Lecture 12: John 1-12
Lecture: John 1-12
Today we’re going to look at the Gospel of John. We’re going to look at John 1-12 tonight and John 13 to the end next time.
A couple of introductory notes, there is a masterful commentary on John by Leon Morris, published by Eerdmans. It’s thick, but it is just a marvelous book. I had him as a teacher in seminary and he would always just lecture from his Greek Bible. He never had any notes and there were times we were following along his footnotes and he was quoting his footnotes from memory. He’s Australian, and it’s one of the best commentaries that I think there is.
I need to say something about critical issues. I tend not to spend much time on those kinds of things in this class, but the Gospel of John is attacked ferociously by liberals and by some conservatives in terms of when was it written and other critical issues. If that’s something that’s important to you, if you like knowing why we think Matthew wrote Matthew and Mark wrote Mark and if you want to know the history of interpretation, an extremely good book is An Introduction to the New Testament by D. A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo and Leon Morris. It’s published by Zondervan. I used this as a textbook one year, and it’s a very good book. It’s very detailed, but helpful if you want to get into the detail of arguments, like why we think that John is accurate in his portrayal of Jesus when it’s so different than the Synoptics. Those are the kinds of questions they deal with in detail and all three of them are very conservative. I recommend the book highly.
There are three basic issues where the Gospel of John is going to be attacked. Let me just tell you what they are and give you a one sentence explanation. First, people like to attack John by saying that it’s not accurate and that it wasn’t written by the Apostle because it’s different from the Synoptics. The betrayal of Jesus in John is significantly different. There’s a different timeline; he talks differently. There are quite a few things that are different. The answer in a nutshell is that John was written after the Synoptics; I think everybody agrees with that. Matthew, Mark, and Luke were already around when John wrote and it’s generally believed, at least in Evangelical circles, that he just didn’t want to replicate what everyone else had done so he wrote his gospel after Matthew, Mark, and Luke were done. He wanted to present it from a different point of view and to give a fresh look of Jesus. In other words, it’s intentionally different. Now that doesn’t mean it’s wrong, it just means it’s different, and that’s okay.
Secondly, one of the criticisms leveled against the fourth Gospel is that the theology is more developed. The accusation is that it can’t be as historical because the theology is so developed. For example, if somebody said, “Well I don’t believe that Jesus is God” where would you go to prove them wrong? John. It’s mostly implicit (sometimes explicit) in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but nothing like in John: “I and the Father are One.” Those statements that we find in John, you just don’t find in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The accusation is that the theology is more developed and therefore it cannot be accurate. The answer is simply that I believe John is making explicit what was historically implicit. For example, I don’t think that John is telling us anything that Matthew, Mark and Luke haven’t already told us, he’s just trying to make clearer to us what Jesus intended. For example, Mark can say, “I’m going to show you that Jesus is the Son of God,” so he starts showing you all the things that Jesus does and the conclusion that you draw implicitly from the story is the only person who can do all this—walk on water, power over sickness, power over demons—the only person who can do that is God. See that’s implicitly arguing for the deity of Christ. John records those sayings that just makes it explicit: “I and the Father are one,” “I Am.” These are things that we’ll talk about. I think that is all that’s going on. John knew what Jesus meant and he’s taking that and making it clear and more understandable. This is a difficult area. I’ll say it that way because I want to believe that every single word I read in the Gospel is exactly what Jesus said, but of course it isn’t, because he spoke in Aramaic and there’s no Aramaic in the New Testament. I think at most what I’m comfortable saying is that John has had some freedom with the handling of the stories and he’s not telling us anything that contradicts the Synoptics; he’s just trying to bring out the points that were implicit in Jesus’s words and he’s making them explicit. I don’t know of any other way to handle it and I don’t know of another evangelical scholar that would disagree with that. There’s a new book by Craig Blomberg on the historicity of the fourth Gospel and again that would be another good book to go to if you want to go into detail with this.
The third reason why the Gospel of John is attacked is because Jesus has a habit in the fourth Gospel of moving from dialogue to monologue. For example, in John 3, he starts in dialogue with Nicodemus, all the way up to verse 15. Starting at John 3:16, Nicodemus is not anywhere in the story; there’s no interaction with him at all. People have used that to say, “Obviously John’s just making it all up and therefore you can’t trust it.” Part of the answer is that the developed theology tends to be in the monologue section and not the dialogue. If this is too complex, that’s okay. I just needed to mention it because, for example, we had someone in church last year come up who was reading A Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. Lee Strobel’s book was written because he was an atheist and his wife was Christian, and he was going to prove that she was wrong, and in the process of trying to prove that she was wrong he became a Christian. It’s always dangerous to try to prove God wrong, but he says in there that he used these critical questions about John as a way to try to undermine her faith. That’s why I wanted to mention these in passing.
