The Mission of the Spirit

Below are my notes for John 15:21-27 which chiefly pertain to the mission of the Holy Spirit here on earth.  I hope you find these edifying and encouraging!

PJW

15:21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.

Jesus is saying that people will persecute His followers for a specific reason – that reason is because they have no fear of God.  If their hearts believed that Jesus was sent by God the Father, then they would not have persecuted Him, nor would they persecute us.

So the problem, Jesus is saying, is not that they don’t believe in God.  The problem is their lack of believe in me. They don’t believe that I am who I say I am. Therefore, you will be seen in that same light.

The Apostle Paul was a man whose life was heavily impacted by this truth.  And he explains for us the situation in this extended quote from 2 Corinthians 4:

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:1-6)

15:22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’

It is not that Jesus is saying these men of the Jews were not sinners, but rather that in their rejection of Jesus as Christ they were rejecting the Father’s salvation and the Father Himself by extension – and this was a sin greater than any other (so MacArthur, Morris, Sproul et all).

F.F. Bruce says, “Had they recognized Jesus as the Son of God, they would have recognized the Father in him; as it was, in repudiating the Son they repudiated the Father also.”

As Jesus said earlier in John 5, “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (John 5:23b).

The unity between the Son and the Father is brought home to roost here.  Morris says, “The guilt of the Jews consisted in this, that they rejected the revelation of the Father that was made known in the Son” and then adds this sharp observation, “Jesus does not speak of ‘the Father’ but of ‘my Father.’ His special relationship to God is very much to the fore.”

In doing this they were heaping judgment upon themselves.  The concept is similar to what we learn from John’s illustration of light and darkness in John 3:19-20.  Those who reject Jesus are judged “already”, because they ran from the light and “loved the darkness.”

“He had come to show them the love of God, but the reacted to his love with hatred, just as, when the he came to them as the light of the world, they chose darkness rather than light (John 3:19). They thus passed judgment on themselves: if they rejected the giver of true life, they shut themselves up to the only alternative – death” says Bruce.

R.C. Sproul summarizes it this way:

Jesus reminded the disciples that the Father had demonstrated categorically that He was God’s Son. He did not just say it, He demonstrated it by the power that was entrusted to Him, by the miracles that He performed in the presence of eyewitnesses all over Israel. No one in that generation could claim ignorance as excuse for rejecting Him.

J.C. Ryle says:

They had seen Christ’s works, and heard Christ’s teaching, and yet remained unbelieving. What more could be done for them? Nothing – absolutely nothing! They willfully sinned against the clearest possible light, and were of all men most guilty.

The guilt is intensified with this generation because of the fact that they saw, they heard, yet they rejected the light of the gospel.  Again Ryle is on point, “To see light and not use it, to possess knowledge and yet not turn it to account, to be able to say ‘I know,’ and yet not to say ‘I believe,’ will place us at the lowest place on Christ’s left hand, in the great day of judgment.”

By rejecting the Cornerstone (Acts 4:11) the Jews had completely undermined their life’s purpose and orientation – this reality would manifest itself physically for the Jews when God sent the Romans to destroy the Herodian temple in 70 AD.

A Final Thought…

What is perhaps most remarkable to me about this is that this all happened so that “their Law (would) be fulfilled.”  And what is remarkable in this is that 1. Jesus fulfilled all of these OT prophesies (in this case probably Ps. 35:19 or Ps. 69:4 cf. MacArthur & Bruce) to the “enth degree” and 2. That He knew this would happen, and that He would be treated in such a way, and yet He still came.

Later, in his first epistle, John sums this up beautifully…

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. (1 John 3:1)

15:26-27 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.

The Historical Background

I agree with Carson that there is a synthetic parallelism here that helps us understand both the unity of the Trinity (namely the Father and the Son) and the sending agent (both Father and Son) which has been the sources of much controversy in church history.

The issue was that the Eastern Orthodox church held that the Spirit proceeded from the Father only, and saw the Son as not above the Spirit in hierarchy.  They couldn’t seem to divorce ontology from mission, or ontology from role.  As a result they saw verses like this as needing interpreted through the lens of their own Father-centric view, especially since they had a tendency to focus on ontology to the degree that they missed the main point of passages such as this, which are namely related to the mission of the Spirit (cf. Carson).

