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

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

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

Justification by Faith

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

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

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

As Paul states in several areas:

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

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

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

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

Christ is the Radiance of the Glory of God

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

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

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

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

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

The Two Natures of Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christ is the Rescuer of Mankind

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

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

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

Here are some examples of what I mean:

I will put enmity between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and her offspring;

he shall bruise your head,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His Words are Law

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

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

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

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

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

A Question of Authority…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just Another Prophet?

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

Beneficiaries of His Work

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

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

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

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

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

Study Notes 8-12-12

John 6:46-47

6:46 not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.

It is a well-known fact that no one can see God and live – for this is one of the first things that students of the Bible learn as they read through the Old Testament.  Moses records for us the words of God in response to Moses’ request to look on His holy face.  The exchange went like this:

Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” [19] And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. [20] But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” [21] And the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, [22] and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. [23] Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”(Ex. 33:18-23)

The Father does not rebuke Moses for wanting to look upon His glory, indeed He grants him an amazing opportunity to get to know Him more; for Moses wanted to know God more intimately, and this is a desire God wants us all to have. Moses wanted to bask in the glory of who God is in all of His awesome holiness. But God explains to Moses that if he were to look upon the glory of His holiness he would perish.

We get an idea of the power of this holiness in Isaiah 6 when we read about the Seraphim who have six wings – two of which are for covering their eyes.  These creatures have never sinned, and are holy beings, yet they cannot stand to look directly into the holy resplendency of God.

But Christ says here that there is one person who can look on the holiness of the Father: that is the Son.

Sinclair Ferguson makes the connection between this passage in Isaiah 6 and how John describes the “Word” in chapter 1 of the gospel we’re reading now.  Here’s what he says:

It is in stark yet glorious contrast to this (the Seraphim in Is. 6) that we find John opening his Gospel by saying, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God” (pros ton theonliterally ‘toward God’).  Do you see the picture here? If the Son is “toward God”, He must be face to fact with Him – alone (with the Spirit) able to bear the intensity of the Father’s gaze. That face is all-consuming love, and burns to destruction all in the object of its gaze that is not itself perfect love. Thus, He gazes on His Son. All creatures must cover their faces or avert their eyes. Only the Son (always in and with the Spirit) is able to love in return with an intensity that preserves His from being consumed by the holiness of the Father.

Jesus Himself states that He has “seen” the Father in John 8:38, “I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”

Only when we have a true sense of the powerful, awful, holiness of God the Father can we truly understand what it means that Christ says “no man has seen the Father” and also simultaneously comprehend that He (Christ) alone has the ability to view Him face to face in perfect holy communion.

This difference between the creaturely and the divine is how Christ chooses to punctuate His teaching on the mode of salvation.  It is as if He is saying, “no one comes to the Father unless we (The trinity) teach Him, and in case you have a problem with the order of this, let me remind you of your place in the order of creation!”

6:47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.

Morris notes, “For the third time in this discourse there is the solemn ‘I tell you the truth’. Jesus’ main concern is with life and how people obtain it, not with his own person. Now he solemnly repeats the way to life.”

What is the upshot of all of this?  What is it that results in being “taught” and “drawn” by God?  The result is that you will believe, and like the golden chain in Romans 8:28-30, we see that it leads inevitably to a result.  That result is the obtaining of eternal life.  For if we are united with Christ in His death and His resurrection (Rom. 6), and if He has desired for us to come and be with Him and see Him in His glory (John 17), then it is a necessary precondition that we have eternal life with Him.

This verse isn’t stating that we wouldn’t have eternal souls without belief in Christ, for man is made in God’s image (Gen. 2:27), but rather that we will have eternal “life” in Christ.  Life is the word we use to identify with that which is eternal blessedness with Christ forever.  Those who do not have eternal “life” actually could be said to have something of an eternal “death” because they will continually suffer the consequences of their separation from God and His blessedness.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we notice the shining doctrine of Solus Christus. Solus Christus is the doctrine that states that it is in Christ alone which our salvation lies.  In Him alone we find all of our sufficiency for life in God.

