Notes on


2024 Edition

Dr. Thomas L. Constable



The writer of this Gospel did not identify himself as such in the text. This is true of all the Gospel evangelists. Nevertheless there is evidence within this Gospel, as well as in the writings of the church fathers, that the writer was the Apostle John.[1]

The internal evidence from the Gospel itself is as follows: In 21:24, the writer of "these things" (i.e., the whole Gospel) was the same person as the "disciple whom Jesus loved" (21:7).[2] That disciple was one of the seven disciples mentioned in 21:2. He was also the disciple who sat beside Jesus in the upper room when He instituted the Lord's Supper and the disciple to whom Peter motioned (13:23-24). This means that he was one of the Twelve, since only they were present in the upper room (Mark 14:17; Luke 22:14). The "disciple whom Jesus loved" was also one of the inner circle of three disciples, namely, Peter, James, and John (Mark 5:37-38; 9:2-3; 14:33; John 20:2-10).

James died in the early history of the church, probably in the early 40s (Acts 12:2). There is good evidence that whoever wrote this Gospel did so after then. The writer was also not Peter (21:20-24). This evidence points to John as the "disciple whom Jesus loved," who was also the writer of this Gospel. The writer claimed to have seen Jesus' glory (1:14; cf. 1:1-4), which John did at the Transfiguration. There are several Johns in the New Testament. This John was one of Zebedee's sons, who was a fisherman before Jesus called him to leave his nets and follow Him.

"To a certain extent each of the Gospels reflects the personality of its author, but in none of them is there a more distinctive individuality manifested than in John."[3]

In the article just quoted, the writer showed how John projected his personality into his writing of this Gospel.

The external evidence also points to the Johannine authorship of the fourth Gospel. Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyons (ca. A.D. 130-200), wrote that he had heard Polycarp (ca. A.D. 69-155), who was a disciple of John. It was apparently from Polycarp that Irenaeus learned that, "John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, had himself published a Gospel during his residence in Ephesus in Asia."[4] Other later church fathers supported this tradition, including Theophilus of Antioch (ca. A.D. 180), Clement of Alexandria (ca. A.D. 150-215), Tertullian of Carthage (A.D. 160-240), and Tatian of Syria (A.D. 120-180).[5] The historian Eusebius of Caesarea (died A.D. 339) also specifically mentioned that Matthew and John, among the apostles, wrote the Gospels that bear their names.[6]

Some scholars have rejected this seemingly clear evidence and have refused to accept Johannine authorship. This rejection generally comes from those who hold a lower view of Scripture. Answering their objections lies outside the purpose of these notes.[7]

Place of Writing

Eusebius also wrote that John ministered to the church in Ephesus, where Paul had ministered (Acts 19:1-20), for many years.[8] The Isle of Patmos, where John spent some time in exile, is close to Ephesus (cf. Rev. 1:9-11). Eusebius wrote that John composed his Gospel when he was at Ephesus.[9] During the first century that city was one of the largest centers of Christian activity in the Gentile world. Antioch of Syria and Alexandria in Egypt have been suggested as sites of composition, but they do not have as good support as Ephesus does.[10]


A few scholars believe that John could have written this book as early as A.D. 45, the date when Saul of Tarsus' persecutions drove many Christians out of Jerusalem (cf. Acts 8:1-4).[11] There are two main problems with such an early date: First, John seems to have assumed that the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) were available to the Christian public. There is some doubt about this, since it assumes an assumption, but most scholars believe, on the basis of John's content, that John selected his material to supplement the material in the Synoptics.[12] This would date the writing of the fourth Gospel later than the Synoptics.

Second, according to early church tradition the Apostle John lived long in the first century. This would make a later date possible even though it does not prove a later date. Some students of the book believe that John 21:18 through 22 implies that Peter would die before John did, and Peter died about A.D. 67. In general, most authorities reject a date in the 40s for these and other reasons.

Some conservatives date the Gospel slightly before A.D. 70, because John described the land of Israel and Jerusalem as they were before the Romans destroyed Jerusalem (cf. 5:2).[13] This may be a weak argument, since John frequently used the Greek present tense to describe things in the past. Some who hold this date note the absence of any reference to Jerusalem's destruction in John. But there could have been many reasons that John chose not to mention the destruction of Jerusalem if he wrote after that event. A date of writing before the destruction of Jerusalem is also a minority opinion among scholars.

Many scholars believe that John wrote his Gospel between A.D. 85 and 95, or close to A.D. 100.[14] Early church tradition was that John wrote it when he was an older man. Moreover, even the early Christians regarded this as the fourth Gospel, and they believed that John wrote it after the Synoptics. It is not clear if John had access to the Synoptic Gospels. He did not quote from any of them. But his choice of material for his own Gospel suggests that he had probably read them and chose to include other material from Jesus' ministry in his account in order to supplement them.[15]

The latest possible date would be about A.D. 100, if the Apostle John wrote it, although some more liberal scholars date this Gospel in the second century. The Egerton Papyrus, which dates from late in the second century, contains unmistakable allusions to John's Gospel.[16] This collection of three papyrus fragments is one of the oldest surviving witnesses to any Gospel.

It seems impossible to identify the precise date of writing, as evidenced by the difference of opinion that exists among excellent scholars. However a date sometime between A.D. 65 and 95 seems probable. I favor a date in the 90s.

Characteristic features and purpose

John's presentation of Jesus in his Gospel has been a problem to many modern students of the New Testament. Some regard it as the greatest problem in current New Testament studies.[17] Compared to the Synoptics, which present Jesus as a historical figure, as John did, John also stressed the deity of Jesus strongly. Darrell Bock described this difference as the Synoptics viewing Jesus from the earth up, and John viewing Jesus from heaven down.[18] Obviously the Synoptics present Jesus as God also, but the emphasis in the fourth Gospel is more strongly on Jesus' full deity. This emphasis runs from the beginning, with the Word becoming flesh (1:1, 14), to the end, where Thomas confesses Jesus as his Lord and "God" (20:28). John's purpose statement for writing (20:30-31) explains why he stressed Jesus' deity: It was so his readers would believe that He is the Christ, the Son of God, and thereby have eternal life.

The key word in the book is the verb believe (Gr. pisteuo), which appears 98 times. The noun form of the word (Gr. pistis, faith) does not occur at all. This phenomenon shows that John wanted to emphasize the importance of active, vital trust in Jesus. Other key words are witness, love, abide, the Counselor (i.e., the Holy Spirit), light, life, darkness, Word, glorify, true, and real.[19] These words identify important themes in this Gospel.

John's unique purpose accounted for his selection of material, as was true of every biblical writer. He omitted Jesus' genealogy, birth, baptism, temptation, exorcizing demons, parables, transfiguration, institution of the Lord's Supper, agony in Gethsemane, and ascension. He focused on Jesus' ministry in Jerusalem, the Jewish feasts, Jesus' private conversations with individuals, and His preparation of His disciples for what lay ahead of them.

John selected seven signs or miracles that demonstrate that Jesus was the divine Messiah who was promised in the Old Testament (chs. 2—12).[20] He also recorded the discourses that Jesus gave following these signs that explained their significance. In addition, he featured Jesus' claims that occur in His seven unique "I am" statements (6:35; 8:12; 10:7, 9, 11, 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1, 5).[21]

About 93 percent of the material in John's Gospel does not appear in the Synoptics.[22] This fact illustrates the uniqueness of this Gospel compared to the other three, and it explains why they are called "Synoptic" and John is not. For example, John recorded no story parables of Jesus, though he did include many extended discourses and personal conversations that the other Gospel evangelists omitted.

"… it is undeniable that the discourses of the Lord which are peculiar to St John's Gospel are, for the most part, very brief summaries of elaborate discussions and expositions in relation to central topics of faith."[23]

"Its [this Gospel's] aim is, not to give us what Jesus said like a newspaper report, but to give us what Jesus meant."[24]

All four Gospels are quite similar in that they record events pertaining to the life of Christ on earth, and the three Synoptics are even more similar, though each Gospel has its own distinctive features. John, on the other hand, is considerably different from the others. Particularly, it emphasizes Jesus' deity more strongly than the others do. It is, I believe, impossible to determine for certain whether or not John used or even knew of the Synoptic Gospels.[25] I suspect that he did.

Another difference between the Synoptics and the fourth Gospel is the writers' view of eschatology (the end times). They all share the same basic view, namely, that the Jews' rejection of their Messiah resulted in the postponement (or delay) of the reign of Messiah on the earth. However the Synoptic writers focused on the future aspects of eschatology more than John did. He put more emphasis on the present or realized aspects of eschatology.

John stressed the aspects of messianic kingdom life that Christians currently enjoy as benefits of the New Covenant, which Jesus inaugurated with His death. These include the Holy Spirit's ministries of indwelling and illuminating the believer. Such a shift in emphasis is understandable if John wrote later than the other Gospel evangelists. By then it was clear that God had postponed (delayed) the earthly kingdom of Messiah, and believers' interest was more on life in the church than it was on life in the future earthly kingdom (cf. chs. 13—17).

"It is … quite possible that one of John's aims was to combat false teaching of a docetic type. The Docetists held that the Christ never became incarnate; everything was 'seeming.' That the docetic heresy did not appear in the first century seems clear, but certain elements that later were to be embodied in this heresy seem to have been quite early."[26]

"A heresy is seldom a complete lie and a complete untruth; a heresy usually results when one side, one part, one facet of the truth is unduly emphasised [sic]."[27]

The Greek word dokein, meaning "to seem," is the origin of the name of this heresy.

"We have suggested that the Fourth Gospel was addressed to two groups within the Johannine community, each of which represented an extreme interpretation of the nature of Jesus: one which did not accept him as God, and the other which did not accept him as man (see the introduction, xxiii; also Smalley, John, 145-48). The perfectly balanced christology of the Fourth Gospel was intended, we believe, to provide a resolution of this theological crisis: to remind the ex-Jewish members of the group, with their strong emphasis on the humanity of Jesus, that the Christ was divine; and to insist, for the benefit of the ex-pagan members (with their docetic outlook), that Jesus was truly human."[28]

The Jewish context of Jesus' ministry accounts for the strong Jewish flavor that marks all four Gospels. Yet John's Gospel is more theological and cosmopolitan and less Jewish than the others.

"It has … a wider appeal to growing Christian experience and to an enlarging Gentile constituency than the others. … The Synoptics present him for a generation in process of being evangelized; John presents him as the Lord of the maturing and questioning believer."[29]

As a piece of literature, John's Gospel has a symphonic structure. Baxter called this a style of "recurrent ideas."[30] This structural style also characterizes John's first epistle.

"A symphony is a musical composition having several movements related in subject, but varying in form and execution. It usually begins with a dominant theme, into which variations are introduced at intervals. The variations seem to be developed independently, but as the music is played, they modulate into each other until finally all are brought to a climax. The apparent disunity is really part of a design which is not evident at first, but which appears in the progress of the composition."[31]

Tenney identified the major themes of this Gospel as the signs, the sonship and messiahship of Christ, and eternal life. Tasker described the fourth Gospel as "the simplest and yet the most profound of the Christian Gospels."[32]

"The test of time has given the palm to the Fourth Gospel over all the books of the world. If Luke's Gospel is the most beautiful, John's Gospel is supreme in its height and depth and reach of thought. The picture of Christ here given is the one that has captured the mind and heart of mankind. … The language of the Fourth Gospel has the clarity of a spring, but we are not able to sound the bottom of the depths. Lucidity and profundity challenge and charm us as we linger over it."[33]

Baxter believed that the structure of John corresponds to the furniture of the Old Testament tabernacle.[34]

Let me encourage you to read this Gospel through at one sitting sometime, if you have not already done so. I remember the first time that I did, when I was a teenager. The book made a profound impression on me. Read this way, the impact of Jesus' life is tremendous. One can hardly escape the conviction that Jesus is the Christ.

Original recipients

When one reads this Gospel one can get the impression that John wrote primarily for Christians. This impression may seem to contradict John's stated purpose for writing (20:30-31). One writer wrote that this is the only book in the Bible written to unbelievers.[35] Probably John wrote both to convince unbelievers that Jesus was the Son of God, and at the same time he wrote to give Christians—especially those who faced persecution—confidence in their Savior.[36] The word "believe" in 20:31 may be in the Greek present tense in order to imply that Christian readers should continue believing. Or it could be in the Greek aorist tense in order to suggest that pagan readers should believe initially.

An evangelistic purpose does not exclude an edification purpose. Indeed, all 66 books of the Bible have edifying value for God's people (2 Tim. 3:16-17). John's purpose for unbelievers was that they might obtain eternal life, and his purpose for believers was that they might experience abundant eternal life (10:10). Though most students of this Gospel have concluded that John's purpose in writing was primarily evangelistic, some have felt that it was primarily for the growth of believers.[37]

John explained Jewish customs, translated Jewish names, and located Jewish sites. These facts suggest that he was writing for Gentile readers who lived primarily outside the Jews' homeland. Furthermore, the prologue seems addressed to readers who thought in Greek terms. John's inclusion of the Greeks, who showed interest in seeing Jesus (12:20-22), may also suggest that he wrote with them in view. Because of John's general purposes, it seems best to conclude that the original readers were primarily Gentile Christians and Gentile unbelievers. Carson argued that John's purpose was specifically to evangelize Jews and Jewish proselytes.[38]

"By the use of personal reminiscences interpreted in the light of a long life of devotion to Christ and by numerous episodes that generally had not been used in the Gospel tradition, whether written or oral, John created a new and different approach to understanding Jesus' person. John's readers were primarily second-generation Christians he was familiar with and to whom he seemed patriarchal."[39]

The writer did not indicate the geographical location of the original recipients of his Gospel. This was undoubtedly intentional since the message of John has universal appeal. Perhaps its first readers lived in the Roman province of Asia, the capital of which was Ephesus, where John lived during the latter part of his life.[40]