Some critics will say that the monologue is made up. I just think that part of the answer is in the monologue, John is trying to help us understand what he knows Jesus meant and perhaps what he said outside that setting. Also, you’ve got to understand that we are really picky about detail in this culture. In our view of history, if we said it happened on July 5th and it really happened on July 4th, that it’s a mistake and invalid. Ancient historiography simply didn’t care about. I know it’s hard for someone in Western culture to go, “What!” Was it 23,000 or 22,000 killed (when you compare chronicles with the other stories)? Ancient historiography just didn’t really care. You just don’t have this fascination with detail in the ancient writings. That’s true of all ancient literature. I’m just going to mention that in passing because I don’t want you to get caught unawares by someone who talks about these issues.
The concern in all of this is that you trust John because when it comes to understanding who Jesus is, John is our primary source. It’s mostly explicit in John, but it’s different. It truly is a radically different Gospel than Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It is the subject of intense discussion in some circles, but it’s different because I think he wrote it afterwards and he wanted it to have a fresh look at Jesus. I also suspect that John just looked at life differently. We all look at life differently, don’t we? My wife is sanguine; I am choleric. We can both describe the same situation and you’d have no idea we were talking about the same person. We just look at life differently. John, I think, looked at life differently.
Date and Purpose of Writing
The dating of John is generally in the late first century, but again all the arguments for why will be in Carson, Moo and Morris. Why was John written? Flip in the back of your Gospel of John 20:30-31. Just like Luke, John tells us exactly why he is writing, and it helps us interpret the book properly: “Now Jesus did many other signs” (and that’s an important word) “in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book (30).” In other words, he’s had to pick and chose like the other Synoptic writers. “But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (31).” John is a wildly evangelistic book, and he’s telling us that right up front. My whole purpose is to show you that Jesus is the Messiah, but what Messiah? He’s the Son of God Messiah, and there’s a lot of discussion about what it means to be the Son of God in John. But it’s not an intellectual discipline; what he wants you to do is to believe, and as a result of your belief to have life in Jesus’s name. There are two emphases here and this is what I’m going to emphasize throughout this talk. One is believe, or as he has said earlier, many believe into the name of Jesus. It’s about faith and it’s about Christology; it’s about who is Jesus and what it means to be the Son of God.
In terms of the structure of the Gospel, it’s broken into four different groups or categories: the prologue, 1:1-18, is probably the most important eighteen verses in the Bible. Then, John 1:19 through the end of chapter 12 is the book of signs. Signs, or miracles, are very important to John; this is the life of Christ. The passion week is chapters 13-20, which has the Upper Room Discourse. Then chapter 21 reads almost like a tag on; it’s just an epilogue. Those are the basic divisions of the Gospel.
Prologue: The Divine Logos (John 1:1-18)
Let’s jump right into the prologue. When you’re talking to people and you’re trying to explain to them who Jesus is, this is a great place to take them, especially if it’s someone who says, “I believe that Jesus was a prophet” or “I believe that Jesus was a good man or a great teacher, but nothing more.” If you can just read the first eighteen verses of John to them and explain what the words mean, they’ll never say, “he’s just a good man” again because 1:18 is so strong. So I want to spend a little bit of time just plodding through this and explaining it. Some of you are aware of another website project I have, thestoryofJesus.org. This is a very loose translation my father did of the Gospel of John and it’s designed specifically for evangelism. It’s translated in such a way that you can know nothing about Jesus or the Bible and you can understand these twenty-one chapters. It’s nice to know about this, because as you are sharing with people, if you don’t have a Bible with you—whether you’re on a bus you can say, “Oh by the way, if you want to read the story of Jesus, just go here. We chose John because the Bible says that John’s purpose is evangelistic and therefore in honoring what John was trying to do we chose John, even though I used to point people to Mark.
In the beginning was the Word (capital W) and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Greek word behind Word is logos, which has roots in a couple of different things. It is a philosophical term from a philosophy called stoicism. Maybe you’ve heard that stoicism is a philosophy where you lean into trials and adversities, and the only virtue in life there is to get through troubles. Stoicism is actually a lot more than that. They believed in logos, and logos for them was an impersonal force that permeates and controls all things. It’s a force that surrounds all things, is in all things, and controls all things. For stoicism and Greek philosophy, that was the logos. But for them it was an impersonal force.
