Study Notes: John 19:16b-27 – The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ

The Crucifixion of Jesus

As we turn to John’s narrative of the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus, one of the things you’ll notice about his description is that he doesn’t spend a lot of time detailing the ins and outs of crucifixion. He doesn’t give the kinds of detail that one finds in the synoptic gospels.

Instead, John is more focused on what Jesus says, and the “why” of this whole event. We too should focus on the why, and not get overly caught up in the gruesomeness of the “how.” I’m not saying that it isn’t important, but rather we need to look to what is of first importance.

That being said, in each of these verses there are some interesting and relevant details that we’ll examine as we go verse by verse.

19:16b-17 So they took Jesus, [17] and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.

The first thing we read in the end of verse 16 is that “they” took Jesus. I think John can only be referring to the Roman soldiers at this point. Jesus is now in the custody of Rome; His trial now over, and He is making His way to the place of execution through the streets of Jerusalem – the path we now refer to as the via dolorosa (The way of Grief/Sorrows).

Lifted Up Along a Highway

Next, the place Jesus was taken was outside the old city walls, to a hill near the road which ran alongside the city where travelers and citizens of the city could see Him and the others being executed. Foreigners coming in for the feast days and for trade in the city would be coming from all over the known world at the time. Therefore, as Jesus was lifted up, He was lifted up for all the world to see.

Remember, that throughout his gospel when John talks about Jesus being “lifted up” this is His way of showing that Jesus is being exalted. The emphasis is that exaltation for the Christ comes through humiliation.

Earlier John wrote this:

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. [16] “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. [17] 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. [18] Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:14-18)

Therefore it is significant that He is led to a place that is highly trafficked, and where travelers from all over the known world would have beheld His humiliation/exaltation.

Now from a Roman perspective, it made a lot of sense to bring criminals to this point along the highway because the execution of criminals near the road would send a message to those daring to oppose their rule.

Any foreigner coming to Jerusalem would know what happens to those who misbehave during their stay in the ancient city, and any native of David’s city would be reminded that they were under occupation by a regime from the north. They were living in the land, and yet living in exile.

Outside the City

The next thing we have to note is that the place the Romans took Jesus was outside of the city walls at the time. From a prophetic perspective, this is really important. Jesus died outside the city just as the OT sacrifices would be slaughtered outside the camp.

In Exodus 29 we read this:

But the flesh of the bull and its skin and its dung you shall burn with fire outside the camp; it is a sin offering. (Exodus 29:14)

And it is no coincidence that in the parable of the vineyard, Jesus describes His own death at the hands of the sinful servants as ending “outside the vineyard”:

And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. (Matthew 21:39)

Taking all of these thoughts and words together, the author of Hebrews explains the significance:

For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. [12] So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. [13] Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. [14] For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. [15] Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. [16] Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. (Hebrews 13:11-16)

So Jesus is led outside the city walls. He is to be a sin offering, our sin offering. He is lifted up, because that it is through humiliation that He will be exalted. This is all done on the edge of a road where travelers from around the known world will behold Him, indeed in this way He will be lifted up for the entire “world” to see (there is a significant parallel with how people from all over the known world gather together in Jerusalem at Pentecost just a few weeks later and hear the truth of God proclaimed in their language – see John Stott’s Acts commentary for more on this).

The Place of the Skull

Now John says Jesus was led to a place called “Golgotha.” From a contextual note, there are a few places where Jesus was said to have suffered and died and historians are not agreed on the exact location.

The two most popular are called “Gordon’s Calvary” and the ground upon which the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is built. I have just recently come back from Jerusalem, and have visited both locations. At Gordon’s Calvary there is still a very distinct side of a mountain where a face (or skull) can be seen etched out of the rock. It used to be that in days past, a rock quarry lay just beneath the etching and that Jesus would have been crucified in front of the skull in the quarry – not on top of that particular hill, but on the hill that the quarry was on top of with the skull providing the background image.

Gordon’s Calvary is named after British General Charles “Chinese” Gordon who popularized the idea that this could be the location. The Garden Tomb Association, who owns the land there now, gives this brief history on their website:

As early as 1842 a German Theologian named Otto Thenius proposed the idea that the outcropping of rock known today as “Skull Hill” could possibly be significant in the identification of the site of the crucifixion. That idea lay seemingly dormant for quite some time until General Charles Gordon on sabbatical in the area (1883) began to publish similar ideas. Because of his importance in British society at that time the idea took hold and people began to look seriously at the claims that this could possibly be the site listed in the New Testament as Golgotha (Aramaic) or Calvary (Latin) – the place of the skull. It was the efforts of two ladies in particular, Charlotte Hussey and Louisa Hope, who followed these ideas and began to take them seriously and thought that the place ought to be preserved.

They also discovered a tomb nearby which matched many of the descriptions of the tomb we find in the Bible narrative where Jesus was laid:

After people began to take seriously the claims that the area at the base of the rock cliff could possibly be Golgotha, it led to a renewed interest in other findings of earlier times. In 1867 an ancient Jewish tomb had been discovered and subsequently detailed and published by Conrad Schick. In light of all that was happening, people began to believe that the site may have significance and they re-examined what had been detailed previously. The Bible describes that Jesus was crucified outside the city of Jerusalem near a gate of the city along a major thoroughfare, that at the place where He was crucified there was a garden and in the garden a tomb. The tomb is described as being a tomb cut out of rock, belonging to a wealthy man by the name of Joseph of Arimathea. It had a weeping chamber, a burial chamber, it was sealed with a rolling stone, it had a traditionally low doorway through which the disciples were forced to stoop in order to look into (and enter) the tomb that morning. (http://www.gardentomb.com/about/why-the-garden/)

The second location, and I might say the “first” in terms of historical tradition, is the location upon which the current Church of the Holy Sepulcher is built.

This location is located in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem and has been held at the traditional site since at least the 4th century. Wikipedia (that all knowing and trustworthy source…) has a few graphs on the early history:

According to Eusebius, the Roman emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century built a temple dedicated to the Roman goddessVenus in order to bury the cave in which Jesus had been buried.[4][5] The first Christian Emperor, Flavius Constantinus, ordered in about 325/326 that the temple be replaced by a church.[6] During the building of the Church, Constantine’s mother, Helena, is believed to have rediscovered the True Cross, and a tomb (although there are some discrepancies among authors).

In his ‘Life of Constantine’ Eusebius speaks about this location saying that it showed “a clear and visible proof” that it was the tomb of Jesus.

