The Gospel of John (Part Two)

By Steven Barto, B.S. Psych.

IN THE FIRST PART of this study, we looked at the reasons why John chose to write his account of the way of Jesus. We saw John present Jesus as the Word who was with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit at Creation. John described Jesus as the Light of the world. He reviewed the ministry of Jesus, including His teachings and mighty miracles, recounting Jesus’s claim of divine authority. At the end of Part One, we see that John had mentioned the mounting opposition to Jesus. In Part Two, we will examine the final days of the life and death of Jesus. We’ll see how He marched forward in all boldness and authority up to the moment He gave up His spirit, dying for the sins of all mankind.

Final Days Before Crucifixion

We join Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus in the eleventh chapter of John’s gospel. The stone was rolled away and Jesus said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me” (John 11:41-42, NIV). After saying this to the Father, Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” (11:43). Some of the Jews who witnessed Lazarus rising from the dead went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. The chief priests and the Pharisees called an emergency meeting of the Sanhedrin. They said, “What are we accomplishing? Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation” (11:47-48, NIV).

Caiaphas, who was high priest at that time, spoke up: “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish” (11:49-50). Barclay translates 11:49b, “You are witless creatures!” Caiaphas tells the Sanhedrin that Jesus must die, adding, “You don’t seem to grasp the fact that it is in our interest that one man die rather than the entire nation be destroyed.” Even at this early juncture, the high priest believed Jesus represented a threat to Israel as a nation. He was quite concerned that if Jesus continued making divine claims and raising the dead, God might once again pour out His wrath on Israel. Caiaphas wanted to preserve “political” Israel. He failed to realize that the death of Jesus would guarantee spiritual life to Jew and Gentile alike who came to Him by faith.

As the Feast of the Passover approached, many Jews traveled to Jerusalem from the surrounding countryside. Passover was one of Israel’s great pilgrim feasts. Jews came to Jerusalem early in order to fulfill the requirements of ceremonial cleansing. (We read about these ceremonies in Exodus 19:10-15 and Numbers 9:9-14.) Many were looking about, wondering if Jesus would show at the Feast. The masses were unaware that the chief priests had issued orders for anyone who knew where Jesus was to report it to the temple officials. The Sanhedrin intended to arrest Jesus. John used the Greek word dedôkeisan (“had given”) rather than the aorist word edôkan, reflecting the continuing nature of this command. The order was to remain in effect in full force until Jesus was located and apprehended. This is similar to the BOLO phrase used by law enforcement today: be on the lookout for Jesus. John essentially brings chapter eleven to a close with an air of expectancy hanging over the city. What would be the fate of Jesus if He were to make an appearance at Passover?

Jesus drew near to Jerusalem, arriving at Bethany six days before Passover. It was a Saturday. He attended a dinner served by Lazarus and his sisters (John 12:2). After dinner, Mary took an expensive ointment and anointed the feet of Jesus, wiping it away with her hair. It is no coincidence that Mary chose to anoint Jesus in these final days prior to burial, perhaps as part of the yearly ceremonial cleansing. He was to soon be killed and buried.

Judas Iscariot objected to the waste of expensive oil, stating it could have been sold and the money used to feed the poor. It is said this oil was worth “a year’s wages,” which was about three hundred denarii. The average daily wage of a working person was one denarius, so the value of the ointment was exceedingly great. (In today’s currency, its value would have been about $30,000.) Remember, Judas was essentially the treasurer of the disciples’ money. John said, “He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it” (12:6, NIV). Jesus rebuked Judas, saying, “The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me” (12:8, RSV).

The next day, Jesus made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. At that time a “great crowd” of pilgrims who had come early to Jerusalem heard Jesus was on His way to the city. They took up palm branches and went out to meet Him. Certainly, many of those in the crowd had learned of the great miracles performed by Jesus, and many had actually heard Him speak. Some might have privately thought, “Perhaps now He will step forward, take on the mantle of leadership, and guide Israel to a brighter future.” After all, anyone who could raise Lazarus from the dead was certainly able to free the Jews from Roman oppression. As Jesus approached, the crowd began to shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” Interestingly, the Hebrew expression that appears in Psalm 118:25 (which is similar to the phrase hosanna) is, “Save now, I pray, O LORD; O LORD, I pray, send now prosperity” (NKJV). John notes in 12:19 that the Pharisees were beside themselves over the crowd’s enthusiasm of Jesus entering Jerusalem: “So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!'” (NIV).

Jesus makes a prophetic statement to the crowd, saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:23-25, NIV). Jesus said, “Father, glorify your name! Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.’ The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. Jesus said, ‘This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die”(12:28-33, NIV).

Chapter thirteen of John’s gospel marks the beginning of the final period in the life of Jesus here on earth. It was just before the Passover Feast, and Jesus knew the time had come for Him to leave this world and go to the Father. At this time, Jesus began to prepare to wash the feet of the disciples. This made Peter feel rather uncomfortable. Peter said, “‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus replied, ‘You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ ‘No,’ said Peter, ‘you shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’ ‘Then, Lord,’ Simon Peter replied, ‘not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!'” (13:5-9, NIV). Jesus then explained to the disciples that they were already washed clean through their belief in Him, but He noted that not every one of them was clean, referring to Judas Iscariot, who would betray Christ before the high priests.

The Last Supper and the Betrayal

Judas’s treachery made a marked impression on John. (He referred to Judas as “the devil” 6:70-71.) During their last supper together, Jesus told His disciples that one of them would betray Him. They asked, “Lord, who is it?” (13:25). Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I shall give this morsel when I have dipped it.” After dipping the piece of bread, Jesus handed it to Judas (13:26). Some commentaries note that to offer a special morsel was one of the ways a host could honor a distinguished guest. Every possible opportunity was given to Judas to turn from his wicked plan. On this special evening, he was given the place of honor and acknowledged by a distinct act of respect. Judas took the morsel, and immediately Satan entered into him. Jesus said to Judas, “What you are about to do, do quickly” (13:27-28). It seems no one at the table yet understood why Jesus said this to Judas. They may have thought Judas was to go out and buy what was needed for the Feast. Judas had hidden his duplicity well.