Eventually due to the heavy influence of Augustine on the Western Church the Latins (what I might call the Western Church in Rome) adopted what is known as the filioque. This is simply Latin for the term added to the Nicene Creed, “and the Son.”  This was added and ratified at the Council of Toledo in Spain in 589 A.D.

It was this addition (along with many political and power issues between East and West) that led to the major church schism of 1054 A.D. between the Eastern Orthodox Church in Constantinople and the Western Latin Church based in Rome.

“Maintaining the Cause of Christ”

This passage, however, isn’t mainly concerned with the ontology of the Trinity, rather it is Jesus’ way of reassuring His disciples that when He leaves He will send the Spirit.

As Matthew Henry puts it, “It is here promised that the blessed Spirit shall maintain the cause of Christ in the world, notwithstanding the opposition it should meet with.”  Indeed it is a comforting thought that we do not battle the world, the flesh and the Devil alone. We would utterly fail if this were the case.

I wonder, however, how we practically appropriate this each day.  Do we push through a frustrating circumstance, or do we pray through the problem?  Do we rest in Christ, or do we create anxiety in our hearts over that which we cannot control?

I do not think we spend enough time contemplating or grasping the power we have in the gift of the Spirit.  I do not personally claim and special understanding either practically or intellectually in this realm, but I do endeavor to better submit myself to His comforts and wisdom in the days ahead.

As John Owen aptly remarked, “Our greatest hindrance in Christian life is not our lack of effort, but our lack of acquaintedness with our privileges.”

In His mission the Spirit is the primary witness of Christ, and we are secondary witnesses in that we are simply the instruments, and not the source (cf. Henry & Ridderbos).  Therefore the Spirit uses His vessels (us) to do the Father’s will, which is to point men to Christ Jesus. He does this specifically in the following ways:

He saves us by regenerating power from slavery to sin

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:5-6)

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (2 Cor. 3:17)

He comforts us

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)

He intercedes for us

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)

He bears witness to our spirit/soul (giving us assurance of adoption and salvation)

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:14-17)

He enlightens us with the wisdom of the gospel

He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:14)

He gives us words to speak

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (John 14:26)

He uses His inspired word to sanctify us

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

Summing it up, the Spirit’s Mission: Ultimately the Spirit’s mission is to save souls and sanctify the bride of Christ. The Spirit is God’s active hand in time and history, bearing witness to Christ, and working through human instruments in supernatural ways to accomplish God’s good will for God’s glory.

And this practically applies toward daily victory in Christ…Calvin explains:

And, indeed, when the world rages on all sides, our only protection is, that the truth of God, sealed by the Holy Spirit on our hearts, despises and defies all that is in the world; for, if it were subject to the opinions of men, our faith would be overwhelmed a hundred times in a day.

We ought, therefore, to observe carefully in what manner we ought to remain firm among so many storms. It is because “we have received, not the spirit of the world, the but Spirit which is of God, what we may know the things which have been given to us by God (1 Cor. 2:12).” This single Witness powerfully drives away, scatters, and overturns, all that the world rears up to obscure or crush the truth of God. All who are endued with this Spirit are so far from being in danger of falling into despondency on account of the hatred or contempt of the world, that every one of them will obtain a glorious victory over the whole world.

Study Notes for 10-27-13, John 14:15-24

Below are study notes for John 14:15-24

14:15-17 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. [16] And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, [17] even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

“If” You Love Me

Here we see that the prerequisite for obedience to Christ’s commands is a love for Him.  That makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?  I mean, if we are in love with the Lord Jesus, then of course we will want to obey Him!

But the next thing that should come to mind is that we can’t obey the law even if we do love Jesus.  The disciples don’t even get a chance to ask the question, which should be: How are we supposed to follow all of your commands, or even want to do that all of the time? Instead, Jesus anticipates the problem and promises the Holy Spirit to them.  Until now they have had Him as their helper – that is why Jesus says “another” helper.  The first “helper” was Jesus, and the second is the Spirit (later I will explain the term “paraklētos” which is the Greek term translated “helper” here).

If we examine the passage closely, we’ll notice that all the way from verse 15 or so through about verse 26 there is a theme that Jesus develops for the disciples, namely, that the Holy Spirit will come to represent Himself.  Jesus is going away, and He wants to comfort the disciples and prepare them for that absence by explaining not only what they will need to do, but how they are going to do it.