It is interesting that most commentators I read during my exegetical study of the passage completely rule our Gordon’s Calvary. But whatever the place, we know that both locations stood outside of where the city boundaries were during those days.

19:18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.

Crucifixion was the most horrific way a person could die in these days. Carson gives a good explanation:

In the ancient world, this most terrible of punishments is always associated with shame and horror. It was so brutal that no Roman citizen could be crucified without the sanction of the Emperor. Stripped naked and beaten to a pulpy weakness, the victim could hang in the hot sun for hours, even days. To breathe, it was necessary to push with the legs and pull with the arms to keep the chest cavity open and functioning. Terrible muscle spasm wracked the entire body; but since collapse meant asphyxiation, the strain went on and on. This is why the sedecula (the piece of wood that was sort of like a seat) prolonged life and agony: it partially supported the body’s weight, and therefore encouraged the victim to fight on.

The history behind this form of execution is well documented. William Barclay describes the background:

Even the Romans themselves regarded it with a shudder of horror. Cicero declared that it was ‘the most cruel and horrifying death.’ Tacitus said that it was a despicable death.’ Crucifixion was originally a Persian method of execution. It may have been used because, to the Persians, the earth was sacred, and they wished to avoid defiling it with the body of a criminal and an evildoer; so they nailed him to a cross and left him to die there, and then left the vultures and the carrion crows to complete the work. The Carthaginians took over crucifixion from the Persians; and the Romans learned it from the Carthaginians. Crucifixion was never used as a method of execution in Italy; it was only used in the provinces, and there only in the case of slaves. It was unthinkable that a Roman citizen should die by such a death. Cicero says, ‘It is a crime for a Roman citizen to be bound; it is a worse crime for him to be beaten; it is well nigh parricide for him to be killed; what am I to say if he be killed on a cross? A nefarious action such as that is incapable of description by any word, for there is none fit to describe it.’ It was that death, the most dreaded death in the ancient world, the death of slaves and criminals, that Jesus died” (Boice’s Commentary on John, Volume 5, Pg. 1496).

There were also two men on either side of Jesus. Each was a criminal – the language used by John could indicate that they could have been rebel fighters/guerillas/insurrectionists. We know from Luke’s account and from the other gospel writers, that one of them had a miraculous change of heart, and place his faith on Jesus before his life expired. John, however, does not focus on that event, but rather chooses to give us insights that the other writers had not mentioned to date.

19:19-22 Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” [20] Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. [21] So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” [22] Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”

It was common practice for the Romans to inscribe the crime of an offender on a piece of wood or label like this and then hang it around the neck of the criminal during the execution. After the criminal died, the tag would be fastened to the cross as a reminder of the payment, the cost if you will, of committing that crime. People could look up, see the crime of “stealing” or “sedition” and note in one glance the blood stained cross which served as an indicator what that crime had cost the one associated with it. A significant deterrent.

Now the crime that we read is associated with Jesus is the one which the Jews used before the Romans, and not the one they had used in the Jewish trial. In the Jewish trial before Caiaphas and Annas, they had accused Jesus of blasphemy because He had claimed to be equal with God. But before the Romans they accused Him of being s traitor and inciting sedition because He claimed to be the Christ, a king. And even though Pilate didn’t buy it, he still gave Jesus over to be killed – an act of murder for one not found to be guilty.

Therefore, Jesus’ sign said – in Aramaic (Hebrew), Latin, and Greek – that He was the king of the Jews. The variance of languages served as a way for all men who would be passing by to be able to read what was written, “the local vernacular, the official language, and the language of common international communication” with Latin being the official language of the Roman soldier (cf. Ridderbos, Boice etc.).

Of course having the crime indicate that Jesus was king of the Jews enraged the Jewish leadership, so they wanted an adaptation. However, Pilate basically delivered a final shot to the Jews by saying “hey, you used this charge of sedition to accuse this man, and now your stuck with your accusation, even if it makes your people look ridiculous.” So this was another way to demean the Jews, and exact some vengeance on them for forcing his hand in the verdict.

19:23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, [24] so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says, “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” So the soldiers did these things,

Here again John sees fulfilled prophecy in each little even that happens in the death of Jesus. He has had decades to think on these things, to search the scriptures, and to realize the depth of richness that encompass what took place here on Golgotha.

The OT passage that John cites is from Psalm 22. That Psalm was written by David and carries with it great significance. The Psalms talks of the faithfulness of God to His elect. It describes the pain of David, and his anguish and humiliation before his enemies. But his writing found its greater and fuller significance in David’s Greater Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, whose body was wasted away to nothing on our account. It is a Psalm which celebrates the salvation/righteousness of God to all who are His people – including “a people yet unborn” – from every tribe, tongue and nation.

There is one first, 22:1, which Jesus quoted from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Later in the Psalm we read the specific passage that pertains to His garments, which we have just read about here in John, but it also mentions his hands and feet being pierced, and even his thirsty condition.

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; [15] my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. [16] For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet— [17] I can count all my bones— they stare and gloat over me; [18] they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots. (Psalm 22:14-18)

I love how the Psalm ends, and George Robertson describes its meaning:

It is the suffering of Christ that has secured these patterns of faithfulness for the unfaithful. Jesus did this by carrying out God’s eternal plan to provide “righteousness” through his own sacrificial death (Ps. 22:31; Rev. 13:8). His cry of forsakenness from the cross was the announcement that he had become a “curse” for his people, which “redeemed us from the curse of the law” and fulfilled the Abrahamic promise to bring salvation to the nations (Gal. 3:13-14; cf. Ps. 22:1). Those who put their faith in Christ can therefore be assured that they will never be cursed (The Gospel Transformation Bible).

The last few verses in Psalm 22 read this:

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. [28] For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations. [29] All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive. [30] Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; [31] they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it. (Psalm 22:27-31)

19:25-27 but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. [26] When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” [27] Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

Last Will 

These words of Jesus are said to be His “last will and testament”, and we’ve all no doubt studied them in the past. It is of great significance that Jesus cared for those around Him until His dying breath.

I am reminded of John’s words from chapter 13, “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1).

How convicting is it – and revealing of our corrupted hearts – that during trials and great ordeals we cannot think of anything or anyone but ourselves and the circumstances which envelope us.

Think to your last trial – perhaps even a current trial you are wading through. What preoccupied your thoughts in those difficult hours? Who were you primarily concerned with?

I find my own thoughts in times of great peril or trial are often turned inward, at myself and my own survival.

