Introduction (and Prologue) to Revelation: Part 6

Below are my notes from yesterday’s teaching in Revelation. These notes include not only the end of my introduction to the book, but also some comments on the first three verses of the book (The prologue).  Enjoy!

PJ

The Outline

I believe that in order to put this book together and understand the flow of this book, there are some things we need to take into consideration regarding the outline of the book.

Different people from different schools of thought have strong opinions about the flow of this book. Johnson divides the book into three[i] major sections:

  1. The Prologue 1:1-8
  2. The Body 1:9-22:9
  3. The Epilogue 22:6-21

John MacArthur[ii], a dispensationalist, outlines the book like this:

  1. The Things which You Have Seen (1:1–20)
  2. The Prologue (1:1–8)
  3. The Vision of the Glorified Christ (1:9–18)
  4. The Apostle’s Commission to Write (1:19, 20)
  5. The Things which Are (2:1–3:22)
  6. The Letter to the Church at Ephesus (2:1–7)
  7. The Letter to the Church at Smyrna (2:8–11)
  8. The Letter to the Church at Pergamos (2:12–17)
  9. The Letter to the Church at Thyatira (2:18–29)
  10. The Letter to the Church at Sardis (3:1–6)
  11. The Letter to the Church at Philadelphia (3:7–13)
  12. The Letter to the Church at Laodicea (3:14–22)

III. The Things which Will Take Place after This (4:1–22:21)

  1. Worship in Heaven (4:1–5:14)
  2. The Great Tribulation (6:1–18:24) This is the majority of the book!
  3. The Return of the King (19:1–21)
  4. The Millennium (20:1–10)
  5. The Great White Throne Judgment (20:11–15)
  6. The Eternal State (21:1–22:21)

MacArthur sees the book as a continuous/progressive chronological outline of the things that are to come. Men like Baptist scholar Jim Hamilton, who are not dispensationalists, also read the book chronologically to some degree.

What is most distinctive about MacArthur’s schema is the fact that so much of the book is set in the future. I think that there are serious issues with this, not the least of which is the fact that if most of the book is set in the future then how would this have meant anything at all to John’s original audience? They were undergoing tremendous persecution, and if all these tribulations are all supposed to be in the future (and we’ll throw in a pre-trib rapture, of course), that’s the equivalent of John saying, “hey I know you’re suffering now, but your great hope is that one day there will be a lot more suffering, and you won’t have to be around for that!” That’s exactly what the message of the pre-trib premil crowd boils down to for us today as well – its only when you actually write it out in its boiled down essence that it begins to sounds illogical.

However, others like Tom Schreiner, William Hedriksen, Voddie Baucham and G.K. Beale (to name a few) see the book as a series of angles looking at the same scene – the time between Christ’s first advent and second advent. This is called “recapitulation”, and can be broken up in a number of ways, generally showing the same scenes in ever increasing drama. They see the bowls, seals, and trumpet judgments as simply different ways to describe the tribulation on earth between Christ’s coming again.

Baucham’s rough outline[iii] is derived from Derek Thomas and goes something like this: 

  1. 1-3 – the introduction, letters to 7 churches
  2. 4-5 – the throne room, the sovereignty of God proclaimed
  3. 6-7 – the seals – judgments which represents issues common to every age
  4. 8-11 – the unfolding trumpets, final which sounds the coming of Christ. These run parallel to the seals judgments.
  5. 12-14 – the scene changes completely and doesn’t flow with continuity from previous chapters. The story is told again from a new vantage point. God is victorious over his enemies.
  6. 15-16 – the Bowl Judgments, Babylon is destroyed (was destroyed in Ch. 14, this retells it from new angle)
  7. 17-19 – The destruction of Babylon the beast and false prophet
  8. 20-22 – God deals with the dragon, new heavens and new earth and eternal fellowship with God enjoyed.