The other root of the expression is from Judaism. You know how in Proverbs, Solomon speaks as if wisdom is a lady, an individual person. It’s his personification of wisdom. As you go through the years from Solomon’s time, wisdom almost became a personification of God, almost as a separate entity. John has found a term that reaches into the mind of the Greek and into a mind of the Jews. This very thing that you all know about, this impersonal force in stoicism that controls all things, the wisdom of God we’ve reading about, those two things are really one, and that’s who Jesus is. While to us it’s an incomprehensible concept because we’re generally not very well versed in stoicism, it was a very prevalent concept in his day.
He starts by saying this thing that you understand to be permeating and controlling all things, let me tell you about it, it’s really Jesus. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Now the Jehovah Witnesses make a big deal out of the fact that there’s no “the” in front of God. I can go into a long discussion which will bore you to tears, the Jehovah Witnesses do not know Greek and it’s simply not worth it to get into a conversation. They say, “Well, there’s no article so it’s not the God it’s a God; They believe that Jesus was a created lower being and this is one of their proof texts for it. There is no such word as “the” in Greek. There’s a word that we sometimes translate as “the”, but sometimes it’s “he,” sometimes it’s “our”; there are many ways in which it’s translated, but these people typically don’t study Greek, and so it’s not worth it to get into a discussion. They translate the same phrase later on as “the God,” so it’s not an issue of Greek.
Anyway, this is a fascinating statement of the divinity of Christ. It’s one of the central passages in Scripture that says Jesus IS God. Notice what John is trying to do, and this is what he does all the way through his Gospel. Does he say that Jesus equals God? He never says that. Why can’t he? Because of the Trinity. You can’t say that everything that Jesus is God is, or everything that God is Jesus is. It’s not accurate, because there’s God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. You can see it here: “The Word was with God.” Jesus is someone separate from God the Father, and yet “the Word was God.” This is John working at how to accurately say that Jesus is fully God, and yet there’s more to God than Jesus. There’s a whole lot wrapped up in 1:1. As you’re explaining this to your friend on the bus, you would just point out that it says that the Word, Jesus, is God. It’s the statement of divinity of Christ.
Verse 2: “He was in the beginning with God.” This is the doctrine of the pre-existence of Jesus. The pre-existence has been hinted at right in the genealogies. Jesus was, so it was thought, the son of Joseph. There have been some hints at that, but this is a flat out statement that Jesus existed before he was born. It’s what John the Baptist is going to say later on, and it’s all the way through John.
Verse 3: “All things were made through him and without him was not anything made that was made.” This is the doctrine of Jesus as the Creator. Who was God in Genesis 1? It was Jesus. In Colossians 1:16, it’s talking specifically about Jesus: "For by him all things were created, in Heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him." Even in John 1:10 you have, “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.” It was God the son who created all things. Sometimes the Bible will talk about God the Father as the Creator and the way we handle that is we say God the Father made the decision. God the Father held the ultimate decision making process of saying, “Let us create man in our image,” but it was God the Son who actually accomplished it, who did the work. God the Father plans and initiates; God the Son accomplishes, does the work; God the Holy Spirit completes. At its most fundamental level, that the biblical breakdown of the Trinity. You have God the Father being the creator, but he created through God the Son, and that’s what verse 3 is talking about.
Verse 4: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” Real life, salvation life, life after death, life in all its forms comes from Jesus. After all, that’s what 20:30-31 is talking about, “That you may believe and then by believing you may have life in his name.” Jesus is the origin of life. There’s a statement of uniqueness there isn’t it. That life was in Jesus, not anywhere else. The only place for true life is to be found in Jesus.
Verse 5: “The light” meaning Jesus “shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” This is the promise of conflict in Jesus’s life. Even though he created the world, he is going to come and be in conflict with it, but the world will not overcome him. He goes on and talks about John the Baptist for awhile. Then in verses 12-13, he talks about the world rejection of Jesus, saying “but to all who did receive him,” not who earn their way into Heaven but simply receive him or believe in him, “who believed in his name he gave the right to become children of God who were born not of blood nor the will of the flesh nor the will of man, but were born of God.” Again you have Jesus being the author of salvation. It’s a right that he gives, and it’s not something that you can earn.
Verse 14: “The word became flesh and dwelt among us.” This is a verse we used back in the beginning of Matthew when we talked about the incarnation. Remember, incarnation is the doctrine that Jesus was fully God and fully human at the same time. This was the verse we went to, the word flesh is the stuff that hangs off your bones, and dwelt is actually the verb form of the word tabernacle. The tabernacle was the dwelling place of God on earth. Jesus came fully human and tabernacled, lived, among us. “We have seen his glory, the glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus is the only Son. This is the phrase that in the King James they translated that he is the only begotten. This is a possible translation, but it’s not the most likely. The emphasis is not that God the Father begat God the Son, rather, the emphasis is on the uniqueness of Christ. It’s not from any form of the word “to be born”; it’s from another word that’s primary meaning gives us the only Son. What you have here is a super strong affirmation of the uniqueness of Christ, that he’s the only Son of God that there is.
