Total Depravity of Man

Let’s just take verse 37 first, for it’s the foundational verse in this series of verses. It states that Christ had done “so many signs” in front of these people, and what was the results? “They still did not believe in him.”  What is John trying to say here? He’s undoubtedly saying that no one in their right mind could see the outrageously wonderful things Jesus was doing and not believe in Him.  Yet, somehow these people “still” couldn’t find it within themselves to believe in him…and that’s exactly how I think its best expressed, they couldn’t “find it within themselves.”

A.W. Pink says:

“Fearful proof was this of the depravity of the human heart. The miracles of Christ were neither few in number nor unimpressive in nature. The Lord Jesus performed prodigies of power of almost every conceivable kind. He healed the sick, expelled demons, controlled the winds, walked on the sea, turned water into wine, revealed to men their secret thoughts, raised the dead. His miracles were wrought openly, in the light of day, before numerous witnesses. Nevertheless “they”—the nation at large—”believed not on him.” Altogether inexcusable was their hardness of heart. All who heard His teaching and witnessed His works, ought, without doubt, to have received Him as their Divinely-accredited Messiah and Savior. But the great majority of His countrymen refused to acknowledge His claims.”

J.C. Ryle says:

“The prevalence of unbelief and indifference in the present day ought not to surprise us. It is just one of the evidences of that mighty foundation-doctrine, the total corruption and fall of man. How feebly we grasp and realize that doctrine is proved by our surprise at human incredulity. We only half believe the heart’s deceitfulness. Let us read our Bibles more attentively, and search their contents more carefully. Even when Christ wrought miracles and preached sermons there were numbers of His hearers who remained utterly unmoved. What right have we to wonder if the hearers of modern sermons in countless instances remain unbelieving? ‘The disciple is not greater than his Master.’ If even the hearers of Christ did not believe, how much more should we expect to find unbelief among the hearers of His ministers? Let the truth be spoken and confessed: man’s obstinate unbelief is one among many of the indirect proofs that the Bible is true”

John is provoking us to ask the questions “why?”  “What is going on with these people that they can see all of these supernatural things and still not believe in Jesus?”  Well, as it turns out, it’s not what is going on with them, but rather, what is not going on within them.

John signals that he’s going to explain when, at the beginning of verse 38, he says “so.”  That word “so” in the ESV is iva in the Greek, which is best transliterated “that” or “in order that” or “so that”, and it signals that the reason for the aforementioned unbelief is about to be given, and it is namely that “the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled.”  In other words, “their unbelief has occurred in order that Isaiah’s prophecy would come to pass.”

Well, what is this prophecy exactly? “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” and He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.”

And the result? “Therefore they could not believe.”  God has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart in order that they not believe.  This is an incredible passage, the closest one I can find that’s comparable is found in Exodus where a series of passages explains that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh.

How Do We Understand This “Hardening”?

In order to understand this Biblically, we need to first understand what it means for God to harden a heart, only then will we be able to understand verse 44 when we look at that, and realize that God is hardening hearts, and at the same time calling on people to believe in Christ for salvation.  Our feeble minds want to ask, “How can these two things happen in fairness simultaneously?”

We believe that God is pure and holy and perfectly righteous, and there is no evil in Him whatsoever, so that we know that He does not harden a human heart by reaching in and infusing it with evil!  Rather, when scripture talks about God hardening a heart, it is God’s turning us over to our own desires. Without His arm of grace, without His showering us with protection from ourselves, we become completely given over to our own sinful desires. Paul explains in Romans:

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:24-28 ESV)

Three times Paul says that God “gave them up”, paradidōmi, to themselves. And what happens? They go from bad to worse. They continue in sin and their minds become more and more depraved. And so when God hardens a heart, all He is doing is allowing us to have what we naturally want, such is the ignominiously depraved condition of mankind’s heart.