Now the Holy Spirit’s role is obvious from the verses we read here, and what we’ll read below. Here the Spirit is said to help us by causing us to love Christ. You might not see that immediately, but that is the clear implication.  For those who love Christ obey His commands, and because its clear that Jesus knows we need help to obey commands, we must also need help to love Him.  John would write about this in his epistles:

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. (1 John 4:11-13)
 
We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)
 

And so it is that the Spirit is the one who creates in us a love for God. He softens our hearts, and speaks softly to us, explaining the great truths of God’s gospel.  Without His initiative, we would still be dead in our trespasses.

Jesus explains here also that “the world cannot receive Him”, that is to say that on our own we cannot receive the Spirit of God. It isn’t up to us who receives the gift of the Spirit. God is the one who sovereignly chooses who He will to abide with. We’ll address this in more depth in just a moment…

You know Him Already

The last thing Jesus says in these three verses is that the disciples already know the Spirit. This is a mysterious thing.  Pastor Scotty Smith writes:

As Jesus continues instructing his disciples in advance of his ascension we enter the most profound teaching about the Trinity to be found anywhere in the Bible. There is much mystery here, but let us affirm what is clearly in the text. The better we know Jesus, the more Trinitarian we will become. The gospel is the means by which we enter the fellowship, love, and joy shared by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit throughout eternity – a staggering thought indeed.
 

Therefore, we should look closely here at what Jesus is saying and marvel a bit…Jesus can say, “You know him” Because, “he dwells with you and will be in you.” Let’s not miss this, because I think it’s a really important statement. What Jesus is saying is that even though they don’t yet have the Spirit living inside of them, they have been with Jesus, and that is tantamount to knowing the Spirit already. For not only is Jesus filled with the Spirit, but when the Spirit comes it will be as if they have Jesus right there with them – only now instead of having Jesus walking the hills of Judea with them, they will have Him in their hearts.

Why is this important?  Because you have that same Spirit, Christian! You have the Lord Jesus’ Spirit living within you, you are the temple of the living God. His mind, His will, His love for you is embodied in the fact that He sent His Spirit to you.  What I mean by this is that He has a plan and a love for you, and He is working that out through the power and person of the Holy Spirit.

To have the Spirit is to have Jesus, and to have Jesus is to have the Father, as we shall soon see…

This is why it is vital to understand that our God is a triune God, and that He is three persons, each with different roles.

14:18-20 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. [19] Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. [20] In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

First, I want to note that at the end of verse 18 we see here that Jesus says, “I will come to you.” This just further shows what I mention above about how Jesus Himself is coming to us in the form of His Spirit.  They are not one in the same person, rather, they are so alike in their mind and purpose that we cannot tell them apart.  They are on the same mission, and they are both part of the One Godhead. Having the Spirit is tantamount to having Jesus live within us – that is what Jesus is saying here.

The entire idea is tied up together in verse 20, “I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” That is the whole idea!  This is DEEP water we’ve just wandered into.  But what an amazing thing.  Jesus is teaching us something about the Trinity here, and about how role in the Kingdom. He is saying that His bride, that’s us, will be “in Him” and He will be “in us” just as He is “in” the Father. Don’t miss this. Cherish this. This is such profound, such wonderful truth that you can’t forget it.

What are the consequences?  Well I can think of several, but especially one: if we are that close to Christ and that “in” the Trinity, then surely there is nothing (as Paul writes in Romans 8) that can separate us from His love!  In other words, to separate us from the love of Christ would be like separating Jesus from the Father, or the Spirit from Jesus.  It is unthinkable, in fact, it is impossible.

Adoption and Love

Now, secondly, since we have seen and laid the foundation for understanding how Jesus will be with us, and how it is that we will do those greater works (in and because of the Spirit), we see that there is a side-benefit to having Christ go away…we are adopted into His family!

I think that verses 18 and 20 are closely tied to 21 and 15.  What I mean by that is that Jesus is saying that by loving Him, it shows that you are part of His family. Love is a by-product of family membership. Love happens for two reasons: First, because the Spirit has adopted us into the family by regenerating us to everlasting life and enabled us to love as Christ loves, and secondly, because of His work we have a desire to love. So there is His initiating action here, and our obedient response.  Jerry Bridges calls this “dependent responsibility” because not only to re require Him to start us off on the path, but we rely on His help to stay on the path.

