You Follow Me – The Conclusion of John’s Gospel

Tomorrow morning it is my aim to conclude a three year long study of the book of John. I leave the study with over 500 pages of notes, a few piles of books and commentaries on the gospel of John, and a mind and heart that have been changed for the better by studying these passages.

It is a very humbling thing to get to the end of such a large book and feel you’ve still got a lot to learn. The depth of John’s gospel is just astounding – it is made all the more astounding when you read how he ends it!

I hope you enjoy these final notes on the 4th Gospel.

PJW

You Follow Me

 Introduction to the End of John’s Gospel

In the final scenes of John’s gospel we find that the author does not follow a strict chronological timeline. John isn’t concerned to give an exact timeline of events in proper sequence, but to give a theological and spiritual conclusion to his book.

This makes sense when we remember that his aim was spelled out like this:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; [31] but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)

The pleasure of reading this gospel has been that Jesus is front in center in John’s writing. John displays Jesus in such a way that His teachings speak for themselves. Yet John also adds editorial comments in here and there, guiding the reader toward a fuller understanding of both the circumstances and Jesus’ teaching.

This same modus operandi holds true for the final few verses of John’s gospel.

21:18-19 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” [19] (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

It seems that Jesus is speaking here to Peter about the fact that he will one day be crucified. It took quite a long time (3 decades) for this to materialize, but eventually Peter did die a martyr’s death just as Jesus had predicted (and ordained!).

Carson probably has the best explanation on this and says Bauer had it right long ago:

Bauer proposed long ago that this ‘stretching’ took place when a condemned prisoner was tied to his cross-member (the patibulum: cf. notes on 19:17) and forced to carry his ‘cross’ to the place of execution. The cross-member would be placed on the prisoner’s neck and shoulders, his arms tied to it, and then he would be led away to death. Despite the fact that many reject this explanation (Carson note on Schnackenburg), the most detailed study of crucifixion in the ancient world describes just such horrible variations on this grisly form of execution (Carson footnote on M. Hengel, Crucifixion).

21:20-22 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” [21] When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” [22] Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”

Here Peter wants to know his end, and why it is that He should suffer a death that is horrific – why not someone else? What about the other guy?

The first thing of importance in this passage is that Jesus’ power and authority is made manifest when He says, “if it is my will.” Remember Christian that it is the will of this Man that rules the universe. The word of Jesus upholds the universe (Hebrews 1:1-3) and, like the Father, all that He wills to do comes to pass.

Job acknowledged this, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).

And certainly this puts the words of Isaiah in mind (these are what I first thought of when I read this):

“Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ (Isaiah 46:8-10)

Therefore Jesus begins His response to Peter with a reminder of his own authority.

Secondly, He is blunt with Peter, in affect telling him to “butt out!”

I think that John Piper’s blog post on this is just terrific. Below is extended excerpt of his words:

Jesus’ blunt words—“None of your business, follow me”—are sweet to my ears. They are liberating from the depressing bondage of fatal comparing. Sometimes when I scan the ads in Christianity Today (all ten thousand of them), I get discouraged. Not as much as I used to twenty-five years ago. But still I find this avalanche of ministry suggestions oppressing.

Book after book, conference after conference, DVD after DVD—telling me how to succeed in ministry. And all of them quietly delivering the message that I am not making it. Worship could be better. Preaching could be better. Evangelism could be better. Pastoral care could be better. Youth ministry could be better. Missions could be better. And here is what works. Buy this. Go here. Go there. Do it this way. And adding to the burden—some of these books and conferences are mine!

So I was refreshed by Jesus’ blunt word to me (and you): “What is that to you? You follow me!” Peter had just heard a very hard word. You will die—painfully. His first thought was comparison. What about John? If I have to suffer, will he have to suffer? If my ministry ends like that, will his end like that? If I don’t get to live a long life of fruitful ministry, will he get to?

That’s the way we sinners are wired. Compare. Compare. Compare. We crave to know how we stack up in comparison to others. There is some kind of high if we can just find someone less effective than we are. Ouch. To this day, I recall the little note posted by my Resident Assistant in Elliot Hall my senior year at Wheaton: “To love is to stop comparing.” What is that to you, Piper? Follow me.

  • What is it to you that David Wells has such a comprehensive grasp of the pervasive effects of postmodernism? You follow me.
  • What is it to you that Voddie Baucham speaks the gospel so powerfully without notes? You follow me.
  • What is it to you that Tim Keller sees gospel connections with professional life so clearly? You follow me.
  • What is it to you that Mark Driscoll has the language and the folly of pop culture at his fingertips? You follow me.
  • What is it to you that Don Carson reads five hundred books a year and combines pastoral insight with the scholar’s depth and comprehensiveness? You follow me.