God is Still Sovereign Over All…and That Means ALL

Lastly, while we understand that our own desires are naturally evil, and that God can give us up to these desires, we cannot run the fact that He is in complete control over all things. It is difficult for us to understand these truths in our finitude, and we usually like to find ways to vindicate God of some kind of self-perceived problem of God being involved in creating evil. These attempts at theodicy have resulted in the past in many errors, and its not surprising that many of these errors are rooted in an inappropriate view of God and a wildly distorted view of man. In his day John Calvin addressed many of these difficult questions and said (in chapter 18 of book one of Institutes) that we cannot excuse God from involvment in the hardening of men’s hearts simply because we do not understand His reasons. Those who suppose God is not sovereign over all details of our lives suppose incorrectly that he only “permits” things as though He had no control at all. Here is what Calvin says to sum up the matter:

The sum of the whole is this, – since the will of God is said to be the cause of all things, all the counsels and actions of men must be held to be governed by his providence; so that he not only exerts his power in the elect, who are guided by the Holy Spirit, but also forces the reprobate to do him service.

And so it is that God works all things according to His will, even in the lives of those who are not Christians, for nothing is out of His control, nor does He simply take His hands off the situation as if to allow Satan to rule independently. As Calvin points out, “With regard to secret movements, what Solomon says of the heart of a king, that it is turned hither and thither, as God sees meet, certainly applies to the whole human race, and has the same force as if he had said, that whatever we conceive in our minds is directed to its end by the secret inspiration of God.”

Therefore, though this is complex, and difficult to understand, we can know in the final analysis that God does all things according to His pleasure for His glory, and allows justice to be done upon those whose hearts He has turned over to their own evil desires. God does not owe man anything; He certainly does not owe every man mercy for man, in his natural state is depraved and will always seek the darkness and not the light (John 3:19-21).

As Augustine summarizes so well:

Great is the work of God, exquisite in all he wills! So that, in a manner wondrous and ineffable, that is not done without his will which is done contrary to it, because it could not be done if he did not permit; nor does he permit it unwillingly, but willingly; nor would He who is good permit evil to be done, were he not omnipotent to bring good out of evil… (Augustine re: Ps. 111: 2).

In Conclusion…

I think I have clearly stated the truth of God’s work here above, and so I cannot spend much more time addressing the question, but I recognize that this is a difficult concept to grasp.  Just how does God deal with man and why does He do it. But we can know that God is not the author of evil, while still maintaining that He is sovereign and involved in every detail of our lives. We also know that we all deserve Hell for our sins, and if God was not merciful to any of us it would be just for Him to send us to Hell. God is also completely sovereign over whom He quickens unto spiritual life. It is obvious that some go to Hell and some go to Heaven. But why He chooses some and not others is up to Him and not us, for who can question the Lord (Job 38)? It is also true that those evil people who are given over to their sinful desires cannot blame God for the justice they receive – for no one receives what is unjust. Some receive mercy, and others receive justice. Furthermore, we cannot know now why it is that God so chooses to use the evil deeds of men who are destined for Hell for His own glory – as He did when His Son was crucified in a monstrously evil act that has brought about more good than anything ever has in this world. I cannot understand why God chooses to act through these means, or why He allowed evil in the first place, or why He permits any of us to continue on in this life, as we must so often His holy nature by our dreadful sins. I simply know that it is His will and pleasure to do these things the way He does them, and I do not excuse Him from these acts as if He needed an excuse. He is both sovereign and hands-on, and completely just and loving. His ways are far above my ways and your way. His mind is so infinitely beyond our questioning that I dare not probe into His secret counsels. I simply stand in awe and fear of His might and magnificence, and wonder at the depth of His mercy to me, a sinner.

 

Study Notes 7-14-13: Judgment is Inaugurated

Here are the study notes for John 12:31-26

12:31-33 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. [32] And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” [33] He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

God rest ye merry Gentlemen let nothing you dismay,

Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day,

To save us all from Satan’s power when we had gone astray,

Oh tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, oh tidings of comfort and joy!

An Answer to the Greeks?

Verse 31 is a crucial verse for understanding Christ’s mission here on earth. His whole flow of thought here is really interesting. He sees the Jews hailing Him, but for the wrong reasons, then the Greeks come to seek Him and this sets off a red flag in His mind, so He tells those around Him that His time has come to be glorified, to be die so that many will live (the seed image), and to be lifted up and glorified on the cross, and that He will crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). So while He doesn’t seem to answer Andrew and Philip who have come to Him with this report of the Greeks seeking Him, in a way He does. Their message kicks off a series of theological points here in these verses that all have to do with the salvation of humanity – note that He wraps up by saying that He “will draw all people to myself.” Not just Jews, but “all people” from every tribe tongue and nation!