One thing that I’d like to note is that Hendriksen combines sections 2 and 3 and says that chapters 4-7 form one unit. I don’t think one needs to necessarily hold to one or the other very tightly. Baucham, for instance, also posted Hendriksen’s view and outline on his own church website, so I think they pretty much agree on the divisions here for the most part. I appreciate that where there are disagreements on the divisions they aren’t disagreements as to the approach of the book as a series of visions or perspectives, but rather they are disagreements about when one vision ends or how we ought to categorize these visions. This is something we’ll look at closely as we go along in our study because the text will present us with forks in the road that we’ll need to address.

Under the recapitulation view, the tribulation encompasses the entire time between the first and second advent of Christ. Whereas the premillennial view (either one) views these great tribulations as happening during a compressed period of time – 7 literal years – prior to Christ’s 2nd advent, and therefore label this as one long event with the proper name ‘The Tribulation’.

It seems that in order to study the book in a cohesive way one must at least take a viewpoint on how these things should be understood/viewed, otherwise it would be very difficult to understand the big picture of this book.

I will be teaching from the recapitulation perspective that the tribulation passages are meant to describe the trials Christians (and others) will endure between the advents of Christ, thus taking the 7 years to mean the fullness of this interadvental time, and not a future 7 year period of time.

This also means that the judgment scenes and some of the heavenly throne scenes (for example), as giving us different perspectives, or camera angles, on the events that will take place between the advents of our Lord. Each section is not comprehensive of every event of this age – some focus on one thing to the exclusion of another, though the parallels remain constant. Hendricksen also notes that as we get toward the end of the book the judgment scenes continually increase in intensity. So this is the view I think it makes the most sense, and offers the clearest explanation of what we’re looking at, and the way we’ll be moving forward in our study of the book.

Now, some more info on the recapitulation perspective…One thing to note, and that is that Hendriksen’s chapter divisions (mentioned above) are not precise. Beale actually does a little better job showing the nuances in the recapitulation in his work (note especially page 131 of his commentary if you’re interested in checking that out in detail), and he seems to think that a man named Farrer has the most cogent breakdown – this is a bit more precise than the Henriksen one: 1-3, 4-7, 8:1-11:14, 11:15-14:20, 15-18, 19-22.[iv]

It should also be noted that 1. Within these sections there are subsections and sub-points that the author makes, and that 2. There are wider ways to classify the book as a whole (as I did just a bit earlier).

There are MANY nuances to these breakdowns, but the general 7-8 recapitulation divisions seems to hold pretty true across spectrum of theologians of this mindset who are not strict futurists.

The next thing to know about the recapitulation perspective is that it is found in much of the OT prophetic literature from which Revelation draws much of its imagery (much of which is in chiastic form).[v] Daniel, Beale points out, has a structure of “five synonymously parallel visions (chps. 2, 7, 8, 9, 10-12)” and “may be the most influential on the structure of Revelation, since Daniel is used so much in the book and is used to signal the broad structural divisions of the Apocalypse.”

Later in his writing Beale puts numbers to ideas (mostly based on the influence of Daniel, which I mentioned earlier): 1:1-18; 1:19-3:22; 4:1-22:5; 22:6-21. This is a broader structure which can be broken down further, but the point is that 4-22:5 really form an overarching idea – not that they are in the future, but that these visions of judgment and destruction are sequential and similar in form and also “bracketed by the overarching vision of God the Creator and Redeemer.”[vi]

Beale leans on the obvious Daniel allusions and the natural literary breakdown of the book, and has himself settled on a recapitulation view:

If it can be concluded that these Daniel 2 allusions are intentional and draw with them the contextual idea of Daniel 2, then there is a basis for proposing that this provides a significant framework of thought for the whole Apocalypse, that is, end-time judgment of cosmic evil and consequent establishment of the eternal kingdom. As has been seen, this is an inaugurated latter-day thought pervading the visions as well as the letters, which means that the visions should not be understood in an exclusively futuristic manner, but as also including significant sections pertaining to the eschatological past and present. This conclusion is most compatible with a recapitulation view, according to which repeated sections that concern past, present, and future occur throughout the book.[vii]

And, on a more advanced note…if you want to study even further, Beale notes that he and others definitely see the possibility for some chiastic structure in the literary makeup of Revelation. At the center of the structure seems to be 11:19-14:20. Also interestingly, each of the judgment scenes, whether it’s the seals, the trumpets, the bowls or the final judgment of the world (19:11-21:8) there are always three components: prelude, vision, and interlude. These three things repeat over and over again.