Not so with Jesus.

Jesus was a man who was touched with the infirmities of humanity. He was suffering excruciating pain (that word, by the way, is a etymological creation passed down from the pain of the crucifixion) and yet His mind wavered not. It was on His mission, and on those closest to Him.

Also, I find it very interesting that Jesus was on a great mission to save the world, and yet He did not overlook the weakest among Him. He took care of His earthly mother before departing this world. So often it is great men of this world who are so enraptured in their work, or their circumstances, that they fail to love and tenderly care for those who are their kin. This is so much the case in the evangelical church that Pastor’s children are notoriously ill-behaved. These great men of God fail utterly to invest in their children. They are so busy carrying out their life’s mission that they overlook those whom God has given them to care for most.

Our loved ones ought not to be sacrificed on the alter of “mission” – whether that be the mission at work, or the mission of the Gospel. We have been entrusted by the Almighty God with the investiture of souls who ought to be loved and cared for above all else. This is the example of Jesus, our Lord. He suffered not to let Mary go into the remainder of her life without the care and attention of a specific caretaker. That caretaker was John.

What a grand lesson to all who are entrusted with mighty tasks. Let world leaders, church leaders, political and business leaders take note. Let us humble ourselves before the example of our Lord and Savior, and seek to emulate His caring heart.

John 3:16 in its Context

Last night I preached a message from verses John 3:16-21 in our evening service and I’ve posted both the notes and the audio below.  The notes seem extensive, but that’s only because I’ve included footnotes here for your edification.

My goal was to show that salvation is from first to last from God and by God, and that He alone deserves glory for salvation.

Introduction to the Passage

God is the One responsible for our salvation from first to last.  He saves us for Himself, by Himself, from Himself.  In contrast to our love for sin, His love is seen as extravagant. His salvation is provided at great cost, and in a way of His own choosing – there are no other paths up the mountain of God.

3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. [i]

Context and Background

John 3:16 may perhaps be the most famous Bible verse in the world.  It has been quoted more times than any other verse, and it is well known to both pagan and Christian alike.

Yet this verse is also one of the most misunderstood, misinterpreted verses in Scripture.  It is used to justify all manner of incoherent and incorrect doctrine, especially Universalism and Pelagianism. But as we’ll soon see, this verse must be read in its context if we’re to truly appreciate and understand our Lord’s message.

Prior to this verse, the Lord Jesus has been the one speaking, but many scholars believe that John 3:16 is actually John now commenting, and given the flow and narrative of the passage, I believe that this is correct.

Verse 16 comes on the heels of an Old Testament account of salvation being reapplied by Jesus as he turned the timetables forward to show how the bronze serpent that Moses lifted up in the wilderness foreshadowed His being lifted up on the cross.  Prior to that, dialoguing with a Jewish elder, Nicodemus, Jesus explains that all salvation is predicated upon the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit – you must become a new creation (born again) in order to be saved.

There are three things that this verse teaches us.

  1. That the world lies under condemnation from its own sin
  2. That God’s love and plan for salvation extends far wider than simply to the people of Israel
  3. That Jesus is the chosen instrument through which mankind will be saved from eternal damnation

1. Bound for Destruction

The first thing this verse assumes is that people in the world have the wrath of God abiding on them – otherwise there would be no need for a Savior.

The words, “whoever believes in him should not perish” assume that there will be some who do perish, and that had Christ not come into the world all would, indeed, perish.

Later in the chapter John explicitly spells this out:

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36)

So the assumption is that the entire world is doomed for hell unless God does something.  If God doesn’t break through, then we won’t be saved.  We’re all perishing physically, and the larger context of the chapter addresses the nature of the soul and our need for eternal salvation.[ii]

2. What in the World?

The second point is mind blowing – and its also where people get tripped up in Universalism.

John here says that, “God so loved the world.”  In the gospel of John, the apostle uses the word “world” in at least 10 different ways:

The word world (Greek: Kosmos) appears 185 times in the New Testament: 78 times in John, 8 in Matthew, 3 in Mark, and 3 also in Luke. The vast majority of its occurrences are therefore in John’s writings, as it is also found 24 times in John’s three epistles, and just three times in Peter.

John uses the word world in ten different ways in his Gospel.

1. The Entire Universe – John 1:10; 1:3; 17:5
2. The Physical Earth – John 13:1; 16:33; 21:25
3. The World System – John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11 (see also similar usage in Gal 1:4 Paul)
4. All humanity minus believers – John 7:7; 15:18
5. A Big Group but less than all people everywhere – John 12:19
6. The Elect Only – John 3:17
7. The Non-Elect Only – John 17:9
8. The Realm of Mankind – John 1:10; (this is very probably the best understanding of the word “world” in John 3:16 also)
9. Jews and Gentiles (not just Israel but many Gentiles too) – John 4:42
10. The General Public (as distinguished from a private group) not those in small private groups – John 7:4[iii]
 

It’s sometimes difficult to know what meaning of “world” the apostle is going for, but the context always provides the answer, and simple logical deduction helps us stay away from incorrectly applying the wrong meaning.

Our task isn’t made any easier when we realize that throughout the rest of his gospel John sets the “world” over against the things of the Spirit.  That is to say that we are “called out” of the world, we are to not to our minds on the things of the world, and even that the world will “hate us.”

Knowing all of that, I think that the best way to understand the word “World” here is that is refers to all mankind – Jews and Gentiles.  The apostle knows that the Jews are familiar with the love God had for them as His special people, and Jesus’ relating to them the story of Moses and the bronze serpent would have certainly reminded them of God’s loyal love for them (hesed), all of this is contrasted with John now saying that “God so loved the world” – this would have set alarm bells ringing for his audience.  And it should do the same for us.

What he is saying is that God’s plan of salvation is wider than simply the Jews. In fact that is what Jesus meant when He said He would “draw all men to Himself.”  The cross is for Jew and Gentile alike.

All nations will call Him blessed.  Indeed it is a sign of the inbreaking of the kingdom that God’s love is mentioned so broadly.[iv]

Sadly, there are many people who incorrectly associate Christ’s saving work with the entire world, as if all the world will be saved simply because this verse says that God loved the world.  This is a grievous error. I’ll say more about that in a moment…

3. Jesus is the Way

Thirdly this verse tells us that Jesus is the intended way of salvation for all those who believe upon His name.  John later would say this in his epistles:

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:9-10)

Believing on the name of Jesus is believing in what that name represents – salvation.  It is believing that Jesus is who He says He is, and has done what He says He has done.  It is treating His message with seriousness, and laying hold of His promise of eternal life by faith.