Summary of Gospel Introductions








probably 40s


probably 60s


probably 50s


probably 90s


















I.       Prologue 1:1-18

A.      The pre-incarnate Word 1:1-5

B.      The witness of John the Baptist 1:6-8

C.      The appearance of the Light 1:9-13

D.      The incarnation of the Word 1:14-18

II.       Jesus' public ministry 1:19—12:50

A.      The prelude to Jesus' public ministry 1:19-51

1.      John the Baptist's veiled testimony to Jesus 1:19-28

2.      John the Baptist's open identification of Jesus 1:29-34

3.      The response to John the Baptist's witness 1:35-42

4.      The witness of Andrew and Philip 1:43-51

B.      Jesus' early Galilean ministry 2:1-12

1.      The first sign: changing water into wine 2:1-11

2.      Jesus' initial stay in Capernaum 2:12

C.      Jesus' first visit to Jerusalem 2:13—3:36

1.      The first cleansing of the temple 2:13-22

2.      Initial response to Jesus in Jerusalem 2:23-25

3.      Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus 3:1-21

4.      John the Baptist's reaction to Jesus' ministry 3:22-30

5.      The explanation of Jesus' preeminence 3:31-36

D.      Jesus' ministry in Samaria 4:1-42

1.      The interview with the Samaritan woman 4:1-26

2.      Jesus' explanation of evangelistic ministry 4:27-38

3.      The response to Jesus in Samaria 4:39-42

E.      Jesus' resumption of His Galilean ministry 4:43-54

1.      Jesus' return to Galilee 4:43-45

2.      The second sign: healing the official's son 4:46-54

F.       Jesus' second visit to Jerusalem ch. 5

1.      The third sign: healing the paralytic 5:1-9

2.      The antagonism of the Jewish authorities 5:10-18

3.      The Son's equality with the Father 5:19-29

4.      The Father's witness to the Son 5:30-47

G.      Jesus' later Galilean ministry 6:1—7:9

1.      The fourth sign: feeding the 5,000 6:1-15

2.      The fifth sign: walking on the water 6:16-21

3.      The bread of life discourse 6:22-59

4.      The responses to the bread of life discourse 6:60—7:9

H.      Jesus' third visit to Jerusalem 7:10—10:42

1.      The controversy surrounding Jesus 7:10-13

2.      Jesus' ministry at the Feast of Tabernacles 7:14-44

3.      The unbelief of the Jewish leaders 7:45-52

4.      The woman caught in adultery 7:53—8:11

5.      The light of the world discourse 8:12-59

6.      The sixth sign: healing a man born blind ch. 9

7.      The good shepherd discourse 10:1-21

8.      The confrontation at the Feast of Dedication 10:22-42

I.       The conclusion of Jesus' public ministry chs. 11—12

1.      The seventh sign: raising Lazarus 11:1-44

2.      The responses to the raising of Lazarus 11:45-57

3.      Mary's anointing of Jesus 12:1-8

4.      The official antagonism toward Lazarus 12:9-11

5.      Jesus' triumphal entry 12:12-19

6.      Jesus' announcement of His death 12:20-36

7.      The unbelief of Israel 12:37-50

III.      Jesus' private ministry chs. 13—17

A.      The Last Supper 13:1-30

1.      Jesus' washing of the disciples' feet 13:1-20

2.      Jesus' announcement of His betrayal 13:21-30

B.      The Upper Room Discourse 13:31—16:33

1.      Jesus' announcement and command 13:31-35

2.      Peter's question about Jesus' departure and Jesus' reply 13:36-38

3.      Jesus' comforting revelation in view of His departure 14:1-24

4.      Jesus' promise of future understanding 14:25-31

5.      The importance of abiding in Jesus 15:1-16

6.      The warning about opposition from the world 15:17-27

7.      The clarification of the future 16:1-24

8.      The clarification of Jesus' destination 16:25-33

C.      Jesus' high priestly prayer ch. 17

1.      Jesus' requests for Himself 17:1-5

2.      Jesus' requests for the Eleven 17:6-19

3.      Jesus' requests for future believers 17:20-26

IV.     Jesus' passion ministry chs. 18—20

A.      Jesus' presentation of Himself to His enemies 18:1-11

B.      Jesus' religious trial 18:12-27

1.      The arrest of Jesus and the identification of the high priests 18:12-14

2.      The entrance of two disciples into the high priest's courtyard and Peter's first denial 18:15-18

3.      Annas' interrogation of Jesus 18:19-24

4.      Peter's second and third denials of Jesus 18:25-27

C.      Jesus' civil trial 18:28—19:16

1.      The Jews' charge against Jesus 18:28-32

2.      The question of Jesus' kingship 18:33-38a

3.      The Jews' request for Barabbas 18:38b-40

4.      The sentencing of Jesus 19:1-16

D.      Jesus' crucifixion 19:17-30

1.      Jesus' journey to Golgotha 19:17

2.      The men crucified with Jesus 19:18

3.      The inscription over Jesus' cross 19:19-22

4.      The distribution of Jesus' garments 19:23-24

5.      Jesus' provision for His mother 19:25-27

6.      The death of Jesus 19:28-30

E.      The treatment of Jesus' body 19:31-42

1.      The removal of Jesus' body from the cross 19:31-37

2.      The burial of Jesus 19:38-42

F.       Jesus' resurrection 20:1-29

1.      The discovery of Peter and John 20:1-10

2.      The discovery of Mary Magdalene 20:11-18

3.      The appearance to the Eleven minus Thomas on Easter evening 20:19-23

4.      The transformed faith of Thomas 20:24-29

G.      The purpose of this Gospel 20:30-31

V.      Epilogue ch. 21

A.      Jesus' appearance to seven disciples in Galilee 21:1-14

B.      Jesus' teachings about motivation for service 21:15-23

C.      The writer's postscript 21:24-25


In one sense the Gospel of John is more profound than the Synoptics. It is the most difficult Gospel for most Bible expositors to preach and teach for reasons that become evident as one studies it. For my first experience teaching a series of home Bible studies, I chose this book, because I thought it would not be too difficult. I soon discovered that understanding and communicating much of what John wrote was not easy. In another sense, however, the fourth Gospel is the easiest Gospel to understand. Leon Morris wrote that it is a pool in which a child can wade and an elephant can swim.[41] It is both simple and profound. It clarifies some things that the Synoptics leave as mysteries.

What are these mysteries? Matthew presents Jesus as the King, but it does not spell out the reason for Jesus' great authority—but John does. Mark presents Jesus as the Servant, but it does not account for His depth of consecration to God—but John does. Luke presents Jesus as the perfect Man, but it does not explain His uniqueness from the rest of humankind—but John does.

The Gospel of John reveals answers to the mysteries about Jesus that the Synoptics leave hidden. It is, therefore, an apocalypse, an unveiling, similar to the Book of Revelation in this respect. The Book of Revelation is the climax of biblical Christology. The Gospel of John plays that part among the Gospels (cf. Deuteronomy in the Pentateuch). It is a revelation of the person of Jesus Christ more than any of the others. John told us that it would be this in his prologue (1:1-18). Though it is an apocalypse in this sense, it does not contain apocalyptic content, which refers to a particular literary genre (type of literature) that deals primarily with cataclysmic end times events.

The statement of the message of this Gospel occurs in 1:18: "No one has seen God at any time; God the only Son, who is in the arms of the Father, He has explained Him." John claimed that Jesus, the Son of God, was the explanation of God the Father. This Gospel presents Jesus as the One who manifested God to humankind. It then stresses the revelation of the truth about God.

People have constantly sought to represent God in some way. We want to know what God is like. Ideas about God that do not come from the revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ are usually wrong, even idolatrous. They create a false view of God. Typically human beings without divine revelation have imagined God as being an immense version of themselves, a projection of human personality into cosmic proportions. God's revelation of Himself, however, involved the limitation of Himself to humanity, the exact opposite approach. This is what God did in the Incarnation. God's revelations are often the exact opposite of what one would expect.

John presented Jesus as the Son of God. He wanted his readers to view Jesus and to see God. In the tears of Jesus we should see what causes God sorrow. In the compassion of Jesus we should see how God cares for His own. In the anger of Jesus we should see what God hates.

What do we learn about God from Jesus in John? The prologue gives us the essential answer, and the body of the book explains this answer with various illustrations from Jesus' ministry. The prologue tells us that Jesus has manifested the glory of God by revealing two things about Him: His grace and His truth (1:14). All that Jesus revealed about God that this Gospel narrates is contractible into these two words. Notice first the revelation of grace in this Gospel:

The Gospel of John presents God as a gracious person. Behind His gracious dealings lies a heart of love. There are probably hundreds of evidences of God's love resulting in gracious action in this book. Note just the evidence of these qualities in the seven signs that John chose to record:

The miracle of changing water into wine (ch. 2) shows God's concern for marital joy. The healing of the official's son (ch. 4) shows God's desire that people experience family unity. The healing of the paralytic (ch. 5) shows God's grace in providing physical restoration. The feeding of the 5,000 (ch. 6) shows God's love in providing material needs. The miracle of Jesus walking on the water (ch. 6) shows God's desire that people enjoy supernatural peace. The healing of the man born blind (ch. 9) illustrates God's desire that we have true understanding. The raising of Lazarus (ch. 11) shows God's grace in providing new life. All of these miracles are revelations of God's love manifesting itself in gracious behavior toward people in their various needs. These are only the most obvious manifestations of God's grace in this book.[42]

This Gospel also reveals that God is a God of truth. Another one of God's attributes that we see revealed in this Gospel lies behind the truth that we see revealed in this Gospel. That attribute is His holiness. The figure that John used to describe God's holiness is light. Light is a common figure for God's holiness in the Old Testament. The principle of God's holiness governs the passion of His love.

Jesus' great works in John reveal God's love and His great words reveal God's truth. Consider the seven great "I am" claims of Jesus as illustrations of the various aspects of the truth that Jesus revealed about God. All of these claims point to God as the source of, and to Jesus as the mediator of, things having to do with truth.

The "bread of life" claim (ch. 6) points to God as the source of true sustenance. The "light of the world" claim (ch. 9) points to God as the source of true illumination. The "door" claim (ch. 10) points to God as the source of true security. The "good shepherd" claim (ch. 10) points to God as the source of true care. The "resurrection and the life" claim (ch. 11) points to God as the source of true life. "The way, the truth, and the life" claim (ch. 14) points to God as the source of true authority. The "vine" claim (ch. 15) points to God as the source of true fruitfulness. All of these claims pointed directly to Jesus as the mediator, but they also pointed beyond Him to God the Father. They were revelations of the truth concerning God.

These are all further revelations of the character of God that was introduced first in Exodus 3, where God said He would reveal Himself as "I am." The Law of Moses was an initial revelation about God. The revelation that Jesus Christ brought was a further, fuller, and final revelation of the grace and truth that characterize God (1:17; cf. Heb. 1:1-2). These revelations find their most comprehensive expression in the fourth Gospel.

What are the implications of the revelation in this Gospel?

First, such a revelation calls for worship. In Old Testament times God revealed Himself and dwelt among His people through the tabernacle. In the Incarnation, God revealed Himself and dwelt among His people through His Son (1:14). The tabernacle was the place where God revealed Himself and around which His people congregated to worship Him in response. The Son of God is the Person through whom God has now given the greatest and fullest revelation of Himself, and around whom we now bow in worship (cf. Heb. 9).

Second, such a revelation calls for service. Under the old Mosaic economy worship prepared God's people to serve Him. Their service consisted of carrying out His mission for them in the world. The revelation of God should always result in service as well as worship (cf. Isa. 6:1-8). When we learn who God is, as we study this Gospel, our reaction should not only be worship but service. This is true of the church as a whole and of every individual believer in it. Thomas' ascription of worship (20:28) was only preliminary to his fulfilling God's mission for him (20:21-23). Worship should never be an end in itself. Even in heaven believers will serve as well as worship God (Rev. 22:3).

As recipients of this revelation of God, our lives too should be notable for grace and truth. These qualities should not only be the themes of our worship. They should also be the trademarks of our service. Truth and holiness should mark our words and motives. Graciousness should stamp our works as we deal with people. If they do not, we have not yet comprehended the revelation of God that Jesus came to bring to His own. Excessive graciousness jeopardizes truthfulness, and rigid truthfulness endangers graciousness. Jesus illustrated the balance.

This Gospel has a strong appeal to non-Christians as well. John wrote it specifically to bring the light of revelation about Jesus' true identity to those who live in spiritual darkness (20:30-31). The knowledge of who Jesus really is is the key to the knowledge of who God really is. Therefore our service must not only bear the marks of certain characteristics, namely, grace and truth, but it must also communicate a specific content: who Jesus is. People need to consider who Jesus is. There is no better way for them to do this than by reading this Gospel. Remember the stated purpose of this book (20:30-31). Use it as an evangelistic tool. Many people have come to faith just by reading the Gospel of John.[43]


I.      Prologue 1:1-18

Each of the four Gospels begins with an introduction to Jesus that places Him in the historical setting of His earthly ministry. Matthew connected Him with David and Abraham. Mark associated Him directly with John the Baptist. Luke recorded the predictions of His birth. John, however, declared Him to be the eternal Son of God. Many writers have referred to John's prologue as a theological prologue, because this evangelist stressed Jesus' relationship to the eternal God.

As with many introductions, this one contains several key terms that recur throughout the remainder of the book. These terms include life and light (v. 4), darkness (v. 5), witness (v. 7), true (i.e., genuine or ultimate), and world (v. 9); as well as Son, Father, glory, and truth (v. 14). The Word (as a Christological title, v. 1) and grace (v. 14) are also important theological terms, but they occur only in the prologue.

"But supremely, the Prologue summarizes how the 'Word' which was with God in the very beginning came into the sphere of time, history, tangibility—in other words, how the Son of God was sent into the world to become the Jesus of history, so that the glory and grace of God might be uniquely and perfectly disclosed. The rest of the book is nothing other than an expansion of this theme."[44]

"John's prologue, without a doubt, is a bunch of keys which unlock all that follows."[45]

Some writers have identified a chiastic structure in the prologue.[46] Alan Culpepper's is essentially as follows:[47]

A       The eternal Word with God vv. 1-2

B       What came through the Word: creation v. 3

C       What we have received from the Word: life vv. 4-5

D       John's purpose: to testify vv. 6-8

E       The Incarnation and the world's response vv. 9-10

F       The Word and His own (Israel) v. 11

G       Those who accepted the Word v. 12a

H       He gave them authority to become God's children v. 12b

G'      Those who believed in the Word v. 12c

F'       The Word and His own (Christians) v. 13

E'      The Incarnation and the church's response v. 14

D'      John's testimony v. 15

C'      What we have received from the Word: grace v. 16

B'      What came through the Word: grace and truth v. 17

A'      The eternal Word from God v. 18

Jeff Staley also saw a chiasmus in these verses, though his perception of the parts is slightly different from Culpepper's:[48]

A       The relationship of the Logos to God, creation, and humanity vv. 1-5

B       The witness of John (negative) vv. 6-8

C       The journey of the Light/Logos (negative) vv. 9-11

D       The gift of empowerment (positive) vv. 12-13

C'      The journey of the Logos (positive) v. 14

B'      The witness of John (positive) v. 15

A'      The relationship of the Logos to humankind, re-creation, and God vv. 16-18

These structural analyses point out that all that John wrote in this prologue centers on God's gift of eternal life that comes to people through the Word (v. 12). This emphasis on salvation through Jesus continues to be central throughout this Gospel (cf. 20:30-31).

A.     The pre-incarnate Word 1:1-5

John began his Gospel by locating Jesus before the beginning of His ministry, before His virgin birth, and even before Creation. He identified Jesus as co-existent with God the Father and the Father's agent in providing creation and salvation.

1:1             The Bible identifies many beginnings. It does not teach a timeless state either before Creation or after the consummation of all things. The idea of timeless existence was a pagan Greek philosophical concept. Origen and Plato held it, as do some modern eastern religions and some Christians, but it is not a biblical teaching. The phrase "forever and ever," which occurs frequently in the Bible and refers to eternity future, implies the continuation of time.

Time is the way that God and people measure events in relationship to one another. Even before God created the universe (Gen. 1:1) there was succession of events, including probably the creation of angels and the fall of Satan. We often refer to this pre-creation time as eternity past. Some interpreters of this verse believe that the beginning of eternity past is the "beginning" that John referred to here.[49] They believe John meant that at the beginning of eternity, when there was nothing else, the Word existed.

Another view, which I prefer, is that John was referring back to the same beginning that Moses wrote about in Genesis 1:1.[50] Since eternity past had no beginning, it seems better to view the beginning that John referred to as the beginning of creation.

"John is writing about a new beginning, a new creation, and he uses words that recall the first creation. He soon goes on to use other words that are important in Genesis 1, such as 'life' (v. 4), 'light' (v. 4), and 'darkness' (v. 5). Genesis 1 described God's first creation; John's theme is God's new creation. Like the first, the second is not carried out by some subordinate being. It is brought about through the agency of the Logos, the very Word of God."[51]

Obviously the word "Word" (Gr. logos; Aram. memra, used to describe God in the Targums), to which John referred, was a title for God. (The Targums are Aramaic translations of the Old Testament.) Later in this verse John identified the Word as "God." John evidently chose this title because it communicates the fact that the Word was not only God—which is John's first identification of Jesus as God—but also the expression of God. A spoken or written word expresses what is in the mind of its speaker or writer.

The Greeks used the word logos to describe the reason or mind of God.[52] Likewise Jesus, the Word (v. 14), was not only God, but He was the demonstration of God to humankind. Jesus' life and ministry showed to humankind what God wanted us to know about Himself (cf. Heb. 1:1-2). The word logos had this metaphorical meaning in Jewish and Greek literature when John wrote his Gospel.