The Judgment of this World

The first thing Jesus says in verse 31 would be odd if we hadn’t already looked at this in chapter three a little bit. He says that “Now is the judgment of this world.”  Well what does He mean by “judgment” is “now”?  As Ryle points out, this in undoubtedly a difficult saying, and I think there is perhaps some nuance to it that can easily be missed.  But in order to understand it we must understand the context.  If we don’t see that Christ is talking about several things during this short discourse, including the salvation of men from outside of the Jewish race, the triumph and shame of the cross, the difficulty of the task of the cross and the anguish of Christ’s soul, and the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ and His desire for the glory of God.

Because of this context and the fact that the discourse has been set off originally by some gentiles wishing to Jesus, it is thought by some that “judgment” refers to the fact that Christ has judged the Jews and found them unfaithful and is therefore offering salvation to “all men.”  But this also misses a larger plot line, and the close tie to Christ’s declaration of coming victory of Satan and his power over all mankind (we will see how this relates to the larger redemptive plotline in a moment).  And so because of the fact that he is talking about a much larger plotline here, referring to Satan, to “all men”, and because the conversation could be seen as His reaction to the Gentiles seeking to talk with Him in the first place, I think it is reasonable to say that He is here referring to all men/mankind and their enslavement to sin.  It is worth looking at Carson’s comments on how this is so:

Judgment is in one sense reserved for the end of the age, for the ‘last judgment’. But the texts just cited also show that judgment begins with the first coming of Christ, climaxing in his passion. As the light of the world, Jesus forces a division between those whose evil deeds are exposed by his brilliance, and those whose deeds prompt them to embrace the light in order to testify that what they have done ‘has been done through God’ (3:19-21).

Perhaps the greatest example of an earlier text in which the metaphor of the light and darkness is given is indeed that passage Carson cites from chapter three:

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

This is a passage that I’ve referred back to probably more often than any other passage we’ve studied thus far in this gospel. I think the reason for this is that it explains so much of who we are, and who He is in contrast. We are creatures who love the darkness, and when the light shines into the world, we scurry away like cockroaches.  We not only hate the light, we love the darkness. We love our sin. But there is more to the analogy than simply who we are. There is also who He is. He is the light. And the light has immediate and unavoidable consequences when it enters a place of darkness. Separation occurs immediately, and that is the judgment. It is apparent and obvious and unavoidable. It simply occurs because of His presence on this earth: His light separates the good from the evil, but on the final day of judgment it will be God’s voice booming from the throne and His holy angels who will conduct that final separation between the “sheep and the goats.”

Crushing the Head of the Serpent

Now we need to continue on and examine the second part of verse 31 that states that the “ruler of this world” and his defeat.  Ryle says that, “there can be no doubt that Satan is meant by the ‘prince of this world.’”

First we assume by this comment that, at least in a certain sense, Satan’s work had been largely unhindered. He had been roaming freely on the world and deceiving the nations as he pleased. When Christ came is signaled the beginning of the end of his kingdom. In a recent book by Alistair Begg and Sinclair Ferguson the noted theologians say that one of the manifestations of the plotline of history thickening and Satan getting ready for a final fight was the presence of so many demons on earth tormenting people (which we read about in the gospels).  Whether or not this is so, it is evident that Scripture tells us that when Christ came and died He won a significant victory – a victory that had been anticipated for thousands of years.

We see the first proclamation of this victory in Genesis 3:15:

I will put enmity between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and her offspring;

he shall bruise your head,

and you shall bruise his heel. 

These words were spoken to Satan. The prediction here is that one day in the future the seed of Eve will land a death blow to Satan.  That day that God foretold and Moses recorded is the same day Christ here has His eyes fixed upon. Jesus knew that He would be the seed of Eve that dies in order to bear much fruit and in order to bruise the head of the Serpent.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  (John 12:24)

In so doing, Christ is gaining the victory. Paul explains further in Colossians, as does the author of Hebrews:

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:13-15 ESV)

And…

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Hebrews 2:14-15 ESV)

When Christ died on the cross He did so in order that “he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” This devil has been “cast out” and has been “disarmed” and “put to open shame.”