So we see here that love is a mark of family membership.  We love because we are adopted!

Lastly, and more particularly to this passage, I want to note how Jesus says, “because I live, you also will live.”  What He means here is to signify the importance of the resurrection. Because we are “in” Him, that means that when He conquered death, when He arose from the grace, when He ascended into heaven, that we, too, arose and are guaranteed heaven.  Why? Because, again, we are “in” Him.  To be “in” the Lord is to be guaranteed all of the promises that He has earned for us.

Listen to how Paul describes the Spirit’s interaction with our spirit in reminding us of this great promised adoption:

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:15-17, ESV)
 

Therefore, because He earned life, we get life. Because He was perfectly righteous, we are made perfectly righteous in the eyes of God. Because He broke the bonds of sin and death, we too have been loosed from sin, and will never taste spiritual death.

Think about the significance that the resurrection now has in your mind and your life. If Jesus never rose from the grave, then all of this is moot (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). We’d still be dead in our sins. But Jesus is here saying (ahead of all of this even occurring, mind you) that when He rises from the dead, we too will walk in “newness of life.”  This is what Paul was saying in Romans 6:

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:4-11)
 

Later Paul adds:

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:9-11, ESV)
 

14:21-24 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” [22] Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” [23] Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. [24] Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.

Here we have once again the reiteration of what Jesus said earlier.  Verse 21 and verse 15 are almost identical. If we love Him we keep His commands.  It harkens us back to the sermon on the mount where Jesus said that those who bare fruit are those who are His.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:15-20)
 

The second thing that Jesus says here is that, “my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”  This is very much like verse 20 when He said, “I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”  The idea here is that not only is Jesus in us, but that the Father is also in us.  This would have been enough to blow the minds of the disciples.

NOTE: this passage, along with others, has been historically used to support to filioque insertion in the Nicene Creed which states that the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. It is this addition that eventually helped create a schism between the Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin/Catholic) church (the major historically recognized year of this is 1054, even though the problems and disagreements started well prior to this). 
 

We read earlier how Philip said ‘just show us the Father and that is enough for us Jesus!’  And I explained how the Jews thought of seeking the face of the Lord, and the face of God, and how Aaron’s benediction embodied this idea of being blessed by the revealing of God’s face to us one day. The idea derives from the time when Moses learned that no man can see God and live, but was allowed to view God’s “hindquarters” (in anthropomorphic language).  The idea being that God’s face is so glorious and so bright and resplendent that to view it would be too much for a finite creature to handle – we would die instantly.

Now here we begin to see the sweetness of the revelation we have in NT times. Not only has God sent His Son to us in the incarnation, not only did He die for our sins and impute to us His own righteousness, but He has gone a step further still.  He is going to live within us – His Spirit abiding in us! Meaning, as Jesus says here, that the Father and the Son will essentially be using us as their temple on earth.  They will be manifesting their presence on earth through us!

Have you stopped to consider the ramifications of this? We have become to used to the idea of the immanence of God, that we forget who it is we’re talking about here. We forget so easily in our day that this Being who inhabits the believer is the same one who spoke the universe into existence!

If that doesn’t lend some sobriety to your walk with Christ I don’t know what will.  Because Jesus is reminding us here that if we really love Him, you will pursue Him, you will obey Him, you will understand the reality that the God of heaven and earth has deigned to come down and live – in you!

D.A. Carson is right to mention that, in a very strong way, this passage builds on antecedent passages about the Spirit, the one that I want to mention most particularly is in 4:23-24 where Jesus (speaking to the Samaritan woman) says:

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24, ESV)
 

Oh the sweetness, oh the condescension, oh the love of God in this! Can you not see how crucial this is to understand?  God has sought out those who will worship Him in “spirit and in truth” – He is doing this by putting His Spirit within us. He wants us to know Him properly, and for our minds to do this He must be the first to act.  He must take the initiative, and He must powerfully work within us. As we read earlier:

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. (John 6:63, ESV)
 

Jesus is urging us on here to think DEEPLY about the reality of what is going on here. You must take this seriously and understand the privileges and responsibilities associated with being a Christian. This is a call to loving, awe-filled obedience to your Lord.

