Life of Christ - Lesson 11

The Resurrection in the Synoptics and Intro to John's Gospel

The account of the resurrection in the synoptic Gospels contains evidence to show that the event of the resurrection really happened and was not just created in someone’s imagination. Eternal life in John is equivalent to the kingdom of God in the synoptics. Jesus is the Word because he reveals what heaven discloses.

Darrell Bock
Life of Christ
Lesson 11
Watching Now
The Resurrection in the Synoptics and Intro to John's Gospel

I. The choice of the women

II. Three days passed

III. Details related to the burial

IV. Resurrection

V. Commissions

VI. Prologue (John 1:1-4)

VII. John the Baptist

VIII. Book of signs (John chapters 2-12)

            A. Wedding at Cana

            B. Cleansing of the temple

            C. Nicodemus

            D. John the Baptist's witness

            E. Samaritan woman

            F. Healing

  • The infancy accounts in each Gospel indicate the author's purpose and the audience to whom they were writing. The pictures he was showing to his class are not available to us. 

  • The ministry of John the Baptist and his baptism of Jesus was significant in the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus.

  • The Sermon on the Mount is the first teaching block of Jesus in Matthew. The Beatitudes are an important part of this section. When Jesus says, “You have heard it said…but I say to you,” he is claiming authority to interpret the Law.

  • Jesus teaches that the way to God is narrow and difficult. Knowing Jesus and what he teaches is everything. Jesus represents the beginning of a new era, the arrival of the promise.

  • The parables are designed to reveal the mysteries of the kingdom to insiders.

  • When Jesus teaches the disciples that he must suffer, it is the beginning of a major paradigm shift for them.

  • The “odd man out” parables teach that “Christ died for sin” is not the whole gospel. The gospel is not about avoiding something, it’s about receiving something. People ask the question, “Who will the saved be?” and Jesus asks, “Will the saved be you?”

  • The important thing is not how much faith you have, but that you have faith and act on it. Forgiveness is important. The answer to the rich young ruler’s question is, “you embrace the kingdom of God.”

  • The events in the Passion week inform us about the defining events in Jesus’ ministry, and what other people thought about him. Jesus talks about the events and signs of the end of the age.

  • The wicked generation is an ethical reference, not a chronological reference. It means that the righteous will be vindicated and the wicked will be judged. The application is that we should take heed and watch.

  • The account of the resurrection in the synoptic Gospels contains evidence to show that the event of the resurrection really happened and was not just created in someone’s imagination. Eternal life in John is equivalent to the kingdom of God in the synoptics. Jesus is the Word because he reveals what heaven discloses.

  • Jesus’ deeds reinforce what he is teaching. The different titles people use when they address or refer to him describe different aspects of his nature and ministry. Jesus is more concerned about how the Church engages and influences the world than about what goes on within the four walls of a building.

  • Love and mercy are characteristics of followers of Jesus and are to be seen as a reflection of knowing, trusting and imaging God.

The gospel message is primarily about two things: forgiveness that leads into relationship with God and the distribution of the Spirit. Dr. Bock focuses on the four Gospels to show how Jesus taught this message by what he said and by his actions. Dr. Bock compares and contrasts the similarities and differences in the synoptic Gospels as well as highlighting the uniqueness of the Gospel of John. Be ready to be challenged as you come face to face with the God of the universe who became a man and lived among us to show us who God really is. Dr. Darrell Bock is a professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary.


Other Recommended Reading:

Jesus Under Fire, Mike Wilkins and J.P. Moreland, Zondervan, 1995

This is the 11th lecture in the online series of lectures on the Life of Christ by Dr. Darrell Bock. Recommended Reading includes: Jesus According to Scripture: restoring the Portrait from the Gospels by Bock, Baker, 2002 and Jesus in Context by Darrel Bock and Greg Herrick, eds., Baker, 2005 and Jesus Under Fire by Mike Wilkins and J.P. Moreland, Zondervan, 1995.