We read the following words in Psalm 55:12-13, “It is not an enemy who taunts me–then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me– then I could hide from him. But it is you, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend” (RSV). The name “Judas” is instantly connected with betrayal. Few believers realize that Judas was carefully and prayerfully handpicked by Jesus Christ to be among the select group of twelve disciples. No doubt Jesus had good reasons for making the choice, though the purpose is not clearly revealed in Scripture. In fact, prior to Jesus selecting Judas to become the twelfth disciple, the Bible doesn’t mention him. Nevertheless, Judas closely followed Jesus, and paid attention to the words and actions of this extraordinary man from Nazareth. Like the others, Judas preached about the Kingdom of God, healed people, and exercised power and authority over evil spirits. Judas was there. He saw it all. He did it all. Perhaps his loyalty had begun to unravel when he complained about the waste of expensive ointment by Mary to wash the feet of Jesus?

As we saw earlier, the Bible tells us that Satan entered Judas’s heart at the time he betrayed Jesus, and he went out to gather the temple officers and Pharisees to tell them the location where Jesus and the disciples would be later. Perhaps Judas was deceived and didn’t understand the deadly intentions of the Pharisees. His eyes were open following the arrest of Jesus, and he immediately understood he helped put the life of Jesus in grave peril. Matthew’s gospel tells us, “When Judas, his betrayer, saw that he was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, ‘I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.’ They said, ‘What is that to us? See to it yourself.’ And throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself” (Matthew 27:3-5, RSV).

Promise of the Holy Spirit

In John 14:16, Jesus says, “And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, 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” (RSV). This “Spirit” in the Greek is paraklêtos, which is not necessarily easy to translate. Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible says, “The gift of the Spirit is a fruit of Christ’s mediation, bought by his merit, and received by his intercession. The word used here signifies an advocate, counsellor [sic], monitor, and comforter” (p. 1006). The Holy Spirit was to indwell the disciples after Christ’s departure. His gifts and graces would encourage their hearts.

The expression clearly denotes a person, not merely an office or a blessing. One point of contention over the decades has been whether the Holy Ghost (which was poured out on the disciples) is the same as the Holy Spirit that abides in the heart of every believer for ever. According to Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible, “give you another” means “Not me, but another divine person.” By “forever,” Jesus meant the Holy Spirit will never be taken away. In fact, He will be present during the Tribulation, the 1,000-year reign, and forever (see also Acts 2:16-21).

Jesus Teaches About Vital Relationships

Jesus tells the disciples, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit (John 15:1-2, RSV). Some biblical scholars believe Jesus was referring to Old Testament references to Israel as a vine. Psalm 80:7-9 says, “Restore us, God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved. You transplanted a vine from Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it, and it took root and filled the land” (NIV). Jesus brings the vine analogy into focus in John 15:6: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (NIV).

Branches separated from the vine wither and die; they are good for nothing but to be burned. If we do not remain in Christ, we share the fate of the withered branch, which is picked up and thrown into the fire to be burned with other brush. Perhaps this is a foreshadow of eschatological punishment of the last days awaiting those who are not Christ’s. Interestingly, those who believe we can loose our salvation if we do not remain in Christ often refer to this Scripture to prove their theory. I believe such theological questions should be addressed through proper exegesis, with less figurative passages found elsewhere in the Bible, and not limited to secondary elements given in an allegory. In any event, Jesus suggests the example of the vine is a two-way arrangement: we abide in Him and He abides in us.

A New Commandment

Jesus says in John 15:10 that if we love Him we will keep His commandments. His focus turns to the concept of love. He says, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends… this is My command: Love each other” (15:12-13, 17, NIV). In the Greek, êgapêsa is used to call attention to the love of Jesus as demonstrated once for all of mankind when He died on the cross. The present-tense Greek word is agapate, meaning the continuous relationship of love that should exist between all believers. Of course, the ultimate proof of love is the willingness to sacrifice one’s life for a friend. Not only does this include Christ’s love for sinners, it also refers to the kind of love the disciples showed by being willing to die rather than denounce Jesus. The list of disciples and apostles who died because of their ministry is truly shocking: John, James, Philip, Barnabas, Mark, Peter, Paul, Silas, Andrew, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, Luke, Matthias, Antipas, Timothy. Indeed, Jesus told His followers to expect the world to hate them as the world also hated Him.

The Work of the Holy Spirit

Other than Paul’s teachings, John provides the most detail about how the Holy Spirit is to operate in the lives of believers. Admittedly, the explanation Jesus provides in the sixteenth chapter of John’s gospel is rather complex. He begins by telling the disciples not to mourn that He must leave. He says, “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned” (16:7-11, NIV).

Jesus adds, ““I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come” (16:12-13). The discourse Jesus presented on the Holy Spirit was incomplete, but He noted they would not yet understand the fullness of the Holy Spirit. They were too spiritually immature to grasp it. Jesus essentially deferred full disclosure until the Holy Spirit would come upon the disciples and others at Pentecost after Jesus had ascended to heaven to be with the Father. (First Thessalonians 4:9 indicates we are taught by Godi.e., through the Holy Spirit.) Until that time, the disciples would have been confused had Jesus pressed on regarding the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit’s role would be to guide the disciples into all truth. The verb hodêgeô is frequently used throughout the New Testament relative to the Holy Spirit guiding, showing, or teaching “all truth.” In each instance, the context shows that the Holy Spirit will continue the revelatory work of Jesus. He will become the new light, the new teacher, in the absence of Jesus. Please note this is not new truth. Modern erroneous teachers often use the concept of “new revelations” to support their heresy. But the words of Jesus that immediately follow define “all truth” in a less-than-universal sense, and do not give credence to “new” doctrines. It is not about dissemination of new truth but further revelation of the truth that is in Christ Jesus.

