John 16:16-24 Study Notes

Here are my notes for John 16:16-24.  This is a neat little passage and I hope it is encouraging to you!

PJW

16:16-18 “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” 17 So some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” 18 So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.”

Has it all been for nothing?

Jesus is winding down His farewell and so He says quite plainly that very soon they won’t see Him.  But, as with everything else He has said, there is a silver lining!  They will see Him soon after He goes away.

There is some dispute about whether Jesus is referring to the time between His ascension and His second coming (so Ryle), or whether He is referring to the short time between His death and resurrection (so Morris and Carson).  I have a tendency to think it is the latter because of the context of the entire passage seems to demand it, and because it is the easier reading – not that there can’t be some future allusions here, but I think Carson is right that this is the most natural understanding of the text. This should become more plain soon.

One of the things that marks this passage is the sense that once again the disciples are confused about something Jesus is telling them.  Many are the sayings of Jesus, and their depth is sometimes difficult to plum (Rom. 11:33-36).  Therefore, it makes a great deal of sense that given all that we read thus far about the disciples that they would react this way. We have taken months and months to dive into each section, each verse, and sometimes each word of what Jesus has been saying in this farewell discourse.  The disciples, however, did not have that much time to contemplate these things. Their minds were being tormented emotionally as well.

And receiving one truth statement after another all in such a short period of time must have been really difficult – in fact it seems that its all they can do to slow Jesus down with these questions and try to figure out what in the world is going on here.  I think their reactions are based in fear, and unbelief at what they’re hearing.  They simply can’t process this information at the pace Jesus is giving it to them – combine that with the fact that they don’t really want to process and accept what He’s telling them and you have a recipe for anxiety.

Put yourself in their shoes and remember that these disciples have lost everything – they have left everything as well (Matt. 19:27-30).  They thought that they were doing this for a reason, but now in their fear they begin to wonder if the last three years was completely wasted. Have they forsaken all for naught?

So in a heightened state of nerves and fear the disciples now say question “what in the world is He saying?”  It looks like they are saying this amongst themselves because John tells us in verse 19 that “Jesus knew” which seems to indicate that He knew either by supernatural means (Morris disagrees) or by simply knowing His disciples well enough to have understood/put together what they were saying from what He heard (for He was an excellent judge of character!).

Lastly, we ought to note that their inability to understand the sayings of Jesus has a great deal to do with which side of the cross they are on.  That is to say that everything we understand now, they did not see very easily.

We recognize now with the eyes of the Spirit what was so opaque to the disciples. This is what was predicted in Jeremiah 31:34:

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 31:34)

It is the Spirit who now teaches us the depths of God’s truth. As Calvin comments, “The prophet (Jeremiah) assuredly does not take away or set aside instruction, which must be in its most vigorous state in the kingdom of Christ; but he affirms that, when all shall be taught by God, no room will be any longer left for this gross ignorance, which holds the minds of men, till Christ, the Sun of Righteousness (Mal. 4:2), shall enlighten them by the rays of His Spirit.”

After Pentecost everything changed, however, and the apostles were great explainers of the mysteries of God.  Calvin continues, “Besides, though the apostles were exceedingly like children, or rather, were more like stocks of wood than men, we know well what they suddenly became, after having enjoyed the teaching of the Holy Spirit.”

16:19-21 Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. 21 When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.

The Gracious Privilege of Knowing the Lord

The first thing that strikes me about this passage and the whole of these discourses when taken together, is that graciousness of the Lord to give us knowledge of any part of His plan.  We talked a little about this when we studied chapter 15, which says:

No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15)

It is a very special thing to be called a “friend” of the Lord.  And one of the things that indicates we are friends is His graciously letting us in on the general scope and many details of His plan for salvation and mankind.

Abraham and Moses all experienced this privilege to some degree (Gen. 15:15; Ex. 33:11), but partakers in the New Covenant have an even greater revelation, thus our privileges have been enriched. To that end, we just looked at Jeremiah’s prophecy that says pretty much the same thing in a different way – “they will all be taught of the Lord.”  The gift of the Holy Spirit is not only the mark of Adoption it is the mark of friendship.  The Spirit conveys to us the wisdom of the Lord as revealed in His Word. This is a very very special privilege, which Paul understood when he stated:

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:8)

The Analogy of Childbirth

Any father or mother knows the anxiety and stress and pain that precede the birth of a child. The fears, the nerves, and the unknown are constantly pressing upon you.  But you also know that in that moment, when the baby comes into the world, everything else fades and the joy that fills your heart is so powerful, so overwhelming, that nothing can overcome it.

How beautiful this is analogy is to us, and its beauty is not simply found on the surface, one has to realize that for Jesus to make this analogy He has to know a great deal about the nature of humanity – that same nature is an imprint of the original nature…His nature!