Jump down to verse 18 to see two more things. “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” Who is “the only God?” You’ve got to think about this one for a second. If you supply Father and Son you can see it. “No one has ever seen God (the Father); the only God (the Son) who is at the Father’s side….” The only God can’t be the Father because the only God is at the Father’s side. They have to be two different people, again, this is one of the strongest statements for the divinity of Christ.
John is not wanting to be crystal clear. John writes like Jesus speaks. He writes in a way that you have to mull it over; you have to think about it, reflect on it, and once you do that you can say, “Oh, that’s really clear.” It’s designed to make you think and to mull. They play with your mind a little. That’s what parables do, right? When the lawyer said, “Who’s my neighbor?” Jesus didn’t say, “Whoever needs your help.” Jesus said, “There once was a man who went from Jerusalem to Jericho…,” and so he tells a parable. Why not just say it? Well, because he wants people to mull it over, to think about it, to reflect on it, to commit themselves to it. John’s doing the same all the way through this Gospel. You can’t just read it through like you can Mark. That’s why the translation we did in thestoryofjesus.org is very loose, because we were trying to explain it as we go.
“No one has ever seen God, the only God (this is Jesus), who is the Father’s son, he has made him known.” Two statements: (1) Jesus is the only God, and (2) No one reveals God except Jesus—not Buddha, not Confucius, not Mary Baker Eddy, not Joseph Smith, no one. Jesus is the revealer of God. You have these two very strong statements in verse 18.
I would encourage you to spend some time getting comfortable with these 18 verses. Pick up a commentary and read through it, because it’s one of those passages, as you’re talking to people, if the setting is right you can read through and just read a verse and explain it, read a verse and explain it and it’s a very powerful passage for understanding Christology and who Jesus is.
The Book of Signs (John 1:19-12:50)
We start reading about Jesus’s public ministry in 1:19 all the way through chapter 12. There are seven signs. The other Gospels call them miracles. John calls them signs because the primary function of miracles in John is to identify Christ, is to point to Christ and to say this is who he really is. He doesn’t use the word miracle; he uses the word sign. For example, there’s the feeding of the 5,000, and then Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.” The feeding of the 5,000 is a sign that Jesus is the bread of life, that it is he who provides sustenance and the things that bread do for you and for me. The miraculous works for John are first and foremost signs pointing to the true character of who Jesus is. There are 7 major ones in the Gospel.
Also notice that in 2:13 it says, “The Passover of the Jews was at hand.” We’ve said that we believe that Jesus had a public ministry of three and a half years, because there are three Passovers in John and some time on either side so it works out to roughly three and a half years. There is an unnamed feast in John 5:1, if that’s the Passover then his public ministry may have been 4 years, but it’s these references in John that give us an idea how long the ministry was. I don’t think you’d have any idea in reading Mark that Jesus’s public ministry was for 3 years because it’s so abbreviated. There’s the first of the Passovers.
John the Baptist (John 1:19-34)
We read about John the Baptist; he identifies himself as the forerunner of Jesus, as getting people prepared. The citation that he gives is from Isaiah, but the function that he is performing is in Malachi. It’s the last 2 verses of the Old Testament, where Malachi prophesies that God is going to send Elijah before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD, and he will turn the hearts of fathers to their sons. The forerunner was a person who was getting everyone ready for the coming of the Messiah, and John is claiming to be that person.
You’ll notice in John 1:29 that John says about John the Baptist, “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (29)! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me (30).”’” Again there are sermons in every one of these verses, so I’ve got to pick and chose. There is a statement of the pre-existence of Christ, that he was before me, even though we know that John was born before Jesus was born. One of the most important things there is that John makes it clear that Jesus is the Lamb of God; he is a sacrifice of God; his purpose is to die for the sins of other people.
In verse 32, “32John bore witness: ‘I saw the Spirit descend from Heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.’” This is John reflecting back on Jesus’s baptism when he heard the voice from Heaven and he saw the dove come down. The reason this is so important is that John is saying that Ezekiel 36 is now fulfilled. In Ezekiel 36:26-27, Ezekiel prophesizes that God’s spirit would come and would give us new hearts. That promise in Ezekiel was joined with a promise of a new covenant in Jeremiah that the new covenant, God’s law written on our hearts was going to be brought about through the work of God’s spirit. John is saying that that’s what Jesus is doing: he’s the Lamb of God; he’s going to die for the sins of the world; he is fully possessed by God’s spirit; he is going to give us the new hearts and change us the way Ezekiel promised that God’s spirit would change us. Verse 34: “I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” John is drawing attention to pre-existence, filling by the Spirit, fulfillment of Ezekiel 36, and that he’s the Son of God. There’s a lot in a short paragraph. You can’t read this and say, that Jesus was just a good man.