The verse says that we get eternal life by “believing”, not by doing, not by working.  Similarly, God doesn’t love the “world” because the world is inherently good.  Indeed we’re told the opposite.  God loves the world despite the fact that the world is evil.  Before you are saved you are not good at all – you are a child of the Devil (John 8) and you are an enemy of God (as Paul argues in Romans).

Therefore your are called to believe – and that faith, that belief, is the instrument by which you obtain your salvation.  Listen to what Jesus says later to the masses in John 6:

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

There is no “work” to be done – that’s already been done by Jesus.  You simply need to trust that it has, and repent of your sins.

What this Verse Does NOT Say

Because it is such a popular verse, people often use this verse as a proof text for universalism – this is probably mainly because A. Jesus doesn’t claim in this verse exclusivity and B. Because the “world” is mentioned earlier in the verse it must therefore mean that Jesus has in view that everyone in the world will be saved by His death. ,

Well first, although John isn’t saying in THIS verse explicitly that Jesus is the “only” way to salvation, I believe that it is implied simply by the context.  Furthermore, John and Jesus say time and time again that Jesus IS the only way to salvation. For example:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6, ESV)

He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” (John 8:23-24)

Secondly, if one examines the verse closely, it is plain that John isn’t saying that God loves the entire world unto salvation. Quite the opposite.  John clearly infers that Jesus came to save those people who would believe upon His name.  The implication is that some will not believe up on His name.

The verse simply says that God loves the world, and that Jesus came to die for those who would believe in Him.  It doesn’t say God sent Jesus to die for the entire world. It doesn’t say the entire world would be saved. It does not describe the intricacies of the new birth.

Conclusion

What Jon 3:16 does say is that God loved the world, He has extended His saving love to more than simply the Jews – to men from all tribes, tongues and nations.  And He has provided us a way of salvation – through His Son Jesus Christ.  For the world sits under the judgment of God for the wickedness and sin debt that we owe Him can never be paid back on our own.  Therefore, in His great love, He has sent a way of salvation –the only way of salvation, and that comes in the person and work of Jesus Christ and belief upon His name.

3:17-18 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. [18] Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

I think there are two tricky things here. First, the idea that the “world” will be saved through Him, despite the fact that we just heard John use the word “world” to refer to a wide group of people, all humanity in fact, we now hear him use the word “world” in a more selective way – those who will be saved.  So the word “world” is here used to refer to those achieving salvation – the elect.

The second tricky topic here is the idea of judgment and condemnation and how it seems that verses 17 and 18 might not square with each other.

As far as condemnation goes, John says that Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world – yet in verse 18 we read that those who don’t believe are condemned!  Is John contradicting himself?  May it never be! It’s more straightforward than we think.

John is simply saying that Jesus’ first advent was not the time of judgment, but rather of salvation – a time to usher in the kingdom of God.

Later, in John 5, Jesus says this:

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 5:22-24)

1 Peter 4:5 says, “but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.”  The “living” are those who have been born again to new life, and the “dead” are those who are spiritually dead.  Make no mistake, every man, whether spiritually alive or spiritually dead, will face the judgment of Christ when He comes back in glory.

So…what does it mean when John says they are “condemned already?”

It means that there are some who will never believe. Those who do not place their faith and trust in Jesus Christ are “condemned already.”  As John MacArthur notes, “while the final sentencing of those who reject Christ is still future, their judgment will merely consummate what has already begun.”

I will offer a paraphrase here based on what I understand John to be saying: “every human being is born already condemned by their own sinfulness and if you don’t believe in Jesus then you will remain condemned.”

Therefore, “Condemned already” is another way of saying, “the wrath of God abides on him.”

This takes discernment, but it will be illuminated (no pun intended) as we read verses 19-21 because while Jesus had not come to “judge” the world, the very effect of His coming exposed the darkness of this world – a world filled with people already under condemnation and headed for damnation. And those who do not believe in the name of the Son of God will not be saved from that condemnation.

3:19-21 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.”

Problem 1: We Love Our Sin

The question we raised a moment ago about “condemnation” is now answered by the apostle, and what he has to say is frightening to say the least.

Why do we sit under condemnation?  Because “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light.”

Judgment in this case is the obvious result of exposure.  It is not a courtroom, or a white throne in revelation; it is the exposure of Christ’s ministry of truth upon the wicked hearts of mankind.  That exposure testifies to one thing, according to John: man loves the darkness.  They love their own sin.[v]

Apart from Christ, before you are saved, you love sin – in fact you cannot NOT love your sin.

This isn’t the only place we read this in the Bible. Listen to what God says to Isaiah about the hearts of men:

These have chosen their own ways,
and their soul delights in their abominations;
I also will choose harsh treatment for them
and bring their fears upon them,
because when I called, no one answered,
when I spoke, they did not listen;
but they did what was evil in my eyes
and chose that in which I did not delight.” (Isaiah 66:3-4, ESV)
 

Our deeds are evil, and we love our sinful ways. Our natural tendency is not to love the light but to run from it, to hide from it and hate it.

Problem 2: Our Works Are Evil

Shocking claim number two comes in verse 20. The apostle says we don’t want to come into the light because we don’t want our deeds exposed.  When you pull back and remember that we’re talking about the light of the Gospel of Jesus here – remember John 3:16 anyone? – you add two and two together and see that we have a serious issue here.  Like cockroaches, we are described as running from the light, not running to the light!

Those who have not been born again by the Spirit of God run as fast as they can from the gospel.  They don’t want to hear that they are sinners and that their sin is wrong.  They don’t want to hear that their lives are headed for eternal hell.  They don’t want to follow Christ.  Not only that, but they don’t want to leave their old way of life!  They like their sin.  They like who they are (or so they say).

Most people we talk to on a day-to-day basis would probably tell us (if they are non-believers) that they are basically “good people.” I bet you hear that all the time, don’t you.  But Jesus doesn’t accept this, does He? What we read here is that we naturally RUN from the light.  He is saying that there are no “good people.” We have all gone astray (Is. 53:6), no one does anything that is truly “good” in the eyes of the Holy God we serve (Roman 3:12).

We read in Romans 3:11 that “…no one understands; no one seeks for God.” And in Ephesians 2:2 we read that as unbelievers we “…followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.”  In John 8:44a Jesus says of those who are unbelievers, “you are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.”