That word landed on me with great joy. Jesus will not judge me according to my superiority or inferiority over anybody. No preacher. No church. No ministry. These are not the standard. Jesus has a work for me to do (and a different one for you). It is not what he has given anyone else to do. There is a grace to do it. Will I trust him for that grace and do what he has given me to do? That is the question. O the liberty that comes when Jesus gets tough!

I hope you find encouragement and freedom today when you hear Jesus say to all your fretting comparisons: “What is that to you? You follow me!”

I find Piper’s analogy or paraphrase or what-have-you, to be perfect – especially in light of the fact that Driscoll just this week resigned in shame from his own church. We often put people on pedestals and puff them up in our minds, but they are just men. They are just as human as we are.

We could all no doubt substitute the names “driscoll or wells” for our own friends and contemporaries. For we often look at our Christian friends and see the grace God has bestowed on them and perhaps feel somewhat inadequate comparatively. Yet this is the very thing Jesus is correcting in Peter.

Carson says that Jesus’ reply to Peter is basically to say, “mind your own business.” Calvin says, “Christ intended to put his hand on his disciple, in order to keep him within the limits of his calling. ‘It is no concern of yours,’ says he, ‘and you leave that to my disposal’ think only about yourself, and prepare to follow where you are called.’”

Herman Ridderbos says, “What applies to both disciples is the call to follow Jesus, each with his own destiny. For Peter it means he will complete his life like the “good Shepherd” in self-offering for Jesus’ flock. For the beloved disciple this means his continuing witness until the coming of his Lord in glory.”

We who are God’s children are dealt with individually. In fact, this says something of the individuality of the Christian walk. We often rightly emphasize the need for corporate worship, corporate sermons, and fellowship. But there is also a part to Christianity that is very individual, very personal. That is what we are seeing between Peter and Jesus here.

Personal Reflection

It is not easy to leave this section without reflecting on God’s call on our own lives, and how often we find ourselves in comparative moments where perhaps we would rather be someone else. Yet God calls us each to walk our own individual walks, and endure our own trial, not coveting those without similar ordeals or circumstances.

But more than this is the great comfort that in our trials, and indeed in every circumstance, it is Jesus who wills these things. It is not left to us to guess whether or not Jesus is allowing this or that, or whether He knows of our trials. There is no room for that loose of an interpretation. Jesus is presented here (indeed He presents Himself by His own words) as the One who “wills” all that comes to pass.

Indeed as Paul has said:

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16-17)

21:23-24 So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” [24] This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.

Who is this “We”?

A quick textual note is necessary before beginning the final look at these verses. In verse 23 the author seems to be taking some corrective action in order to mitigate the misnomer that Jesus had meant the beloved disciple would not die. Rather, Jesus just said he would “remain” (meno), and in this context it didn’t mean he wouldn’t die, but that he would continue in his work on earth until he died in the way God had thought best.

Many scholars dispute the identity of who the “we” refers to in verse 24. Ridderbos thinks its people who made up those around John, but not John himself (or at least to include John and the apostles with him). But Carson goes through every option and notes that it must refer to John himself, the author and also the “beloved disciple” as included in this and as the one writing it.

Even though this seems awkward, it’s no more awkward than John referring to himself in the third person the entire time! I am convinced that this is the most likely reading of the passage, most especially because in 1:14 John is says, “We have seen his glory.” That seems to fit the same writing style/motif.

More can be read of the comparative views in Carson (pages 681-685).

The Purpose of This Gospel

All of this gets back to the reason John wrote this – to show the greatness of Jesus, and give those who read this book an opportunity to believe and find life – eternal life – with Him.

This is why the author has taken such pains to explain, comment, rebut, and go in-depth in many areas where the other gospel writers did not. John’s mission dominates his narrative and the choice of his excerpts from Jesus’ life and ministry.

21:25 Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. 

The Greatness of Jesus

To end his commentary on the gospel of John, D.A. Carson frames the last verse as containing matter related to “The Greatness of Jesus” – a very apt header. Carson says:

The Jesus to whom he (John) bears witness is not only the obedient Son and the risen Lord, he is the incarnate Word, the one through whom the universe was created. If all his deeds were described, the world would be a very small and inadequate library indeed.

It is as if John has identified himself (vs. 24), but is not content to focus on himself, not even on his veracity. He must close by saying his own work is only a minute part of all the honours (sic) due the Son.