The irony of it all must not have been too enjoyable for Satan. Carson’s comments are insightful:

Although the cross might seem like Satan’s triumph, it is in fact his defeat. In one sense Satan was defeated by the outbreaking power of the kingdom of God even within the ministry of Jesus (Luke 10:18). But the fundamental smashing of his reign of tyranny takes place in the death/exaltation of Jesus.

But What Does this Mean For Us Today?

Well what does this all mean in light of the fact that we still battle the Evil One, and that we still live in a fallen world?

It means that when Christ died and rose again He began the death sentence on Satan. The same way in which God told Adam that the day he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil he would surely die (Gen. 2:17). Did Adam die on that day? No he didn’t die directly, but it he was as good as dead on that day because from that day onward his doom was sealed. He would no longer live out his days in peace with God, he would no longer walk in the cool of the garden, and he would one day see the deterioration of his physical body. In this same way, Satan’s doom was sealed the day Christ rose from the grave.

As D.A. Carson remarks, “When Jesus was glorified, ‘lifted up’ to heaven by means of the cross, enthroned, then too was Satan dethroned. What residual power the prince of this world enjoys is further curtailed by the Holy Spirit, the Counselor.”

We live in times where Satan’s death and final destruction have been assured. While he is still a great danger to us, he is also a man marked for death. His time is waning.

All People

In the latter part of verse 32 Christ tells us that He will draw “all people” to Himself if He is lifted up. And so here again we have that mysterious word “all.” We must look at the context once again to understand what Christ is saying, and to look at all of Scripture’s teaching on salvation.

If we believe that “all” mean includes every man anywhere for all time, then we are Universalists and not gospel believing Christians. Nor is this “drawing” here of an ineffective kind, as some would say – those who might use the word “woo” for the behavior of Christ toward His elect. Does Christ “woo” all people to Himself?  Well obviously no.  There are many men and women who have not heard the gospel and are not drawn to Christ, and many others who hear and reject the gospel. And therefore Christ’s words “draw” and “all people” are not compatible with the Armenian viewpoint of “wooing.”

But if we understand the word “all people” in the context of Christ’s response to the gentiles (as well as the Jews who were listening to Him), as well as the larger context of the redemptive metanarrative Jesus has been addressing in His pronouncement of judgment on the world, and on Satan, then we will see that “all people” is meant to be “all people from every tribe tongue and nation” (as in Rev. 7:9).

12:34-36 So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” [35] So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. [36] While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them.

Who is this Son of Man?

What the crowd was really saying here is not “who is this Son of Man” but “what kind of person is this Son of Man?”  They were confused about the role of the Messiah, as we’ve discussed before.  They had an odd conglomerate of ideas as to what the Messiah would be and do, but interestingly none of those ideas included the sacrificial death of their great hope!

Lifted Up

Now, as we look at the crowd’s reaction to Christ’s sayings we ought to note that earlier in John’s gospel Jesus has mentioned being “lifted up” – it’s during His discourse with Nicodemus (chapter 3). After telling Nicodemus that he must be “born again” in order to see the kingdom of God, He goes on to tell him “heavenly things”:

If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? [13] No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. [14] And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, [15] that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:12-15 ESV)

The moment in history Jesus was making reference to is recounted for us in Numbers:

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. [5] And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” [6] Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. [7] And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. [8] And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” [9] So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. (Numbers 21:4-9 ESV)

Interesting that when the people were being bitten by serpents they thought it was a decent idea to look up at the bronze serpent, but by the time we arrive at this moment in history God’s chosen people were so hardened in their hearts that the serpent was no longer simply an enemy but their leader (see John 8)!  Besides, they didn’t need to look up to heaven for help, they had their laws and their moralism and they were just fine working things out on their own. Sound familiar?  We often don’t deign to lift our eyes to heaven for help and beg for mercy, nor do we trust that it is through the spectacle of the crucified Christ that we find our hope and strength. We would much rather work things out on our own, we would much rather plunge into Canaan on our own. But God will not be with us that way. Only through surrender is there safety for our souls.