Not to the World

Lastly, I didn’t want to skip over what Judas says here because he has a good question. He has heard Jesus say already, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  So if God loved the “world”, why is it that He won’t manifest Himself to the world?

The answer is that while God loves His creation, He has a special and specific plan of redemption for His chosen sheep. We start with the prerequisite understanding that the world cannot receive Him because the world does not want Him.

And contrary to the rejection of Christ, the world will not have a “choice” to accept the Spirit in the same way they saw the incarnate Christ and rejected Him. For the Spirit’s mission, though a continuation of Christ’s, has different objectives, that is to say that Christ is working to accomplish something new through the Spirit (the next phrase of His redemptive plan), namely the quickening of all those whom the Father has predestined to life and the reside within them, fashioning them after His image, and keeping them (preserving them) until the day Jesus Christ returns or we die and join Him in Heaven.

Be sure of one thing: Jesus knows who will believe and who won’t (see John 6:64), and He will not cast pearls before swine. He will not reveal His glory to all. Those who receive the Lord Jesus and the joy of eternal life are those whom He has chosen, those whom His Spirit has softened and called to Himself.  This is, of course, the work of the Spirit. He is the one doing the softening and calling and regenerating.

The world cannot receive the Spirit, not because the Spirit isn’t the one doing the work, not because the Spirit can’t soften the hearts of men. But simply because the Spirit isn’t going to soften the hearts of all men. He isn’t going to be sent to the whole “world”, but rather to those for whom Christ died.

Study Notes 10-21-12

Chapter 8

CONTEXT NOTE: There is a great deal of discussion amongst scholars as to whether or not the first 11 verses of John 8 are part of the Canon of Scripture.  After consulting with our own pastor, and with commentators from every age of the church, I believe that it is part of the Canon, although it was not perhaps originally part of John’s gospel and may have been meant to go in Luke’s gospel, or may have been meant to be placed elsewhere.

Nevertheless, while men across church history seem to agree that this was not a passage in the original manuscripts, they almost all equally agree that the passage should be included in the canon.  Here are a few thoughts from wiser men than myself on the matter, and why we ought to still consider this passage as inspired by the Holy Spirit and therefore worthy of our consideration and reverence:

Calvin says this, “…it has always been received by the Latin Churches, and is found in many old Greek manuscripts, and contains nothing unworthy of an Apostolic Spirit, there is no reason why we should refuse to apply it to our advantage.”

Our own Pastor Gabbard said, “Even though this passage is not found in the earliest manuscripts, my recollection is that it is in enough later manuscripts to still give it some credibility. I have always taken the position that since God in his sovereignty allowed this passage to be in our Bibles for hundreds of years and it is a beautiful story which is consistent with the character and ministry of Christ, I teach it as the word of God.”

D.A. Carson says, “On the other hand, there is little reason for doubting that the event here described occurred, even if in its written form it did not in the beginning belong to the canonical books.  Similar stories are found in other sources. One of the best known, reported by Papias (and recorded by the historian Eusebius) is the account of a woman, accused in the Lord’s presence of many sins (unlike the woman here who is accused of but one). There narrative before us also has a number of parallels with stories in the Synoptic Gospels.  The reason for its insertion here may have been to illustrate 7:24 and 8:15 or, conceivably, the Jews’ sinfulness over against Jesus’ sinlessness (8:21, 24, 46).”

MacArthur, speaking to the external evidence says, “The external evidence also casts doubt on the authenticity of these verses. The earliest and most reliable manuscripts, from a variety of textual traditions, omit it.”  But then goes on to say, “It contains no teaching that contradicts the rest of Scripture. The picture it paints of the wise, loving, forgiving Savior is consistent with the Bible’s portrait of Jesus Christ. Nor is it the kind of story the early church would have made up about Him.”  Finally he comments, “The story was most likely history, a piece of oral tradition that circulated in parts of the Western church. (Most of the limited early support for its authenticity comes from Western manuscripts and versions, and from Western church fathers such as Jerome, Ambrose and Augustine.)”