The Resurrection

This is the resurrection as it was presented in the synoptic Gospels. I’ll first briefly mention some of the particularities of this scene. We’ll look at reasons why the resurrection wasn’t just created in someone’s mind and in this we will consider first the choice of the women. (This is an apologetically defense of the Resurrection of Jesus due to the liberal standing of the then, Jesus Seminar movement) Culturally, women were not regarded as worthy witnesses in most cases. If you are creating an event trying to persuade the culture of a difficult idea such as a physical resurrection, would you create an event and have your first witnesses be women? A second point, in looking at the resurrection in three days, there would have been a way to have Jesus alive without it being on the third day. Judaism believed in a resurrection for everybody. So all you would have needed was a resurrection in the end where Jesus would be in charge. You could have had a Jesus who would end up being alive and carrying out a judgement, but instead you get a resurrection in three days. So a question here, where is this mutation of the resurrection come from? So we are still in a defense mode here; why create a resurrection after three days, you would have far less problem if it had not used the tomb and the witnesses and the guards, creating more problems. If this was a made up story, it would have been much easier just to say that Jesus was in charge after he was resurrected. This is much less problematic. So there was a Christian mutation of a Jewish belief of the resurrection by having the three days.

The Burial of Jesus

Let’s look at the details related to the burial. This is not tied to an issue that doesn’t fit in creating the story. This is a case where the background matches what is happening culturally. Jesus was crucified as a criminal; so that means certain things had to happen and certain things could not have happened. For example, Jesus had to be buried as a criminal immediately, just like any other person. He would not have been left to rot. This would not have happened within the context of Judaism. A person would be buried as quickly as possible and that would have been before sunrise. Even today in the Middle East, anyone of importance that died, any newspaper report would have included both the death and the burial in the same article. This happened with Bhutto in Pakistan; he was buried immediately. And because Jesus died as a criminal, he could not be buried in a family grave, had one existed. That is why Joseph of Arimathea comes and offers a grave that is not a family grave for Jesus to be buried in; another point, this happened very late in the day and so the earliest time the women could have anointed the body with spices would have been that Sunday morning after the Sabbath. We see that the details of the burial actually fit the scene exactly. The people who took the body had possibly already anointed the body before putting it in the tomb. Interestingly, those who heard the report from the women that Jesus’ body was missing couldn’t believe it; this is another example of ‘the criterion of embarrassment.’ (This has to do with creating a story that makes the leadership look bad – thus the story is an embarrassment to the leaders because of the way they acted) We mentioned this in a previous lecture. Even though Peter and John ran to the tomb, they were very slow to understand what was happening. But they actually don’t believe everything until they talk about it with Peter. In addition, there is no detailed story about Peter and James. If you were going to make up an appearance story, it would be just with Peter or with James. There simply is no such story. It was obviously not important at the time, compared to everything else that was happening. And there were no such stories in the traditions of the church either. It’s an anomaly. If this was being made up, most likely there would have been an appearance to Peter or either James because they both ended up being important to the future of the church.

The Criterion of Embarrassment

Another example of ‘the criterion of embarrassment’ would be Jesus getting baptized by John; you would not create a story like this. This creates difficulties that one has to explain such as, was Jesus baptized for sin or not, etc. The point of all of these details is to confirm what really happened; you have women at the tomb, you have a resurrection in three days because that is what people experienced. You have details relating to the burial because that is what took place. You have the reaction to the women’s report because that is how they reacted; they were very slow to believe it. So the resurrection is unlikely to have been a created story, it actually happened. Matthew and Luke mention that Jesus rose as promised. Mark simply declares the resurrection. Mark and Matthew tell the disciples to go to Galilee where he will appear to them. Mark has its own problem; at first, everyone runs away being afraid. So the Gospel ends with them being afraid and they didn’t say anything to anybody about it. This was so much of an embarrassment; we have a possible alternate ending for the Gospel of Mark. We have a shorter alternate ending and then longer alternate ending running from verses 8 to 20. This combines basically to be a compilation of the endings of all the other Gospels. That alternative ending with the shorter and longer one indicates that something is being replaced at the end. Some people think that we lost the original end to Mark. This is possible but there is no evidence for it. I think Mark ends where it ends for literary reasons. In the middle of Mark’s Gospel, there is a discussion of fear. You might call this the ‘fear factor’ in the Bible. This discussion of fear has to do with God acting and those who fear the situation are left with a choice to either believe or they choose to shun God. An example of this is the healing of the demonic. The people are fearful, ‘leave this place.’

I think this is a clever literary ending by Mark in which he is saying to the reader, ‘the resurrection has taken place, it’s been announced, the women have heard about it, their initial reaction was fear because they were overwhelmed by the situation and now there is a choice. That choice included the women going and telling someone. Thus, this abrupt ending is a call for the reader to believe it. In dealing with this longer ending, in removing it, we don’t lose anything in regards to Biblical teaching. There is enough manuscript evidence that show that this alternative ending was added quite early. Two things: we have to say that the ending is abrupt for the reasons given above or the piece went missing very early.