Walk in the Light or Darkness will Close in…

During the time that Christ walked upon the earth, people from all over had the opportunity to listen to Him and repent, but few did that. Not until His resurrection and the sending of the Spirit and proclamation of the gospel did many millions of souls come to faith in Him.

Yet His call is not simply for those within earshot but for us as well. We all can guess at what it means to walk in the light, but we may easily miss what Jesus says in verse 35, “Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you.”  The presumption here is that without the help of Christ, there is no hope. When the light is gone we cannot manufacture light on our own! No amount of moralism or good deeds will bring you safely across the threshold of eternity. No amount of self-generated piety will create light enough for you to see your way through the darkness of the death that surrounds you.

In short, without Jesus’ light you are damned to the darkness of this world, and of Hell after you die. Outside of Jesus there is no light and there is no life.

Look how Paul describes people who are searching for God during his discourse at Mars Hill:

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, (Acts 17:26-27 ESV)

These people were searching around, feeling with their hands for the light switch. But it was not far from them…

Listen to what Christ stated in chapter eight of John’s gospel:

“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” (John 8:12)

And so let us not presume that we can generate a life outside of the life Christ gives us that is worth living. All “life” outside of Christ is darkness and a life of living death. It is a life of darkness, insecurity and eternal peril. Furthermore, if we have been given this light, why would we seek to turn off the light switch and live in darkness? Let us walk as people who can actually see their steps, and not trip over things we see very well but others do not. Let us walk in a manner worthy of our calling. As Paul says:

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, (Phil. 1:27)

Study Notes 12-23-12

9:17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”

This might not be quite the full-orbed description of the Being of Christ, but as some note, it’s a mite better than “I don’t know.”           

9:18-23 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight [19] and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” [20] His parents answered, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. [21] But how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” [22] (His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.) [23] Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

First, “The Jews” here refer to the Pharisees.  It is a common thing for John to refer to the religious leaders as “the Jews.”

What we see here is that in response to the miracle of Christ, the religious leaders of the day react in unbelief. So what they try to do is seek verification from the parents since they don’t seem to believe the accounts of the people and the man himself.

However, what happens here is the parents respond in fear of what the religious leaders will do to them if they give their full and honest opinion of what has just happened to their son. Sproul and Carson both excoriate these parents in their commentaries as examples of unbelief, and I agree with them. But who cannot identify with them? Who can blame them? These people don’t yet know Jesus, they don’t have any reason as of yet to stand up for Him other than what they know of in regards to their son.  So they pass the buck back to their child, who is a grown middle-aged man.

Here’s what I mean by this: Overall, while we can identify with the parents, and even the religious leaders, what is it that is dominating their emotions and behavior here? Fear and unbelief. Perhaps that’s why we can so closely identify with them…

9:24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.”

Now they are frustrated and demanding.  Their tone is completely curt and to the point. They demand that the blind man give glory to God (as if he hadn’t been doing that already), and not to in anyway glorify the man (Jesus) who gave him his sight.

Ironically the very man who gave him his sight was Jesus the God-man.  The incarnation of God had healed this man in love and compassion.

Also, it is interesting that they “know” this man is a sinner. Their judgment has already been made at this point – for all the reasons we talked about before, specifically and especially regarding the Sabbath.

9:25 He answered, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

I can picture this man, can’t you?  Recoiling a bit at the harshness of the conversation. But as we will see from the way he interacts with these religious leaders, he is bold.  Why is he so bold? Because his entire life has been resurrected from darkness! You too would be bold if a man healed your blindness! And indeed, if you are a Christian, you have been resurrected from darkness and death and our response ought to be this man’s response: One thing I do know, that though I was blind now I see”!  What a powerful statement!

As MacArthur notes, unbelief is simply irrational at this point, “Stopped dead in their tracks by the incontestable testimony of the man, and left with no way to advance their lame argument, the Pharisees began to go over the same ground they had previously covered.”