"To the Hebrew 'the word of God' was the self-assertion of the divine personality; to the Greek the formula denoted the rational mind that ruled the universe."[53]

"It has not been proven beyond doubt whether the term logos, as John used it, derives from Jewish or Greek (Hellenistic) backgrounds or from some other source. Nor is it plain what associations John meant to convey by his use of it. Readers are left to work out the precise allusions and significance for themselves. John was working with allusions to the Old Testament, but he was also writing to an audience familiar with Hellenistic (Greek) thought, and certain aspects of his use of logos would occur to them. Both backgrounds are important for understanding this title as John used it in 1:1, 14."[54]

John adopted this word logos and used it in personification to express Jesus ("the Word") as the ultimate divine self-revelation: God's final revelation of Himself (cf. Heb. 1:1-2). In view of Old Testament usage, it carries connotations of creation (Gen. 1:3, 6, 9; Ps. 33:6), revelation (Isa. 9:8; Jer. 1:4; Ezek. 33:7; Amos 3:1, 8), deliverance (Ps. 107:20; Isa. 56:1), and wisdom (Prov. 4:5-13; 8:1—9:2).

John's description of the Word as "with God" shows that Jesus was in one sense distinct from God. He was (and is) the second Person of the Trinity, who is distinct from the Father and the Holy Spirit in the form of His existence. However John was also careful to note that Jesus was, in another sense, fully God. He was not less of God than the Father was, or the Spirit was, in His intrinsic being. Thus John made one of the great Trinitarian statements in the Bible in this verse. In His essence Jesus is equal with the Father, but He exists as a separate person within the Godhead.

There is probably no fully adequate illustration of the Trinity in the natural world. An egg consists of three parts: shell, yolk, and white. Each part is fully egg, yet each has its own identity that distinguishes it from the other parts. The human family is another illustration. Father, mother, and child are all separate entities—yet each one is fully a member of his or her own family. Each may have a different first name, but all bear the same family name (in most cases). Light, when passed through a prism, is seen to be composed of three primary colors: red, yellow, and blue. Similarly, the person of God, when revealed in Scripture, is seen to consist of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Hydrogen dioxide can be water, ice, and steam and still be H2O.

Jehovah's Witnesses appeal to this verse to support their belief that Jesus was not fully God but only the highest created being.[55] They translate the last part of this verse: "the Word was a god." Grammatically this is a possible translation since it is legitimate to supply the indefinite article ("a") when no article is present in the Greek text, as here. But that translation here is definitely incorrect because it reduces Jesus to less than God. Other Scriptures affirm Jesus' full deity (e.g., vv. 2, 18; Phil. 2:6; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3; et al.). Here the absence of the indefinite article was deliberate. Often the absence of the article stresses the character or quality of the noun ("God"), as it does here (cf. Heb. 1:1:2).

"As a rule the predicate ["God"] is without the article [a], even when the subject ["Word"] uses it [cf. vv. 6, 12, 13, 18, et al.]."[56]

Jesus was not "a god." He was and is fully God.

"What John is saying is this—the Word is not of the created things; the Word was there before creation."[57]

"John intends that the whole of his gospel shall be read in the light of this verse. The deeds and words of Jesus are the deeds and words of God; if this be not true the book is blasphemous."[58]

John 1:1 is the first of many "asides" in this Gospel. An aside is a direct statement that tells the reader something. Asides are never observable events but are interpretive comments on observable events. These comments by John reveal information below the surface of the action.

"Some asides function to stage an event by defining the physical context in which it occurs. Other asides function to define or specify something. Still other asides explain discourse, telling why something was said (or was not said, e.g., 7:13, 30). Parallel to these are others that function to explain actions, noting why something happened (or did not happen)."[59]

Thatcher identified 191 asides in this Gospel and charted them by type.[60] However it is sometimes difficult for the reader to determine whether John has inserted an aside or whether someone else is speaking (e.g., 3:16-21).

1:2             The Word "was in the beginning with God." This statement clarifies further that Jesus was with God before the creation of the universe. It is a further assertion of Jesus' deity. He did not come into existence. He always existed. Further, Jesus did not become deity. He always was deity. Verse 2 clarifies the revelation of verse 1 that is so concise and profound (cf. Gen. 1:1-2).[61]

1:3             John next explicitly declared what was implicit in the Old Testament use of the word "word." Jesus was God's agent in creating everything that has come into existence (cf. 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2; Rev. 3:14). It was the second person of the Trinity who created the universe and all it contains. However John described the Word as God's agent. The Word did not act independently from the Father. Thus John presented Jesus as under God the Father's authority but over every created thing in authority. Jesus' work of revealing God began with the Creation, because all of creation reveals God (Ps. 19:1-6; Rom. 1:19-20).

"In the time of John this kind of belief was widespread. Men believed that the world was evil and that an evil God had created it."[62]

John characteristically stated a proposition positively (part "a" of this verse), and then immediately repeated it negatively for emphasis and clarification (part "b" of this verse).

1:4                      "… we move on from creation in general to the creation of life, the most significant element in creation. Life is one of John's characteristic concepts: he uses the word 36 times, whereas no other New Testament writing has it more than 17 times (Revelation; next come Romans with 14 times and 1 John with 13 times). Thus more than a quarter of all the New Testament references to life occur in this one writing."[63]

Jesus was (and is) the source of life. Therefore He could impart life to the things that He created. Every living thing owes its life to its Creator: Jesus. Life for humankind consists of "light" (here used as a figure of knowledge and understanding). Where there is life there is light, metaphorically speaking, and where there is no light there is darkness. John proceeded to show that Jesus is the source of spiritual life and light—as well as physical life and light (cf. 5:26; 6:57; 8:12; 9:5; 10:10; 11:25; 14:6; 17:3; 20:31). In the spiritual realm, God's presence dispels the darkness of ignorance and sin by providing revelation and salvation (cf. Isa. 9:2). Jesus did this in the Incarnation.

1:5             As light "shines" (Greek present tense for the first time) in the darkness, so Jesus brought the revelation and salvation of God to humanity in its fallen and lost condition. He did this when He became a man. As the word of God brought light to the chaos in Creation, so Jesus brought light to fallen humankind in the Incarnation.

Furthermore, the light that Jesus brought was superior to and stronger than the darkness that previously existed—both physically and spiritually. The "darkness" (in this case a figure for Satan's kingdom) did not "overcome" (Gr. katelaben, cf. 6:17; 8:3-4; 12:35; Mark 9:18) and consume the Light, but the Light overcame the darkness.

"The word in the Greek is katelaben, meaning actually 'to take down.' It is the picture of a secretary to whom the boss is giving dictation, and she stops and says, 'I can't take that down. I am not able to take it down." The light shines in darkness and the darkness is not able to take it in."[64]

John did not view the world as a stage on which two equal and opposing forces engage in battle; he was not a philosophical dualist. He viewed Jesus as superior to the forces of darkness that sought to overcome Him but could not. This gives humankind hope. The forces of Light are stronger than the forces of Darkness. John was here anticipating the outcome of the story that he would tell, specifically, Calvary. Though darkness continues to prevail, the Light will overcome it.[65]

"The imagery of John, though limited to certain concepts and expressed in a fixed vocabulary, is integrated with the total theme of the Gospel. It expresses the conflict of good with evil, culminating in the incarnation and death of Christ, who brought light into darkness, and, though He suffered death, was not overcome by it."[66]

Tenny's article just quoted contains discussion of about 20 images that John used.

Throughout these introductory verses, John was clearly hinting at parallels between what Jesus did physically in the Creation, and what He did spiritually through the Incarnation. These parallels continue throughout the Gospel, as do the figures of light and darkness. Light represents both revelation and salvation. Likewise darkness stands for ignorance and sin (3:19-20; 8:12; 12:35, 46).

B.     The witness of John the Baptist 1:6-8

John the Apostle introduced John the Baptist because John the Baptist bore witness to the Light, namely, Jesus. John the Baptist was both a model evangelist, who pointed those in darkness to the Light, and a model witness, who provided an excellent example for believers who would follow him.[67] John the Baptist introduced the Light to a dark world. He inaugurated Jesus' ministry. Therefore mention of him was appropriate at the beginning of the Apostle John's account of Jesus' ministry.

1:6             In introducing John the Baptist, the writer stressed that God had sent him. The name "John" means "God Is Gracious" or "Gift of God." John was a prophet in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets who bore witness to the light (Exod. 3:10-15; Isa. 6:8; Jer. 1:4; cf. John 3:17). He was a man, in contrast to the Word, who was God. The other Gospel writers described John with the words "the Baptist," but John the Evangelist did not. He probably called him simply "John" because this is the only John that the Apostle John mentioned by name in his Gospel.[68] John the Apostle always referred to himself obliquely: either as "the disciple whom Jesus loved," or as "the other disciple," or in some other veiled way.

1:7             John the Baptist was the first of many witnesses to the light that John the Apostle identified in this Gospel (cf. 4:39; 5:32, 36-37, 39-40; 8:18; 10:25; 12:17; 15:26-27; 18:13-18, 37). The Apostle John frequently used courtroom terminology in his Gospel in order to stress the truthfulness of the witnesses to the Light. John the Baptist bore witness to ("testify about") the light of God's revelation, but also to the Person of the Light of the World (8:12). This Gospel stresses the function of John the Baptist as one who gave witness about the Light. The writer often emphasized something by simply repeating it, as he did here. The Greek text reads literally "This one came as a witness [marturian] that he might witness [marturese] concerning the light." The other Gospels also identified John the Baptist's origin and character in their introductions (Matt. 3; Mark 1:1-8; Luke 1:5-24, 57-80).

John the Baptist's ultimate purpose was to draw out belief in Jesus (cf. vv. 35-37). That was also John the Evangelist's purpose in writing this book (20:30-31). Consequently John the Baptist's witness is an important part of the argument of the fourth Gospel. It was not immediately apparent to everyone that Jesus was the Light. Both Johns needed to identify Him as such to them.

"Since the Reformation, theologians have viewed saving faith as simultaneously encompassing three components—notitia, assensus, and fiducia. In notitia the individual becomes aware of the conditions, promises, and events that constitute divine revelation, especially the events surrounding God's consummate self-revelation in Jesus Christ. In assensus the individual expresses objective confidence in the truthfulness of these claims (Rom. 10:9; Heb. 11:3, 6; 1 John 5:1). In fiducia the individual places his or her personal trust in Jesus Christ. Central to this threefold model is a single key assumption: Faith, as presented in the New Testament, necessarily entails the recognition and acceptance of specific, objective content."[69]

"But it is worthy of remark that St John does not notice explicitly his [John the Baptist's] call to repentance, nor do the terms 'repent,' 'repentance' find a place in his Gospel or Epistles ('Repent' occurs frequently in the Apocalypse)."[70]

1:8             Perhaps the writer stressed the fact that John the Baptist was not the Light because some people continued to follow John as his disciples long after he died (cf. 4:1; Mark 6:29; Luke 5:33; Acts 18:25; 19:1-7).[71]

"A Mandaean sect still continues south of Baghdad which, though hostile to Christianity, claims an ancestral link to the Baptist."[72]

Mandaism was a non-Christian type of Gnosticism.[73]

John the Baptist's function was clearly to testify that Jesus was the Light. He was not that Light himself.

The reason the writer referred to John the Baptist in his prologue seems clear. As the Word came to bring light to all of humanity, so God sent John the Baptist to illuminate the identity of the Light to individual people.

In this Gospel there are eight witnesses to Jesus' unique identity: (1) God the Father (5:37; 8:18), (2) Jesus Himself (8:14, 18), (3) Jesus' works (5:36; 10:25; 14:11; 15:25), (4) the Scriptures (1:45; 5:39, 46), (5) John the Baptist (1:7-8), (6) those with whom Jesus came into contact (4:39; 9:25, 38; 12:17), (7) Jesus' disciples, including the Apostle John (15:27; 19:35; 21:24), and (8) the Holy Spirit (15:26; cf. 1 John 5:6).

C.     The appearance of the Light 1:9-13

The first section of the prologue (vv. 1-5) presents the pre-incarnate Word. The second section (vv. 6-8) identifies the forerunner of the Word's earthly ministry. This third section introduces the ministry of the Incarnate Word.

"Two points receive special emphasis: one is the astonishing fact that the Word of God, true God as he is, took upon him human nature, and the other is the even more astonishing fact that when he did this, people would have nothing to do with him."[74]

1:9             There are two possible interpretations of this verse. One is that the true Light enlightens every person who comes into the world (Gr. masculine participle erchomenon, AV, NKJV).[75] The other is that the true Light comes into the world and enlightens everyone (Gr. neuter participle erchomenon, NASB, NIV, TNIV, RSV, NRSV, NET2, HCSB, ESV, NEB CEV).[76] The second option seems preferable since the Incarnation is so much in view in the context.

The point is that Jesus as the "true Light" affects everyone. Everyone lives under the spotlight of God's illuminating revelation in Jesus Christ since the Incarnation (cf. 1 John 1). His light clarifies the sinfulness and spiritual need of human beings. Those who respond to this convicting revelation positively experience salvation. Those who reject it and turn from the light will end up in outer darkness. They will experience eternal damnation.

"… the light shines upon every man for judgement [sic], to reveal what he is."[77]

The Quakers prefer the first of the two interpretations above. They use this verse to support their doctrine of the "inner light." They believe that God has placed some revelation in the heart of every person. A person can draw out that revelation by meditation. This is not general but special revelation.[78] Their view is very close to the belief of some charismatic Christians that God gives new revelation today. Non-charismatics see no basis in Scripture for this view. We believe that while God now illuminates the revelation that He has previously given, He does not give new revelation now, though He does give guidance and understanding of previously given revelation.

The word "true" is one that John used repeatedly in this Gospel. "True" (Gr. alethinon) here refers to what is the ultimate form of the genuine article, the real as opposed to the counterfeit. John did not mean that Jesus was truthful (Gr. alethes), though He was truthful. He meant that Jesus was not only a genuine revelation from God, but He was also the ultimate revelation (cf. 4:23; 6:32; 15:1; 17:3; Heb. 1:1-2).

John usually used the word "world" (Gr. kosmos) in a negative sense in this Gospel (cf. v. 10; 7:7; 14:17, 22, 27, 30; 15:18-19; 16:8, 20, 33; 17:6, 9, 14). It does not refer to this planet as a planet, but to the inhabited earth fallen in sin and in rebellion against God. It is the world of humanity darkened by sin.

1:10           Jesus entered the world that He had created at the Incarnation. Yet the world did not recognize Him for who He was, because people's minds had become darkened by the Fall and sin (12:37). Even the Light of the World was incomprehensible to them (cf. Matt. 13:55). The Light shines on everyone even though most people do not see it, because they are spiritually blind. He shines even on those who have never heard of Him, in that when He came, He brought revelation of God that is now available to everyone.

John drew attention to the world by repeating "world" three times. However the meaning shifts a bit from the world and all that is in it, in the first two occurrences of the word, to the people in the world who came in contact with Jesus, in the third occurrence.

"The world's characteristic reaction to the Word is one of indifference."[79]

1:11           More seriously, when Jesus visited His "own" creation (Gr. idia, neuter), His "own" creatures whom He had created (Gr. idioi, masculine) did not receive Him but rejected Him. The specific people whom Jesus visited in the Incarnation were the Jews.[80] They were "His own" in a double sense: He had not only created them, but He had also called them to Himself out from the nations. Jesus had created the earth like a house or home, but when He visited it, He found it inhabited by people who refused to acknowledge Him for who He was. In the Incarnation Jesus did not come as an alien. He came to His own house.