Monergism.com has an excellent blurb on this doctrine and states, “Christ’s all-sufficiency means, by implication, that we are insufficient of ourselves. Indeed the Scripture says “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.” 2 Corinthians 3:5.  We reaffirm that our salvation is accomplished by the mediatorial work of the historical Christ alone. His sinless life and substitutionary atonement alone are sufficient for our justification and reconciliation to the Father. We deny that the gospel is preached if Christ’s substitutionary work is not declared and faith in Christ and his work is not solicited.”

Michael Horton gives a good historical background to the this doctrine:

In the Middle Ages, the minister was seen as having a special relationship with God, as he mediated God’s grace and forgiveness through the sacraments. But there were other challenges. We often think of our own age as unique, with its pluralism and the advent of so many religions. But not too long before the Reformation, the Renaissance thinker Petrarch was calling for an Age of the Spirit in which all religions would be united. Many Renaissance minds were convinced that there was a saving revelation of God in nature and that, therefore, Christ was not the only way. The fascination with pagan philosophy encouraged the idea that natural religion offered a great deal–indeed, even salvation–to those who did not know Christ.

The Reformation was, more than anything else, an assault on faith in humanity, and a defense of the idea that God alone reveals Himself and saves us. We do not find Him; He finds us. That emphasis was the cause of the cry, “Christ alone!” Jesus was the only way of knowing what God is really like, the only way of entering into a relationship with Him as father instead of judge, and the only way of being saved from His wrath.

But not only is our salvation resting firming on the work of Christ, but as evangelical Christians, we believe that the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation is all about Christ.  As Martin Luther said, “(Christ is the) center and circumference of the Bible.”

So when Christ calls us to “believe” in Him, He is calling us to put our full faith and trust in Him and His work, and to lay aside any ideas that we can add anything to our salvation, and also to lay aside any ideas that we can add to His words.  In this verse, He is saying, in affect, “I have just laid out the truth about salvation and of heaven, and in order to have these things you must believe what I say is true, and also you must believe in me.  You must place all your faith and hope on me alone for these things.”

Finally, when Christ seals his teaching here with this verse, He is doing so on the heals of some difficult (some say “hard”) sayings.  Some of these are sayings our own class has struggled with.  But Christ doesn’t say, “if you’d like to believe in My sovereignty over salvation that’s fine, but regardless you need to believe in my words.”  No indeed.  For the two are invariably intertwined and cannot be separated.

Christ is saying in this discourse that:

  1. I am all sufficient for life here and in heaven
  2. I am the most satisfying thing you will ever experience
  3. God, not you, makes the choice over who will be saved
  4. In order to believe to me, you must have God’s help
  5. You aren’t going to believe in me unless you’ve been given faith from God to believe me
  6. In order to be saved you must believe in my words

What seems like a circle is in fact a linear line that starts with God in eternity past (Eph. 1:3-14) continues with God’s quickening us (John 3), drawing us (John 6:44) and ends with His keeping us in His bosom until the day of glorification (Romans 8).

Jesus, in affect, has said to his audience that they must believe to be saved but that those listening will not believe. The reason they can’t believe is because they love their sin more than they love God.  In order to believe we must be quickened by the Spirit of God and given faith, which we then place on our Lord.  Placing this faith on Christ is what results in salvation, as we see from above.

Getting back to the heart of what Christ is saying specifically in this verse, J.C. Ryle says, “He that would have his sins pardoned and his soul saved must go to Christ for it.”

The utter simplicity of the gospel message here is perhaps easily missed in our discourse because of how many other important things Christ has said, but I think its so important that we remember the simplicity of the Christian faith. There is no series of objectives, no rites, no hoops that we need to jump through, as the Catholics erroneously believe, there is simply Christ and Christ alone.  He alone is our sufficiency, and our only “work” is to believe (John 6:28).