Luke shows no appearance to anyone else until later on and he has great skepticism at the women’s report. Matthew has the most straight forward sequence and also has a specific set of appearances. There are interesting differences between these accounts. There are appearances of the Scribes to Mary in John which creates problems in its timing. It is very difficult to know where this fits in the resurrection sequence. In Matthew, the guards report the empty tomb and are protected in order to not reveal the truth as there is so much at stake. Because if Jesus has rose from the dead, and that tomb is empty, just think about what the Jewish leadership would have to deal with; Rome would not have a problem with this. What did Jesus say would take place when he was before the Sanhedrin? If Jesus is vindicated, what does that mean for the Sadducee leadership?

The Emmaus Road

Luke includes the Emmaus Road scene where we have the hopes of Jesus being the Messiah dashed and we have an Christological key laid out for the event. In Luke 24:17, ‘What are these matters you are discussing so intently as you walk along?’ They stood still looking sad and one then named Cleopas, ‘Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that have happened there in these days?’ Imagine saying that to Jesus. He is right there amongst them. There seems to be some humor happening here. ‘What things? The things concerning Jesus the Nazarene, a man who, with his powerful deeds and words, proved to be a prophet before God and all the people; and how our chief priests and rulers handed him over to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. Not only this, but it is now the third day since these things have happened. Furthermore, some women of our group amazed us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back and said they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive.’

This is a summary of what the disciples are hoping. He is the one who will redeem Israel. He’s more than a prophet. Then Jesus rebukes them for being slow of heart to believe everything. Then Jesus says, ‘wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things to enter into his glory? Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things written about himself in all the Scriptures.’ Later, Jesus does the same thing for the disciples in verses 44 when he appears to the group and proclaims the great commission as presented by Luke. ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled. Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. Thus it stands written that the Christ would suffer and would rise from the dead on the third day and repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And look, I am sending you what my Father promised. But stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’ It’s Jesus’ role as the Christ that is highlighted here as the realization of the promise. Jesus stands at the center of God’s delivering activity. That is what is being highlighted here. The synoptic Gospels highlight as much what as it does for the who. The promise of God comes with Jesus or what Jesus calls the kingdom of God. He’s with the king and he has been vindicated, he’s at the king’s side and that is precisely what the Father promised. Just about every major creed in the early church talks about Jesus being at the right hand of the Father.

Psalms 110:1 & Daniel 7

This is why Psalm 110:1 and Daniel 7 are your two most cited Old Testament passages in the New Testament. They explain where Jesus is and why he’s doing what he is doing. Jesus is alive and one day we will be with him in heaven. The New Testament frames Jesus’ story in terms of what it meant for him and where he ends up. That is why Luke ends and Acts begins with ascension. Note that the most important feature about Easter beyond the fact that Jesus rose from the dead, is where he ended up, at the side of the Father. This is as important as the fact he rose from the dead. Yes, Jesus is alive and there will be a resurrection one day for the rest of us. But Jesus didn’t rise just to go to heaven; he rose and ascended into heaven to run things from heaven. In preaching on Easter and Christian we need to preach what Jesus is doing. There was a phrase in German used during the Medieval period called ‘Christos Victor’, the victorious triumphant ascended Christ, somewhat different these days from what you see in churches. Today, the basic symbol is the Cross; beyond the Cross, it should be the ascension and where Jesus is now. A Jesus at the right hand of the Father cannot be domesticated. Of course it takes the appearances in Luke and John to convince people of what is happening. And we see that Thomas’ reaction was somewhat different than the twelve when they heard the women. When Thomas was shown, he replied, ‘my Lord, my God.’