"Here there is the tragedy of a people being prepared for a task, and then refusing that task."[81]

1:12           The opposite of rejection is acceptance. Not everyone rejected Jesus when He came. Some accepted ("received") Him.[82] To these He gave, as a gift, the "right" (or authority, Gr. exousian) to become God's "children" (Gr. tekna). Receiving Jesus consists of believing "in His name." Believing therefore equals receiving. "His name" summarizes all that He is. To believe in His name means to accept all the revelation of who Jesus is that God has given. Because that revelation includes the fact that Jesus died as a substitute sacrifice in the place of sinners, belief involves relying on Jesus for salvation rather than on oneself. It does not just mean believing facts intellectually. It involves willful trust as well.

"In the gospel of John belief is viewed in terms of a relationship with Jesus Christ, which begins with a decision to accept rather than reject who Jesus claims to be. This leads to a new relationship with God … . … in the Johannine writings … pisteuo [believe] with eis [in or into] refers to belief in a person."[83]

The context determines whether John had genuine or inadequate belief in view in any given passage.[84]

In one sense, all human beings are the children of God in that we are all His creatures. However the Bible speaks of the children of God primarily as those who are His spiritual children by faith in Jesus Christ. The new birth brings us into a new family with new relationships. Clearly John was referring to this family of believers since he wrote that believing in Jesus gives people the right to become God's children.

The New Testament speaks of the believer as a child of God and as a son of God. Usually it describes Christians as children by birth—the new birth—and as sons by adoption. John consistently referred to believers only as children of God in his Gospel. He did not call us the sons of God. In this Gospel Jesus is the only Son of God. "Children" draws attention to community of like nature (cf. 2 Pet. 1:4), whereas "sons" emphasizes rights and privileges.

When Christians explain the way of salvation to unbelievers, one difficulty we encounter is how to make clear what is meant by receiving Jesus Christ as Savior. The following illustration may help. A man is rushed to the hospital where a doctor examines him and informs him that he is critically ill. The patient is told that he will die unless he gets proper treatment. The physician then prescribes medicine for the sick man and says: If you will take this, I can assure you with absolute certainty that you will get well. Now what should the man do? Should he just lie there on his sickbed and believe that the doctor knows his business, that he has diagnosed his illness correctly, and that the prescription will surely make him well? No, that is not enough. If that is all he does, he will die. To live, he must take the medicine.

When a person offers you a gift that has cost him or her much, it does not become yours until you receive it from that person. A beautifully wrapped package in the outstretched hand of the giver will do the receiver no good until he or she reaches out and takes it. Likewise, reception of God's gracious gift of eternal life is necessary before a person can benefit from it. Receiving a gift from someone else does not constitute a meritorious act or good work, and the Bible never regards it as a work. It is simply a response to the work of another.

1:13           The antecedent of "who" in this verse is those who believe in Jesus' name (v. 12). Their new life as children of God comes from God. It does not come because of their "blood," namely, their physical ancestors (descent). Many of the Jews believed that because they were Abraham's descendants they were automatically the spiritual children of God (cf. ch. 8; Rom. 4; Gal. 3). Even today, some people think that the faith or works of their ancestors somehow guarantees their salvation. But God has no grandchildren. People become the children of God by personally trusting in Christ.

New life does not come because of physical desire ("the will of the flesh") either. No amount of wanting it and striving for it with personal effort will bring it. Neither can one person make another person a Christian. The only thing that results in new life is belief in Jesus.

"The term 'flesh' (sarx) is not used by John to convey the idea of sinfulness, as it often does in Paul's writings. … Rather, it is indicative of weakness and humiliation as seen in 1:14. It simply affirms that in the Incarnation Jesus became fully human."[85]

Third, new spiritual life does not come because of a human decision ("will of man") either. In contrast, physical life does come because of a human decision, specifically, the choice of a husband and wife to produce a child. No one can will himself or herself into becoming a Christian or simply determine to become a Christian. New life comes as the result of a work of God. The Greek word for "man" here is andros, which means "male." The NIV interpreted it properly as "husband" here.

New spiritual life does not come from any of these sources but from God Himself. Ultimately it is the result of God's choice, not man's (cf. Eph. 1:4). Therefore the object of our faith must be God, rather than our heritage or race, our works, or our own initiative.

This section of the prologue summarizes the theological issue involved in the Incarnation. It is in a sense a miniature of the whole Gospel of John.

D.     The incarnation of the Word 1:14-18

John's return to "the Word" in verse 14 (from verse 1) introduces new revelation about Him. Though still part of the prologue, the following verses focus on the Incarnation of the Word.

1:14           The Word, who existed coequal with God, before anything else came into being, became flesh: He became a human being.[86] This is the most concise statement of the Incarnation in the Bible. He did not just appear to be a man; He became one (cf. Phil. 2:5-9). Yet He maintained His full deity. The word "became" (Gr. egeneto) usually implies a complete change, but that was not true in Jesus' case. He did not cease to be God. The term "flesh" in Scripture has both a literal meaning, namely, material human flesh, and a metaphorical meaning: human nature. A second, less used, metaphorical meaning is: all that we were in Adam (sinful humans) before our regeneration (cf. Rom. 7:5). Here John used the word "flesh" in the literal and the first metaphorical senses. God the Son assumed a human, though not sinful, nature.[87]

"So staggeringly new and unheard-of was this conception of God in a human form that it is not surprising that there were some even in the Church who could not believe it."[88]

"… what intelligent meaning can one give to John's language here apart from the Virgin Birth? What ordinary mother or father ever speaks of a child 'becoming flesh'?"[89]

"John does not say, 'the Word became man,' nor 'the Word took a body.' He chooses that form of expression which puts what he wants to say most bluntly. It seems probable that he was confronted by opponents of a docetic type, people who were ready to think of Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ of God but who denied the reality of his humanity. They thought of him as only appearing to live a human life. Since God could not, on their premises, defile himself by real contact with humankind, the whole life of Jesus must be appearance only.  John's strong term leaves no room for such fancies. He is clear on the deity of the Word. But he is just as clear on the genuineness of his humanity."[90]

"If anything like this very great mystery can be found in human affairs, the most apposite [appropriate] parallel seems to be that of man, whom we see to consist of two substances. Yet neither is so mingled with the other as not to retain its own distinctive nature. For the soul is not the body, and the body is not the soul. Therefore, some things are said exclusively of the soul that can in no wise apply to the body; and of the body, again, that in no way fit the soul; of the whole man, that cannot refer—except inappropriately—to either soul or body separately. Finally, the characteristics of the mind are [sometimes] transferred to the body, and those of the body to the soul. Yet he who consists of these parts is one man, not many. Such expressions signify both that there is one person in man composed of two elements joined together, and that there are two diverse underlying natures that make up this person."[91]

Jesus literally lived among His disciples. The Greek word eskenosen, translated "dwelt" or lived, is related to skene, meaning "tabernacle." As God's presence resided among the Israelites in the tabernacle, so God resided among them in the person of Jesus (cf. Exod. 25:8-9; 33:7, 11; 40:34).[92] Thus John hinted that Jesus was the fulfillment of what the tabernacle in the wilderness typified. The Gospel of John contains the second largest number of quotations and allusions to the Old Testament in the Gospels after Matthew.[93]

"John is certainly dependent on the Old Testament, but his use of it differs from that of other New Testament writers, and is far from simple. His direct quotations are fewer, and he comparatively rarely uses the 'proof-texts' by which the earliest Christians often sought to show that Jesus was the Messiah whose coming was prophesied in the Old Testament."[94]

Solomon thought it incredible that God would dwell on the earth (1 Kings 8:27), but that is precisely what He did in Jesus.

For the first time John clearly equated the Word and Jesus, but this is the last reference to "the Word" in this Gospel. From now on John referred to the Word by His historical name, Jesus, and to the familial terms "Father" and "Son."

"As the preexistent Son of God, he was the Creator of the world and the Executor of the will of the Father. As the incarnate Son of God, he exercised in his human existence these same powers and revealed effectively the person of the Father."[95]

"The Word was God, and the Word was made flesh. These two sentences out of John contain far more philosophy; far more grace, and truth, and beauty, and love; than all the rest that has ever been written by pen of man, or spoken by tongue of man or angel."[96]

The "glory" that John and the other disciples observed as eyewitnesses refers to the God-like characteristics of Jesus (cf. Exod. 33:22; Deut. 5:22; Isa. 60:1; 1 John 1:1-2). God's character and qualities were expressed through Jesus, like a human son resembles his human father, except that the likeness in Jesus' case was exact (Phil. 2:6). John, writing as a representative of the other disciples ("we"), wrote that they beheld Jesus' glory. The Greek word translated "beheld," theasthai, always means beheld with actual physical sight elsewhere in the New Testament (cf. 1 John 1:1-3). The disciples saw Jesus' glory most fully at the Transfiguration (Matt. 17:2-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36). They were eyewitnesses of His glory.

"John has no account of the Transfiguration, for he presents the whole ministry as a transfiguration, except that the light he speaks of is moral and spiritual (full of grace and truth-rather than something visual (cf. Jn 1:17)."[97]

Jesus' relationship to the Father was unique, and so was His similarity to the Father. Even though Jesus' relationship to God the Father was unique ("only," Gr. monogenous, cf. v. 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9), even we can become children of God (vv. 12-13). He is eternal and of the same intrinsic nature as the Father. "Only begotten" does not mean that there was a time when Jesus was not, and then the Father brought Him into being. Monogenes, literally "one kind," means unique or only (i.e., the only one of its kind). This word had come to connote specially beloved.[98]

"Monogenes (only born rather than only begotten) here refers to the eternal relationship of the Logos (as in 1:18) rather than to the Incarnation."[99]

"The glory of Jesus is thus dependent upon both his essential relationship with God (1.14) and his obedience."[100]

In particular, "grace and truth" characterized the glory of God that Jesus manifested (cf. Exod. 34:6). "Grace" in this context refers to graciousness (i.e., goodness, Heb. hesed), and "truth" means that which is in accordance with reality (i.e., integrity, Heb. 'emet, cf. v. 17). The Incarnation was the greatest possible expression of God's grace to humankind. It was also the best way to communicate truth accurately to human understanding. Nevertheless many people who encountered Jesus during His ministry failed to see these things (v. 10). Neither grace nor truth is knowable ultimately apart from God, who has revealed them through Jesus Christ, both in nature and in Scripture.[101]

The historicity of Jesus has been denied by some.[102] But there is ample testimony to His existence as a historical person in the writings of ancient secular historians.[103]

1:15           John the Baptist was another witness, besides John the Apostle and the other apostles of Jesus, who testified about Jesus' person.

"John the Baptist is one of six persons named in the Gospel of John who gave witness that Jesus Is God. The others are Nathanael (John 1:49), Peter (John 6:69), the blind man who was healed (John 9:35-38), Martha (John 11:27), and Thomas (John 20:28). If you add our Lord Himself (John 5:25; 10:36), then you have seven clear witnesses."[104]

Even though John the Baptist was slightly older and began his ministry before Jesus began His, he acknowledged Jesus' superiority to himself.

"In a society where age and precedence bestowed peculiar honour, that might have been taken by superficial observers to mean John the Baptist was greater than Jesus."[105]

Jesus' superiority rested in His preexistence (before Creation) with the Father—and therefore His deity. John the Baptist's witness to Jesus' identity was important to the writer of this Gospel (cf. vv. 6-8, 19-36).

1:16           These words, and those that follow, are quite certainly those of the evangelist and not of the Baptist.[106] All the resources of God are present in Jesus, which constitutes His "fullness" (Gr. pleroma; cf. Col. 1:19; 2:29). It is out of this "fullness" that people receive grace (undeserved favor). The glory of God that Jesus manifested was full of grace and truth (v. 14). From the fullness of that grace, all people have received one expression of grace after another.

There are several possible interpretations of the phrase "grace upon grace" (Gr. charin anti charitos). The problem is the meaning of the Greek preposition anti here. Some interpreters believe that John was saying that grace follows grace like ocean wave follows wave, washing believers with successive blessings.[107] The NIV "one blessing after another" effectively expresses this view, and the translation "grace upon grace" implies it. Another translation that gives the same sense is "grace to meet every need that arises (see 2 Cor. xii. 9)."[108] It is true that God keeps pouring out His inexhaustible grace on the believer through Jesus Christ, but is this what John meant here?

A second view is that John meant that God gives different grace (divine assistance) in different situations.[109]

A third view is that the Greek preposition anti means "instead of" here, as it often does elsewhere.[110] According to this interpretation John meant that God's grace though Jesus Christ replaces the grace that He bestowed through Moses when He gave the Law. Verse 17 seems to continue this thought and so supports this interpretation.

I suspect that John may have intended all of these ideas: He could have been thinking of God's grace in Jesus Christ superseding His grace through Moses, and continuing to supply grace to the Christian day by day in a variety of ways. This interpretation recognizes John's mention of the fullness of God's grace, as well as the contrast in verse 17.

Another, less acceptable view, in my opinion, is that anti means "corresponds to."[111] The grace we receive corresponds in some way to the grace that Jesus receives from the Father. However, anti rarely has this meaning by itself, though it does occasionally when it combines with other nouns. Furthermore, this interpretation offers no connection with verse 17.

A fourth view, also inadequate from my viewpoint, is that anti means "in return for."[112] Yet the idea of God giving us grace, in return for grace that we give to Him, is foreign to the New Testament. God initiates grace to human beings; He does not give it in response to grace that we give to Him.

1:17           Whereas Moses was the individual through whom God gave His Law to the Israelites, Jesus Christ is the One through whom He has manifested abundant grace and truth. This is John's first use of the human name "Jesus," which occurs 237 times in this Gospel, more than a quarter of the total 905 times that it appears in the entire New Testament. The compound name "Jesus Christ," however, occurs again only in 17:3 in John. This evangelist used the name "Christ" 19 times, more than any of the other Gospel writers (cf. 20:31). This seems reasonable if John wrote late in the first century A.D., by which time "Christ" had become a titulary (a title turned proper name).

John's statement shows the superiority of the gracious dispensation (arrangement, economy) that Jesus introduced over the legal dispensation that Moses inaugurated (cf. Rom. 5:20-21; Eph. 2:8).[113] The legal age contained grace, and the gracious age contains laws. For example, each sacrifice that God accepted under the old economy was an expression of His grace. John was contrasting the dominant characteristics of these two ages. Law expresses God's standards, but grace provides help so that we can do His will. Surprisingly John used the great Christian word "grace" three times in his prologue (vv. 14, 16, 17) but nowhere else in his Gospel.

"What God showed Himself to be through His revelation in the Torah [Genesis through Deuteronomy], so now Jesus shows Himself to be through the Incarnation. And what was the Torah? It was not handcuffs, but Yahweh's pointed finger, graciously marking out to the redeemed the path of life and fellowship with Him [cf. Deut. 6:1-3]. The point of John 1:17 is not 'Then bad, now good'; the point is rather, 'Then, wonderful! And now, better than ever!'"[114]

This verse clearly contrasts the two dispensations in view. Even non-dispensationalists acknowledge this and admit that they recognize two different economies, the Old Testament legal economy and the New Testament gracious economy.[115] Significantly Moses' first plague in Egypt involved turning water into blood (Exod. 7:14-15), whereas Jesus' first recorded miracle involved turning water into wine (John 2:1-11).

1:18           There are many passages of Scripture that record various individuals "seeing" God (e.g., Exod. 33:21-23; Isa. 6:1-5; Rev. 1:10-18). Those instances involved visions, dreams, and anthropomorphic (human-like) representations of God, rather than encounters with His unveiled spiritual essence (cf. Exod. 33:20-23; Deut. 4:12; Ps. 97:2; 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16; 1 John 4:12). The way we know what God is like is not by viewing His essence. No one can do that and live (cf. Judg. 13:22). God has sent His unique and only Son (monogenous, cf. v. 14) from His own most intimate presence in order to reveal Himself to humankind.