The Holy Spirit will also bring glory to the Son. He will accomplish this by drawing on the riches of Christ (Jesus said, “from what is mine”) and revealing His glory to the disciples and to New Testament believers. In other words, the Holy Spirit will promote a new sense of wonder and a deeper understanding regarding the teachings of Jesus. In this way, the Spirit brings clarity, resulting in praise and honor to Jesus. As the Son glorified the Father by all He said and did, so will the Holy Spirit bring glory to the Son by His work of divine illumination—not the revelation of new or changing truth. All truth is God’s truth. All truth is ontological.

The Time Has Come

Jesus told the disciples in John 16:32-33, “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (NIV). Now, in John 17:1-5, Jesus looks to heaven and says,”Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began” (NIV).

He continues by summarizing His ministry. “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours” (17:6-9, NIV). In praying to the Father, Jesus notes that all He has belongs to the Father, and all the Father has is His. All glory has come to Jesus through His disciples (17:10).

Jesus notes that His time for parting was near. He says, “I will remain in the world no longer” (17:11a). Being “in the world” was not merely a geographic reference. It spoke of Jesus sharing in the ups and downs of human existence. When Jesus entered the world as an infant, He came to Earth to interact with man; however, He also took on the same limitations we have. This was necessary in order for His incarnation to be effective. Hebrews 2:5-7a says, “It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified: “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, a son of man that you care for him? You made [man] a little lower than the angels…” (NIV). The incarnation is put into perspective in Hebrews 2:9: “But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”

The ongoing ministry of the disciples is noted by Jesus in John 17:16-19: “They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.” In any event, Jesus prays for all who will believe on Him. He says, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (17:20-21). He concludes, “I have made you known to [the world], and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them” (17:26).

The Lamb of God is Slain

We read in the eighteenth chapter of John’s gospel that, after Jesus finished praying, He and His disciples headed across the Kidron Valley to a garden. We know from the other gospels that this was the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed before being captured and brought before the Romans and the Sanhedrin. In John 17:3, Judas entered into the garden with a detachment of Romans soldiers and official representatives of the chief priests and Pharisees. Jesus asked, “Who is it you want?” (18:4b). “‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ they said” (18:4). Jesus replied, “I am he.” In the Greek, egô eimi reflects rendering of the pivotal self-description of God in Exodus 3:14. This same Greek phrase is used when Jesus says, “I am the bread of life (John 6:35). They stepped back and fell to the ground. In order to fulfill the words spoken by Jesus to the Father in John 17:12 (“I have not lost one of those you gave me.”), Jesus repeated that He was the one they sought, and added, ” I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go” (18:8). Jesus was bound and brought straightaway to Annas, and then to appear before Caiaphas, the High Priest of that time.

Truly, it is difficult to reconstruct everything that happened to Jesus that evening (under the cover of darkness), as the Pharisees wanted to conceal what they were about to do to Jesus. We know from Matthew 26:56 that all of the disciples deserted Him and fled. It is likely Peter was running for his life when he was confronted about being one of those who followed the Way of Jesus. As we know, Peter denied Christ three times. He did not publicly deny his personal faith in Jesus as the Messiah; rather, he disassociated himself with Jesus as an acquaintance. I find it interesting that many believers today do the same thing. It appears from John’s gospel that Peter continued his charade by pretending to be one of those who had apprehended Jesus. He later denied Jesus for a second and third time. In fact, he had been recognized by a servant of the high priests who had been in the garden when Jesus was arrested. We can almost expect Peter to confess, having been confronted by an eyewitness from earlier in the evening. Instead, there was a progressive nature to his denial and again he said he did not know Jesus. Immediately after, the rooster began to sound off.

Having made no progress with Jesus, Annas sent Him on to Caiaphas. While questioned by Caiaphas, Jesus said, “I have spoken openly to the world,” adding, “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret” (John 18:20). This is important. Jesus was fully aware of the angst and fear and resentment He had caused among the ranks of the high priests during His final months, yet He never hid the message. He spoke boldly and openly. Jesus said to Caiaphas, “Why question Me? Ask those who heard Me. Surely they know what I said” (18:21). This served only to insult the Pharisees. One from the group slapped Jesus in the face and said, “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” (18:22). Annoyed with Jesus, they sent Him to appear be before Pontius Pilate.

Pilate was unable to see any wrongdoing in Jesus, but the Pharisees said, “If he were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you” (18:30). Pilate believed the Pharisees should subject Jesus to trial under their own system, but they indicated a lack of authority to execute Him. I can imagine this pronouncement came as a shock to Pilate. Not only did he believe Jesus was guilty of nothing, he did not believe Jesus should be subjected to execution. Pilate goes back inside and asks Jesus, “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?” (18:35). Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place” (18:36). In other words, Jesus lay no claim to an earthly kingdom. He told Pilate He only came to testify to the truth. Pilate said rhetorically, “What is truth?” He returned to the Pharisees waiting outside, saying “I find no basis for a charge against him” (18:38). Wanting to quell the insurrection, Pilate decided this: “…it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release the king of the Jews? (18:39). “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!”

The nineteenth chapter of John’s gospel reports on the crucifixion of Jesus. As I noted in my post “Jesus Said, It is Finished,” Pilate sent Jesus to be flogged. Preparations for the scourging of Jesus were carried out. He was stripped naked and His hands were tied to a post above His head. The Roman legionnaire stepped toward Jesus with a flagrum in his hand, which is a short whip consisting of several heavy, leather thongs and two small balls of lead attached near the ends of each thong. They whipped Jesus to near-death. The soldiers made a “crown” of thorns and pressed it hard into the scalp of Jesus, then put a purple article of clothing around Him, mocking Him as king of the Jews. They marched Jesus to a hill outside the city called Golgotha.  He was thrown to the ground. Heavy, square, wrought-iron nails were driven through His wrists and deep into the wood. The feet of Jesus were pressed backward against the timber. A nail was driven through the arch of each foot, leaving the knees moderately flexed.