The Wedding at Cana and Cleansing the Temple (John 2)
We move into chapter 2, and Jesus does his first miracle. At the Wedding at Cana, he turns the water into wine and evidently very good wine, which is more of the indication of the quality of Jesus’s miracles than anything else. That was the first sign that was pointing to the fact that he was more than just this Galilean prophet or Rabbi.
Jesus goes down to Jerusalem—again we wouldn’t know this from the Synoptics. He had an initial ministry in Jerusalem where he cleanses the temple. We talked about how most likely what happened was that he bookended his ministry with this act. Here in John, he goes into the temple into the court of the Gentiles, and the Jews had turned the court of the Gentiles, the only place that Gentiles could go to pray to God, into a market place. So here at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus goes in, he overturns the tables, and he releases a lot of the animals. It’s a statement of judgment on Judaism and how wicked and how irreligious they had become. Most people believe that he goes through his whole life and at the end of his ministry he does the very same thing all over again because they’re still the same nation. They had turned the temple into a place to make a lot of money.
Nicodemus and the Necessity of Rebirth (John 3)
He’s still in Jerusalem in John 3. This is the story of Nicodemus. Especially the first fifteen verses here are phenomenally important verses. Nicodemus was a Rabbi who came to Jesus at night, either because that’s when Rabbis studied, or because he didn’t want anyone to know that he was talking to Jesus. Verse 3: “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” Nicodemus did not have a clue what he was talking about: “How can a man be born when he is old, can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” I can only image that Nicodemus was being very sarcastic; I don’t think it was a friendly response. “Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’” That’s a tremendously important phrase. The important thing here, and actually the important thing in the whole paragraph, is what is water and spirit? There is some controversy on this, but I think that the water is a reference to John’s baptism and John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. I think that when Jesus says that you have to be born of water, it means that if you’re going to enter the Kingdom of God, first and foremost, you have to repent. This is the same message that John the Baptist had been preaching. Jesus’s baptism is a baptism of the spirit—a baptism of regeneration—it’s a baptism of renewal. So what Jesus is saying is that you can’t get into Heaven until you have repented and God has changed you. By the power of his spirit he has regenerated and renewed you. He’s made you into a new person and he has given you a new birth, or in Paul’s language, he’s made you into a new creation. This is why the Ezekiel’s 36 passage is so important. That’s why I pointed it out earlier because I think that helps explain some of the imagery. Remember Ezekiel says that God’s Spirit was going to give us new hearts—hearts of flesh—and that’s the imagery that’s being carried over. In order to enter into the Kingdom of God you have to be born of water and spirit, both John’s baptism of repentance and Jesus’s baptism of regeneration and renewal. These are elsewhere referred to as baptism of water and fire.
What’s interesting is that as you start reading through chapter 3, the language changes. In verse 16, Jesus is still talking about the same thing, but the language has changed: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” Being baptized in water and spirit becomes believing in. Entering the Kingdom of God means that you have eternal life. It’s critical that you see the connection, otherwise you’ll misunderstand what believe means, but as you read through this passage, you’ll realize that while the language is changing they’re still talking about the same reality. If you want to get into the Kingdom of God you must be born of water and the spirit, if you want to have eternal life, you must believe in his son, you must believe in Jesus. We’re talking about the same reality; the terminology has just shifted.
“Belief” in John
I’ve talked in the past about my views of what I call event Christianity—that Christianity for some people is a single event, and whether you live the life of a disciple afterwards is irrelevant. The people who hold to an “event Christianity” position go to John to say that there’s no doctrine of repentance in John. You don’t have to repent you just have to have this one positive experience and you’re forever saved from the fire of Hell. The reason the connection between verses 3, 5, and 16 is so important is that it helps you to not misunderstand what John means by believe when he says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” I believe in him. In verse 5, believing in Jesus is being born of water and the spirit. It’s undergoing repentance AND undergoing the change that happens when you and I become Christians. As I’ve started to say now, changed people live changed ways. To believe in the Gospel of John is to be born of water and the spirit; it is to have this important event of repentance and renewal, but once you’ve been changed inside, it’s going to affect how you are changed outside. This point goes all the way through John. It’s true that he doesn’t use repentance language, but he makes it crystal clear that you and I are to be different from the rest of the world. It’s explicit there in verses 3 and 5, but also in verses 19-21: “This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil (19). For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed (20).” Then does it say, “but whoever has walked down the aisle of a church and signed the Roll Book”? No, but "whoever does what is true." There’s no room in John’s way of thinking of having this momentary event.