"In the bosom of  ["in the arms of"] is a Hebrew idiom expressing the intimate relationship of child and parent, and of friend and friend (cf. xiii. 23)."[116]

In the system that Moses inaugurated, no one could "see" God clearly, but Jesus has "explained" (given a detailed account of) Him now to everyone. Note also here that John called Jesus God ("God, the only Son") again. The NET2 Bible translated this phrase "the only one, God himself."

Jesus "explained" God in the sense of revealing Him. The Greek word is exegesato from which we get the word "exegete." The Son has exegeted (i.e., expounded, interpreted, or explained) the Father to humankind. The reference to Jesus being "in the arms of the Father" softens, and brings affection to, the idea of Jesus exegeting the Father. The nature of God is in view here, not His external appearance, which is invisible because He is a spirit Being.

"God is invisible, not because he is unreal, but because physical eyes are incapable of detecting him. The infrared and ultraviolet rays of the light spectrum are invisible because the human eye is not sensitive enough to register them. However, photographic plates or a spectroscope can make them visible to us. Deity as a being is consequently known only through spiritual means that are able to receive its (his) communications."[117]

John ended his prologue as he began it: with a reference to Jesus' deity.[118] He began by saying that the Word was with God (v. 1), and he concluded by saying that He was in the Father's arms. This indicates the intimate fellowship, love, and knowledge that the Father and the Son share. It also gives us confidence that the revelation of the Father that Jesus revealed is accurate. John's main point in this prologue was that Jesus is the ultimate revealer of God.[119]

"Three verses [vv. 1, 14, and 18] form the primary thesis of John's Gospel. From this foundation he builds his message. All you read in John's Gospel—all the seven miracles the Lord did, all His testimony, all His claims—is nothing more than the proof of these three verses."[120]

"The rest of the Gospel of John, from the 19th verse of the first chapter to the very end, is simply a series of incidents given to illustrate the statements made in the first 18 verses."[121]

"… John in his use of Logos is cutting clean across one of the fundamental Greek ideas. The Greeks thought of the gods as detached from the world, as regarding its struggles and heartaches and joys and fears with serene divine lack of feeling. John's idea of the Logos conveys exactly the opposite idea. John's Logos does not show us a God who is serenely detached, but a God who is passionately involved."[122]

Later John described himself as reclining on Jesus' chest (cf. 13:23). His Gospel is an accurate revelation of the Word because John enjoyed an intimate fellowship with Him—just as Jesus was an accurate revelation of God that came from His intimate relationship with Him.

II.     Jesus' public ministry 1:19—12:50

The first part of the body of John's Gospel records Jesus' public ministry to the multitudes in the land of Israel, who were primarily Jewish. Some writers have called this section of the Gospel "The Book of Signs" because it features seven miracles that signify various things about Jesus.

"Signs are miraculous works performed or mentioned to illustrate spiritual principles."[123]

Often John recorded a lengthy discourse that followed a miracle, in which Jesus explained the miracle's significance to the crowd that had observed it. This section also contains two extended conversations that Jesus had with two individuals (chs. 3 and 4).

G. Campbell Morgan observed three distinct periods in Jesus' public ministry as recorded by John: Jesus' quiet one-year public ministry until the imprisonment of John the Baptist (chs. 1—5), Jesus' crowded five-year public ministry following John's imprisonment until Peter's confession of Jesus as the Christ (ch. 6), and Jesus' crowded six-month public ministry following Peter's confession (chs. 7—12).[124] (Most students of the life of Christ believe that His public ministry lasted about three years.)

"The opening of the narrative proper might well be understood as the account of the happenings of one momentous week. John does not stress the point, but he does give notes of time that seem to indicate this. The first day is taken up with a deputation from Jerusalem that interrogates the Baptist. 'The next day' we have John's public pointing out of Jesus (vv. 29-34). Day 3 tells of two disciples of the Baptist who followed Jesus (vv. 35-40). It seems probable that verse 41 takes us to day 4 … It tells of Andrew's bringing of Peter to Jesus. Day 5 is the day when Philip and Nathanael come to him (vv. 43-51). The marriage in Cana is two days after the previous incident (i.e., the sixth and seventh days, 2:1-11). If we are correct in thus seeing the happenings of one momentous week set forth at the beginning of this Gospel, we must go on to ask what significance is attached to this beginning. The parallel with the days of creation in Genesis 1 suggests itself, and is reinforced by the 'In the beginning' that opens both chapters. Just as the opening words of this chapter recall Genesis 1, so it is with the framework. Jesus is to engage in a new creation. The framework unobtrusively suggests creative activity."[125]

A.     The prelude to Jesus' public ministry 1:19-51

The rest of the first chapter continues the introductory spirit of the prologue. It records two events in John the Baptist's ministry and the choice of some men as Jesus' followers.

1.     John the Baptist's veiled testimony to Jesus 1:19-28

The writer recorded John the Baptist's witness to Jesus' identity as preparation for his narration of Jesus' public ministry. He was the first of the Apostle John's witnesses to the Incarnation.

"For John's Gospel, John is less John the Baptist [or Baptizer] and more John the Testifier."[126]

Previously the writer had mentioned that God had sent John the Baptist to bear witness concerning the Light (vv. 6-8). He also mentioned what John had said about Jesus, namely, that Jesus had a higher rank than he did (v. 15). Now the evangelist explained John the Baptist's witness in more detail.

1:19           This verse explains the context in which John the Baptist clarified his own identity in relation to Jesus. As the Matthew and Mark reveal, John's ministry was so influential that the Jewish religious authorities investigated him (Matt. 3:5-7; Mark 1:5). The Sanhedrin (Israel's highest level religious/political court) probably sent the delegation of priests and Levites. The priests were descendants of Aaron who took the leadership in matters of ritual purity. The Levites descended from Levi, one of Aaron's ancestors, and assisted the priests in their ministry, mainly in the areas of temple music and security.[127]

"The Jews" is a religious term that John used 71 times, in contrast to the other Gospel writers who used it rarely (Matthew 6 times, Mark 4 times, and Luke 5 times). Usually in John it refers to Jewish people who were hostile to Jesus, though occasionally it occurs in a neutral sense (e.g., 2:6) or in a good sense (e.g., 4:22). Most often, however, it refers to the Jews of Judea, especially those in and around Jerusalem, who constituted the organized and established religious world apart from faith in Jesus. Consequently it usually carries overtones of hostility to Jesus.[128]

1:20           The writer emphasized that John vigorously repudiated any suggestion that he might be the Messiah: "I am not the Christ." "Christ" (Gr. Christos) is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew title "Messiah," which means "Anointed One," namely, the servant whom God had chosen and set apart as His special representative. John's ministry consisted of pointing the Messiah out to others so that they would follow Him. Therefore it would have been counterproductive for John to allow anyone to confuse him with the Messiah.

1:21           The leaders asked John if he was Elijah, because messianic expectation was high at that time, due to Daniel's prediction that dated the appearance of Messiah at that general time (Dan. 9:25). Malachi had predicted that Elijah would return to herald the day of the LORD (Yahweh) that Messiah would inaugurate (Mal. 4:5-6).

"Popularly it was believed that Elijah would anoint the Messiah, and thereby reveal his identity to him and to Israel (see Justin, Apology 35.1)."[129]

When John the Baptist denied being Elijah, he was denying being Elijah himself, raised from the dead. His dress, diet, lifestyle, and ministry, however, were very similar to Elijah's.

"The Prophet" whom the leaders had in mind, when they asked their third question, was the Prophet that Moses had predicted would come (Deut. 18:15-18). Merrill pointed out that of the 42 New Testament citations of Deuteronomy 18:15 through 19, 24 of them appear in John's Gospel.[130] This Prophet was prophesied to bring new revelation from God and eventually lead the Israelites in a new Exodus and overcome their oppressors. The Jews incorrectly failed to identify this Prophet with Messiah (cf. v. 25; 6:14; 7:40-41). In order to correct this misunderstanding, the earliest Christian preachers contended that the Prophet was identical with the Messiah (cf. Acts 3:22). John the Baptist claimed that he was not that long-expected Prophet any more than he was the Messiah or Elijah.

1:22           The priests and Levites then asked John who he was, so they could report who he was to the authorities in Jerusalem who had sent them to investigate John.

1:23           In response to the leaders' question, John the Baptist claimed to be "the voice" (herald) who was preparing the way for the Lord's coming. He quoted Isaiah 40:3, which is part of a messianic prophecy (cf. Matt. 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4). In that prophecy, Isaiah predicted the manifestation of God's glory when Messiah appeared (Isa. 40:5; cf. John 1:14). Significantly, John did not claim to be the Word, but only a voice. John was a voice for God, but Jesus was the Word of God (v. 1).

1:24           John inserted the fact that the Pharisees had sent the priests and Levites to find out who John claimed to be. The Pharisees were the strict interpreters of the Jewish laws, and John seemed close to violating these.[131]

1:25           The messengers' question implied that it was inappropriate for John to baptize. The Jews practiced baptism for ritual cleansing, but in all cases the baptismal candidates baptized themselves.[132] There was no precedent for John to baptize other people, and the Jewish leaders did not regard themselves as needing to repent, though some of them came to be baptized by John (Matt. 3:7). Being baptized was something Gentiles needed to do when they converted to Judaism. Evidently, when Gentiles converted to Judaism the males of the family underwent circumcision, and all the members of the family, of both sexes, were baptized.[133] Since John did not claim to be one of the prophesied eschatological (end times) figures, he appeared to these Pharisees to lack authority to do what he did.

1:26           John replied by implying that his authority to baptize as he did came from an authoritative Figure who was present among them, but yet unknown. John did not identify Him then. This would have exposed Jesus to the scrutiny of Israel's leadership prematurely. John simply referred to this One here, and he implied that he himself baptized in water under His authority.

Richard Lenski argued that John baptized by dipping or sprinkling, and that his baptism resulted in "forgiveness then and there."[134] Most evangelical commentators believe that baptism was by immersion—the Greek word baptizo means "to dip repeatedly, to immerse, submerge"[135]—and that forgiveness of sins depends on faith in Christ alone (cf. 15:3). Josephus denied that John's baptism resulted in the forgiveness of sins.[136] Jews who submitted to John's baptism were identifying themselves as believing what John preached, just as people who submit to Christian baptism identify themselves as believing what Jesus preached. Scripture does not attribute the forgiveness of sins to baptism.

1:27           John stressed the great authority of Jesus by saying that he himself was unworthy to do even the most menial service for Him. Thus John bore witness to Jesus even before he identified Him as the Messiah.

"To get the full impact of this we must bear in mind that disciples did do many services for their teachers. Teachers in ancient Palestine were not paid (it would be a terrible thing to ask for money for teaching Scripture!). But in partial compensation disciples were in the habit of performing small services for their rabbis instead. But they had to draw the line somewhere, and menial tasks like loosing the sandal thong came under this heading. There is a rabbinic saying (in its present form dating from c. A.D. 250, but probably much older): 'Every service which a slave performs for his master shall a disciple do for his teacher except the loosing of his sandal-thong.' John selects the very task that the rabbinic saying stresses as too menial for any disciple, and declares himself unworthy to perform it."[137]

1:28           The site of Jesus' ministry was primarily west of the Jordan River. "Beyond the Jordan" refers to the east side of that river. The "Bethany" in view then would be a town different from the Bethany where Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived (11:1), which was on the west side of the Jordan, just east of Jerusalem. Perhaps John mentioned this Bethany by name because its site was known when he wrote. It is unknown now. It may be significant that John recorded Jesus' public ministry, beginning at one Bethany, and almost ending at the other (12:1-11). "Bethany" means "House of Depression, or Misery."[138]

John the Baptist fulfilled his mission of bearing witness to the Word, first by publicly declaring his submission to Jesus' authority. The veiled identity of Jesus continues from the prologue into this pericope (section of text).

2.     John the Baptist's open identification of Jesus 1:29-34

John the Baptist continued his witness to Jesus' identity by identifying Him publicly as "the Lamb of God." This witness is a crucial part of the writer's purpose to promote faith in Jesus.

1:29           The very next day John saw Jesus approaching him—they had been together before (vv. 26, 32-33)—and publicly identified Jesus as "the Lamb of God," an allusion to Isaiah 53:7. "Behold" (Gr. ide) is a favorite expression of John's. Of its 29 New Testament occurrences, John used it 15 times. The title "Lamb of God" presented Jesus as the Lamb that God had provided as a substitute sacrifice for people's sins (cf. Gen. 4:4; 8:20; 22:8, 13-14; Exod. 12:3-17; Isa. 53:12; 1 Pet. 1:19).

"It [the title "Lamb"] combines in one descriptive term the concepts of innocence, voluntary sacrifice, substitutionary atonement, effective obedience, and redemptive power like that of the Passover lamb (Exod. 12: 21-27)."[139]

"The question in the Old Testament is, 'Where is the lamb?' (Gen. 22:7) In the four Gospels, the emphasis is 'Behold the Lamb of God!' Here He is! After you have trusted Him, you sing with the heavenly choir, "Worthy is the Lamb!' (Rev. 5:12)"[140]

John seems to have had the common understanding of Messiah that his contemporaries did. This was that He would be a political liberator for Israel (cf. Matt. 11:2-3; Luke 7:19). But he understood, as most of his contemporaries did not, that the scope of Jesus' ministry would be spiritual and universal, as seems clear from his connecting Jesus with the suffering Servant of the LORD in Isaiah 53.

John spoke of "sin," not sins (cf. 1 John 1:9), by which he meant the totality of the world's sin (all human rebellion against God), rather than a number of individual acts.[141] The Lamb would take away the sin of "the world," not just that of the Jews.[142] Some interpreters have understood this reference to "the world" as the world of believers.[143] But such a restriction seems unwarranted in the light of other passages that indicate that Jesus' death reconciled everyone to God (i.e., made everyone savable; e.g., 2 Cor. 5:19-20; Tit. 2:11; 1 John 2:2).[144]

"He is a very great Savior for He is the Lamb of God. He is the complete Savior because He takes away sin. He is the almighty Savior because He takes away the sin of the world. He is the perpetual Savior because He 'taketh' away—present tense. Anyone can come to Him at any time."[145]

1:30           Probably some of those to whom John addressed these words were present and had witnessed his conversation with the priests and Levites the previous day. John now identified Jesus as the person he had hinted at the day before.

John was slightly older than Jesus (cf. Luke 1:24-45). Yet John said that Jesus existed before him. John must have had prophetic insight into the eternal existence of the Lamb of God, or he may have gained this knowledge through his study of the Hebrew Bible.

1:31           John had not known that Jesus was the Lamb of God before God revealed that to him, even though they were relatives (cf. Luke 1:36). He may have suspected it, but John learned who Jesus really was when he baptized Jesus (Matt. 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22). John the Baptist further explained that the Lamb's public identification to Israel was the ultimate reason that he baptized people in water.

The Apostle John did not record Jesus' baptism, which happened before the events he recorded here.

1:32           The symbolic descent of the Holy Spirit, like a dove, that remained on Jesus, identified Jesus to John the Baptist as "the Son of God" (v. 34).

"Two times in John the Baptist's account he made mention of the Spirit 'remaining' on Jesus (1:32-33). This is extremely important as a description of the Spirit's relationship to Jesus because permanence is implied."[146]

In the Synoptics the writers only mentioned Jesus seeing the descent of the Spirit. John is the only evangelist who recorded that John the Baptist also saw it. The purpose of Jesus' baptism in this Gospel, then, was to point Jesus out as the Son of God to John the Baptist so that he could bear witness to Jesus' identity.

All the other disciples were dependent on a human witness, in John's Gospel, for divine illumination about Jesus' true identity.

1:33           John admitted that he had not recognized who Jesus really was until God ("He who sent me to baptize in water") revealed to Him that the One on whom John saw the Holy Spirit descend and remain was the One who baptizes in (Gr. en, with, by) the Holy Spirit (cf. Isa. 11:2; Ezek. 36:25-26; Mark 1:10; Acts 2:3). Baptism with water was essentially negative, symbolizing cleansing from sin and defilement. But baptism with the Spirit was positive, indicating the bestowal of new life from God.