Jesus was raised up into the air on the cross. The soldiers took the outer garment off Jesus, leaving the undergarment. They cast lots to see who would get to keep it (19:23-24). Shortly thereafter, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said he was thirsty. A jar of wine vinegar sat next to the cross. A soldier soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to the lips of Jesus (19:28-29). When He had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit (19:30). After some time passed, the soldiers came to each of the two men crucified with Christ that day and broke their legs in order to speed up their deaths. When they came to Jesus, they saw that He was already dead, so they did not break His legs. This fulfills Psalm 34:20, which states relative to the righteous man, “…he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken” (NIV).

To be sure Jesus was dead, one of the soldiers picked up a spear and pierced His side, leaving a large wound. There was a sudden flow of blood and water. This was likely a mixture of coagulated blood and the watery serum in the pericardium (the sac surrounding the heart). For many, blood and water represent the two sacraments, while others see it as a reference to justification and sanctification. We are justified (redeemed) by the sacrificial blood of Jesus, and we are sanctified (set apart) for God by our faith in that sacrifice.

According to John 19:38-42, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Joseph was a secret disciple of Jesus, because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

The Empty Tomb

John tells us in chapter twenty (20:1-9) that early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. She ran to Peter and another other disciple and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” Peter and the disciple went to the tomb with Mary only to find strips of linen lying there but no body. John notes that the men did not yet understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead. Shortly thereafter, Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping. She saw two angels inside. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” She replied, “They have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they have put him” (20:11-13). Mary saw a figure standing beside her, but she did not realize it was Jesus. He said, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Mary thought this man might be the gardener. She said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” which means “Teacher.” Jesus told Mary to go “…to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God'” (20:16-17).

According to John, Jesus appeared to the disciples the first day of the week in a room that had been secured and locked from inside. Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (20:19-23). Jesus later appeared to Thomas (20:24-28). We know that Thomas doubted at first that this was Jesus. After touching the hands and side of Jesus, Thomas said, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (20:29). John writes, “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:30-31).

Jesus appears to His disciples again (“afterward”) by the Sea of Tiberias while several had gone onto the sea to catch fish. Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Him. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” Peter wrapped his outer garment around him and jumped into the water. The boat was approximately one hundred yards from shore (21:1-7).

The others jumped into the water also, swimming to shore with Peter. When they got to the beach, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus told Peter to bring the fish they caught to the shore. Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish (numbering 153). The disciples ate breakfast with Jesus. This was the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead (21:8-24). After they finished eating, Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Jesus. After Peter’s third “yes,” Jesus said, “Follow me.” I cannot help but remember that Peter had promised Jesus he’d never deny Christ. As Jesus was taken away on the night of His crucifixion, Peter in fact denied Jesus three times before a rooster crowed.

Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible remarks on the dialog between Jesus and Peter (21:15-19). It states, “We must not be surprised to have our sincerity called into question, when we ourselves have done that which makes it doubtful… the sincerity of our love to God must be brought to the test” (p. 1018). According to The Wycliff Bible Commentary, John 21:15-19 is sometimes called “The Restoration of Peter,” but this might be someone misleading. Peter had already been restored in the sense that he’d received forgiveness (see Luke 24:34). Wycliff says, “But the leadership of an erring disciple could hardly have been accepted for the days ahead, either by Peter or his brethren, apart from Christ’s explicit indication.” So Jesus asked Peter three times: (1) lovest thou me? (2) more than these? and (3) if so, prove it and “feed my sheep.”

References

Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1997.

Pfeiffer, Charles, and Harrison, Everett, editors. The Wycliff Bible Commentary. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1990.

The Gospel of John (Part One)

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psych.

THE GOSPELS OF Matthew, Mark, and Luke are remarkably similar, while John is quite different. This does not mean there are four “versions” of the Gospel. Through the four gospels the Good News is told from the perspective of four different writers. Why four unique explanations of the Gospel? Each of the writers had a specific audience in mind as they addressed the ministry of Jesus. Also, each gospel shows a unique relationship or experience with Christ. The writers expressed that element through targeted arrangements of the historical data of Jesus’s life. Given the immense amount of information in the Gospel of John, I will divide this article into two parts.

A Brief Look at The Synoptic Gospels

Matthew, Mark, and Luke are considered synoptic, meaning they include many of the same stories, often in a similar sequence, with similar or sometimes identical wording. The Greek word for “synoptic” is συνοπτικός, which means “seeing all together.” Regardless, the priority of each of the gospels was to focus on the message of the Good News. For example, Luke’s gospel correlates with the Book of Acts. There are seven corresponding themes in Luke and Acts: (1) salvation to the Gentiles; (2) progression of the Gospel throughout the ancient world; (3) the Holy Spirit; (4) the importance of prayer; (5) wealth, poverty, and marginalized society; (6) Christianity as the true Israel; and (7) treatment of Christians under the Roman Empire.

Why Did John Write His Gospel?

The Gospel of John presents an amazing exposition on Jesus Christ, and is perhaps the most succinct and elevated view of God found anywhere in literature. John presents a record of our Savior’s profound teaching, convincing arguments, and declarations of His divinity and relationship with the Father. This differs from Matthew, Mark, and Luke in that there is no genealogy of Jesus’s birth or childhood; nor does John list the numerous miracles, parables the ascension, or the Great Commission.

While some New Testament scholars believe the purpose of John’s gospel was to combat Docetism—the doctrine, important in Gnosticism, that Christ’s body was not human but either a phantasm or of real but celestial substance, and that therefore his sufferings were only apparent—and to oppose those who retained loyalty to him. John clearly states, “…but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name” (20:31, RSV). John tells about how Jesus dealt with individuals, what He preached to the crowds, how He trained the disciples, His debates with the religious leaders in Jerusalem, and a wonderful explanation of the gift of eternal life. John also describes the gathering storm Jesus would face soon as a result of his confrontation of “established religion” and its leaders. John’s gospel account has been received by believers worldwide as the best recitation of the way of Jesus—not just the way in which we are able to come to the Father, but also the way we are to interact with the fallen world in which we live.