Theologian R.C. Sproul says, “Man’s natural tendency is to flee from the presence of God and to have no affection for the biblical Christ. Therefore, if you have in your heart today any affection for Christ at all, it is because God the Holy Spirit in His sweetness, in His power, in His mercy, and in His grace has been to the cemetery of your soul and has raised you from the dead. So you are now alive to the things of Christ and you rejoice in the kingdom into which He has brought you.”

Pastor Warren Wiersbe puts it this way, “It is not ‘intellectual problems’ that keep people from trusting Christ; it is the moral and spiritual blindness that keeps them loving the darkness and hating the light.”

C.H. Spurgeon adds, “there is no man so ignorant that he can claim a lack of intellect as an excuse for rejecting the gospel…it is not any lack or deficiency there (in the mind)…through the fall, and through our own sin, the nature of man has become so debased, and depraved, and corrupt, that it has become impossible for him to Christ without the assistance of God the Holy Sprit.”[vi]

The Dilemma

So we are faced with a dilemma, aren’t we…we read the glorious offer of salvation (“For God so love the world”), and all we need to do is believe in Him and we’ll be saved. Yet at the same time John describes our character as fallen, in love with the darkness, naturally enemies of God (Romans 5:10).

The issue here is that we see the offer of salvation, but in our natural state we don’t see it as glorious.  Plenty of people understand the ABC’s of what Jesus did.  Plenty of people have heard the gospel, but not everyone sees it as glorious.  And this is what Paul sums up in 2 Corinthians 4:4:

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. (2 Corinthians 4:4, ESV)

The Solution

What can be done?  How can anyone be saved?

The answer is that this: we need a supernatural change of heart. For no man will ever call upon the name of the Lord without the gracious help of God who opens our eyes and shows us the glory of the light of Jesus for what it truly is.[vii]

Later in 2 Corinthians 4, Paul describes it in this way:

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 4:6, ESV)

In order for anyone to believe upon Jesus, God must sovereignly intervene.  He initiates a love for us that softens our hearts, and draws us to Himself.

First, Jesus initiates a love for us – and then expects us to follow His example:

We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19, ESV)

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another. (John 15:16-17, ESV)

His love is poured out upon us through His Holy Spirit. He brings us out of darkness into His marvelous light by His sovereign initiating love.

In so doing, He softens our hearts with this love. Remember, He is the Lord of all the earth, He is God and He sees and controls the hearts of all men (Prov. 21:1, Ps. 33:13-15, Phil. 2:13).

Perhaps the most famous example of this is found in Exodus when God is said repeatedly to have “hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (Ex. 4:21, 7:3, 10:20, 27, 11:10 and so on).  Paul reminds us that:

For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. (Romans 9:17-18, ESV)

Note: When Scripture talks of God’s “hardening our hearts” it cannot mean God is creating evil that isn’t already there. In fact, if we think carefully about what John has been saying in verses 19-21 we will see that our natural disposition is to love the darkness. It is only by God’s grace that we aren’t completely turned over[viii] to these desires in the first place.[ix]

Nevertheless, the Bible makes clear that we are still held responsible for our actions and our choices. Just the fact that there is a hell and a heaven and a final judgment showcase this obvious truth. And while we may not fully understand why God chooses to work this way, I praise God that He is who He is, and that He has intervened in my life.  I praise God that though I am a sinner, Christ died for me.  Though I loved the darkness more than the light, He has turned my heart toward Him. He opened my eyes to see the gloriousness of the gospel.

Those Who Do What is Right

In the final verse we find that those who do “right” are okay coming into the light.  In fact, they love the light!  These are people whose lives have been changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.  These are people who used to hate the light, and run from it.

What is remarkable about these people is that they have been turned from sinners who love their sin, to those who love to give glory to God for anything good they do.  This is what is meant by, “so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

Christians who carry out the fruit of their salvation in love toward others give glory to God.  For they know in their hearts that any good they do is completely and totally owed to the sovereign work of God.

In Conclusion

What we learn from this passage of Scripture is that salvation is from first to last of God, by God, from God, for God – it is all of God.  He deserves all the credit.

I cannot get Paul’s words out of my mind, that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”…for me.  For you.  You were lost.  You were dead.  You were faithless, hopeless, and on a grim march toward eternal death when He snatched you off that path and plucked you like a “brand from the burning” (Zech. 3)!  Praise God for his love and grace and the gospel which reminds us everyday that He has saved us for Himself, by Himself, and from Himself.

How Do We Respond?

How do we respond to what John has written here?  I hope you respond by recognizing the depth of your depravity and your sin and that apart from Christ you were a wretch without merit enough to last one hour before the Holy One.  I hope you see the glorious grace of Jesus Christ and the magnificence of His offer to you this evening.

If you are a Christian and you have become puffed up in your walk. Then I plead with you – repent of that sin.  You have no merit on your own.  Furthermore, you weren’t the one who ordained salvation, and neither will you have to maintain it.  You have been swept up in unspeakable grace, a never-ending grace, a love so powerful that it will never let you go.

If you came here a skeptic and have felt your heart strangely warmed but our Lord’s offer of eternal life, then I encourage you now to repent of your sins.  Cast away your pride and your old life and trust in the salvation that comes from believing in the name of Jesus Christ.  He is faithful, He will lift you out of the mire you find yourself in and set your life upon solid footing for eternity.


[i] Old verse 16 notes that I didn’t get to include: What has become, however, a sad commentary in our current day is that many have distorted this verse and taken it out of context.  Jesus tells us explicitly that in order to be born again, one must be born of “Water and the Spirit” – not of any human work (“lest any man should boast”).   And yet here it seems as though Jesus is saying that He has died for the entire world, and that all we need to do is believe.  Some have taken this verse (incorrectly) to mean that on our own we can make a decision on whether or not we want to believe in Jesus.  Well, we certainly make that decision, but not until we are born again – otherwise we would never desire to choose to believe.  For it is God alone working in the hearts of men, who melts those hearts, who changes those spots, who does a supernatural, miraculous work in our lives in order for us to see the majesty and great value of Christ.

In his book ‘Chosen by God’ RC Sproul says this about John 3:16 and the distortions mentioned above, “What does this famous verse teach about fallen man’s ability to choose Christ? The answer, simply, is nothing. The argument used by non-Reformed people is that the text teaches that everybody in the world has it in their power to accept or reject Christ.  A careful look at the text reveals, however, that it teaches nothing of the kind.  What the text teaches is that everyone who believes in Christ will be saved.”