Leon Morris has this to say, “The textual evidence makes it impossible to hold that this section is an authentic part of the Gospel (of John)…In addition to the textual difficulty many find stylistic criteria against the story. While the spirit of the narrative is in accordance with that of this Gospel the language is not Johannine.”  Morris continues, however, by stating, “Throughout the history of the church it has been held that, whoever wrote it, this little story is authentic. It rings true. It speaks to our condition. And it can scarcely have been composed in the early church with its sternness about sexual sin. It is thus worth our while to study it tough not as an authentic part of Jon’s writing.”

James Montgomery Boice says this, “The difficulty, simply put, is that the majority of the earliest manuscripts of John do not contain these verses and, moreover, that some of the best manuscripts are of this number…Interestingly enough, very few scholars (even man of the liberal ones) seem willing to do this (omit the passage), and the fact that a good case can be made out for the other side, should make one cautious in how he deals with it. I am willing to deal with the story as genuine – though perhaps not a part of the original Gospel as John wrote it (then he lists several reasons which I will not take time to list here).”

Finally, R.C. Sproul says this, “The overwhelming consensus of textual critics is that it was not part of the original Gospel of John, at least not this portion of John. At the same time, the overwhelming consensus is that this account is authentic, it’s apostolic, and it should be contained in any edition of the New Testament…I believe it is nothing less than the very word of God, so I will treat it as such in this chapter.”

I know that John Piper, John Calvin, Ambrose, and many other great pastors and theologians also lay out good and convincing cases for including this passage in Scripture.  And so the task before us is no longer to question the veracity and authenticity of this text as apostolic, but to agree that it is the “very Word of God” as Sproul says, and submit ourselves to its teaching and authority.

The Text

7:53-8:1 They went each to his own house, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

The first thing we note here is that Jesus went up on the Mount of Olives after everyone else went home.  This is significant for a few reasons.

First, this is the only reference to the Mount of Olives in John – perhaps a reason to doubt the manuscript here should be included in John and not in Luke or one of the other synoptics.

Second, it reminds us that Jesus was homeless.  In Matthew 8:20 we hear Christ say, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” MacArthur notes that we cannot note for certain that He slept out under the stars or whether He went a short distance on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives at the home of Lazurus, Martha and Mary, however, I think it’s a good reminder of the humiliation of the incarnation.  MacArthur also agrees and cites the famous passage from Phil. 2:7-8.

Third, Boice points out that what Jesus normally did on the Mount of Olives was commune with His Father in prayer.  This is something to keep in mind as we head into the text ahead of us.  While Jesus was communing in prayer with His Father, the Pharisees and Scribes were laying a sinful plot to trap Him. Boice says that from a practical standpoint, if we are to imitate Christ in His handling of the situation before us in all the difficulties we face in our own lives, we must also imitate Him in His devotion to prayer.  “Where does this compassionate attitude toward other persons come from in practical experience? It comes only from communing with our heavenly Father. We are personal with others only when we know ourselves to be persons (as opposed to “things”).  We know ourselves to be persons only when we see ourselves as persons before God.”

8:2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them.

In classic Rabbinic style, Jesus sits down to teach.  Note also that all the people were coming to Him on their own.  Truth draws people in who have a desire to learn about God – something many modern day pastors would do well to remember as they lay out their church “marketing campaigns.”

8:3-4 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst [4] they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery.

Several scholars take time to note how the author puts together “the scribes and the Pharisees” here.  This isn’t a very Johannine phrase – but is one used a lot in the synoptic gospels.

Scribes were also called lawyers and they were experts at reading and writing opinions about the law of Moses.  We ought not to be confused here into thinking that the scribes and Pharisees were one in the same, for they were not.  Scribes were simply lawyers – that was their training and trade.  It is how they made their living.  Pharisees were a political type of party (at least that’s the best way I can describe it).  Not all Pharisees were scribes, and conversely, not all scribes were Pharisees.  In fact, my scribes had strong alliances with the ruling class of the Sadducees.

Now, we note here that this group of people says that this woman has been “caught” in the act of adultery.  What they are inferring is that she has been caught in the very act – not in simply a compromising situation.  Jewish scholars (note Morris, Boice, and Sproul) are clear that in order to be seized on this matter, it would require at least 2-3 witnesses, and all the details of the witnesses had to match exactly.  Thus it was very hard to get into this situation.  For one had to be caught in the very act, and there had to be several witnesses, and their testimony had to agree in every part down to each detail.

8:5-6 Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” [6] This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.