At the outset, John chose to introduce Christ as the Word. “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 anything made that was made” (John 1:1-3, RSV). John tells us, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (v. 4). He is clear that Jesus is the Word incarnate who brings truth, grace and salvation. Jesus is God.

John was a personal witness to the ministry of Jesus. His gospel is an inspired record of the teachings, miracles, and crucifixion of Jesus as he saw them. His purpose was to set forth the evidence that Jesus is the Messiah, and that it is only through faith in Christ alone that we are saved. John repeatedly cites events that support this claim, often using words such as “witness” and “testimony.” He identifies many who can corroborate the acts of Jesus: Andrew, Philip, Nathaniel, Thomas, and Nicodemus to name a few. John’s gospel also provides details on Jesus’s arrest, trials before Pilate and Caiaphas, the scourging, His crucifixion and resurrection, and accounts of those who saw the risen Jesus before His ascension.

A Detailed Exposition

The first eighteen verses are sometimes referred to as the prologue—a somewhat misleading designation in that it tends to suggest the material covered in these verses is more introductory than substantive. John’s presentation of the Logos in the opening paragraph serves as an historical and theological summary of the entire book. He tells of  Jesus’s preexistence (prior to creation), His work in Creation, His incarnation, and His rejection by the world. John teaches of Jesus’s gift of eternal life to all who will receive Him. The Gospel of John is a sound and critical foundation on which to begin building our relationship with Jesus. The prologue is a poetic overture that combines the major theological principles that form the foundation of the entire Gospel.

In The Beginning

John begins with a majestic announcement regarding the very essence of Jesus Christ: “In the beginning was the Word.” Jesus was, is, and forever will be the Word—existing before time itself. The Word was not a created being. Rather, the Word is God and was with God at the moment of Creation. Heraclitus of Ephesus mentions “the Word” in his secular writings. He lived near Miletus, the birthplace of philosophy, and is best known for his belief that things are constantly changing (universal flux), that opposites coincide (unity of opposites), and that fire is the basic material of the world. He stated that God was always present: “Having harkened not to me but to the Word (logos) it is wise to agree that all things are one. Greek philosophers specifically believed that logos was the principle of reason or order in the world” [emphasis added]. This dovetails quite nicely with the doctrinal principle that Jesus was the Logos, co-creator with God the Father, and that He sustains (orders) all things.

John states that it was through the Word that all things were made. Remember, Genesis 1 tells us “God said” and it came to be. Words were spoken. Jesus (the Word) was the active agent in Creation. Paul writes in Colossians 1:15-17 that Jesus is is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; that in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, adding, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (RSV). Hebrews 1:2 reminds us that through Jesus God created the whole world. Life (zôê) is one of John’s favorite words. Zôê refers often to the supernatural life that comes from God, and which Christians share through faith in Jesus Christ. John says God (in His relationship with believers) is both the “bread of life” (6:35) and the “light of life” (8:12). John wants us to see Jesus as the light of men.

The True Light

It is important that we see Jesus as the light of men. It enables us to see God at work in the world. God gives “light” in the sense that He has endowed mankind with reason, intelligence, and the ability to discern between right and wrong. But the coming of the true Light has a far more important purpose. This light is given that we might comprehend the difference between life in the flesh and life in the Spirit. Had Jesus not come, bringing light to all, the human race would still be wandering the earth in spiritual darkness, cut off from fellowship from the Father following the expulsion of our first parents from the Garden of Eden. Some biblical scholars believe the primary meaning of “bring to light” includes illuminating man’s true nature outside of Christ.

John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (RSV). This a remarkable assertion of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. I would not be surprised if this is the point where most secular philosophers of the First Century took exception. Although these learned men believed in logos as a representation of eternal Reason, a claim that this eternal concept became flesh would give them much pause. By declaring that “the Word became flesh,” John answered the Docetics who, while acknowledging that Jesus was divine, could not bring themselves to accept the fact that He was also fully human. They would claim that Jesus only appeared to be a real man.

There is a critical explanation in John 1:18—”No one has ever seen God.” Jesus made Him known. The Old Testament states that God appeared to man at various times, but such appearances were always partial and incidental. God said to Moses in Exodus 33:20, “No one may see Me and live.”) While no one has seen God Himself, John tells us that Jesus is “at the Father’s side.” Some scholars see this verse as “close to the Father’s heart” or “in the intimate presence of the Father.” This is precisely why Jesus could say that when the disciples saw Him they saw the Father. Jesus was a living interpretation of the Father—the means by which the heart and the will of Father was made known.

Initial Ministry

The second chapter of John’s gospel brings us to a wedding in Cana of Galilee where Jesus turns water into wine. This act has become a bone of contention among many atheists, scoffers, and doubters. They see it as a cheap parlor trick. This miracle is provided to set forth a sign—Jesus performed a wondrous deed that points beyond itself to reveal some aspect of the person of Jesus and to evoke faith on the part of those to whom it is given. The Greek word sêmeion (“sign”) indicates that the miracle at Cana showed Jesus’s “self-manifestation.” Hillsong Worship performs a song called “New Wine.” I believe some of the lyrics provide an insight regarding Jesus’s miracle at the wedding. Lyrics include, “In the Crushing, In the Pressing, You are Making New Wine… Make Me Your Vessel, Make Me an Offering, Make Me Whatever You Want Me to Be… Cause Were There is New Wine, There is Power.”

John retells the day when Jesus cleansed the temple. Arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus went to the temple courts. The Greek word hieron used by John refers to the entire temple area with its buildings and courts. This is where He found men selling animals for sacrifice (undoubtedly at a profit) and exchanging foreign money so visitors could pay the temple tax. This seems to be a type of forced tithe. In comparison, when the pastor at my church announces the collection of offerings and tithes, he says, “If you are visiting with us today for the first or second time, this is not for you. We just want you to enjoy your visit with us today.” Tradition during the First Century, however, was that, for any Gentile who came up to the temple to worship, prayer had to be offered in the middle of a cattle yard and money market. This entailed purchasing an animal to be sacrificed. Jesus was appalled by the commotion connected with the marketing of these animals and the changing of currency in His Father’s house. Accordingly, he chased the men and their animals from the temple and set their birds free.