Matthew has a commission relating to Galilee where all authority has been given to Jesus and then he sends them out to make disciples by going and baptizing and teaching them to obey all that has been commanded and this probably includes the sermon on the Mound. For Luke, it is in Jerusalem. He talks about the fulfilment of Scripture and three key elements along with the promise of the Spirit. In regards to Luke 24, we have in Greek, ‘thus it stands written that the Christ would suffer, and he would be raised from the dead and repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all the nations beginning from Jerusalem. There are three things here: suffer, raise and a message preached in his name. This would be summarized as a call for repentance. When we talk about salvation, we talk about salvation by grace with the response of faith. Repentance is a perfectly good term to summarize the Gospel and a change of direction, a change of mind. In this a person is shifting world views. And on top of this, we have said that the Gospel is fundamentally about Jesus’ death and forgiveness of sins. On the other hand, it is about the gift of life through God’s Spirit. At the end of Luke, we have reference to the preaching of the forgiveness of sins that should be proclaimed in his name and a call to wait to receive that which the Father promised, clothed with power from on high. Note that in Romans 1:17-19, Paul says that he is not ashamed of the Gospel because it is the power of God unto Salvation. It is not just the forgiveness of sins that is described in Romans but it is the work of the coming of the Spirit in providing sanctification for God’s people. Jesus also said while he was in the Upper Room that he had to go so that the Spirit could come. This is core of what early Christian expression was about; the coming of the Spirit to power and to enable God’s people to perform the mission of God. So Jesus ascends in Luke in the mitts of Great Joy and Luke ends where it starts, in Jerusalem with the promise of God being carried out. This was announced to Zachariah and now completed in Jesus. And with that the Synoptic Gospels end.

In the Beginning Was the Word and the Word was God: We are going from the earth up and then heaven down in the Gospel of John. The prologue is the writer’s framing of the Gospel and if you pull this out of the equation, the transition wouldn’t be as abrupt as it is. The prologue draws and makes a point out of which there are several implications. The Prologue is from heaven down. ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with god, and the Word was fully God.’ And in verse 14, the Word became flesh. So what does it mean to call Jesus the Word? It obviously comes out of the Jewish background of what is called ‘The Memra’, another term for the Word; a term used especially in the Targum as a substitute for the Lord when an anthropomorphic expression is to be avoided. This is the creative word of God, a picture of wisdom operating in the world. It is sometimes associated in Judaism with the concept of Torah; Torah being the word, Torah being at the creation. And the things that are often said of the Torah in Judaism are said of Jesus in Christianity. If you go to the Book of Jubilees which was written before the time of the New Testament; the Law is embedded even in what is given to the patriarchs that comes earlier than Sinai. The ‘Memra’ is seen as the manifestation of God’s presence and Jesus as the revelator of God, as the light and the message, the reality and the truth. Jesus says it later in, ‘I am the truth and the light.’ So to say that Jesus is the Word, is to say that he is the locus point of all reality. He is at the core of the world view of reality. He is both the revelation and revelator of God. There are passages in the Epistles that get at this. In Ephesians chapter 4:20 there is an exhortation not to live as the gentiles do. ‘But you did not learn about Christ like this, if indeed you heard about him and were taught in him, just as the truth is in Jesus.’ More literally, ‘even as truth is in Jesus.’ The picture here is that Jesus is the locus point for truth.

The truth is not merely ideas, it is not merely concepts. Truth ultimately is a person in the revelation of God through that person. It is part of what is being said here and John is saying the same thing, ‘In the Beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God and the Word became flesh and lived among us. The Word fellowshipped with us, but that Word was a person, someone not only made in the image of God but someone in the image of God who was also God. He showed what it was to be truly human while also being (deity) very connected to God. All of this is going on in the prologue. It is not merely to say Jesus is divine, Jesus was also the locus point, the lens through which reality is to be seen, through which truth is found, through which truth is embodied. He not only discloses and points the way; Jesus is the lens in which one can see the way. Virtually every key term in the Gospel of John is introduced in this prologue. The Word was involved in creation, he was obviously greater than Moses, he was the revealer of the Father, the one who makes him known not merely as an idea, not merely as a concept but makes him known personally through the way he entered into and participated in the creation. This is extremely profound, what John is proclaiming in the prologue.

John the Baptist

In the Book of John, John the Baptist primarily operates as a witness; there is no message or a specific reference to his baptism though there is an implication of the dove falling on the Messiah. We have a reference to Jews throughout John which is a way of referring primarily to the leadership. What we have in John is the idea of confessing or witnessing to the one who Jesus is. John saw Jesus coming toward him, he said, ‘look, the lamp of God who takes away the sins of the world, this is the one whom I am not worthy of untie the strap of his sandal. I came baptizing with water so that he could be revealed to Israel. Then John testified: I saw the Spirit descending like a dove from heaven and it remained on him; I did not recognize him but the one who sent me to baptize with water, the one on whom you see the spirit descending and remaining; this is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit. I have seen and testify that this man is the chosen one of God.’ This is a very strong direct witness, a full kind of understanding of who this figure is in this presentation. The directness of this presentation raises questions on how to take this material in relationship to the synoptic Gospels. I think that John’s Gospel is a reflective Gospel on who Jesus is. It doesn’t take the time frame of what Jesus experienced at the time in which these events took place, as it reflects on who Jesus is in light of the events in which it took place. So I think there is a wider frame for the Gospel of John, as it is in operation in some of these passages. And that explains the clarity in which certain things are said and presented.