In fact, John is stronger than everyone else put together in saying that he who is born of God does not sin. If you confess your sins, God will forgive you, but don’t sin. There has to be a change. Your deeds have to become deeds of light and not deeds of darkness and wickedness. For example, in John 17:14, it’s going to talk about the world hating us. Why does the world hate us? Because we’re different, and we’re not different because we raised our hand or said a prayer or had an important conversion experience, it’s that our lives are changed, and we live in contrast to the world. John’s picture of the Christian life is abiding. It is very clear that John expects the person to change and that God changes them in a conversion and then they live changed way. That’s what “believe in” means. I’ve repented, God has changed me and now I’m going to abide in him and I’m going to live a life wherein a decreasing measure sin has any role at all.
You can handle the misunderstanding of believe by looking at the disciple’s lives and John, but also to look at the phrase “believe in.” The Greek is not “believe in”; the Greek is “believe into,” and John is breaking Greek grammar. This horrible Greek grammar, which cannot find in any of the archives of ancient Greek literature, is intentionally terrible Greek, because John doesn’t want us to misunderstand belief as simple intellectual assent. The preposition into means that we are moving out of ourselves and into Jesus, that there’s movement. It’s a real mystical concept and so it’s really hard to define, but I think that what John is saying is that biblical belief is no longer believing in ourselves, but in transferring our trust out of ourselves into Jesus. Paul’s version of this is that you and I are in Christ, that there’s this mystical union that exists: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
For John, when he says, “I want you to know that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God and that by believing in him you may have life in his name,” what he wants is for us not only to come to the point of faith, to not only come to the intellectual apprehension that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God, but in doing so to move trust out of ourselves and to start trusting in Jesus. That’s why the event Christianity is so bad because there’s none of that. If you read the Psalms 46, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (1). Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea (2), though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling (3).” No matter what happens it is God who is my refuge and God is my strength. Why? I trust him. What is there to trust about him? The answer is everything, absolutely everything. We stop trusting in ourselves and move that trust into Jesus.
It was what Jesus was talking about in Mark 8; denying yourself, taking up your cross and following me, saying no to yourself and saying yes to following Jesus. These are all different ways of saying the same thing. Sometimes in Greek, John does say believe in, but most of the time, it’s believe into, and like I said, he’s butchering Greek grammar in the same way that you and I will intentionally make a grammatical error to make a point.
The Samaritan Woman (John 4)
In chapter 4, Jesus is going back north to Galilee, and he goes through Samaria and enters into an interesting discussion with a woman of Samaria. Verses 23-24 are especially important. He gets a little close to home with his questioning, so she says, “Where do you think you should worship? The Jews think Jerusalem, but we think here.” And Jesus said, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth (23).” By spirit, he means it’s not tied to a specific geographical location, but it’s something that is inner and it is in fact, something that is the work of the Spirit (Capital S). It’s not something that is localized, it’s Spirit, and it’s in truth in that it’s in accordance with Scripture.
Jesus Heals like his Father (John 5)
In chapter 5 there is a healing of someone at a pool in a place called Bethesda in Jerusalem. There are a lot of things going on in this passage, but perhaps the most important is the emphasis that Jesus is the Son of God. Let me say a few things about Son of God. Now remember that John’s purpose for writing is to show that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, so this is central to what’s going on in this Gospel. John 5:17: “But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I am working.’” He says that God is his Father. This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, and in their minds what this means is that you’re making yourself equal with God.
Jesus is referred to as the Son of God, and in some religions or some cults what they will claim is that he’s not claiming to be God, just God’s son. The answer is to say that even alluding to God as your Father is enough for the Jews to understand that you’re claiming to be God. Now in our registers when we hear that word we would never make that conclusion would we. If someone said, well God’s my father, we may think that he’s a nut case or something, but we wouldn’t think that he was claiming to be God, but there was something in that culture that made that equation. That’s really important because if you’re trying to prove to someone that Jesus claimed to be God, they could come back and say, “No, he never claimed to be God, he just claimed to be the Son of God.” This is one of the two important places to go to say, no, when you start using family language of God, he is claiming to be equal to God; he’s claiming to be God.