The New Birth and Living Water

In the third chapter we are introduced to a Jewish Rabbi called Nicodemus. This Rabbi was among many who were attracted by Jesus’s miracles but not openly committed to following Him. The religious leaders saw Jesus as a heretic rather than the central figure of Christianity. Nicodemus was likely an honest seeker who wanted to know more about Jesus. He could have chosen to see Jesus at night because he didn’t want other rabbis to see him talking to this so-called heretic, or perhaps he wanted to meet with Jesus away from the pressing crowds in order to have His undivided attention.

Nicodemus addressed Jesus with the honorable title “Rabbi.” Regardless of his personal doubts about the ministry of Jesus, Nicodemus chose to be respectful. He correctly saw Jesus as a teacher sent by God. He intended to ask Jesus how he could inherit eternal life, but Jesus broached the subject first. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:5, RSV). Nicodemus was confused. This did not make sense. How could a man return to his mother’s womb and be born anew? Jesus explained, saying that which is born of flesh is flesh, but that which is born of Spirit is spirit. He told Nicodemus that man must be lifted up to the Father as the Son is lifted up. He told Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (v. 16). Jesus wanted Nicodemus to understand that the heart of the Gospel was not a philosophical observation about God’s character, but a declaration of redemptive love in action.

John sets forth further insight regarding eternal life in chapter four. When Jesus arrived at Sychar (possibly at ancient Shechem or the village of Askar), He stopped at a well where He met a Samaritan woman who was drawing water. Jesus asked the woman for a drink from her container. She was shocked that He would drink from her vessel because Jews were not to associate with Samaritans. They were considered to be “unclean.” Ignoring the woman’s comment about custom, Jesus said that if she knew who He was she’d have asked for “living water.” He spoke of “streams of living water” that will flow from within the believer, which we also know is the Holy Spirit we receive when we accept Jesus as the Christ.

Jesus’s Healing Ministry and Other Miracles

Jesus encountered a royal official in Capernaum whose son lay sick. When this man learned that Jesus had come to town he went and begged Jesus to come heal his son who was at the point of death. Jesus challenged the man, saying, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe” (4:46). The man insisted that unless Jesus came to his home right away his son would die. Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live” (v. 50). The man believed the words of Jesus and headed home. Amazingly, the man professed his believe (v. 51) to his servants before he saw evidence that his son was well. As a result of his faith, his son was healed.

John recalls Jesus’s healing of a paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda (5:1-18). Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead at Bethany where Mary and her sister Martha lived (11:1-44). Mary is the same woman who anointed Jesus’s feet with perfume. Admittedly, this is an incomplete listing of the healing and miracles of Jesus.

The account of Jesus feeding the five thousand (6:1-15) has been deemed as a “miracle” that took place in people’s hearts. They overcame basic human need and selfishness, choosing instead to share what they had. This meal is also considered by some New Testament scholars to be sacramental in nature. Each person received a fragment of the bread and fishes. It constitutes a miracle—something wonderful that actually happened. Those who are uneasy to accept this event as a genuine miracle are likely an example of the natural mind denying God as Creator’ One who has absolute authority to act within His own creation as He chooses.

Some time after the feeding of the five thousand the disciples set out for Capernaum by boat (6:16, 21). The trip was said to be about five miles. The crossing was extremely difficult. The Sea of Galilee lies approximately six hundred feet below sea level. Cool air often flowed over the Sea, displacing warm moist air hovering over the water. Violent weather conditions occurred rather quickly. The original Greek for the phrase “started across the sea” (6:17, RSV) is êrchonto, and is translated “they were trying to cross the lake” [emphasis added]. Jesus appeared on the water “during the fourth watch of the night” (Mark 6:48), which is between the hours of 3:00 and 6:00 a.m. The disciples had been attempting to sail the rough seas for at least nine hours. They had rowed three or four miles when they saw Jesus walking toward the boat on the surface of the raging sea. His appearance frightened them—they did not recognize Him immediately and perhaps thought He was a ghost. Jesus said, “It is I; do not be afraid” (John 6:20, RSV). Scripture tells us that immediately after Jesus declared His identity the boat reached its destination without further incident.

We’re told in John 21:25, “But there are also many other things which 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” (RSV).

Jesus Claims Divine Authority

Jesus said in John 5:19, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise” (RSV). He added, “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will” (verse 21). Jesus said He only did what He saw the Father doing. This does not mean that He merely imitated the Father. Rather, it shows the continuous relationship that exists between the Father and the Son. Jewish leaders believed the prerogative to raise someone from the dead belonged solely with God, and they did not see Jesus as God. Jesus claimed that the Son makes anyone live whom He chooses. This was not arbitrary, but is consistent with what we read throughout the New Testament (see Romans 9:18). Jesus later commissioned the disciples, and indeed all believers, to go forth and do these same things in the Name of Jesus.

Jesus said the Father had given to Him the authority to execute judgment. He adds, “And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness to me. His voice you have never heard, His form you have never seen” (v. 37, RSV). God turned judgment over to the Son because through His incarnation Jesus learned what it means to be human, faced with temptation. In addition, He had been given the authority to judge because He is God’s Anointed One. Jesus noted in verses 28 and 29 that the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.

Opposition in Jerusalem

It is clear from Scripture (7:1-52) that Jesus was aware the Jews wanted to take His life. We read in chapter five that the Jewish leaders held an intense hostility toward Jesus, and were eager to kill Him. Their indignation stemmed from Jesus’s claim that God was His Father, thereby equating Himself with God (5:18). The disciples thought that if Jesus wanted to carry out a public ministry He should go to the capital city and make Himself known (7:3-5). In response, Jesus said His time had not yet come. The word “time” in this verse is from the Greek word kainos, meaning “a right or favorable time.” It was not necessarily a moment in time from a chronological standpoint.