What this verse does teach us is that God has prepared a way of salvation (eternal salvation) for the whole world – people from every tribe and tongue and nation will have a way to be saved.  God doesn’t not discriminate based on sex, age, race, and ethnicity.  And that is the great love of our undiscriminating God.  God has showed both common grace to all of mankind in that He’s allowed a way of salvation at all, and a more specific and particular saving grace to those whom He chose to save before He made the world.

Lastly this verse teaches us how people are saved: by believing in the Son of God. A very straightforward proposition, however, just like not everyone would have been saved by the copper snake, not everyone is saved by Christ’s sacrifice.  The copper snake had the power (efficaciousness) to save all/anyone who looked at it, as does Christ.  But not everyone would look at the copper snake, and not everyone will look to Christ.  Christ has been lifted up for all the world to see, His salvation has been made manifest and millions upon millions of men have known of what He did, yet millions continue to scoff at the olive branch of reconciliation that God handed down from on high.

[ii] Article 4 of the First Head of Doctrine from the Synod of Dort says it best, “The wrath of God abideth upon those who believe not this gospel. But such as receive it, and embrace Jesus the Savior by a true and living faith, are by Him delivered from the wrath of God and from destruction, and have the gift of eternal life conferred upon them.”

[iii] This list was taken from reformationtheology.com.  The specific link can be found here: http://www.reformationtheology.com/2009/04/world_johns_ten_uses_of_the_wo.php

[iv] In fact, we as gentiles ought to praise the God for including us into his promises.  Listen to what Paul says in Romans 15:

For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles,
and sing to your name.”
 
10 And again it is said,
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.”
 
11 And again,
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples extol him.”
 
12 And again Isaiah says,
“The root of Jesse will come,
even he who arises to rule the Gentiles;
in him will the Gentiles hope.”

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:8-13, ESV)

[v] In ‘God’s Greater Glory’ Bruce Ware explains: “Both Jacob Arminius and John Wesley agreed with John Calvin, who in turn agreed with Augustine, on this point (although many in the Arminian tradition have departed from the view of the founders of Wesleyan Arminianism). These men all agreed that sin has resulted in human nature being unable, on its own, to do what pleases God or to obey (from the heart) the commands of God.”  Ware actually cites Paul in Romans 8:7-8 where the apostle says that the desires of the flesh are set against God, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

[vi] This is taken from a sermon called ‘Human Inability’ from three different paragraphs. The full text is found here: http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0182.htm

[vii] Bruce Ware talks about how people see Christ intellectually, but they don’t see him as glorious.  It’s a different way of saying what Spurgeon says about the corruption of the intellect. He calls this critical realism, and it’s a via media between rationalism and fideism.  The text that harmonizes this for him is 2 Corinthians 4:4 – a text I use above.

[viii] In fact, when God does “turn us over” to our own desires, they aren’t good, and the outcome is horrific!  Paul tells us as much in Romans chapter one:

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. (Romans 1:24-25, ESV)

Paul says God “gave them up” or “turned them over” to their own desire multiple times in this passage.  The truth that this conveys is that when human beings are allowed to have everything they naturally want, those natural desires are evil and rebellious – not loving and seeking after the will of God.

[ix] R.C. Sproul has a marvelous explanation of this, especially as it pertains to Pharoah in his book ‘Chosen by God’.  Also, in his book ‘God’s Greater Glory’ Bruce Ware tackles this same text in Exodus with great wisdom and care.

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 11-4-12

John 8:21-30


8:21 So he said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.”

In the 7th chapter John records that Jesus said something very similar:

Jesus then said, “I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to him who sent me. You will seek me and you will not find me. Where I am you cannot come.” (John 7:33-34)

There are similar elements, but in 8:21 Jesus is more explicit by what he means by “where I am you cannot come” (7:34), because in 8:21 he says this but it’s preceded by the words “you will seek me, and you will die in your sin.”

Can there be any more stinging indictment from the lips of Christ?  In fact, its less of an indictment than a grizzly prophecy. These are the kinds of words that ought to give us chills and fill us full of urgency. The lives of those who are so full of themselves, so sure that they are going to go to heaven, and yet they are not saved…those lives are in peril.  Unless one has humbled himself to repentance and place their faith upon the Lord Jesus Christ they risk their souls – what Jesus says plainly enough here is that these Pharisees were going to die without coming to peace with God.

When the Son of God makes a remark like this, its wise for us to take note, and fearfully realize the stark realities of Hell.  These are the kinds of comments that ought to be burning every man’s conscience who has read this gospel but not yet yielded to the Lordship of Christ. If that is where you stand today, then surely the Lord Jesus’ words have just a full a consequence for you as they did for his hearers then.

Furthermore, it is not as though He is telling them that they will seek him correctly.  For we know that all who seek Christ in faith are given the opportunity to become sons of God. But such is not the case here, as Calvin remarks:

Christ does not mean, therefore, that they sought him by the right way of faith, but that they sought him, as men, overwhelmed by the extremity of anguish, look for deliverance on every hand. For unbelievers would desire to have God reconciled to them, but yet they do not cease to fly from him. God calls them; the approach consists in faith and repentance; but they oppose God by hardness of heart, and, overwhelmed with despair, they exclaim against him.

8:22 So the Jews said, “Will he kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?”

Ferguson talks about how ironic it is that these Pharisees think He’s going to kill himself, when they are the ones who will kill Him.  He will indeed offer up His life, but it will be voluntarily for the sins of man.

Calvin remarks, “Shocking stupidity! But thus does Satan infatuate the reprobate, that, intoxicated with more than brutal indifference, they may throw themselves into the midst of the flame of the wrath of God.”

8:23 He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. [24] I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”

Here Christ delivers the gospel message plainly.  Under a potential “double meaning” of the Greek words for “I AM”  (ego eimi), there is also the instruction of what is needed for eternal life: believe in who He is.  They must have faith in Jesus Christ.

Here is what the ESV notes say:

At one level may simply mean “I am the Messiah” or the one “sent” by the Father (or, in view of v. 12, “I am the light of the world”). The Greek phrase egō eimi simply means “I am” and is used in an ordinary sense in 9:9 by a man Jesus healed. However, John is fond of using words with a double meaning (see notes on 3:144:1011:50–51;19:19cf. also 3:7–8) and this verse is one of several that hint at a connection with God’s statement to Moses in Ex. 3:14, “I am [Gk. Septuagint: Egō eimi] who I am.” See notes on John 6:208:58.