Even in his trial in John 19:7, the Jews say to Pilate, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” The law they’re talking about is blasphemy—claiming to be God. In their minds, family language, being a Son of God was claiming to be God. What is fascinating, and I’m just going to read them really quickly to you, is to read the Book of John and write down all the ways in which God the Father and Jesus are connected: Jesus does God’s will. Jesus gives eternal life to whomever he wishes and yet later on he says that he’s giving eternal life to those God the Father has given to him. Which one is it Jesus, is it whoever you wish or are you giving eternal life to those that God the Father has given to you? Jesus says that he speaks only by the Father’s authority; he only does what he sees the Father doing and he does only what the Father has taught him to do. To believe in Jesus is to believe in the Father. To know Jesus is to know the Father. To see Jesus is to see the Father. The Father dwells in Jesus and Jesus dwells in the Father. To glorify Jesus is to glorify the Father. To not honor the Son is to not honor the Father. There’s more, but you see what John is doing is that he’s giving us Jesus’s teachings about the unity that exists between Jesus and God the Father. The only possible conclusion to draw is that Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, or God, because God the Father and God the son in the Gospel of John are intertwined so closely that it’s impossible that these statements be true unless Jesus is God. It’s interesting to read through the Gospel and keep track of those things.
Feeding the 5000 and the “I Am” Statements (John 6)
In chapter 6, we have the story of the feeding of the 5,000 where Jesus multiplies the loaves and the two fish. He moves into the discussion that he is the bread of life and then some of the more important statements in terms of Christology occur—these are called the “I am” sayings; there are seven. Jesus says, I am the bread of life, in other words, I am fully satisfying, I am your nourishment. “I am the light of the world I am your source of illumination and truth. I am door of the sheep, in other words, you go through him to go out to pasture, that Jesus is the true revelation. I am the good shepherd; I am someone who is going to lay down my life for the sheep. In the story of Lazarus, he says, I am the resurrection and the life, I am the source of life. I am the way, the truth and the life, in other words, no one comes to the Father except through me. I am the vine; I am the source of spiritual nourishment. You have all of these I am sayings, which are great in and of themselves. You may not suspect that there’s anything more going on in these phrases, but turn please to John 8:58 and you’ll see the full significance of what the I am sayings are trying to say.
Jesus is arguing with the Jewish leaders, claiming to be older than Abraham and that Abraham saw Jesus’s day. Verse 57: “The Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham (57)?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am (58).’” In other words, therefore, because of what you just said, they picked up stones to throw at him. They were going to kill him. Why would they kill him? Blasphemy. What did he say that was so bad? “I AM.” When Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I am,” he’s claiming to be the God of the burning bush from Exodus chapter 3, and the Jews recognize it immediately. The bush is burning, it’s not consumed, Moses goes over, and God reveals himself to Moses. It turns out that it was God the Son who was in the burning bush. Moses said, “What’s your name?” God answers, “Yahweh, I am who I am,” and the “I am” became God’s most Holy, personal name. When Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I am,” they would have instantly understood the reference, and they did because they tried to kill him for it. The actual phrase, “I am,” while it sounds like it’s just a subject and a verb, it’s much more than that. It’s a reference to Jesus being God. Once you see this in John 8:58, then you can go back to the other I am sayings to see there’s something else going on here rather than just saying “I am the bread of life.”
This then leads to the other statement in John 10:30 that needs to be marked in your Bible. He’s once again arguing with the Jews and in verse 30, he says, “I and the Father are one.” The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. There again is your affirmation of the deity of Christ. Again you can hear Jesus valuing the trinity, that’s probably not a good way to say it, but he can’t say, I’m God because he knows that God is more than he is, even though he’s fully God. So he says, “The Father and I are one.” He’s claiming divinity and deity. Later on in verse 36 Jesus says, you are accusing me of blaspheming because I say I am the Son of God. “Son of God” is the commentary of what “I and the Father are one” means. It’s really important that you have these verses marked in your Bibles so that you can explain that Son of God in that day in age meant God.
Continued Conflict with the Jews (John 7-8)
The story continues in chapter 7. There’s the Festival of the Booths and Jesus is getting mixed reaction, they want to know whether he’s the Messiah or not.
In chapter 8, you have this interesting comment about the adulterous woman. In the ESV right above 7:53 it says: [The earliest manuscripts do not include 7:53–8:11.] This story doesn’t really start appearing in the copies of John until around the sixth century. Most commentary writers think that the story of the woman caught in adultery actually happened, but we’re absolutely confident that John didn’t write it initially and put it here; it was inserted later on. We talked about that when we talked about text criticism.
Jesus continues to have conflict with the Jews. There’s a four volume commentary series called Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentaries, edited by Clint Arnold. It goes through the New Testament and discusses not the text primarily, but the background behind the text. It gives you all the historical and cultural background in the New Testament. For example, it’s at the end of the Festival of the Booths and what happened was that there was a great candlestick or a menorah that was lit during the Festival of Tabernacles. So you’ve got this big candle or set of candles glowing and Jesus says, “I am the Light of the World.” There was also ceremony where the priest would go to the pool of Siloam and take out water and come and pour it as an offering on the altar. John 7:37-38 says, “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink (37). Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water (38).’” So you can see all this symbolism of all this water pouring going on the altar and Jesus says, No, believe in me and the water will flow out. Of course, he’s talking about the Holy Spirit. It’s sometimes very helpful and fun to study the background of these stories, and these volumes fill it all out for you. The conflict continues to grow, in these chapters; when you read it in one sitting, you can feel the tension beginning to grow and to build and to get more and more tense.