What this means is that Jesus knows what it is like to experience the birth of a new child – because as Creator He experiences this over and over and over again!  Jesus loves His creation.

Now, I think that Jesus’ immediate meaning here is that the disciples will experience great joy upon His triumph over the grave – in this way He is telling them something that will immediately come to pass so that, as with other verses in His farewell discourse, they will believe and have their faith boosted when those things come to pass (think John 20:20 for instance).

I don’t think its wrong to also to see a secondary truth here in that, as Paul says, the whole world is in travail (see Romans 8) until He returns, and our longing and our pain will all subside and be replaced by an inexpressible joy upon His return! (Perhaps Is. 13:6-13 esp. vs. 8 is a good reference here…)  But the primary reference must be in the immediate joy the disciples felt upon the resurrection of the Lord.  Carson explains:

Arguments to the effect that this joy refers to the ecstasy Christians will experience at the parousia necessarily presuppose that grief characterizes them throughout this age until Jesus returns. That will not square with Jesus’ promise of joy to his disciples throughout the Christian era (15:11), still less with John’s report of the disciples’ reactions when they saw the resurrected Christ: ‘The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord’ (20:20).

During this age Jesus is giving new life – through the new birth (John 3) to millions upon millions of souls. And the joy expressed (Luke 15:7) over the re-birth of each soul reverberates through the heavenly kingdom as the joy of a child’s birth echoes in the hearts of new parents.

There is a joy to be found here on earth – in the salvation of souls, the birthing of spiritual babes who have had their eyes opened and will one day be received into the Father’s arms. But even more so is the joy we will have on that day when our images are restored, when the consequences of our union with Christ are borne out in view of all, and we enter into eternal peace with our eternal Father.

Excusus: One of the things I would note here is that the Greek word “world” above is once again Kosmos, and once again it takes on another type of meaning.  In this instance the author doesn’t have the entire universe in mind, nor the entire population of the world, but rather that group of people who rejoiced at the demise of Christ – those who shouted “crucify! Crucify!” might be in mind…So when people jump to the conclusion that Jesus died for the entire world, I would once again point to verses like this and remind them that proper interpretation methods demand us to closely examine the context of the word in order to determine its meaning.

16:22-24 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. 23 In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

A few things to note here – first, Jesus plainly predicts that there will certainly be sorrow upon His departure.  And this is rightly so.  Who would not be sorrowful upon the loss of their Lord? Even though the disciples should be rejoicing, their perspectives are dimmed by their fallen nature and the words of Jesus are not penetrating or taking hold yet.  Only when the Spirit comes will those words transform them into a people who will gladly meet every sorrow for the joy that is set before them.  We have spent some time speaking to this already.

You Won’t Need to Ask…But Ask! 

It seems on the surface that Jesus is contradicting Himself in the same paragraph!  He says that the disciples won’t need to ask anything of Him, but then He goes on to urge them to ask for things in His name.  So what is the deal here?

First, the reason that “in that day” they will not ask anything of Jesus is not because they will have no questions, but rather because what He is saying to them concerning His death, burial and resurrection will be made clear to them. He is contextually addressing the current work He is about to take upon Himself, not saying that they will never have questions ever again – one has to assume that during His 40 days here on earth the disciples asked many questions. For He stayed with them and taught them as we read in Acts:

He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3)

Second, He goes on to urge them to “ask” the Father for things in His name.  So we can rule out that they won’t have needs or questions in yet another way.  Though this second saying is more oriented toward our petition to the Father for all the needs of this life post-Christ’s ascension and less about the specific questions the disciples may have for Him concerning the sayings in this discourse.

The stress on this exhortation is on His mediatorial role. He is saying one the one hand that what He is about to accomplish will be made understandable to them soon, and when they see Him again they will “get it” (Luke 24:8 for one, but much more so post-Pentecost). On the other, He is has stated that there will be troubles and He won’t be with them physically to bar the door, rather He will be interceding in Heaven on their behalf. So it is right that He would urge them to “Ask” for what they will need from the Father.

Excursus: Let me also just mention that Jesus is not saying, “you need to end every prayer ‘In Jesus name, Amen’, (see Grudem’s Systematic Theology chapter on Prayer) rather He is addressing the hearts and intentions of His disciples.  They (and we) need to understand that when we address the Father in prayer, we do so because we have the right to do so, and that right has been won for us by our great Mediator, Jesus Christ.

As Calvin comments, “We are said to pray in the name of Christ when we take him as our Advocate, to reconcile us, and make us find favor with His Father, though we do not expressly mention his name with our lips.”

Lastly, Jesus urges them to “ask” that their “joy” may be made full. This ties it in together. There will be trials, there will be difficulties, He will not physically be with them. BUT, He will be mediating for them, He will be available to them, and the Spirit will teach them all things so that they will understand better the “why.”