In chapter 1:35, ‘again the next day John was standing there with two of his disciples. Gazing at Jesus as he walked by, he said, look, the Lamb of God. When John’s two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Jesus turned around and saw them following and said to them, what do you want? Rabbi where are you staying? Jesus answered, come and you will see. So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. Now it was about four o’clock in the afternoon.’ It goes on say that Andrew, the brother of Peter, was one of these two. Andrew told Peter that they had found the Messiah and Jesus renamed him Cephas or Peter. So this gathering of disciples is in hope that Jesus is the promised one. More of the disciples are called in the remaining of the chapter. Heaven will be opened up with angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man. These images are designed to show that Jesus brings the revelation of God, that the Spirit of God is upon him and the angels surround the ministry of the Son of Man. All of these things are part of the way in which John is setting up the witness. The Jews in the Gospel of John are often put as a generic term but they are usually much more focused on the Jewish leadership and we will see this as we move through this Gospel. It doesn’t so much mean that every Jew as such but the hostile leadership. So John presents himself in terms of Isaiah 40:3. The Gospels did this as well. He waits for the one who is greater than him coming after him. He witnesses to Jesus as the Lamb, the one on whom the Spirit descends. Two of John disciples follow Jesus as the hoped for Messiah. The Gospel of John also portrays John as pointing to Jesus as the one who brings the Spirit. Philip and Nathanael see the promise of seeing heaven open up and angels descending on the Son of Man. In one sense, this ends up being an expanding introduction.

The Book of Signs

The prologue is the initial introduction and this is an introduction into what will be called the ‘Book of Signs.’ In this Gospel, we will see Jesus perform various signs that indicate who he is. There is an irony that has to do with this book of signs visa v the synoptic Gospels. The Jews often asked for signs from Jesus as he went around performing miracles. They were probably looking for some specific cosmic sign that signals the ‘Day of the Lord.’ And in one sense, John’s book of signs was an answer to their question. The book will be a series of actions, the symbolism of which shows the superiority of what Jesus is bringing to what existed previously in Judaism or the completion of what existed in Judaism. This book of signs is a kind of Christian witness or testimony that Jesus is what he claims to be, namely the completion of the promises made to God long ago in the Law and the Prophets and in Moses. So we come to the Book of Signs in John 2. The miraculous work of Jesus is seen as superior to various institutions and ideas of Judaism. In this section, signs and discourses alternate. We get the alternation of word and deed.

The first sign is the wedding in Cana which pictures the symbol of Messianic joy. A wedding and its fellowship is like a picture of the messianic banquet. And Jesus compared himself to the groom who has come for his bride. There is a symbol of messianic joy running all the way through the Old Testament and the sign is what Jesus does with the wine. ‘Now there were six stone jars there for Jewish ceremonial washing, each holding twenty or thirty gallons of water.’ In the archaeology that exists in this part of Galilee in the Cana area, there have been all kinds of stone vessels discovered from this period. ‘Jesus told the servants, fill the water jars with water and after doing so, now draw some out and take it to the head steward. He tasted it and called the bridegroom saying that everyone serves the good wine first, and then the cheaper wine when the guests are drunk. You have kept the good wine until now! Jesus did this as the first of his miraculous signs, in Cana of Galilee. In this way he revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.’ Well, the steward and bridegroom were aware of this and also the disciples were aware of it. Mary would have been aware of it. This is actually a variation of something that Jesus taught. Remember in Luke and in the parallels we had the teachings that no one who likes the old wine wants the new wine. So the sign is that Jesus is a bringer of new wine and that new wine is better wine. But this is not what people are used to. They are used to getting the good wine first. Now some people like to get into a discussion of drinking wine in the ancient world but my point, the exhortation in Scripture is if you can get drunk from the wine, there is something in the wine that has alcoholic content. The issue is not the percentage; the issue is to drink it in moderation.