1:34           John fulfilled his purpose by testifying that Jesus was "the Son of God" (cf. 2 Sam. 7:14; Ps. 2:7). This is a title that unambiguously indicates deity. The title "Messiah" did not imply deity to many who heard it in Jesus' day, including His disciples. They thought only of a political deliverer. But John the Baptist testified that Jesus was God, though doubts arose in his mind later (cf. Matt. 11:2-3; Luke 7:19). "Son of God" does not mean anything less than deity; it means full deity (cf. v. 18). This verse is the climax of John the Baptist's testimony concerning Jesus. Previously John had identified Jesus as the Sin-Bearer (v. 29) and as the Spirit-Baptizer (v. 33).

"It is significant that in this fourth Gospel we find there are just seven who bear witness to Christ's Deity. First, John the Baptist (1:34); second, Nathanael (1:49); third, Peter (6:69); fourth, the Lord Himself (10:36); fifth, Martha (11:27): sixth, Thomas (20:28); seventh, the writer of this Gospel (20:31)."[147]

The event that identified Jesus as the Son of God—for John the Baptist—was the fulfillment of God's promise to him that he would see the Spirit's descent and abiding presence on Him. This was the basis for John the Baptist's witness concerning Jesus.

3.     The response to John the Baptist's witness 1:35-42

The writer now turned his attention from John the Baptist's witness to Jesus in order to record the reactions of some people to John's witness. Two of John the Baptist's disciples left him to follow Jesus when they heard John's testimony about Jesus. One of them recruited his brother to join them. Jesus did not call these men to follow Him as His disciples now. That came later (cf. Matt. 4:18-22; 9:9; Mark 1:16-20; 2:13-14; Luke 5:1-11, 27-28). The Apostle John recorded a preliminary contact that these men had with Jesus.

"The very mixture of Hebrew (Simon, Nathanael) and Greek (Andrew, Philip) names seems to indicate the representative character of this first group of disciples …"[148]

1:35           Was the writer describing what happened on the same day as what he recorded in verses 29 through 34 or on the following day? Probably the "next day" in verse 35 is the next day after the "next day" in verse 29.[149] Here we learn that John the Baptist had disciples, men who gathered around him to learn from him.

1:36           When John saw Jesus walking he identified Jesus to two of his disciples as "the Lamb of God." This was the second time, at least, that John used this title of Jesus (cf. v. 29).

1:37           Two of John the Baptist's disciples started following Jesus because of John's witness. This was perfectly proper since John's ministry was to point others to Jesus. These disciples began following Jesus in person in order to learn from Him. They also took the first steps toward genuine discipleship. Many people followed Jesus around during His earthly ministry, but not all of them became disciples (serious learners) of Him. This was no tentative inquiry but an initial commitment of themselves to become His disciples, as they had been John's disciples.[150]

"First meetings are sacred as well as last ones, especially such as are followed by a momentous history, and accompanied, as is apt to be the case, with omens prophetic of the future."[151]

1:38           Jesus asked these two men why they were walking behind Him. Did they want something from Him?

"It appears that the Evangelist is writing on two levels. The question makes sense as straightforward narrative: Jesus asks the two men who are following him to articulate what is on their minds. But the Evangelist wants his readers to reflect on a deeper question: the Logos-Messiah confronts those who make any show of beginning to follow him and demands that they articulate what they really want in life."[152]

This two-level or dual intention becomes obvious in many places as John's Gospel unfolds. It is similar to Jesus' purpose in telling parables.

"Here then was, and is the first question, the first question of Jesus [in John's Gospel] to a human being; the first question of Jesus to humanity as He begins His ministry. It is a question that plumbs the deepest thing in human life. What are you seeking?"[153]

Jesus' question gave the men the opportunity to express their desire to become His disciples. However they may not have been quite ready to make that commitment. They replied by asking where He was staying. This careful (or non-committal) response may have implied that they simply wanted to have a preliminary interview with Him.[154] Or they may have been expressing a desire to become His disciples.[155] The fact that John interpreted the word "rabbi" for his readers is clear evidence that he wrote primarily for Gentiles.

"Staying" translates one of the writer's characteristic words (i.e., Gr. meno, "to abide"). Here it means to reside, but often it has theological connotations of continuing on, especially in an intimate relationship. These men may have already been wondering if that type of relationship with Jesus might be possible for them. This word occurs 112 times in the New Testament, and John used it 66 of those times, 40 times in his Gospel.[156]

1:39           Jesus responded by inviting them to accompany Him, not just to see where He was staying, but to visit with Him. They first had to come with Him, and then they would see. This statement was also highly significant spiritually. Only by coming to Jesus could they really comprehend what they were seeking spiritually. The same thing holds true today. The two men accepted Jesus' invitation and stayed with Him for the rest of that day.

"The two first words of Jesus then in His public ministry [according to John's Gospel], were, What are you seeking? and Come with Me, and your eyes shall be opened, and you shall see."[157]

Jesus apparently offered His invitation at about 4:00 p.m.[158] John was more precise in his time references than the Synoptic evangelists were (cf. 4:6, 52; 19:14). The Jews reckoned their days from sunset to sunset, and they divided both night and day into 12-hour periods.

1:40           The writer now identified one of the two men. Andrew was important for two reasons: He became one of the Twelve, and he provided an excellent example of testifying for Jesus by bringing his brother to Him (v. 41). John probably introduced Andrew as Simon Peter's brother because, when he wrote his Gospel, Peter was the better known of the two. We do not know who the unnamed man was. Some students of John's Gospel have suggested that it may have been the writer himself.[159] This is an interesting possibility, but there is nothing in the text that enables us to prove or to disprove it. He could have been anyone.

1:41           Andrew first sought to bring his own brother to Jesus, and he was successful in doing so. The implication may be that Andrew was the first to bring his brother to Jesus among others who did the same thing.[160] Obviously both Andrew and Peter wanted to discover the Messiah, whom the Old Testament prophets had predicted, and whom Daniel's timetable encouraged them to believe would appear soon (Dan. 9:25).

We should not conclude, however, that, because Andrew believed that Jesus was the Messiah, he also believed that He was God. He may have believed this already, but all the evidence in the Gospels points to the disciples learning of Jesus' deity after they had been with Him for some time (cf. Matt. 16:16; Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20). Probably Andrew thought of Jesus as a great prophet who would be the deliverer of Israel from the occupying Romans.

As noted previously, the title "Messiah" means "Anointed One." The "anointed one" in Israel was originally any anointed priest or king who led the people. As time passed, God gave prophecies of a coming Davidic king who would liberate the Israelites and establish God's rule over the whole earth (e.g., 2 Sam. 7; Ps. 2; 110). Thus the idea of a coming Anointed One evolved into the title "Messiah." John translated the Jewish term "Messiah" for his Gentile readers: "Christ."

1:42           Jesus anticipated what Peter would become in the history of the church by God's grace. He may have had previous contact with him and known Peter's reputation, since both men lived only a few miles apart in Galilee. "Simon" was a common Jewish name, probably derived from "Simeon." Jesus gave him a nickname that expressed his character, which was not uncommon.

It is interesting that Simon Peter originally had the same rash and impulsive character as his ancestor Simeon, the second son of Jacob. "Cephas" is Aramaic, the common language of Israel, and means "rock." "Peter" is the Greek translation of "Cephas." As the record of Peter unfolds in the Gospels, he appears as anything but a rock; he was impulsive, volatile, and unreliable. Yet Jesus named Peter in view of what he would become by the grace of God, not what he was then.

"In bringing his brother Simon Peter to Christ, no man did the church a greater service than Andrew."[161]

Every time we meet Andrew in this Gospel, he is bringing someone to Jesus (cf. 6:8; 12:22). Thus he serves as an excellent example of what a disciple of Jesus should do.

4.     The witness of Andrew and Philip 1:43-51

The disciples of John were not the only men who began following Jesus. Andrew continued to bring other friends to Jesus. This incident preceded Jesus' formal appointment of the Twelve as His core disciples, but it shows Him preparing those who would become His disciples.

1:43-44      The "next day" appears to be the day after John the Baptist identified Jesus as the Lamb of God a second time (v. 36), and two of his disciples—one of whom was Andrew—started following Jesus. John was evidently baptizing in Perea and Judea near the Jordan River (cf. Matt. 3:1, 5-6; Mark 1:5).[162] "Perea" was the eastern part of Israel, east of the Jordan River, and "Judea" was the southern part.

Now someone ("He")—his identity is unspecified in the Greek text—purposed to head north into Galilee. This person may have been Andrew. There are three reasons for this conclusion: First, he is the actor in the preceding verses (vv. 40-41). Second, everyone else in this chapter who came to Jesus came on the invitation of someone other than Jesus. Third, John (the Gospel writer) seems to have been stressing the importance of witnessing for Jesus. Other interpreters, including the NASB translators, believed that "He" refers to Jesus.

Andrew, or perhaps Jesus, found Philip (a Greek name meaning "Lover of Horses") somewhere along the way or, most likely, in Galilee. Philip was from Bethsaida, probably Bethsaida Julius (or Julias) in the region of Galilee (12:21). There may have been another Bethsaida on the northwest side of the Sea of Galilee, which some believe is in view here.[163] Having come to Jesus on Andrew's (or Jesus') invitation, Philip accepted Jesus' invitation to follow Him. Andrew and Peter had also lived in Bethsaida, evidently before they moved to Capernaum (Mark 1:21, 29). These men were all undoubtedly acquaintances, and probably friends, before they became Jesus' followers.

1:45           Philip then brought his friend Nathanael (whose name means "God Has Given" or "Given of God," modern Theodore) to Jesus. Some commentators identify Nathanael with Bartholomew (cf. Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14).[164] But there is no convincing reason to equate these two men. The witness continued to spread through the most normal lines of communication, namely, friend to friend, as it still does.

The prophecies to which Philip referred may have included Deuteronomy 18:15 through 19; Isaiah 53; Daniel 7:13; Micah 5:2; and Zechariah 9:9. These and other prophecies spoke of the Messiah. Philip's statement suggests that the early disciples understood messiahship, at least partially, in the light of Old Testament predictions, rather than entirely in a political sense.[165] Philip described Jesus as Joseph's son, which is how people knew Him before they learned that He was the God's Son (v. 49).

"In one sense it is legitimate to view Jesus' disciples in the gospel of John (with the exception of Judas Iscariot) as believers in Him from near the beginning of His public ministry. In another sense, however, it is also clear that the disciples' faith in Jesus grew and developed as they observed the progress of His public ministry. The course of this development may be traced in the gospel of John."[166]

1:46           Nazareth had an negative reputation, at least for Nathanael, who came from Cana, a neighboring town (21:2). (Flavius Josephus also lived in Cana for some time, though after these events.[167]) Nathanael doubted that the Messiah could come from such a despised place as that. He did not yet understand that Messiah would come from humble origins.

"His inward thought was, 'Surely the Messiah can never come from among a poor despised people such as we are—from Nazareth or any other Galilean town or village!'"[168]

"The best thing in all the world came out of Nazareth …"[169]

"This Nathanael is a wiseacre, and he makes a wisecrack here."[170]

Philip wisely did not argue with Nathanael. He just invited him to come and see Jesus (cf. v. 39). John doubtless intended that his record of this invitation would encourage his readers to witness similarly. People just need to consider Jesus. Many who do will conclude that He is the Son of God (cf. v. 12).

"Honest inquiry is a sovereign cure for prejudice."[171]

"The words contain the essence of the true solution of religious doubts."[172]

1:47           Jesus declared that Nathanael was an Israelite in whom there was no deceit. Nathanael was the opposite of the original Israel, namely, Jacob, who was very deceitful (Gen. 27:35-36; 28:12; cf. John 1:51). Therefore Jesus virtually said that Nathanael was an Israelite in whom there was no Jacob. Jesus evidently knew about Nathanael before Philip brought him to Him, as He knew the other men whom He later formally called to be His disciples. After all, they all lived in and around Capernaum.

"The words ["in whom there is no deceit"] suggest the idea of one whose heart was pure; in whom was no doublemindedness, impure motive, pride, or unholy passion: a man of gentle, meditative spirit, in whose mind heaven lay reflected like the blue sky in a still lake on a calm summer day. He was a man much addicted to habits of devotion: he had been engaged in spiritual exercises under cover of a fig-tree just before he met with Jesus."[173]

1:48           Nathanael acted surprised that Jesus knew who he was. Evidently they had not met previously, even though Nazareth and Cana, Nathanael's hometown (21:1), were only a few miles apart (cf. Isa. 53:2). Jesus explained that He had seen Nathanael under the fig tree, where he had been before Philip had called him to come and see Jesus. Some commentators have interpreted Jesus' reference to this fig tree figuratively: as an allusion to Nathanael's house. Ancient Near Easterners sometimes referred to peaceful habitation figuratively, as resting under one's vine and fig tree (1 Kings 4:25; Isa. 36:16; Zech. 3:10). However there seems to be no good reason to prefer a figurative to a literal meaning here.

"This sentence [Jesus' reply], like the former one [Nathanael's question], points to some secret thought or prayer, by knowing which the Lord shewed [sic] His divine insight into the heart of man. He saw not that which is outward only, but that which was most deeply hidden. Compare iv. 19."[174]

Evidently Jesus' insight was prophetic; He had supernatural knowledge of Nathanael, not just knowledge from previous exposure to him.[175] Jesus probably had the same kind of prophetic insight that other prophets had—given by God. Since He did not know everything during the years of His incarnation (Mark 13:32), His knowledge was probably not divine omniscience (Phil. 2:5-8).

1:49           Jesus' simple statement elicited a most dramatic reaction from Nathanael. He concluded that the only way Jesus could have seen him when he was under the fig tree was if Jesus had supernatural knowledge. Evidently Nathanael knew that he was completely alone, and that no one except God could have seen him when he was under the fig tree.

"The Lord Jesus had two doubters among His apostles. The one at the beginning was Nathanael; the one at the end was Thomas. This man, this skeptic, this one who wonders whether any good can come out of Nazareth, confesses before the interview is over that Jesus is the Son of God, the King of Israel."[176]

Nathanael's reaction appears extreme at first, since even prophets had knowledge of things other people knew nothing about. Why did Nathanael think Jesus was the Son of God and not just a prophet? One answer is that even the title "Son of God" did not mean deity to all the Jews in Jesus' day. It meant that the person in view bore certain characteristics of God (cf. Deut. 3:18; 1 Sam. 26:16; Ps. 89:22; Prov. 31:2; Matt. 5:9; John 17:12). Another answer is that God enabled Nathanael to understand Jesus' true identity (cf. Matt. 16:17).

Nathanael appears to have regarded Jesus as the Messiah, who was considered to have supernatural knowledge (cf. v. 45; Ps. 2:2, 7; 2 Sam. 7:14; Ps. 2:6-7; Isa. 11:1-2).[177] But Nathanael may have spoken better than he knew. Jesus was indeed the Son of God in a fuller sense than he may have understood. Nathanael identified Jesus as God.[178] This seems to be the conclusion that John wanted his readers to reach as a result of this incident.

"In recording this estimate John is adding to the evidence accumulated throughout this chapter that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. Nathanael expresses this truth differently from the others, but the essential meaning is the same … Nor should we overlook the fact that Nathanael has just been called an 'Israelite." In calling Jesus 'King of Israel' he is acknowledging Jesus to be his own King: he is submitting to him."[179]

1:50           Jesus replied that Nathanael had not seen anything yet. This demonstration of supernatural knowledge was small compared to what Nathanael would see if he continued to follow Jesus as His disciple (v. 49). This straightforward Jew had believed that Jesus was the Messiah because of very little evidence. Jesus would give him a more solid basis for his faith in the future (cf. 20:29). John did the same for his readers by recording several of these "greater things" in the chapters that follow.