This shouts of the heart Christ has for His children.  He desires for His own to have joy.  He does all these things for our benefit.  The trials, the struggles they are for our joy. But so is the availability and mediation of the Son.  Without the latter the former would be joyless.  But because of the promise of eternal life, which the Spirit bears witness to, we can “face tomorrow” as the old hymn goes.

Union with Christ means joy despite tribulation here on earth, with the promise of eternal joy when we are united with Him for eternity.

A New Era

One final thing to note here is that in saying that “until now” you have not asked anything in my name Jesus is saying that a new dispensation, a new kingdom, a new time is upon them.  Something different is about to be ushered in – an entirely new era. As Ridderbos says, the saying “thus marks the change of dispensations: though Jesus has from the beginning pointed out to them the way to the Father and has himself been that way, up until now he has been with them on earth, the place from which their prayers have gone up. HE has not yet been in heaven, the place from which the prayer are answered.”

The entire metaphor of childbirth (a popular metaphor at that time) harkens us back to Isaiah and especially chapter 26 where we read the following:

O Lord, in distress they sought you;
they poured out a whispered prayer
when your discipline was upon them.
17 Like a pregnant woman
who writhes and cries out in her pangs
when she is near to giving birth,
so were we because of you, O Lord;
18 we were pregnant, we writhed,
but we have given birth to wind.
We have accomplished no deliverance in the earth,
and the inhabitants of the world have not fallen.
19 Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise.
You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!
For your dew is a dew of light,
and the earth will give birth to the dead.
20 Come, my people, enter your chambers,
and shut your doors behind you;
hide yourselves for a little while
until the fury has passed by.
21 For behold, the Lord is coming out from his place
to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity,
and the earth will disclose the blood shed on it,
and will no more cover its slain. (Isaiah 26:16-21)

 

Carson remarks on the passage with brilliant insight:

…‘The birth pains of the Messiah’ refers to a period of terrible trouble that must precede the consummation. It is not unlikely that this verse alludes to this eschatological theme,  only here the intense suffering is borne by the Messiah himself. This interpretation is strengthened by the use of hora (properly ‘hour’ or ‘time’): the word is pregnant with meaning in the Fourth Gospel, and is regularly related to Jesus’ death and the dawning of a new age. This means Jesus’ death and resurrection are properly eschatological events.

Furthermore, the role of Christ as mediator of our personal appeals through Him as our Savior whose blood has provided a way into the holy of holies indicates a time when the temple of the Lord is no longer in Jerusalem but inside His children. This coming directly to the Father through the righteous blood of Christ is a distinction of the church age.

Practically speaking this means we ought to count it precious that we have the privilege of prayer in this way. It is an awesome gift, and a tool that we ought not to neglect or take lightly.  As J.C. Ryle says, “Let the lesson sink down deeply into our hearts. Of all the list of Christian duties there is none to which there is such abounding encouragement as prayer. It is a duty which concerns all.”

Acts Study Notes 11-1-12

PJ’s Notes on Acts

Acts 1:12-2:13

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

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

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

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

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

God Foreordained it to Take Place

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

Different Accounts?

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

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

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

The Apostles’ Understanding of Old Testament Scripture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Method of Choosing

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

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

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

A Note About the Casting of Lots

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

You Know the Hearts of All

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

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

Conclusion of Chapter 1

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

Chapter 2

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

The Day of Pentecost

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

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

“Suddenly”

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

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

The Fire and Wind

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

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

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

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

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

People from All Over the World

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

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

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

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

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

In Their Own Languages

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

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

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

Modern Day Tongues?

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

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

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

“New Wine”…the Reaction

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

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

Anticipation

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While most things in life for us Americans are essentially able to be achieved by our “instant gratification”, waiting for heaven and the coming of our Lord is not one of those things. The thought occurred to me that it must be more difficult for American Christians to understand and embrace the healthy tension between contentment and the sense of anticipation for the Lord’s 2nd advent than any other group of Christians on earth.

I began thinking of how excited I am for the upcoming men’s campout on June 22-23 (shameless plug), and realized that my heart needs to be just as anxiously longing for the coming of the Lord.

As popularized by the chorus ‘Glorious Day’, one day we will see Him, “One day He’s coming, oh glorious day!”

Hebrews 12:2 says, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”  This means that Christ set His mind on the joy that He knew awaited Him in heaven.  He endured all the evil because He was looking forward to a future that was going to be so full of happiness that the trial was worth the fight.

Can you honestly say that your heart longs for the second coming of the Lord? That day will be so full of joy that the hours, days, and years of suffering and turmoil in our lives on earth will be a small price to pay for the worth and excitement ushered in on that day.  I hope you will join me this week in anticipation of that glorious day by setting our minds on things above.