John’s gospel is truly unique. It is a theological gospel – and perhaps no one captures that theological (and even philosophical) thrust better than Ridderbos in his own summary of the book:

What we are confronted with in this Gospel, as a matter of faith, is the salvific breaking down from above of the boundaries by which our thinking and acting are circumscribed (cf. 3:5). The confrontation, however, is not with a “higher reality” as such, one that would merely relativize our reality. The confrontation is with the entry into our reality of the glory (“the name,” 17:6, 26 etc.) of God and with the “signs” of the “life” for which God once created and still continues to destine the world (1:4) – just as he who was “in the bosom of the Father” revealed that name and that life to us by his words and deeds (1:18) so that “by believing in that name” we may have life (20:31).

Surely this is the case. The breakthrough, indeed the “invasion”, if you will, of the kingdom of God in the lives of mankind is significant in John’s gospel. It is the telling of the sovereign God breaking into our reality/our consciousness in a way He had not done to fore. He physically walked and dwelt among us. Not as a pillar of fire, a burning bush, an angelic vision, but as a man born of a virgin, growing up as a boy under the law, and coming to maturity as a human being.

The wonder of this increases ten-fold when we realize the goal of God was to save men. The lengths He went to do this, and the wonder we feel when these truths come into focus is the permeating reality that soaks every sentence, every graph, and every chapter of John’s gospel.

He began by ushering us into the presence and purpose of God:

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

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1:14-18)

And left us to worship:

Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25)

William Hendricksen ends his own commentary by quoting the familiar words written by a Jewish poet named Meir Ben Isaac Nehorai in 1050 A.D. and later put to music by F. M. Lehman:

Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made; Were every stalk on earth a quill, And every man a scribe by trade: To write the love of God above Would drain the ocean dry, Nor could the scroll contain the whole Though stretched from sky to sky.

Calvin says God used men to make a careful selection of the material from Jesus’ life in order that (He) “might make known to us all that God knew to be necessary for us, who alone is wise, and the only fountain of wisdom; to whom be praise and glory for ever. Amen.”

I hope your study of this gospel has been as profitable as mine. It has left me humbled, and appreciative of all God has given us in His word.

 

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.”

Study Notes 8-5-12

I have re-adjusted this text to include only my notes for verse 45, as that is all we covered last week.  Enjoy!

John 6:45

6:45 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me—

There are really two parts to this verse, or at least two ideas that I think are important.  One corresponds with salvation, the other with sanctification.  First I will deal with that which is dealing with salvation and then move onto the upshot of the salvific teaching (sanctification), which is driven by several passages in the Old Testament.

Teaching = Drawing

As we see in verse 44, there’s a sine qua non (a necessary precondition) involved in the act of coming to God.  That precondition is that He first “draw” us to Himself.  In the previous section, I mentioned the “why” as well as the overarching “how” as it pertains to the mode of operation in the drawing process.  Now, with this verse before us, I want to get into more specifics of the “how” operation of the spirit in our lives, and some of the distinctions we need to make to understand this process more accurately.  I think we all want to know “what happened to me?” as John Piper puts it.  We all want to know what it is that God did to change our lives and bring us into His everlasting kingdom.

In the context of this verse, what does it mean to be “taught by God”?  Well the “teaching” that John refers to here is in direct connection to the “drawing” that He mentioned in verse 44 (see also 1 Cor. 2:13, 1 Thess. 4:9, and 1 John 2:20).  As John Piper says, “So the connection between drawing and teaching is clear. The drawn are the taught. They are drawn by being taught.”

Thus the thrust of verse 45 is that Jesus is explaining more of the how of this drawing. How does He do that?  Well, Jesus seems to indicate that not only is this teaching in coordination with the drawing, but that the teaching of God is effective – it can’t fail.

Piper’s longer explanation for this is as follows:

The answer John gives to how the Father draws people to the Son is by teaching them. “No one can come unless the Father draws him…It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’” So the connection between drawing and teaching is clear. The drawn are the taught. They are drawn by being taught.

And the connection between being taught and coming to Christ is unbreakable. No one is taught and then decides not to come. The teaching produces the coming. You see that most clearly in the second half of verse 45.

Verse 45 says, “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” (This is why I said this verse confirms our understanding of John 12:32.) Not some of them come. All of them come. So Jesus uses at least three phrases to describe how the Father draws people to Jesus. He calls it “being taught,” and he calls it “hearing from” God, and he calls it “learning from” God. “‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.”