It is not clear, however, that Jesus is making a veiled statement about His deity here.  There is some disagreement about this. Calvin disagrees with it being a direct statement of deity, but rather says that it makes more sense that He is pointing to His office of Messiah for mankind, and that all men ought to look to Him for salvation.  I think this is splitting hairs a bit myself, being as it is that all men look to the Messiah who, as it turns out, is from heaven.  I think though that Calvin means to say that the Jews didn’t expect the Messiah to be the Son of God, and so that when Jesus refers to “I am” in this context and in the previous verses just prior, He is saying specifically that He has come to fulfill the office of the Messiah, the role expected to be fulfilled by a man sent from God – though no one knew that the man sent from God would actually be God Himself incarnate!

But let me move to the heart of the verse at hand…the thing we need to note here is how Christ says that He is from above and they are from below. And so the Pharisaical concept of the Messiah was about to be reinterpreted (correctly) in Christ. Calvin’s commentary on the matter is simply full of wisdom that it is worth quoting in length here:

Under the words, world and beneath, he includes all that men naturally possess, and thus points out the disagreement which exists between his Gospel and the ingenuity and sagacity of the human mind; for the Gospel is heavenly wisdom, but our mind grovels on the earth. No man, therefore, will ever be qualified to become a disciple of Christ, till Christ has formed him by his Spirit. And hence it arises that faith is so seldom found in the world, because all mankind are naturally opposed and averse to Christ, except those whom he elevates by the special grace of his Holy Spirit.

Thus the natural man is opposed to the things of God (1 Cor. 2:14) – we are naturally at enmity with God and will not submit to Him (Romans 8:7).

I can think of no more plane indication of deity than for Him to indicate that He came down from heaven and was not of this earth. “You are of this world; I am not of this world” – this statement was so bold, so direct, and so amazing that it could lead to nothing more than the bewildering question they asked of Him next…

8:25-26 So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. [26] I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.”

Now we come to it.  These religious leaders are starting to get the idea that He is either crazy, or who He said He is…but since the latter never entered their minds, the former is creeping up on them as a possibility.

Their question reveals all: “Who are you?” – in direct reaction to Him saying “I am not of this world.”

The next thing Jesus says is that He has a lot of say and judge about these people, “but”, He isn’t doing that right now, it’s not His primary mission.  His primary mission is to “Declare to the world what I have heard from him.”

So once again Jesus enumerates His mission – right now He is not come to judge the world but to save the world.

The “him” in this case is the Father – which we’ll see in the next verse…

8:27 They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father.

Why wouldn’t they be able to understand what it is that Jesus was talking about?  Well we’ve talked about this in the past.  Their minds were darkened, and they were “blind guides” and therefore they couldn’t see what it was that He was speaking of here.

It’s so vital to understand this truth: before the magnificent and gracious work of the Holy Spirit we are all dead in our sins.  That means that we cannot perceive divine truth.  We can’t understand it – just as these men here couldn’t understand what Jesus was saying.

John repeats this over and over and over again – obviously it’s an important principle!

8:28-29 So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. [29] And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.”

There’s just so much to unpack here…

First Jesus eludes to being “lifted up”, and in this case it’s a similar reference as He made in 3:14: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” This is a reference to Him being lifted up on the cross.

Jesus had to die – that was the only way for men to be reconciled to God. That was the only way for the gracious plan of God, that He had foreordained to occur, to be fulfilled.  James Boice says that not only was it necessary for Him to die because of God’s plan and because His was the only life that would be able to really atone for sin, but that His was the only death that would truly draw men to God:

Moreover, it was necessary for Christ to die also because nothing but a crucified Christ will draw men to God. Nothing but this will eve draw men to hear preaching. Liberalism does not draw men. The cults do not draw men in great quantities. Men and women will not long attend a man-centered religion. But preach Christ crucified – preach him in the power of the Holy Spirit – ad men and women will begin to come to him. They begin to leave their comfortable homes in the suburbs and come to city churches, where they would have come for no other reason. They begin to take weeks of their vacation time to attend seminars or attend Bible conferences. At time they will even mass in the millions as they did in Korea for the Billy Graham crusades in that country.

Preach any Christ but a crucified Christ, and you will not draw men for long. But preach the gospel of a Savior who atones for the sins of men and women by dying for them, and you will have hearers. Moreover, as Christ is lifted up, many of those who hear will believe.

The second thing is that He said to them that only then will they know that “I am he” – and this reference to being “he” Jesus uses in other areas to denote false Messianic claims (Mark 13:6l Luke 21:8), and here is using to indicate His own proper and correct fulfillment as the Messiah.

The third thing is that Jesus reiterates to them that He doesn’t speak of His own authority, but rather His authority has been given Him (all of His message have been given to Him) by God the Father. Thus, His words are truthful and full of authority and must therefore be listened to.

The fourth thing is that Jesus says something so magnificent and so significant that it would be wise to spend time looking closely at it.  He says, “he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone.” What an amazing thing.  I think it is easy to slip into a misunderstanding of the nature of Christ.  Sometimes we forget His deity, and His humanity and they work together and yet are not mixed together. He is fully God and fully man. And as God, He shares communion with the Father – they are One. Just because He was walking the earth as a man doesn’t mean that He somehow broke communion with the Holy Father.  And that is what we see here.  Furthermore, these words echo a promise that Christ left for us, namely that wherever we go, He will be with us. We often take solace in this fact – and rightfully so.  For if Jesus Christ treasured this reality, so much more ought we to do so.

Fifthly, and lastly, we see Christ’s perfect obedience to the Father described here.  He says of His own righteousness, “I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” Surely Christ is the perfect man, the righteous fulfillment of the law, and what Paul called the “second Adam.”

What an amazing unfolding of truth! Let’s look at this closer in summary as it relates to how the early church – particularly Peter – understood His words.  First, He starts by foretelling their sin and what they would do to Him, and in so doing He point forward in time to the crucifixion.  In Acts 2 in his speech at Pentecost, Peter looks back and recounts what the people did to Jesus by murdering the “Lord of Glory”, and then goes on to share the resurrection, and then the gospel which is that if we believe in this Jesus and trust him for life then he will indeed give us that life!  In this instance, we see that Jesus preaches a gospel going forward instead of backward as Peter did.