The Man Born Blind (John 9)
Chapter 9 is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. It’s quite self-explanatory. Jesus gives sight to a man born blind and the Jewish leaders are upset, because he did it on a Sabbath. They are trying to find some way to explain it without giving any credit to Jesus. I love John 9:25. Starting in verse 24, “For the second time they” (the Pharisees, the Jewish leaders) “called the man who had been blind and said to him, ‘Give glory to God,’” in other words, not to Jesus, but to God. “‘We know that this man is a sinner.’” In other words, Jesus doesn’t follow our rituals and the man born blind answered, “‘Whether he is a sinner, I do not know.’” My guess is that the look on his face would that he didn’t care whether he follows your rituals or not. “‘One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’” That’s the power of a personal testimony. That’s why we should all have them; we should be able to say, “This is what happened in my life and it can only be explained by the power of God.” I don’t think any of us was born blind and can now see, but we all have testimonies, we all have ways in which we can share our stories in powerful ways. I just love the way the man says its, “You know, there are a lot of things I don’t know. I’ve been blind my whole life; I just know that I can see; go figure that one out.”
The discussion continues and they try to get the man to say that he wasn’t blind, and then you get to the man’s mini lecture. Now, understand that this man has been blind all his life; he’s been a beggar sitting there with his hand out, and now he can see all these Scribes and Pharisees, and he’s starts to lecture them. That’s what happens when you have a personal testimony. When God has been at work in your life, you really don’t care what the other preachers and pastors and scholars think. It’s not that big of a deal to you, because your life has been changed and you are free—you want to tell people that. That’s what he does here. Beginning in verse 30, “‘Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know’” (or you could even say, well even I a dumb beggars knows) “‘that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him (31). Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind (32). If this man were not from God, he could do nothing (33).’ They answered him, ‘You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?’ they cast him out (34).” I think it was probably worth it; I think he probably got kicked out smiling. That’s a great story and well worth reading.
The Good Shepherd (John 10)
Chapter 10 is a chapter of marvelous encouragement, and I would encourage you to read it. You and I are the sheep. Jesus begins by saying I am the door, I am the opening that you walk through to life and salvation and pasture. Then he changes the metaphor in verse 11, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Verse 14: “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.” Verse 16: “They will listen to my voice.” You have this marvelous picture of us as the flock of God, and Jesus as our Shepherd who knows us and we know him. We are a unit; we’re a family and nobody can rip us out of the flock. He protects us, he’s our shepherd and it’s a powerful, powerful picture of that thing.
Raising Lazarus from the Dead (John 11)
Chapter 11 is the story of Lazarus. Again, this is one of those really important signs. Jesus loved Mary and Martha and Lazarus deeply. I love how John writes this, starting in verse 4, “But when Jesus heard, that Lazarus was sick, he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’” Jesus loved Martha and her sister Mary, and therefore because he loved them, when he heard that Lazarus was ill he stayed two days longer. In other words, Jesus wants to make sure that Lazarus was truly dead before he gets there. The ideas seem to conflict: He loved him so much and he let him die, because what’s more important than death is the glory of God, and God being glorified through what Jesus does and what we do. He waits until he’s truly dead, and he goes back. Then you have this marvelous interchange with Mary and Martha, verse 24, “Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day (24).’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live (25), and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this (26)?’” She said, absolutely. This is a powerful picture of Jesus. One of his very best friends dies so that he could bring glory to God by giving him life again and illustrate the point that he is the resurrection and the life.
The Triumphal Entry and Rejection (John 12)
From here on to the end of chapter 12, it’s mostly just getting worse. The tension is building. In chapter 12, they are getting close to Jerusalem. Mary anoints him, which is a prophetic act in preparation for his burial. Then there’s a plot to kill poor Lazarus—one of the few people that had to die twice. You have the triumphal entry. The Jews had seen Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead and all of the other signs starting back in chapter 6 with the feeding them the loaves and the fish. This is something that the Jews thought the Messiah was going to do, and here he started doing so many more miraculous things that people think he’s the Messiah, the King. In the triumphal entry, they proclaim him King and receive him into their city. Chapter 12 ends on this final statement of judgment of unbelief on the people and Jesus’s pronouncement on it.
Starting in chapter 13, which we will look at next time, Jesus goes into the Upper Room and starts the Upper Room Discourse in his last night alone with his disciples.