The Feast of Tabernacles began in Jerusalem (7:1). As crowds gathered, there was an undercurrent of discussion about Jesus. Some called Him “a good man,” and remarked that they believed His teachings were positive and helpful. Others claimed Jesus was a heretic who was deceiving the people and leading them away. Gonzalez (2010) said that Christianity was not deemed a new religion in the early days, but a heretical sect within Judaism. After the crucifixion of Jesus, many Jews believed Christianity was a heresy that was spreading from town to town, tempting “good Jews to become heretics” (p. 42). Sentiment among the Jewish population was that Christians might once more bring the wrath of God upon Israel. This attitude had really root during the latter part of Jesus’s ministry and played a part in His trial and execution.

Jesus waited until the Feast was well underway before He went into Jerusalem (7:14). It is possible He waited several days until the initial excitement of the Feast had subsided so His followers would not be as likely to put on a ceremonial demonstration. Such display would have been met with serious consequences, and it was not yet time for Jesus to be taken and tried. In any event, the crowds at the Feast marveled at the knowledge Jesus had concerning Scripture, especially because He had not received formal teaching. He publicly stated that His teaching came from God, adding that anyone who speaks on their own authority does so for their personal benefit. Of course these words came as a stinging rebuke to the Pharisees and high priest. Jesus reminded the crowd that even Moses did not speak for himself, but was a representative of God the Father.

We see in verses 21 through 24 that Jesus continued to speak out against the established “religion” of the day. He saw the Pharisees as hypocrites. John reminds us that the Jewish leaders were outraged when Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath, telling him to pick up his mat and walk (5:8). However, these same religious leaders were known to break the Law when it suited them. For example, they performed circumcisions on the eighth day after the birth of the child (the age at which the procedure must be done) even if it fell on the Sabbath. Because the law regarding circumcision was given to the Jews as part of the Abrahamic Covenant, the church leaders thought circumcision took precedence over the regulation regarding “work” on the Sabbath.

It was on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles that Jesus boldly announced, “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water” (7:37-38). This remark about the thirsty recounts Isaiah’s ancient summons: “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost… Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David” (Isaiah 55:1,3, NIV)). Jesus’s claim that He could supply those who were spiritually thirsty with streams of living water. This made quite an impression on the crowd gathered at the temple. When some in the crowd said Jesus must be a prophet, someone said, “‘This is the Christ.’ Still others were saying, ‘Surely the Christ is not going to come from Galilee, is He?'” (7:41). It was believed that nothing good could come from Galilee (see John 1:46).

Jesus Offends the Religious Leaders

When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (8:12, RSV). This remark was made before a group of religious leaders. John 8:3 notes that the Pharisees brought before Jesus a woman accused of adultery. The NIV footnote indicates “the people” is an arbitrary interpretation of the Greek word autois, or “them.” The RSV translates autois “them,” referring to the Pharisees present when the woman was brought forth.

The Old Testament contains many examples  of “light” as a metaphor for spiritual illumination and life. Psalm 27:1 says, “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (RSV). Darkness was often thought to represent ignorance and death. Jesus essentially told the Pharisees, “I have come to be the light of the world.” The religious leaders decided that they must discredit the godly claims of Jesus. One of them said, “You are bearing witness to yourself; your testimony is not true” (John 8:13, RSV). In other words, they said Jesus’s claims were nothing but his opinion. Perhaps they were been concerned that Jesus might be right—stating a theological truth—but they believed He could not possibly prove it. This might be why Herod and the religious leaders taunted Christ: “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself” (Luke 23:37, RSV).

When Jesus said, “I bear witness to myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness to me” (8:19), the Pharisees began to use ridicule to discredit Jesus. One of them sarcastically asked, “‘Where is your Father?'” Jesus answered, ‘You know neither me nor my Father; if you knew me, you would know my Father also'” (v. 20). In essence, they told Jesus, You’re living in a fantasy world. They did not understand that Jesus spoke to them of the Father (v. 27). Jesus further riled the Pharisees when He claimed to be the One who will set men free from the wages of sin (v. 31). He tells the crowd, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded and came forth from God; I came not of my own accord, but he sent me (v. 42). To know God as Father is to love the Son who was sent by Him. The religious leaders could not allow Jesus to stand before the temple courts and declare His divinity, so they challenged His pedigree. They said, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” (v. 48).

The Pharisees thought it was incredulous that Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (10:10-11) [emphasis added]. He was basically stating that His entire life was sacrificial. Jesus was saying He was “the perfect sacrificial lamb.” This caused great division among the Jews, both the religious leaders and the crowds.

Jesus encountered His Jewish adversaries at the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem. The crowd asked, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly” (10:24). In response, Jesus said the works He does are done in the Father’s name, and they bear witness to Him [Jesus]. He told the crowd they do not believe Him because they are not His sheep. He said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand” (v. 27-28). Certainly, this enraged a number of Jews, especially the Pharisees. Jesus boldly remarked, “and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand” (v. 30). The crowd took up stones to stone Him. He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John at first baptized, and there he remained for some time.

Please join me in the next day or two for the second half of this crucial topic;

References

Gonzalez, J. (2010). The Story of Christianity Vol. 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

 

 

 

 

Righteous in His Sight

Our great initial need before God is to be justified. To have God declare us not guilty, and pronounce us righteous in His sight. At first glance this appears to be an impossible situation for man. God, our Judge, is holy by His nature. Because of sin, man is unholy by nature. “But we are all like an unclean thing, and our righteousness is like filthy rags” (See Isaiah 64:6). The consequences of such ungodliness are inevitably universal and appropriately severe. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… for the wages of sin is death” (Romans 3:23 and 6:23a). The appropriate sentence for all of humanity, in light of their sins against a pure, holy, and eternal God, is death—everlasting separation from God.