Jesus says in affect that “you will crucify me, then and only then will you realize what you have done.” How will they realize? Because Peter and his other apostles will tell them.  How?  By the power of the Holy Spirit. How can they do that?  Because God is with them just as Jesus promised at the conclusion of Matthew’s 28th chapter. Not coincidently, we read here that the Father also never left Jesus (cf. vs. 29), and so it is that Christ Jesus will never leave us!  Furthermore all things that he is speaking here are from the Father – just as all things that Peter and the apostles spoke were given them from Jesus through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus spoke on authority from God the Father, so the apostles spoke not of their own authority but with authority of Christ by the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Lastly, just as Christ’s mission was to reveal the plan of the Father, so our mission is to reveal (by preaching) the plan of the Son in the Gospel. The two are One, and their plans are one in the same. We are instruments of righteousness to share this plan to all ends of the earth (Romans 6, Acts 1).

8:30 As he was saying these things, many believed in him.

The result of this powerful testimony is that “many” believe in Christ.  Not surprising whatsoever given the powerful nature of these words. For the word of the Lord will not return void – Isaiah said this hundred of years before Christ walked the earth.  Here is exactly what he said:

“…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” (Is. 55:11).”

This is a great promise. The promise is this: God will accomplish exactly what He planned on accomplishing. There is nothing that can thwart His great purposes. What a comfort to us when we preach Christ crucified and many do not believe. Many will believe, but unless they understand what only the Holy Spirit can show them, they’ll never follow Christ.  Just as these men would later seek after Christ and not find Him.  They’d be seeking for the wrong reason. In their judgment they will reach out like the rich man did in Luke 16, but they will not be saved.

But for those who trust in Christ, for those who put their faith in Him and the glorious gospel of grace, they will indeed be saved for all eternity.

Study Notes 3-25-12

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

  • We can’t control the Spirit just as we can’t control the wind.  Jesus once again illustrates God’s sovereign work in salvation – this time in a very tangible way.
  • It’s amazing to think that Jesus, who tells us here that no one knows where the wind comes from or where it goes, was the One who calmed the wind on the Sea of Galilee.  And, of course, the Spirit is not going to do anything that isn’t in perfect harmony with Christ’s mind and the Father’s plan from all eternity.

3:9-10 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” [10] Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?

  • The Lord is telling him that these truths are things that he should have known from close study of the Old Testament.  But Nicodemus was not a believer, nor did it seem he was much of a scholar (though that commentary might have been made about many of the ruling class of the Jews during Jesus’ day).
  • We ought to take this rebuke and apply it to our lives as Christians.  In Hebrews 5:11-6:1 Paul echoes a similar sentiment – to be mature as Christians.  We aren’t to be naïve.  And though you may not be a teacher of large groups of people, or part of the “ruling class”, we are all teachers of our children.  We are all rulers of our homes.  We are responsible to learn and to press forward toward maturity.

3:11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony.

  • There’s a contrast being made here between the “we” that Jesus is saying and the “we” that Nicodemus used in verse 2.  Nicodemus was referring to some of his pals on the Sanhedrin Council, but Jesus is likely referring to Himself and His disciples – this probably included John the Baptist (MacArthur).

3:12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?

  • This is part two of His rebuke.  First Jesus rebuked Him by inferring in verse 10 that he didn’t have an adequate understanding of the Old Testament prophets, and here he seems to be rebuking him for not being able to understand what He was showing him now.
  • This verse reminded me somewhat of what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4, “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.”
  • It is evident that unless the Holy Spirit does a supernatural work in our lives, we’ll never be able to understand heavenly things.  RC Sproul explains and summarizes this section of scripture, “A Person must be changed by God; the disposition of his heart, which by nature does not want to do God’s bidding, must be altered by God the Holy Spirit.”

3:13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.

  • This is Jesus simply reaffirming His deity.  He is the only one who has descended from heaven and the only one who has ascended into heaven.  It is an interesting statement.  It seems to me that He is first asserting that He has some amazing (heavenly) things to impart to the people of this world, and that here He is saying that He’s the only one qualified to impart those things.  It’s almost as if He’s saying, “there’s never been anyone like me who can tell you these things, and there never will be another like me.  I’m the only one who has ever come with this kind of authority straight from heaven.”

3:14-15 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.

  • Here another shadow in the Old Testament is made clear to us.  In this case, Jesus is appealing to a story Nicodemus certainly would have known.  The story can be found in Number 21:5-9.
  • In this account, the people of Israel had just been delivered from the land of Egypt and because of their unbelief, we find them here in the midst of their 40-year wandering in the wilderness.  God sent poisonous snakes to plague them because of their grumbling, and Moses intercedes for them.
  • Interestingly enough, the snake eventually became the source of idol worship!  The ESV Study Bible notes say this, “The redness of copper suggested atonement (see 19:1–10), so symbolically it was well chosen for this occasion. Jesus compares his own death on the cross to the uplifted serpent (John 3:14–15). By the time of King Hezekiah of Judah (c. 715 B.C.), this copper serpent had become an object of worship among the Israelites and had to be destroyed (2 Kings 18:4).”
  • So, by the grace of God, they are given a way out of their troubles.  They have only to look upon the fiery serpent in faith and trust that by looking upon this poll they will be healed by God.
  • We also must look to the Lord upon the cross and come to Him with faith that He will heal the sickness of our sin and misery.  He alone grants us the opportunity to be healed of this sickness, and He alone is gracious and powerful enough to ensure that we are saved.
  • The result of the healing in this Numbers passage was a saved life, the result of the healing that Christ brings is Spiritual, and because it is spiritual it is eternal.  This is the first instance where John has mentioned eternal life.   It’s significant that Christ uses an Old Testament passage here to illustrate His point – in my opinion it further shames Nicodemus because it would have been a passage he would have been (hopefully) familiar with.

In summary, how do we teach this to our children? 

Today we learned that the Holy Spirit cannot be seen, and He operates in ways that we as humans cannot understand.  The same thing is true about being born-again – its God’s work in us and we can’t really fully understand it, but we trust the God has done it and we notice the change in our hearts.  We also talked about how we (as parents) are responsible for teaching our children the truths God has taught US in the Bible.  Lastly, we learned that humans have always been grumblers – just like the Israelites in grumbled and complained to Moses and God about their food, we also do the same thing don’t we?! On our own strength we will never be able to overcome this sinful nature, but must look to Jesus for redemption and salvation.  Once we have been born again/saved, God sends us the Holy Spirit to help us obey and please God even through trials.