The Evil Trap for a Young Woman

The text that these guys are referring to is found in a few places.  First, the most notable text for this would have been in Deuteronomy 22:22, which says:

“If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.

The first thing we note here is that someone is missing from the scene.  Who?  Why the man who committed the act along with the woman!  Perhaps the man got away, though this is unlikely if he was caught in the very act (a requirement of the law as mentioned above) of adultery.  It is also possible that the man was an important person – perhaps on the Sanhedrin council – and the Pharisees didn’t want to arrest him.  There is also the very dark and nefarious possibility that James Boice is right on this and that the man (whoever he was) was involved in the plot to setup this young woman by the Pharisees, and therefore have something with which to trap Jesus.

I can’t think of a more dark and sinister thing than this.  But as we read on here, it becomes apparent, at least to me, that this is probably what these evil men had done.

Now, looking at the language that the Pharisees’ use here, we note that they have a specific intent in mind, a specific form of execution that they believe that Moses commands them to follow – namely stoning.   If we read further on in Deuteronomy 22 we read this:

“If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, [24] then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. (Deuteronomy 22:23-24)

So we see that this method of execution was reserved only for those who were betrothed and fell into immorality – most of whom were young women and men, probably 13-15 years old.  Therefore, it’s very likely that this young woman was not a prostitute, but a teenage girl that was lured into a terrible trap by these evil men.  They were using her for their own evil purposes.

The Legal Trap for Jesus

Now that we see what this group of evil men had been working on with regard to this poor young woman, we turn our attention to the legal trap that they had concocted for Jesus.

R.C. Sproul explains, “The Romans permitted significant self-rule in the nations they conquered, but they did not allow vassal nations to exercise the death penalty in capital cases…If Jesus were to say, ‘Stone the woman,’ they would run to the Roman headquarters and say, ‘This teacher is advocating that we exercise capital punishment without going through the Roman system.’ That way they would get Jesus in trouble with the Romans. But if He were to say, ‘Don’t stone her,’ they would run back to the Sanhedrin and say, ‘This Jesus is a heretic because He denies the law of Moses.’ No matter how Jesus answered the question, He would be in serious trouble.”

In addition to the issue with Him getting into trouble with the Romans if He were to pronounce the guilty verdict, some Scholars (MacArthur, Boice, Morris among others) think that Jesus would also undermine His ministry which was marked by compassion – and would perhaps even contradict what He said in John 3:17, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Though this might be the case, I don’t think it is necessarily what the scribes and Pharisees had in their minds.  I don’t think their mission at this stage was to simply undermine His ministry, but to find a reason to put Him to death.

Jesus Write in the Sand

The reaction of Jesus to their question is odd – very odd indeed!  There are so many theories on what it is that Jesus wrote that I can’t even begin to list them all here.  Most scholars that I respect say that we simply cannot know what He wrote, and that, as Sproul says, “We have to be careful about speculation. As John Calvin said in his commentary on Romans, when God closes His holy mouth, we should desist from inquiry.”

So I will not spend time on what He might or might not have said.  Needless to say, it further provoked His enemies, who continued to pester Him for an answer.

8:7-8 And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” [8] And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground.

Jesus’ words are masterful.  He doesn’t vacillate between Moses and Roman law (as Sproul notes), but sides with Moses, and upholds the law of the Old Testament without directly engaging in the judgment Himself, and therefore not incurring any legal issues with Rome.

But His words are masterful in other ways as well.  He is actually shedding light on a problem – namely that we are all guilty of sin, we have all fallen short of God’s glory and high standard (Rom. 3:23), and that there is only one righteous judge of the universe who is fit to issue the verdict.  But at the same time, if we are all guilty, and we all deserve to die, how can the law of Moses be upheld while still believing in a God that is good and merciful?

This is the problem that Paul addressed in Romans 3:26 – As Boice points out, “Ho can God be both just and the justifier of the ungodly? From a human point of view the problem is unsolvable.”

But because with God “all things are possible” there is a solution.  Namely that Jesus bore our punishment in His body on the cross.  So that God would be just and not wink at sin (as Sproul is commonly saying) and still punish sin and therefore remain just, while providing mercy for those whom He has predestined to salvation (the elect).  Our punishment has not been excused and forgotten.  That sentence has been carried out – Jesus bore our sentence for us on the cross.