The next passage is the cleansing of the temple. This indicates Jesus’ authority. John has a differing chronology than the synoptic Gospels. He has three Passovers, here and in 6:4 and then in 11:55. In all likelihood, 6:4 is probably a Passover. So he has an early ministry included that the synoptic Gospels don’t cover. There is a discussion as to whether there is one event or two events here. Jesus’ rebuke in John alludes to Zechariah 14:20-21 and this is an act of eschatological purification for the new era. The symbolism of this event is no different that the temple incident in the synoptic Gospels. Jesus acts out of his righteous zeal for his Father which points to the authority to purify the temple. The sign to come is, ‘destroy this temple and in three days, it will be raised.’ And of course, they think he is talking about the physical temple; he is talking about the temple of his body. This is the first of several misunderstandings in John where people take Jesus more literally than he intends. This happens early on in Jesus’ ministry. There are a handful of explanations such as a possibility of being two cleansings as the chronology is laid out specific enough detail that Jesus cleanses the temple twice. There is also a principle in Judaism that someone can perform an act where they are warned the first time but the second time action is taken against them. So it is conceivable that there are two events. However, most people see just one event. If it is one event, then we can see John moving this event forward to show what Jesus’ ministry is like and how it is going to be reacted to than it is to think this took place earlier than in the synoptic Gospels.

Eternal Life

The conversation with Nicodemus involves the only place where there is any detail on the Kingdom of God in the Gospel of John. The major theme of Jesus’ teaching in the Synoptic Gospels was the Kingdom of God. But for John, instead of talking about the kingdom of God (note than in a Hellenistic concept, the word ‘kingdom’ could be misunderstood), talks about eternal life. Eternal life for John is equal to the Synoptic Gospels’ kingdom of God. The roots to what is said to Nicodemus from Ezekiel 34 where there is the condemnation of the shepherds of Israel for not shepherding the nation properly. So God is going to become the shepherd and he going to send the shepherd. The picture of Ezekiel 36 where the nation is going to be sprinkles and washed and restored with the imagery of New Covenant like of floating in the background. These other texts also speak about ideas of being born from above. And Jesus compares the coming of the kingdom, the coming of eternal life to the blowing of the wind and this does a word play on the Greek word, pneuma, which can mean wind or spirit. ‘I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Notice the inseparability of experiencing the kingdom and the gift of Spirit. A person will not even know that it’s there. ‘Nicodemus said how can a man be born again; being old he cannot enter his mother womb and be born a second time, can he? Jesus replied, unless a person is born of water and the spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’ So the spirit is inseparably connected to the kingdom as is the image of washing as is the image of New Birth. ‘What is born of flesh is flesh, what is born of spirit is Spirit. Don’t be amazed when I say to you that you must be born from above; the wind blows wherever it will and you hear the sound it makes, you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. The Spirit is inseparable linked to the kingdom in John 3. In talking about this, we often fail to talk about the agent in which the being born again happens. ‘Nicodemus replied, how can these things be? Jesus answered, are you the teacher of Israel and yet you don’t understand these things? I tell you the solemn truth; we are speaking about what we know and testify about what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony. If I have told you people about earthly things and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven – the Son of Man.’

‘Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life?’ The lifting up of the Son of Man is a picture of the crucifixion of Jesus which John calls Jesus’ glorification, which clears the way for the work of the Spirit to come. The salvation of God fundamentally involves two things: forgiveness of sins and the new birth that is the work of the spirit, so John is no different from the synoptic Gospels here. John is both different and similar to the synoptic Gospels. There is a long discourse after this, all the way down to verse 21. But in all likelihood, John’s commentary starts in verse 16. ‘This is the way God loved the world, he gave his one and only Son so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God did not send his son to condemn the world but that the world should be saved through him. The one who believes in him is not condemned, but the one who does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God. This is the basics for judging, light has come into the world, but people love the darkness rather than light but their deeds are evil. For everyone who does evil deeds hates the light and doesn’t come to it so that their deeds will not be exposed. But the one who practices the truth comes to the light so that it may be plainly evident that his deeds have been done in God.’ So we get this contrast in the opening up of the way to the kingdom of God which comes through this new birth that is the work of the Spirit. It is the lifting up of the Son of Man in death will be the means by which people believe and come to God. John’s summary probably begins from verse 16 with the contrast of darkness and light and belief and unbelief. These are the key themes running through chapter three.