Chapter One

Chapter one finds us with John the Apostle on the island of Patmos, in exile “on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (vs.9). He opens his letter explaining where his message comes from its in this prologue where we’ll begin our verse by verse exposition.

The first three verses have been called the “prologue” and the “introduction” and Beale says that they indicated that “the apocalypse was revealed for the purpose of witness, which results in blessing” and that “The main emphasis here is the blessing obtained from reading the book and hearing it read.”[viii]

1:1-2 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, [2] who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.

Here we see the transmission of the message that we’ll be studying. First and foremost it is called “the revelation” of Jesus Christ. This is Jesus’ message, not the invention of John or any other man. Secondly, it is given him by God – presumably the Father and head of the Trinitarian Godhead. Thirdly it is sent via “his angel” and this angel could be the messenger we read about later and this angel communicates it to John. It seems to be a four-step process of communication.

Now there are some significant things to note about the words John uses here in the opening graph of his letter.

First, and most obvious, this word “revelation” or “apocalypse” gets at the heart of the book, and that’s likely why the church has called this John’s Apocalypse from pretty much the beginning of the church onward. “Apocalypse” means to lay bare, it is a disclosure of the truth and a revealing of things previously unknown.[ix]

Another set of important words are those which say “He sent and communicated it (NASB)” or as in the ESV, “He made it known by sending.” The three words “and communicated it” are just one in the Greek sēmainō (pronounced say-my-no) which means “signified” or “to give a sign” or “to indicate.” This original meaning of the word carries with it prophetic/apocalyptic overtones and perhaps signals to us the kind of communication we’ll be getting here.

Apart from the words themselves, Beale sees real importance in the structure of John’s opening. Namely, it looks a whole lot like Daniel’s introduction of the revelation he was given by God to communicate to King Nebuchadnezzar in the second chapter of Daniel. A portion of that passage goes like this:

Daniel answered the king and said, “No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king has asked, [28] but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days. Your dream and the visions of your head as you lay in bed are these: [29] To you, O king, as you lay in bed came thoughts of what would be after this, and he who reveals mysteries made known to you what is to be. [30] But as for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because of any wisdom that I have more than all the living, but in order that the interpretation may be made known to the king, and that you may know the thoughts of your mind. (Daniel 2:27-30)

Daniel then goes on to describe the great image of a god/idol that is separated into several kinds of metal and representative of different kingdoms of man.

The most important part is that verse 28 I think. You see how se says, “there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries” and “he had made known”, and it is these phrases that lead scholars like Beale to see clear allusions to Daniel’s literary structure in Revelation 1:1-3 (and other parts as well).

This allusion to Daniel is important because it reveals John’s thought process about how what he has seen fits into the fulfillment timeframe of Daniel. John is trying to tell us that he is picking up where Daniel left off – this revelation is about disclosing in more detail something that formerly had been predicted, but now more details are here for us to understand.

I’m noting this now because we need to put ourselves in John’s shoes here and try to understand John’s own understanding of the context of what he saw. His literary/prophetic context was the OT prophecies. So when he is using phrasing like Daniel, it is likely because he’s saying “I’m picking up where Daniel left off.”

This helps us understand several things. For example, John says that, “God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place” and then says in verse three, “for the time is near.” Understanding John’s own perspective helps us understand what he means by this, and Beale has a great insight into this that is worth quoting in full:

Rev. 1:1 especially should be seen as introducing the main idea of the book, and it is, indeed, understood by many as the title of the whole work. Therefore, if John understands this Danielic allusion in 1:1 in the light of the eschatological context of Daniel 2, then he may be asserting that he conceives of what follows in his book ultimately within the thematic framework of Daniel 2 (and probably its parallel apocalyptic chapters) or at least as closely linked to that framework. The focus of “quickness” and “nearness” in vv 1-3 is primarily on inauguration of prophetic fulfillment and its ongoing aspect, not on nearness of consummated fulfillment, though the latter is secondarily in mind as leading from the former.