Some Bible students have concluded that these early disciples became believers, in the sense of becoming "saved," at this time.[180] However, as mentioned above, the Gospels seem to present these men as progressively gaining greater insight into the person of Jesus as time went by. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to pin down exactly when they believed enough about Jesus to be "saved."

1:51           Jesus then made a very important statement that He identified as such with the phrase "Truly, truly, I say to you" (Gr. amen amen lego humin). This phrase occurs 25 times in John's Gospel, and it always introduces an especially important affirmation.

Jesus used the imagery of Jacob's dream at Bethel to describe the greater revelation that Nathanael and his fellow disciples—the "you" in the Greek text is plural—would receive. The opening of the heavens pictures the insight that people on earth receive into what God is doing in heaven (cf. Acts 10:11; Rev. 4:1; 19:11). Jesus would reveal heavenly things, a theme that John developed throughout this Gospel. The angels of God are His agents that assist humans by taking their communications up to God above and by bringing knowledge of divine things down to them (cf. Heb. 1). The role of the Son of Man, Jesus' favorite title of Himself that He used over 80 times (Dan. 7:13), was to make this contact possible.

"In this Gospel the term [Son of Man] is always associated either with Christ's heavenly glory or with the salvation he came to bring."[181]

Similarly, a staircase makes travel and communication between two physical levels possible. Jesus was promising Nathanael that He would prove to be the key to access to God and communication with God (cf. 14:6; 1 Tim. 2:5). God had revealed Himself to Israel—the man and the nation—in a dream at Bethel previously (Gen. 28:10-22). Now God would reveal Himself to a true Israelite, Nathanael, to all Israel, and to the whole world, directly through Jesus.

This first sub-section in the body of the fourth Gospel (vv. 19-51) contains the prelude to Jesus' public ministry.[182] The writer highlighted John the Baptist's witness to Jesus' identity, first in a veiled manner, and then openly. Then he recorded the response of some of John's disciples, which was to follow Jesus. Philip's witness resulted in Nathanael's declaration of faith in Jesus, limited as it may have been, and Jesus' claim to be the revealer of God and the way to God. The "greater things than these" that Jesus promised (v. 50) follow, providing an even more solid foundation for faith in Him (cf. 20:31).

At least 16 different names and titles of Jesus appear in chapter one: the Word (vv. 1, 14), the Light (vv. 7-9), the Only Begotten of the Father (v. 14), Jesus Christ (v. 17), the Only Begotten God (v. 18), the Lord (v. 23), the Lamb of God (vv. 29, 36), a Man (v. 30), the Son of God (v. 34), Rabbi (Teacher, vv. 38, 49), Messiah (Christ, v. 41), Jesus of Nazareth (v. 45), the son of Joseph (v. 45), the Son of God (v. 49), the King of Israel (v. 49), and the Son of Man (v. 51). Clearly one of John's purposes in this Gospel was to draw attention to who Jesus is.

B.     The early Galilean ministry 2:1-12

John's account of the beginning of Jesus' public ministry highlights the fact that Jesus replaced what was old with something new (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17). New wine replaced old water. Later a clean temple replaced a dirty one, a new birth replaced an old birth, living (flowing) water replaced well (stagnant) water, and new worship replaced old worship.[183] The larger underlying theme continues to be the revelation of Jesus' identity.

1.     Jesus' first sign: changing water into wine 2:1-11

The first miracle that Jesus performed, in His public ministry and in John's Gospel, was semi-public.[184] Apparently only Jesus' disciples, the servants present, and Jesus' mother understood what had happened.

"I use the word Miracle to mean an interference with Nature by supernatural power."[185]

2:1             "The third day" evidently refers to the third day after the day that Nathanael met Jesus (1:43). John's references to succeeding days (1:29, 35, 43; 2:1) at least reflect his precise knowledge of these events. Perhaps this is also a symbolic reference to God's actions coming to a culmination with this miracle (cf. the Resurrection on the third day). Jesus fulfilled His promise to Nathanael (1:50-51) very quickly.

John's specific reference to days in chapter 1 and here is unusual for him. On the first day, John the Baptist gave his veiled witness to Jesus (1:19-28). The second day he gave his open witness to Jesus (1:29-34). The third day John's two disciples followed Jesus (1:35-42). The fourth day Philip and Nathanael met Jesus (1:43-51). On the third day after that, the seventh day, Jesus did His miracle at Cana.

Customarily the wedding of a maiden took place on a Wednesday, and that of a widow on Thursday.[186] The Jews regarded periods of seven days as reflecting God's creative activity. Perhaps John wanted his readers to associate this beginning of Jesus' ministry with the beginning of the cosmos (Gen. 1), which also happened in seven days. If so, this would be another witness to Jesus' deity.

Cana was about nine miles north of Nazareth in Galilee.[187] John never mentioned Mary, the mother of Jesus, by name, perhaps to avoid confusing her with other Marys in his Gospel.[188] This is the second of four public encounters that Mary had with Jesus (cf. Luke 2:41-52; Mark 3:31-35; John 19:26-27).

2:2             The facts that Jesus received an invitation to a wedding, and accepted it, show that He was not a recluse. He participated in the normal affairs of human life, including occasions of rejoicing. The Gospels consistently present this picture of Him. Godliness does not require separation from human society, though John the Baptist did not mix with people as much as Jesus did. A Christ-like person will be a socially active person and a joyful person.

In a small village such as Cana—probably modern Khirbet Kana—a wedding would have been a community celebration.[189] Perhaps the hosts included Jesus because Nathanael was from Cana (21:2), and Nathanael had recently become a follower of Jesus. Yet probably they knew Jesus and invited Him as a friend since His mother was also there and took some responsibility for the catering. This event evidently transpired very early in Jesus' ministry, before He called the Twelve. Consequently the only disciples present may have been the five to which John referred in chapter 1.

"Wise is that couple who invite Jesus to their wedding!"[190]

2:3             Weddings in the ancient East typically lasted several days and often a whole week.[191]

"To fail to provide adequately for the guests would involve social disgrace. In the closely knit communities of Jesus' day, such an error would never be forgotten and would haunt the newly married couple all their lives."[192]

The blunder would not only have brought shame and social disgrace, however, but also financial embarrassment, since grooms had a legal responsibility in that culture to provide a suitable feast for their guests.

"Our bridegroom stood to lose financially—say, up to about half the value of the presents Jesus and his party ought to have brought."[193]

Mary undoubtedly told Jesus about the situation because she knew that He would do whatever He could to solve the problem. Being a compassionate person, He would try to help the groom, who was responsible for the food and drink (v. 9), in order to avoid unnecessary embarrassment. Clearly Mary expected Jesus to do something (v. 5). Evidently Jesus had done no miracles before this incident (v. 11). Consequently it seems far-fetched to suppose that she expected Him to perform a miracle. Mary knew that Jesus was the Messiah, and she apparently wanted Him to do something that would show who He was to everyone present. The wine normally drunk in Israel at this time was fermented grape juice diluted with water.[194]

2:4             Westerners would consider anyone addressing his mother as "woman" to be disrespectful, but this was an acceptable word for Him to use in Jesus' culture (Gr. gunai, cf. 19:26; 20:15). It did not have negative connotations.[195] It may come as a surprise that the Gospel writers never recorded Jesus referring to Mary as His mother.

"That Jesus calls Mary 'Woman' and not 'Mother' probably indicates that there is a new relationship between them as he enters his public ministry."[196]

Similarly the words "What business do you have with me?" sound arrogant, but they were only a gentle rebuke. They constituted an idiom that is hard to translate (cf. Judg. 11:12; 2 Sam. 16:10; Matt. 8:29; Mark 1:24; 5:7; Luke 4:34; 8:28). What do we have in common? meaning: Your concern and Mine are not the same[197]; or Madam, that concerns you, not Me[198]; or Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me?[199] captures the spirit of the question. Jesus was saying in effect: We're not "on the same page." He was not dishonoring His mother. He was explaining to her that He would handle the situation but in His own time and way. Jesus' obedience to His heavenly Father was more important than His obedience to His earthly mother.

"Christ here showed that His season of subjection to Mary and Joseph (Luke 2:51) was over, His public ministry had now commenced and she must not presume to dictate to Him."[200]

Another interpretation is that Jesus was not distinguishing Himself from His mother, but that he was distinguishing Himself and His mother from the wedding host:

"'They have no wine,' she whispers. He replies, 'We are guests. What is that to you and me? My hour,' He adds, 'is not yet come.' That is, 'When I give a feast there will be no such accident.' When He did, in the upper room, there was plenty for all."[201]

Jesus elsewhere always spoke of His "hour" (Gr. hora) as the time of His passion and its consequences (cf. 5:28-29; 7:30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 13:1; 17:1).

"It refers to the special time in Jesus' earthly life when He was to leave this world and return to the Father (13:1), the hour when the Son of man was to be glorified (17:1). This was accomplished through His suffering, death, resurrection (and ascension, though this was not emphasized by John)."[202]

When Jesus' "hour" finally did come He met the need of the entire human race by dying on the cross. Mary was requesting that He meet a need immediately. Perhaps Jesus referred to His hour not yet having arrived in order to help Mary realize that the meeting of needs was something He needed to control. Just as it was not yet time for Him to die, so it was not yet time for Him to meet this pressing need for wine. Probably He meant: The time for Me to meet this need has not yet arrived. Throughout this Gospel John made it clear that Jesus was on a divine schedule that His Father controlled.

"When all other help fails, then and not till then the 'hour' of the great Helper will have struck."[203]

2:5             Mary accepted Jesus' statement humbly and did not nag Him. She did, however, urge the servants to cooperate with Him if He asked anything of them. She did not understand what He would do or when, but she had confidence in His compassion and ability. She demonstrated admirable submission and faith toward Jesus. She allowed Jesus to take charge and solve the problem, and she pointed others to Jesus, not to herself. Previously she had approached Jesus as His mother and had received a mild rebuke. Now she approached Him as her Lord and shortly received satisfaction (cf. Matt. 15:21-28). In this she provides an excellent example for Christians.

2:6             The Jews washed before eating in order to cleanse themselves from the defilement of contact with Gentiles and other ritually defiling things, more than from germs. They needed much water since they washed often (cf. Matt. 15:1-2; Mark 7:3-4). Each pot held two or three "measures" (Gr. metretes), namely, between 18 and 24 gallons.[204] Their combined capacity would have been between 108 and 144 gallons of liquid. Stone pots did not absorb moisture and uncleanness like earthenware vessels did, so they were better containers for water used in ceremonial washings.

2:7-8          "Them" refers to the servants to whom Mary had previously spoken (v. 5). Their obedience is admirable and accounts in part for the full provision of the need. Normally people did not drink the water in those pots, but the headwaiter did not know that what the servant handed him came from there. Probably the pots were outside the house and he was inside.

"The architriklinos ["headwaiter"] was originally the superintendent of the dining-room who arranged the couches and tasted the food, not the toast-master (sumposiarches)."[205]

Most commentators assumed that when the servants had filled the pots to the brim, the water in them became wine. The servants then drew the wine out of the pots and served it to the headwaiter. A few writers noted that the verb "draw" (Gr. antleo, v. 8) usually describes drawing water from a well.[206] This has led some of them to envisage a different scenario: Perhaps the servants filled the pots from a well and then continued drawing water out of the well that they served to the headwaiter. This explanation seems unnatural to me.

Many commentators saw the significance of what they understood to have happened as follows: Jesus' disciples, as well as the servants, and presumably Mary, knew that water had gone into the pots but that wine had come out. The only thing that accounted for the change was Jesus' instructions. The servants had, after all, filled the pots with water "up to the brim," so nothing else could have been added. They realized that Jesus had the supernatural power to change water into wine. This miracle thus fortified their faith in Him (v. 11).

Advocates of the view that the water that the servants presented to the headwaiter came from the well see the same significance and more:

"Up to this time the servants had drawn water to fill the vessels used for ceremonial washing; now they are to draw for the feast that symbolizes the messianic banquet. Filling jars with such large capacity to the brim then indicates that the time for ceremonial purification is completely fulfilled; the new order, symbolized by the wine, could not be drawn from jars so intimately connected with merely ceremonial purification."[207]

I believe it is somewhat questionable to build this interpretation on the usual meaning of antleo. Its essential meaning is "to draw" even though this word usually refers to drawing water from a well or spring (Gen. 24:13, 20; Exod. 2:16, 19; Isa. 12:3; John 4:7, 15). In classical Greek it described drawing water out of a ship's hull.[208]

Furthermore, the symbolic interpretation that accompanies this view is questionable. There is nothing in the text that indicates that John intended his readers to see this miracle as teaching the termination of the old Mosaic order and the commencement of a new order. Jesus' ministry certainly accomplished that, but there is no other evidence that this was the lesson that John wanted to communicate to his readers here.

Perhaps Jesus ordered the pots filled to the brim simply so that there would be enough wine for everyone: approximately 2,400 servings. Filling the pots to the brim also precluded any possibility of wine being added to only partially filled pots. It would have been clear that Jesus was not just playing a trick.[209]

2:9-10        John's point in recording the headwaiter's comments was apparently to stress the superior quality of the wine that Jesus produced for the guests. Jesus, the omnipotent Creator, produced the best, as He always does whenever He creates.

"There isn't any record in this Gospel of Christ healing a leper or a demoniac. … John give us a revelation of our Lord as God. For this reason John selected Christ's first public miracle to present Him as the Creator."[210]

"The world (and Satan also) gives its best first, and keeps the worst for the last. First the pleasures of sin—for a season—and then the wages of sin. But with God it is the very opposite. He brings His people into the wilderness before He brings them into the promised inheritance. First the Cross then the crown."[211]

Jesus' immediate creation of wine, which normally takes time to ferment, may parallel God's creation of the universe with the appearance of age.[212] "Are drunk" and "had too much to drink" (NIV) translate the Greek word methysko, which refers to drunkenness. The fact that Jesus created something that people could abuse should not surprise us. Humans have consistently abused God's good gifts. Fortunately that does not keep God from giving them, nor does it make Him responsible for our abuse of them.

"Christ was the One to work the miracle, yet the 'servants' were the ones who seemed to do everything. They filled the waterpots, they drew off the wine, they bore it to the governor of the feast. There was no visible exhibition of putting forth of Divine power. Christ pronounced no magical formula: He did not even command the water to become wine. What was witnessed by the spectators was men at work, not God creating out of nothing. And all this speaks loudly to us. It was a parable in action. The means used were human, the result was seen to be Divine."[213]

Is there a deeper meaning to this story? Many students of this passage have identified the wine as symbolic of the joy that Messiah produces. This harmonizes with the metaphorical use of "wine" throughout Scripture. I think it is significant that Jesus did here what the Old Testament prophets said that Yahweh would do, namely, provide wine for His people (cf. Ps. 104:15; Jer. 31:12; Joel 2:19, 24; Zech. 9:17). Thus this "sign" signified that Jesus was God.

McGee suggested another parallel:

"This [story] holds a great spiritual lesson for you and me. Jesus uses us as water pots today. We're just beaten and battered water pots. We're not attractive and ought to be pushed to the side and covered up. But He wants to use us. He wants to fill us with water. What is the water? The water is the Word of God, friend. He wants to fill you and me with the water of the Word of God. Then, after He fills us with the water of the Word of God, He wants us to ladle it out. When we ladle it out—I don't know how to explain it—but when the water leaves the water pots and gets to those for whom it is destined, it becomes wine. It becomes the wine of joy through the working of the Holy Spirit. … The Holy Spirit takes that water and performs a miracle in the life of an individual."[214]

Some have seen wine as typical of Christianity, as contrasted with Judaism (the water).[215] These parallels lack Scriptural support. Perhaps there is some validity to seeing this banquet as a preview of the messianic banquet, since Jesus' provision of joy is common to them both. Jesus may not have been an official host at this banquet, but He will certainly be the Host at the messianic banquet, which will take place on earth at the beginning of His earthly reign.