Blessings,

PJ Wenzel

Study Notes 4-1-12

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.

  • Immediately following the Old Testament account of salvation, Jesus turns the timetables forward and declares that God’s love for His people hasn’t changed since the days of Moses.  He has prepared a way of salvation, for He is a loving and patient God and not willing that any man should perish.
  • 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.

3:17 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.

  • In other words, this is not the time of judgment.  That time is coming when Christ comes back, but Jesus didn’t come down to judge the world at this time, but rather to bring salvation and usher in a new covenant with His people.
  • We are so used to thinking of Jesus as a savior, that sometimes we forget that ultimately He will be our judge, and in fact will judge all creation.  We can lose site of the holiness of His character and the reaction that garnered in those who were near Him.  His holy character brought out a sense of reverence and fear in the disciples (Mark 4:41; Luke 5:8), and so it is natural that we hear Him saying here that He didn’t come to judge the world at this time.
  • Note especially 1 Peter 4:5 which 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.

3:18 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.

  • We know from our own experiences that there are some who will never believe.  And those who do not place their faith and trust in Jesus Christ are “condemned already.”  As 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 Him to be saying: “every human being is born already condemned and if you don’t believe in Me then you will remain condemned.”

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.”

  • Jesus pulls no punches here and explains why it is that they will be judged, because “their works were evil.”  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.”  Jesus blows this notion up.  There are no “good people.” We have all gone astray (Is. 53:6) and no one does anything that is truly “good” in the eyes of the Holy God we serve (Roman 3:12).
  • But Jesus takes it a step further, He says that not only have men done evil, He says that men “loved the darkness” – we actually love our sin more than we love God.  And this is why we need a supernatural change of heart, and why no man can simply believe upon Jesus without the help of God to open our eyes and get us to believe in the first place.  Paul concurs with Christ in Romans 3:11 when he says, “…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.”
  • 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.”
  • 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 put it this way, “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).  The nature of man has become so debased and depraved that it has become impossible for him to Christ without the power of God the Holy Sprit.”
  • It is evident by this passage that if it were not for a supernatural work of God in our hearts, we would never choose God.  That God the Holy Spirit must act in regeneration and then give us the gift of faith before we would ever choose Christ.  This is because we always choose our strongest inclination at the time (this is the “will”, it is the “mind choosing” as Jonathan Edwards would say), and our strongest inclination is always the darkness/sin until the Holy Spirit brings us to the light.
  • These good works that we carry out are said to be “in God” in verse 21 and this reminds us of what Paul says in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  We know that our own good works are filthy rags before God (Is. 64:6), but that Christ works in us to perform good works for His glory.
  • The most important thing that I see laid out here by Christ is the nature of eternity and the coming judgment.  He begins the chapter by explaining how one might be born again – by supernatural operation of the Spirit.  Then He explains that He has authority from heaven to give this gift.  Furthermore, He says that there is no other way to see/enter the kingdom of heaven but by this supernatural work of the Spirit. Then He enumerates the second step of the salvation process (faith), as well as the role of the Son in the redemption of human souls.  So He explains then what humanity must do in order to partake in this salvation (trusting upon Him by faith), and reminds them in no uncertain terms that the wrath of God/His judgment lies on whomever does not trust in the Son for salvation (cf. 3:37).  Finally, He reminds us of our own inability to inherit the kingdom due to our wickedness and love of sin, and that this only occurs within the sovereign and providential framework of God’s work.
  • How do we respond to what Jesus is saying here?  We respond by recognizing the depth of our depravity and our sin, and the magnificence of the grace and glory of God.  Tomorrow when you have a moment, stop and realize how base and repugnant your thoughts and words are, how sinful your mouth has been, how worldly your passions have been and remind yourself of the extent to which Jesus has gone to redeem your soul.  What an amazing Father we have; so gracious, so patient and long-suffering.  We respond to this truth by throwing ourselves upon the mercy of Christ and running to the cross.  You may be a Christian who is haunted by sin, by things you simply cannot conquer, and the Devil wants to remind you of the depth of your sin.  Well simply agree with him, and say, “what of it?!  I have been forgiven.  My standing with God does not depend upon what I do or don’t do but upon the grace of almighty God who has saved me from this state of slavery.”  Indeed.  Praise God for His salvation.

 

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

Today we learned that Jesus came to the world to die for our sins.  We learned that on our own we would never desire to love Jesus, but instead we would keep sinning because we naturally love to sin more than we love Jesus.  But the Holy Spirit works in our hearts to soften our hearts and help us love Him.  Only with the help of the Holy Spirit are we able to love Jesus and accept His free gift of salvation.  We also learned that when Jesus came to earth 2000 years ago He didn’t come to judge people but to save them, however, when He comes back He will be ready to judge everyone – both those who believe in Him and those who do not believe in Him.