R.C. Sproul notes something really important about this whole passage with the blind man and how he interacted with the Pharisees.  At this point in the discussion, the man is bearing witness about Christ, but he is not evangelizing.  He is sharing his testimony, but he is not yet sharing the gospel message – there is a difference.  Our testimony is important, and its what Sproul calls “pre-evangelism.”  It helps us relate what God has done for us to others, and helps others relate to us on a personal level.  It gives glory to God, certainly, but it is not sharing the gospel.  We share the gospel when we announce the good work of Jesus Himself.  As Sproul notes, (to paraphrase) “the gospel is not about me…the gospel is about Jesus.”

We all need to learn to share our testimonies, but we also have to take the next step and share the gospel.

Now listen in your mind as you read below how they interact here…you can almost feel the tension rising…

9:26-27 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” [27] He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?”

Bravo! This man has moxie.  Frankly, if such a wonderful miracle happened to me, and then those around me were so determined to ruin it and slander the God who provided it, I would also be indignant.

Note the rebukes.  First, “you would not listen.”  This is so true.  They were never listeners; they were tellers.  They ordered people about, they didn’t take time to genuinely listen to people.  The man doesn’t let them get away with it.

Second, he taunts them by asking them if they “also want to become his disciples.”  The very thing they would have despised the most! He makes these religious leaders out to be merely ignorant pupils who need to be discipled.

9:28-29 And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. [29] We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.”

Now, obviously this (formerly) blind man was not a disciple of Christ yet, but the leaders throw it back in his face because he had just used the same thing to annoy them.

I think it is really emblematic of this generation that they claim to be disciples of Moses, and children of Abraham (in chapter 8) when they are neither. God knew all along that He would bless the nations through Abraham, which means that the seed of Abraham (spiritually) would populate the church. From Abraham’s body would come the body of Christ (the church) – in other words, the gentile makeup of the elect was never “plan b” for God.  Also, it’s worth noting that God only instituted the Mosaic Law as a “guardian” until Christ came (Gal. 3). Even Moses saw this (Deut. 18:18-19), but these religious leaders were not eagerly anticipating such a high priest, they were instead longing for the day when the Messiah would come and conquer their political enemies and redeem the land.

Their sinfulness had clouded their judgment, and as they were not God’s children (John 8), they were speaking out of their character here.

Now listen to how the man responds to their claims at Mosaic discipleship…does he back down? Not at all!

9:30-33 The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. [31] We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. [32] Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. [33] If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

First he castigates them for their lack of knowledge of who Jesus was. Then, in an amazing show of boldness, he gives them a theology lesson! I honestly don’t recall any other time in scripture where a common beggar gives the religious establishment a theology lesson, but here it is!

He says to them, basically, that they aren’t thinking logically. First, he reasons that “God does not listen to sinners” – true enough.  We know that God hears the prayers of those who are His own, and the man goes on to say just that, “if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.” I have to believe he is speaking out of practical experience here. This man has not been healed in vain by God. He is grateful, and from the sounds of his words, was probably in daily prayer for this miracle.

Then he uses some hyperbole to drive home the point that this miracle was done in the power of God – there’s simply no other explanation for it!

9:34 They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out.

The word “utter” here is holos in the Greek, and it means “whole” or “complete.” And thus the response of the Pharisees is accurate here.  He was born in utter sin – complete fallness like all mankind, and of course they mistakenly believe they were not.  Paul’s words are apt:

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; [28] God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, [29] so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:27-29 ESV)

There is perhaps nothing more appalling than the arrogance of ignorance, but that is what he have here. And it is instructive for us as well. Let us, who were also born in “utter sin” not think ourselves too good or too pure to learn from our great teacher. We have all fallen way short of His glory. No man is worthy to boast before God – because Paul’s passage in 1 Corinthians I mention above goes on to say this:

And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, [31] so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:30-31 ESV)

If we are to boast, let us boast in the power of the Lord Jesus Christ as this man did.

9:35-37 Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” [36] He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” [37] Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” [38] He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

I love the compassion of the Lord Jesus. He knows that this man must go through a trial, and He allows it as a testing of his faith perhaps. Whatever the reason as it relates to the man, it certainly gave glory to God – and still continues to do so even to this day.

Note also that Jesus requires something of this man more than simply standing up for Him.  Jesus isn’t looking for a supporter for a political or religious movement, He looking for a lost sheep.