Beale and Carson agree with Piper that there is a strong link between the “drawing” in verse 44 and the “teaching” in verse 45, “In light of the Jews’ largely negative response to his message, Jesus points out that while his ministry in fact fulfills the prophetic vision that one day – which has now arrived – all people will be taught by God, this applies only to those who are drawn by the Father (vs. 44), the sender of Jesus and who subsequently come to believe in him as the Messiah.”

Leon Morris mentions that liberal theologian Rudolph Bultmann got it wrong when he said, “any man is free to be among those drawn by the Father.”  The statement itself sounds so ridiculous that it almost need not be refuted. But this is, in effect, what Armenians hold to, when they hold to the complete dominion of man over his fate.  Surely the very thrust of the text here is quite the opposite of Bultmann’s conclusion.  Such is the fate of errant theologians who come to Scripture in an eisegetical (so to speak) fashion.

Calvin agrees, “It is a false and profane assertion, therefore, that none are drawn but those who are willing to be drawn, as if man made himself obedient to God by his own efforts; for the willingness with which men follow God is what they already have from himself, who has formed their hearts to obey him.”

The Old Testament Connection and Fulfillment

In teaching us, the Holy Spirit is “implanting” (as MacArthur says) a new desire and a new understanding of the ways and law of God. This is why Christ says to us that it is “written in the prophets.”  He is saying that in Isaiah and Jeremiah and others, we are promised to one day have the law of God written on our hearts.  As Piper says, “Both Isaiah and Jeremiah explicitly promise the day when the God’s teaching will no longer merely be external on tablets of stone, but will be internal written on the heart.  God will teach us in the New Covenant first by sending Christ as the sum of all truth, the fulfillment of the law, and then by making that truth real to hour hearts.”

Interestingly, MacArthur notes that, “Jesus’ statement was also a subtle rebuke of His Jewish opponents, who prided themselves on their knowledge of Scripture. But had they truly understood the Old Testament, they would have eagerly embraced Him (5:39).”

The passage Christ quotes is from Isaiah 54:13 and says:

All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children.

This also holds a close connections with Jeremiah 31:33-34 which says:

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 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.”

Carson and Beale paraphrase Young by noting that “the greatest spiritual wealth that Isaiah is able to imagine for God’s people is that all their children ‘will be taught by [literally “become disciples of”] the Lord.”

Note especially that Jeremiah says that “they shall all know me”, why?  Because “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.”  And therefore, “no longer shall each one teach his neighbor” – because, as Isaiah says, “all your children will be taught by the Lord.”

So the inward work of the Spirit will help people “know” the Lord.  Calvin says, “The way of teaching, of which the prophet speaks, does not consist merely in the external voice, but likewise in the secret operation of the Holy Spirit.”

What does this mean? What does it mean to “know” the Lord?  To understand this, we must look at the close ties between knowing the Lord, and knowing His law (since Christ is quoting the Old Testament here, we do well to draw our conclusions by first looking at the context in which Isaiah and other wrote). The law was an outward guide and revelation to the holiness of God.  It showed us His standard of perfection, as well as our own sinfulness.  In other words, it showed us who we were in comparison to who God was, and in that way made us aware inwardly of a need to repent and rely completely on God.  Once under the new covenant, we no longer needed to be taught by men, because we had an inward law – one written on our hearts.  The law, which was a schoolmaster (or “guardian”) to lead us to Christ (Galatians 3:24), was now implanted on the hearts of those who are quickened by the Holy Spirit (John 16:13).

The reason I mentioned 1 Corinthians 2:13 earlier as a reference is because it so excellently reminds us that the great truths of Christ are only able to be discerned by us with the help of the Holy Spirit.   It says, “And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.”

As He’s wrapping up the discourse here, as we’ll see later, Christ explains why they can’t understand what He’s talking about.  He says in verses 63-65, “‘It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe. (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.)’ And he said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.’”

If by now you cannot see the sovereignty of God in salvation then you must not be reading or listening to the Words of Christ – you must not have “ears to hear”, for Christ is saying again and again that from the beginning of time through the end of time, He and the Father have chosen a people, and elect group of people, for themselves.  They have not only determined who these people will be, but have seen to it that by their power, and theirs alone, these people are brought to a saving knowledge of themselves (the trinity).  The operation of salvation is synergistic only in the sense that it is carried out by the three members of the Trinity acting in full knowledge and power, for their own purposes and glory and enjoyment.  The Godhead does not share power for salvation with man.

Conformity

Now I want to look at this inward work of the Spirit as it pertains to being continually “taught” by the Spirit of God and how we were all “taught” of God for a purposes.