The Law of God offers no help, and provides no hope of remedying this dire situation. People are not justified by the works of the Law. Trying your best to measure up to God’s standards never produces a verdict of not guilty. In all of history, Jesus was the only one who could stand up to the scrutiny of God’s Law and receive a declaration of being righteous. Jesus was in all ways tempted as we are, yet without sin (See Hebrews 4:15). No other person could ever perform sufficiently under the Law to achieve a declaration of righteousness. No one is justified by the Law in the sight of God.

Clothed-in-the-Righteousness-of-ChristWe are clothed in the righteousness of Christ.

Vows and pledges of personal improvement offer no hope. Asking others for advice on how to strive more earnestly provides no answer. Only faith supplies the necessary remedy. Man is not justified by the works of the Law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. Trusting in our own best efforts leaves us guilty before God. Trusting in Christ’s perfect work on the cross makes us justified before God. God’s Word tells us, “Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off, having been brought near by the blood of Christ” (See Ephesians 2:12-13).  Verse 16 tells us that we are reconciled to God through the cross. It is a command, not a suggestion. We must remember that we are hopeless!

What Exactly is Righteousness?

Dictionaries define righteousness as behavior that is morally justifiable or right. Such behavior is characterized by accepted standards of morality, justice, virtue, or uprightness. The Bible’s standard of human righteousness is God’s own perfection in every attribute, attitude, behavior, and spoken word. Thus, God’s Law, as given in the Bible, both describe His own character and the very plumb-line by which He  measures human righteousness. Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible says, “The work of religion is to no purpose, unless the heart is in it, and we must worship God in the strength and grace of the Divine Spirit.” It’s important to note that things Paul counted as gain while a Pharisee he counted for loss for Christ.

Righteousness is an attribute of moral purity belonging solely to God. It is He alone who is truly righteous. No one in the world is righteous in the eyes of the Lord except the Christian. We are counted righteous in the eyes of God when we receive Jesus by faith. Paul counted all things but rubbish so that he may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having righteousness of his own—derived from the Law—but that which is through faith in Christ (See Philippians 3:9). Our righteousness is based only on the work done by Jesus on the cross. Through propitiation, the righteousness that was Christ’s is counted to us. This is why when God looks at us, He sees us as righteous. Though we are actually worthy of damnation, we are made blameless.

As Paul notes in 2 Corinthians 5:17, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and all things have become new.” Without regeneration of his spirit, it is vain for any man to profess a relationship with Christ according to the flesh, while he is unchanged in heart and lifestyle; accordingly, he is dead in trespasses and sins. Let’s take a look at the blessings of the Gospel. It brings us into Christ. Through it, we become a new creation; old things are passed away. The Gospel allows us to put on a new life, which is literally opposite the old life. With the new believer, all things are of God. The true Christian does not permit anything in his life which is ungodly. The cross allows us to be reconciled to God. We become the righteousness of Christ in the eyes of the Father.

Self-Righteousness and Legalism

We are accepted as righteous by God because of what Jesus has done. He was made sin, while we are made righteous. On the cross, Jesus was treated as if He were a sinner, though He was perfectly holy and pure, and we are treated as if we were righteous, though we are defiled and depraved. Put another way, we are treated as though we had entirely fulfilled the Law and had never been exposed to its penalty. Self-righteousness is defined as “confidence in one’s own righteousness, especially when smugly moralistic and intolerant of the opinions and behavior of others.” Basically, self-righteousness—which is related to legalism—is the misconception that we can somehow generate within ourselves a holiness that will be acceptable to God. As it is written, there is no one who is righteous on their own merits (See Romans 3:10).

realitycheck self righteousness.jpg

Jesus had harsh words for the puffed-up self-righteousness of the Jewish leadership. He said, “Everything they do is done for people to see… they love the place of honor at banquets, and the most important seats in they synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called Rabbi by others… [but] those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:5-7; 23:12, NIV). Jesus said to the Pharisees, “Whoa to you teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean” (Matthew 23:27, NIV). This scenario plays out many times between Jesus and the Pharisees and scribes.

The Apostle Paul on Self-Righteousness

Paul’s treatment of self-righteousness is no less harsh than that of Jesus. Let’s look at what he had to say in the Book of Romans. “For in the Gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith'” (Romans 1:17). Paul notes in Romans 10:3, “Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the Law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”

He addressed this same issue with the Galatians. They were convinced that they had to do certain things to be acceptable to God, including circumcision. Paul astutely called their belief “another gospel,” calling those who advocated it “accursed” (See Galatians 1:8-9). Paul said if righteousness could come from the mere actions of man, then Jesus died “for no purpose” (See Galatians 2:21). He concluded that the Galatians were foolish in their attempt to be perfected by the flesh.

are-you-so-foolish-having-begun-by-the-spirit-are-you-now-being-perfected-b-esv.jpg

Concluding Remarks

It is in our sin nature to attempt to behave ourselves into God’s grace. While under the lash of active addiction, I did whatever I could to appear righteous. Admittedly, I was trying to convince friends, family, and employers that I was finally doing things the right way. I was a modern-day Pharisee, bent on presenting a public self-righteousness while privately drinking and drugging. I went to church every Sunday, taught Bible study at two local county prisons, prayed publicly at mealtimes, and attended 12-step meetings. I was driven by pride, fear, and delusions of self-sufficiency.

Most of us are always trying to do something to merit our salvation. The costly freedom of grace, bought for us by the blood of Jesus with no contribution from us, is difficult for our prideful hearts to understand or appreciate. It is far easier to compare ourselves with one another than it is to recognize that we cannot measure up to the standards of a holy God. However, in Christ we can know true righteousness. Through Him, we can know the forgiveness of sin that comes to us through grace and not through works. Because He stood in our place, we benefit from His sinless life and His sin-bearing death on the cross. We are told in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (NIV). Through His sacrifice, we can bring our sin to the cross instead of trying to be good enough to earn appear sacred and holy before God. Only through the cross can we see the grace that covers all our sin and defeat the constant tendency toward self-righteousness in our hearts.