The Bride and the Bridegroom

John the Baptist’s witness continues as Jesus, himself, has a baptism ministry for a while in Judea that underscores his support of John which was not seen in the synoptic Gospels. John is seen as a friend of the bridegroom and the image of the people of God as the bride. And John the Baptist speaks of the necessity of his ministry decreasing so that the one to come may increase. In verse 31, the evangelist starts speaking again as he comments on John’s testimony which is given in verses 22-30. Notice in 27-30 is very much like what you saw in Luke where people are wondering whether John might be the Christ. ‘John replied that no one can receive anything unless it is given to him from heaven. You, yourselves, can testify that I said I am not the Christ but rather I have been sent before him. The one who has the bride is the bridegroom, the friend of the bridegroom who stands by and listens to him rejoices greatly when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. My role has been to prepare the bride for the arrival of the bridegroom and to prepare God’s people for the arrival of their Messiah. He must become more important while I come less important. The one who comes from above is superior to all. The one who is from the earth belongs to the earth and speaks earthly things. The one who comes from heaven testifies to what he has seen and heard but no one accepts his testimony.’ He comes from heaven to reveal what heaven’s will is; that is part of the point of the incarnation to John. That is why Jesus is the Word; he reveals what heaven discloses.

What about the disciples of John the Baptist? After Jesus comes, John the Baptist continues to prepare Israel and then some of John’s disciples may not have been convinced of Jesus, despite the fact that Jesus was the kind of Messiah they anticipated. So they continued to be John the Baptist’s disciples to look for the work of God but they didn’t necessarily embrace the style of ministry that Jesus ended up having which is why eventually in the synoptic Gospels, John sends meditators to ask, ‘are you the one to come?’ What is difficult to explain about John’s disciples is they still existed in Acts, long after Jesus had returned to heaven. The reason they continued, they had a certain perception of who the Messiah would be, and Jesus did not fit that perception.

The Samaritan Woman

We see that in the case of the Samaritan Woman, one thing is said but more is meant. There are two cultural surprises here; first that Jesus would have a conversation with a woman in public like this and with a Samaritan. She is also quite a disreputable person. Jesus engages her by talking about living water, which is a way of talking about the Holy Spirit. This comes from the language of Ezekiel 36:25-27 and 47:9 and other texts that use this image of living water as a means of cleansing and restoration. The picture of water welling up is an image of a reference to the Spirit from Isaiah 55:1. ‘Hey, all who are thirsty come to the water! You who have no money, come! Buy and eat! Come! Buy wine and milk without cost!’ We have an image of coming to drink water and the image of wine. ‘Why pay money for something that will not nourish you? Why spend your money on something that will not satisfy? Listen carefully to me and what is nourishing! Enjoy the food! Listen so you can live! Then I will make an unconditional covenantal promise to you, just like the reliable covenantal promises I made to David. Look, I made him a witness to nations, a ruler and commander of nations. Look, you will summon nations you did not previously know; nations that did not previously know you will run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he bestows honor on you.’ We have the picture of wine, the picture of water but then I will make a covenant with all of you, my steadfast sure love for David. With the water and wine there will be the restoration of the Davidic hope to the people. The Samaritan woman understands a little of this imagery that Jesus raises. So this becomes a discussion about true worship and whether or not the worship is to take place on Mount Gerizim today or in Jerusalem. There is a discussion of whether he might be the Christ and the exhortation to the disciples and that his food is to accomplish God’s work. The call is to reap the harvest. The woman recognizes that he is the Savior of the World. Jesus crosses various barriers and in the mitts of this passage, he gives prophetic insight about her life. Jesus makes a point that those who worship God will worship him in Spirit and in truth. This leads to the next healing.

The second sign shows Jesus’ power over life. He talks about a prophet being without honor, he anticipates a coming rejection. The story is different from the Centurion in Luke and in Matthew which resulted in terrific praise of the Centurion for his faith. It shows an effective power from a distance with regards to faith. This pictures Jesus’ ability to give new life. John 4:48 is different than that of the Centurion because Jesus response is different and says, ‘unless you people see signs and wonders you will never believe! Jesus told him to go home, your son will live. The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and set off for home. ‘His slaves met him saying that he son was going to live. The time of healing took place as Jesus declared it. ‘This was the second miraculous sign as he returned from Judea to Galilee.’

So, in chapters 2 to 4, we have the new wine and the wedding at Cana, the Living Water with the Samaritan woman and the new life given to the royal official’s son. There is a Jewish context, a Samaritan context and a governmental context. There are a lot of things going on in these three chapters.