As I mentioned earlier, the Old Testament prophecy that is connected with being “taught” by God has to do with His law being written on our hearts.  Galatians tells us the law “was added because of transgression” (Gal. 3:19) to keep the people of Israel in constant remembrance of the character and standards of their God, that they might conform their lives to His standard (a sort of Old Testament sanctification process minus the Spirit’s help, of course). Now we have that law written on our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit, and we also have His help to guide us and conform us to Christ’s mind and complete image. This is significant, and ought to lead us to understand how Christ would want us to act, and live. That is part of the Spirit’s grand work in us to conform us to the image of Christ until that day when this work is complete (in heaven).

Taught for a Purpose

Remember, we have been saved not only from something (Hell), but for something (good works and conformity to the image of Christ).  As Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Now, as you can see, not only is Christ explaining how we were first quickened and “taught” of God and our deficit before Him, but He is also explaining how we are taught of God continually for the purpose of growth in grace and truth. You were saved for a reason, to become holy.  You aren’t saved so that you can simply enjoy the fact that you aren’t going to Hell. You aren’t saved simply so that you can enjoy heaven with Christ (although that is certainly a part of it – see John 17), but rather you are saved so that you can be made holy.  Why?  So that you can glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Christians today have lost a focus on practical holiness.  We don’t wake up in the morning thinking, “how can I be more holy today?”  We have no driving desire to be “taught” of God.  Instead we have minds full of trivial and temporary desires.  We need to refocus our attention as Christians back onto the process and goal of sanctification, and becoming a holy people.

Jerry Bridges says, “But here is a basic truth: We will not grow unless we see our need to grown, we will not pursue holiness unless we see how much we are still unholy, and we will not see our unholiness unless we look at the holiness of God instead of what we perceive to be the unholiness of our neighbor. This is why we must face up to the sinfulness of our sin.”

We also need to remember that when Christ was raised from the dead and was going to go back to heaven, He says to Mary, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (Jon 20:17b).  Therefore we now have been included in His family, and must be made fit for the family.  We must be made ready to enjoy this blessing in its fullness.

“Everyone”

In the last part of verse 45 Christ says, “everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.”  Note that He purposefully uses the word “everyone” to establish the fact that in the “teaching” or “drawing” of people, God the Father does not fail to bring to fruition that which He planted in the hearts of His elect.

As J.C. Ryle says, “The words do not mean that under the Gospel all mankind, or all members of the professing Christian Church, shall be ‘taught of God.’ It rather means that all who are God’s children, and come to Christ under the Gospel, shall be taught of God.”

Note also that Christ says “the Father” instead of the Spirit, and that is because while it is the Spirit doing the “drawing”, He acts on the eternal unchangeable will of the Father.  From the first, God had intended to “teach” certain people about Himself, and here we learn that “everyone” who is taught of God comes to Christ.  Not one of His pupils fails to come to Christ.  We’ve already talked briefly about why this is, but it doesn’t hurt to go over it again.

God is effective in all that He sets out to do because He is God and His purposes cannot fail.  When He teaches men of Himself (they have “heard” and “learned” of Him) they always come to Christ.  What is He teaching them?  The gospel.  He is teaching them of a (new) covenant (Jeremiah 31) that He is making with them, that if they believe on His Son Jesus Christ, they will be saved. That is why Christ goes on to say in verse 47 that, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.”  This fact comes with a promise – if they believe, they will be saved and will also (an added benefit) have “eternal life.”

The heart which “hears” this message from God cannot refuse it.  It is irresistible! It is so not because God has cajoled them into belief, but because the sweetness of it is such that they flee to the cross.  Of course there are two elements to learning of the gospel of God.  It is not simply that a man learns of the benefit of eternal life, but that he also learns of his own sinfulness in light of the cross.  This is what inevitably happens when we are taught by God, we learn who He is and who we are in light of His holiness.  This is what happened to Isaiah in chapter 6 of his book.  We see that not only did he learn about who God was and what His surroundings looked like, but he immediately realized who he was in light of who God is.

Isaiah did not see the holy majesty of God and respond by saying “well, since I have free will to choose whether or not to believe in you, and since you seem to have laid out all the proper facts about things, I will make the choice now to believe what you have to say.”  No indeed.  His response was compelled – not forced by God – but he was compelled I say to do the obvious thing, and that was to repent of his utter sinfulness and throw himself on the mercy of God.  This is what happens when men and women are “taught” of God.  They do the obvious thing when their eyes are opened to His holiness, they repent and run quickly to the cross!  This happens without exception, and that is why it is that Christ can use the word “everyone.”