Indeed, what follows shows that the beginning of fulfillment and not final fulfillment is the focus. The references to the imminent eschatological period (v 3b), the fact of Christ’s present kingship over the worlds kings (v 5), the initial form of the saints’ kingdom (vv 6, 9), and the following “Son of man” reference (1:7) and vision (vv 13-15), also indicating initial fulfillment of Daniel 7, point strongly to this focus and to the presence of a Danielic frame of reference [x]

This is important for us to understand and really digest. John is saying that these things are upon him – they are not something that will happen in the distant future.

1:3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.

I love verse three because it is so very John-like. John has told us that beholding the Word incarnate changed the lives of the disciples. He has told us that when we see Him in the flesh one day, we will be like Him. The reason John gives for this is that “we will see Him as He is.” John Piper and Jonathan Edwards seem to think this has to do with our soul seeing His soul, that somehow we will grasp all of who He is spiritually and that will bring us into total understanding and conformity to who we ought to be (who we were made to be!).

A similar sentiment is uttered here. John says that those who read the words of this book will be blessed and also those who hear it. Surely this is true of all the saints for all time. For every Christian you find that reads the Word of God, you will also find a Christian who is or has been blessed by that reading. It is the Word that changes us (Hebrews 4 and 2 Corinthians 3:18 attest to this) and that change is a blessing from God. To be changed into the image of God is the greatest blessing one can comprehend. God changing our minds and hearts and bringing us into an understanding of who He is, and who we are, and what He wants with us – can you imagine a greater privilege or blessing?

And of course, as we mentioned earlier, the verse ends with the phrase “the time is near.” This indicates that these sayings, these warnings, these truths are upon the apostle. He believes that they are near, they are soon, they are going to be relevant in the very immediate future or present. Of course our minds automatically go to the conclusion that whatever we read next (the rest of the book) must have a great amount of finality, or consummation. But I think there is no great call for holding onto that supposition. John is not saying that the time is “near” for the fulfillment of all things, rather the time is near that we will be seeing and experiencing all the things that are in this book that he’s writing. This makes the book eminently relevant to the early church that he’s writing to, as well as to us today.

Conclusion to the Prologue

The thing that stood out to me most in this prelude to the book of Revelation is the fact that God reveals Himself progressively. He is truly the Lord of history. Abraham didn’t know who would come from his lineage to fulfill the promises God had given him. David didn’t realize that the everlasting kingdom God gave him would be fulfilled in God’s own Son. Noah didn’t realize that his ark symbolized the fortress of freedom that God would one day embody in the personage of Jesus who alone is our raft to safety from the shoals of sin and death. Nor did Daniel know that the eternal kingdom and the Son of man whom he foresaw would be ushered in by a King who would rule all kings, a Lord that would reign over all lords, an eternal God inaugurating an eternal kingdom.

In Revelation we are given a glimpse into the trials and tribulations that we’ll face in this world. We see their nature, their genesis, and the pain they will bring the saints of God. We see the cost of following Jesus. But we also see the triumph of the Lamb and the amazing power He wrought on that dead tree 2,000 years ago. We see that when He triumphed over the grave, He arose and took up His rightful place at the Father’s right hand. The consequences of this for us are simply amazing. This book recounts not only the reality of our trials here on earth, but of the blessings we have in the triumph of Jesus, the Firstborn among many brethren (Romans 8).

Footnotes 

[i] Johnson, pg. 26

[ii] From his commentary (Volume I) on the Book of Revelation, pg. 11.

[iii] From Voddie Baucham sermon May 27, 2012, www.gracefamilybaptist.net. Sometimes you will find that an associate pastor preaches here in his stead, but both hold the same perspective.

[iv] Beale, Pg. 112.

[v] Beale, Pg. 135.

[vi] Beale, Pg. 140.

[vii] Beale, Pg. 141.

[viii] Beale, Pg. 145.

[ix] See the blue letter bible online and the Strong’s concordance: http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G602&t=NASB

 

[x] Beale, Pg. 182.

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.