Lastly, it is evident that God had touched the heart of this man as significantly as He had touched his eyes.  The man responds in belief, and that’s the challenge for us today. Do we really believe Jesus is who He says He is?  Here he says that he is the “Son of Man” – that favorite designation that Jesus uses for Himself that comes from the book of Daniel, which says:

“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. [14] And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14 ESV)

This “Son of Man” is reigning right now – and His reign will one day see its consummation at His second coming.  When Jesus asks the blind man who had been healed whether he believed in the “Son of Man”, He is asking him to place his faith in the one who is from God, of God, and is God. The one who will one say have “an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away.”

9:39 Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” [40] Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” [41] Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.

Finally, we notice that Jesus isn’t saying these things in just the presence of the healed man any longer. Now others have gathered.  The Pharisees are now listening in, and, aware of this, Christ begins to address them.

First Christ uses the miracle He performed to give greater light to a spiritual truth. We could divine all of these things and see the picture of Christ’s work here pretty easily, but in this case we don’t even have to because He has done that for us here.

He says that He came so that those who don’t see will see.  Conversely, He says that those who see “may become blind.”  The Pharisees immediately feel as if they are the butt of this joke – only its not a joke at all, it’s a hard truth, and one that they refuse to swallow.

The point of the analogy as it relates to “guilt” is much like Paul’s argument in Romans 1.  We all bear the weight of guilt of knowing at least something about God through general revelation. But these were men who were learned.  They knew the law, had access to all the writings of Moses, knew and had heard of the words of the prophets, and yet they who saw all of these words on scrolls were blind to their truths.  In this way they became blind.

It reminds me of what God said to the prophet Isaiah as He commissioned him to go and preach to Israel:

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” [9] And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ [10] Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:8-10 ESV)

Later God says through Isaiah:

Bring out the people who are blind, yet have eyes, who are deaf, yet have ears! (Isaiah 43:8 ESV)

Spiritually speaking, only God can open the eyes of mankind. He is completely sovereign over who can “see the kingdom of God” (John 3).

In His sovereignty, God has sent Christ to heal us of this blindness. Another verse from Isaiah speaks of this as well:

I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, [7] to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. (Isaiah 42:6-7 ESV)

Secondly, I want to make note about what Christ says about judgment and blindness here.  MacArthur hints at the way in which spiritual blindness reacts to the light.  He says, “It receives judgment, refuses to admit its blindness, rejects spiritual sight, and results in doom.”

Specifically as it relates to “judgment”, Christ says “for judgment I cam into this world”, whereas in another place He says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).

So which is it?  Is Christ contradicting Himself here? Not at all – these are two truths co-existing in the character of Christ. MacArthur explains this in his commentary, and its worth quoting a lengthy portion of what he has to say:

…far from being contradictory, those two truths are complementary; they are two sides of the same reality. To reject Jesus’ peace is to receive His punishment; to reject His grace is to receive His justice; to reject His mercy is to receive His wrath to reject His love is to receive His anger to reject His forgiveness is to receive His judgment. While Jesus came to save, not to condemn (cf. 12:47, Luke 19:10), those who reject His gospel condemn themselves, and subject themselves to judgment (John 3:18, 36). Spiritual sight comes only to those who acknowledge that they do not see, who confess their spiritual blindness and their need for the Light of the World. On the other hand, those who think they see on their own apart from Christ delude themselves, and will remain blind. They will not come to the Light, because they love the darkness and do not want their evil deeds to be exposed (3:19).

So their response was “self-condemning” as MacArthur goes on to say, and the role of Christ as judge will certainly happen eventually (Jon 5:22, 27), for He has been given all authority to judge by the Father, but during His time on earth (first advent) His mission was to “seek and save that which is lost” (Luke 19:10).

Leon Morris puts it this way, “In one sense He did not come to judge people (3:17; 12:47). But for all that, his coming represents a judgment; for people divide according to the way they react to that coming. The coming of light shows who are spiritually blind and thus judges them; judgment is not the purpose of the coming of the light, but it is an inevitable consequence.”

Finally, and perhaps ironically, the great hero the Pharisees were looking for ended up being the one they mocked openly. The great warrior who they hoped would one day set them free from oppression had just set another captive free before their very eyes. The great king they hoped would rule over Jerusalem was in their midst ushering in a kingdom “that shall not be destroyed.”