8:9 But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.

These men thought they had trapped Jesus, but now they were so utterly undone by the overpowering nature and truth of His words (and perhaps even His presence) that their hearts melted within them.  One minute they had stones in their hands ready to physically kill someone, the next they were so struck in mind and heart that they had to flee the scene.

James Boice comments “Think of the efforts they had gone through! Think of the plotting! Yet there were destroyed in a moment when they were confronted by the God who masters circumstances.”

8:10-11 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” [11] She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

How can we explain the reaction of Jesus here?  Boice says that His response was characterized by understanding, compassion, forgiveness, and a challenge.  I think he is right on the money with this breakdown (MacArthur offers a similar, though less compelling outline as well).  I will use his outline here but add my own thoughts under each section:

He is Understanding: Jesus knows all circumstances, all hearts, all minds.  There is nothing about this situation that Jesus doesn’t fully comprehend or understand.  He sees the hearts of the scribes and Pharisees, and He sees the heart of the young woman here.

He is Compassionate and Loving: The best way to think about the love and compassion Jesus had for this young lady is to think about how you love your own children.  It’s an unconditional kind of love.  You don’t love them because they are good, or because they are yours (they could have been adopted), or because they are talented or handsome or pretty.  There is an almost divine and unexplainable love you have for them.  Your heart is knitted to theirs in an almost supernatural way.  That is the way Christ sees people.  That’s how He saw this young lady, and that’s how He sees you and me.

Furthermore, that’s how we are called to see others.  We aren’t to use people like these Pharisees did.  What they did was so evil and so dark that we think we never act this way.  But as Boice points out, we are all guilty of using people from time to time.  We treat others as less than human, and we forget how God loves them, and how He loves us despite our deep sinfulness.

Boice says this, “Love is unexplainable. The best you can say is that love is divine and that you love him (others/your children) because God himself has loved us.”

Christ is Forgiving:

I think it may well be said here that Jesus forgave this young lady – for he says that He does not condemn her.  However, we aren’t told specifically if she sought repentance.  I do think, though, that He would not have issued these words if He had not already looked into her heart and seen her repentance.  I don’t want to get too far down the road of speculation here though, for no one can know what is in a man’s (or woman’s) heart.

The most important principle here is that of Christ’s forgiveness not merely for the specific sin in view, but for sin of any kind.

Now matter how disgusting, evil, or hateful, our sin can still be forgiven by the Lord of lords.  Interestingly enough none of the commentators talk about Christ’s view of the Pharisees and scribes at this juncture. Surely if there was ever a group that could have been called Christ’s “enemy” it was this group of men.  But what does Christ tell us about our enemies?  He tells us to love them (Matt. 5:44).  And so none of His enemies receives a stinging rebuke by Jesus in this instance – though they deserved it. Rather He goes right to the heart of the matter, piercing their souls and pricking their consciences with truth that could not be warded off even by the stony defenses of a hardened heart.  What is amazing to me is the thought that not only did Christ love this woman, but He probably had a love for those who were accusing Him (Luke 23:34) – perhaps even some in that group would later repent of their sins and follow Him (Acts 6:7).

Christ Issues a Challenge:

He says, “go, and from now on sin no more.”  Forgiveness is followed by a challenge, and we receive the same admonition as well from Paul who says:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? [2] By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? [3] Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? [4] We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

[5] For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. [6] We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. [7] For one who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:1-7)

As followers of Jesus Christ, we have had our sins atoned for and we are no longer slaves to sin. This is an important final point. In the garden Adam could choose to sin, or choose not to sin.  We know which way he went.  But he was not a slave to sin as most of the human race is today. When Adam fell into sin, all men born afterwards were born into slavery.  We couldn’t not choose to sin.  We were sinners by our very nature. Such was our state prior to Christ!  Now we, like Adam originally, can choose either to sin or not to sin.  Often we follow the flesh, but as we become more and more conformed into the image of Christ, we choose to sin less and less.

The challenge we face is to crucify our desires of the flesh, and put on the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 13:14). This challenge is one we can meet with gusto because we have motivation that most people don’t have – we have hope for a wonderful eternity in heaven, and we have the enjoyment and communion with God right now.  In short, we are motivated by the gospel and by His love for us.