"Christ began His ministry on this earth at a wedding. He will conclude it, as far as the church is concerned, with a wedding. At the marriage supper of the Lamb the church will be presented to Him as a bride."[216]

"The first miracle of Moses was a turning of water into blood (Exod. vii. 20); and this had its fitness; for the law, which came by Moses, was a ministration of death, and working wrath (2 Cor. iii. 6-9). But the first miracle of Christ was a turning of water into wine, this too a meet [fitting, appropriate] inauguration of all which should follow, for his was a ministration of life; He came, the disperser of that true wine that maketh glad the heart of man (Ps. civ. 15)."[217]

2:11           In conclusion John mentioned that this miracle was a "sign." It was a miracle that had significance.[218] Its significance appears to be that it showed that Jesus had the same power to create that God demonstrated in the Creation. Thus it pointed to Jesus being the Creator God who could transform things from one condition into a better one (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17).

Since this was the "beginning of His signs," we can rest assured that Jesus did not perform other miracles before this one. Specifically, he did not make clay pigeons as a young boy, touch them, and cause them to fly away, as a popular legend has it.[219]

It was "not merely the first sign but 'a primary sign', because representative of the creative and transforming work of Jesus as a whole."[220]

This demonstration of His power to create glorified Jesus in the eyes of those who witnessed it and heard about it.[221] Moses had turned water into blood destructively (Exod. 7:14-24), but Jesus turned water into wine for the blessing and benefit of others (cf. 1:17). This miracle also resulted in these disciples believing in Him (cf. 1:50), not for the first time, but in a deeper way than they had believed previously (cf. 20:30-31).

"The idea which it [the phrase "believed in Him"] conveys is that of the absolute transference of trust from oneself to another."[222]

"This is the first of about fifteen instances in the Gospel through John where individuals are said to have put their trust in Christ."[223]

John's concluding references to the time and place of this miracle establish the historicity of this event and reduce the possibility of reading it as an allegory or a legend.

"There is significance in the miracle first for Israel, especially the Israel of Christ's day. The wedding feast with its new wine portrays the coming of the kingdom. By this sign the Lord declares He is the Messiah of Israel who is capable of bringing the predicted kingdom into its glorious existence. … The miracle shows the old order had run its course; now was the time for a new one. … The significance of this miracle is not for Jews only; it is obviously for the church as well. The basic truth for Christians is found in the joy of salvation. … This miracle portrays not only the joy Christ brings into a person's life but also the abundance of joy. … Finally, for the Christian there is a new life in Christ. The old is passed away and there is a whole new life and perspective in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17)."[224]

The Greek god Dionysus supposedly discovered wine. He was also credited with changing water into wine on some occasions when he was worshipped. These instances, which were first recorded about five centuries before John wrote his Gospel, may have been known to John's earliest readers.[225] If they were, these people would have probably concluded that Jesus was at least as great as Dionysus, if not greater.

2.     Jesus' initial stay in Capernaum 2:12

Some time after the miracle just narrated, Jesus went down (topographically) from Cana to Capernaum. Cana was on a higher elevation than Capernaum, and Capernaum was about 13 miles northeast of Cana. Some family members (cf. Matt. 12:46; Mark 6:3) and Jesus' disciples accompanied Him. Jesus had physical brothers borne by Mary. (The idea of Mary's perpetual virginity appeared later in church history.[226]) Evidently this trip was only for a short stay, since John wrote that they stayed in Capernaum "a few days." Jesus adopted Capernaum as His ministry base in Galilee and moved there from Nazareth (Matt. 4:13; Mark 1:21; 2:1). That may have happened now, or it may have taken place after this event. The purpose of this verse in John's narrative is transitional.

C.     Jesus' first visit to Jerusalem 2:13—3:36

"It is impossible not to feel the change which at this point comes over the narrative. There is a change of place, of occasion, of manner of action. Jesus and Cana, the Passover and the marriage feast, the stern Reformer and the sympathizing Guest. So too the spiritual lessons which the two signs convey are also complementary. The first represents the ennobling of common life, the second the purifying of divine worship. Or, to put the truth in another light, the one is a revelation of the Son of man, and the other a revelation of the Christ, the Fulfiller of the hope and purpose of Israel."[227]

"In Cana Jesus manifested His power as the Creator. Now He came to manifest His authority as the Messiah, the Son of God."[228]

John is the only evangelist who recorded this trip to Jerusalem and the things that happened there.

"In distinction from the Synoptics, John's record focuses mostly on events in Jesus' life that took place in Jerusalem, and especially at the Passover feasts."[229]

Josephus indicated that as many as three million Jews occupied Jerusalem during the Passover feasts.[230]

1.     The first cleansing of the temple 2:13-22

The Synoptics record Jesus' cleansing of the temple after His triumphal entry (Matt. 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-16; Luke 19:45-46). Only John noted this cleansing of the temple at the beginning of Jesus' ministry. The differences between the two cleansing incidents, as well as their placement in the chronology of Jesus' ministry, argue for two cleansings rather than one.[231]

2:13           John alone recorded that Jesus went up to Jerusalem, topographically again, for three separate Passover celebrations.[232] He referred to a second Passover in 6:4, and to a third one in 11:55; 12:1; 13:1; 18:28, 39; and 19:14. Some interpreters believe that he mentioned a fourth Passover in 5:1, but this seems unlikely. This first one was evidently the Passover of April 7, A.D. 30, the first one after Jesus began His public ministry.[233] Jesus celebrated the Passover because He was a Jew who obeyed the Mosaic Law (Deut. 16:1-8), and He used the occasion to minister. John's description of the Passover, as "the Passover of the Jews," supports the view that he wrote his Gospel late in the first century for a general audience that was mainly Gentile. It also implies that Christians no longer observed this feast.

2:14           Jesus encountered the buying and the selling going on in the temple courtyard ("grounds," Gr. hieron). This was undoubtedly the outer Court of the Gentiles, not the temple building (Gr. naos).[234] Probably the custom of selling sacrificial animals, and exchanging various types of silver and copper money (e.g., Persian, Syrian, Egyptian, Grecian, and Roman) for temple coinage began as a convenience for pilgrims. The priests accepted only Tyrian coins because of the purity of their silver.

By Jesus' day this practice had escalated into a major business for the priests, and it had replaced spiritual worship in the courtyard during the Passover season.[235] The priests had transformed this temple area from a place of quiet prayer into a noisy bazaar. It was virtually impossible for Gentiles to worship there, which was the only courtyard accessible to them, with all the business that was going on. This was probably where the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:27) and other Gentiles like him worshipped when they came to Jerusalem. The priests set up tables for the moneychangers only for about three weeks leading up to Passover.[236]

2:15-16      Jesus responded to this situation actively and orally. He claimed that God was His Father ("My Father's house"), and that He acted for God in what He did. John's vivid description has inspired many artists who have painted on canvas what they believed this action-packed scene must have looked like. John noted that the reason for Jesus' actions was His concern for the misuse of the temple. He did not mention the corruption that may have been going on as the priests bought and sold and changed money. Jesus' expulsion of the temple merchants constituted a major threat to the financial arrangements for the sacrificial system.[237]

"The Talmud also records the curse which a distinguished Rabbi of Jerusalem (Abba Shaul) pronounced upon the High-Priestly families (including that of Annas), who were 'themselves High-Priests, their sons treasurers (Gizbarin), their sons-in-law assistant-treasurers (Ammarkalin), while their servants beat the people with sticks.' (Pes. [Pesiqta] 57 a) What a comment this passage offers on the bearing of Jesus, as He made a scourge to drive out the very servants who 'beat the people with sticks,' and upset their unholy traffic!"[238]

By claiming God as His Father, Jesus was citing authority for His action. He was not claiming equality with the Father, which He did on another occasion (5:18). To those present, the issue was clearly Jesus' authority, not His identity (v. 18).

Though Jesus' action was violent, it evidently did not constitute a threat to the peace in the temple area. Roman soldiers from the adjoining Antonia Fortress would have intervened quickly if it had (cf. Acts 21:31-32). Jesus was forceful but not cruel. There is no indication that He injured anyone with His fairly harmless scourge of cords (Gr. phragellion ek schoinion). The Greek masculine plural pantas ("all," v. 15) argues for Jesus driving the traders out, not just the animals, which the neuter plural panta would identify. Schoinion ("cords," v. 15) elsewhere describes the ropes on a ship (Acts 27:32).

"It is clear that it was not so much the physical force as the moral power he employed that emptied the courts."[239]

The Old Testament predicted that Messiah would come and purify the Levites (Mal. 3:1-3; cf. Zech. 14:21). Jesus' action perhaps recalled these prophecies to the godly in Israel who may have wondered if Jesus was the Messiah. His actions here did not fulfill these prophecies, however, which appear in Second Coming contexts. Jesus will yet return to the temple that will be standing in Jerusalem when He returns at His second coming, and He will purify the Levites serving there then. This will be preparation for His messianic reign on earth that will follow. Another view is that Jesus' first coming to the temple did fulfill Malachi's prophecy.[240]

2:17           The outstanding impression that Jesus' acts presented to His disciples was one of zeal for the proper use of the temple and ultimately for God's glory. The disciples may have recalled Psalm 69:9 then, or they may have thought of it later. John's description does not make this clear. This is the third most frequently quoted Psalm in the New Testament (cf. 7:3-5; 15:25; Matt. 27:34, 48; Rom. 11:9-10; 15:3).[241] In Psalm 69:9 David meant that zeal for the building of the temple had dominated his thoughts and actions, and he implied that others had criticized him for it. John changed the quotation from the past to the future tense, implying that it was a prophecy concerning David's great Son, Messiah. He undoubtedly saw it as such. But was he not misquoting the verse?

The Hebrew language does not have past, present, and future tenses as English does. It has a perfect tense, indicating complete action, and an imperfect tense indicating incomplete action. In Psalm 69:9 the tense of the Hebrew verb is perfect. One can translate a Hebrew perfect tense with an English past, present, or future tense, depending on the context. Here an English past tense was appropriate for David's statement about himself, but the Hebrew also permits an English future tense, which was appropriate for Messiah: the so-called prophetic perfect tense.

"We should not miss the way this incident fits in with John's aim of showing Jesus to be the Messiah. All his actions imply a special relationship with God. They proceed from his messianic vocation. The citation from Scripture is important from another point of view, for it accords with another habit of this Evangelist. While John does not quote the Old Testament as frequently as do some other New Testament writers, it is still the case, as Richard Morgan says, that 'the Old Testament is present at every crucial moment in the Gospel.' It is one of John's great themes that in Jesus God is working his purposes out. Every critical moment sees the fulfillment of Scripture in which those purposes are set forth."[242]

"When Jesus cleansed the temple, He 'declared war' on the hypocritical religious leaders (Matt. 23), and this ultimately led to His death. Indeed, His zeal for God's house did eat Him up!"[243]

2:18           The spokesmen for the Jews present in the courtyard wanted Jesus to perform some miraculous "sign" (Gr. semeion, cf. 2:11). They wanted Him to prove that He possessed divine authority to do what He did (cf. Exod. 4:1-9; Matt. 12:38; 16:1; Mark 8:11; Luke 11:16; 1 Cor. 1:22). The sin of these Jewish leaders is apparent, in that they did not deal with the question of the justice of Jesus' indictment. They only inquired about His authority to act as He did.

"We notice here on the occasion of the first public act of Christ, as throughout St John, the double effect of the act on those who already believed, and on those who were resolutely unbelieving. The disciples remembered at the time (contrast v. 22) that this trait was characteristic of the true prophet of God, who gave himself for his people. The Jews found in it an occasion for fresh demands of proof."[244]

2:19           Jesus gave them a sign, but not the kind that they wanted. They wanted some immediate demonstration of divine authority. Instead Jesus announced a miracle that would vindicate His authority after He died.

"As for 'the sign,' then and ever again sought by an 'evil and adulterous generation'—evil in their thoughts and ways and adulterous to the God of Israel—He had then, as afterwards, only one 'sign' to give: 'Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up.' Thus He met their challenge for a sign by the challenge of a sign: Crucify Him, and He would rise again; let them suppress the Christ, He would triumph. A sign this which they understood not, but misunderstood, and by making it the ground of their false charge in His final trial, themselves unwittingly fulfilled."[245]

Why was Jesus not more cooperative? First, He controlled when as well as how He would act, under the Father's authority, and the time was not yet right for a dramatic sign (cf. v. 4). Second, these Jews had already demonstrated that they had no real interest in justice but only in discrediting Jesus (v. 18). They did not sincerely want a sign. They would not have acknowledged Jesus' authority even if He had performed a special miracle for them.

The Jews thought that Jesus was offering to rebuild Herod's temple within three days if they would knock it down. His doing this would have been a miraculous enough sign for any of them. Furthermore it would have demonstrated His authority to regulate temple service. However they were unwilling to fulfill their part of the sign. By suggesting this action Jesus was also implying that the old temple and its service had served its purpose. He had come to establish a new temple (Himself) and a new way of worship (in spirit and in truth).

Why did Jesus answer enigmatically (with a riddle) rather than clearly? Why did He not say: Destroy My body, and I will raise it up in three days? Jesus was replying to unbelief the way He often did: in parabolic language. He wanted to hide revelation from the unbelieving but at the same time reveal it to believers.

The Sanhedrin later used Jesus' words about destroying the temple as a capital charge against Him at His trial (Matt. 26:61; Mark 14:58; cf. Matt. 27:40; Mark 15:29). This was dishonest and unfair, however, because Jesus had said, "Destroy this temple," not I will destroy the temple. Furthermore, Jesus was speaking of His body, not the Jerusalem temple.

2:20           This verse provides an important chronological marker in the life of Jesus. It enables us to date His visit to the temple here as happening in A.D. 30.[246] Work on Herod's temple had been proceeding for 46 years. It was not completed until A.D. 63. Another view is that the Jew said: This temple was built 46 years ago.[247]

2:21-22      Jesus' critics assumed that He was speaking of Herod's temple, but John interpreted His true meaning for his readers.  Even Jesus' disciples did not understand what He meant until after His resurrection. The Scripture they then believed was Old Testament prophecy concerning Messiah's resurrection (e.g., Ps. 16:10; 69:9).

Jesus' body was a temple in a unique sense. It was the body in which the Word had become flesh (1:14). The Father indwelt it as did the Son (14:10-11) and the Spirit (1:32-33). It therefore uniquely manifested the Father. It was also the site where God then manifested Himself on earth, as He had done previously—though to a lesser extent—in the wilderness tabernacle and in the Jerusalem temple. Furthermore, it was the center of true worship following the Incarnation (cf. 4:20-24). In it the ultimate sacrifice would take place.[248]

Jesus spoke of the temple as a type (i.e., a divinely intended illustration) of Himself. Later, Christ's body became a metaphorical symbol for the church (cf. Eph. 1:23; 4:16; Col. 1:18), but that use probably began after the founding of the church at Pentecost. It seems clear that Jesus was referring to His physical body here, and not to the church. Yet there may be an intentional allusion to the ultimate abolition of the Jewish temple and temple sacrifices.[249] Such double references are common in this Gospel.

"The misunderstandings seem to function to highlight the two levels of understanding that take place in the Gospel. On the one hand is the spiritual or heavenly level that Jesus came bringing, to teach the true way to eternal life. On the other hand is the temporal or earthly level that most people operate at, including most of Christ's professed disciples, which leads to darkness and loss of eternal life. John wants to show that one must cross over from the earthly to the heavenly, from darkness into light, from death into life. By his careful construction of the narratives, John leads his readers to see and understand what the original participants could or did not, and thus to believe the claims of Jesus and avoid the ignorance displayed by the original characters in the drama."[250]

2.     Initial response to Jesus in Jerusalem 2:23-25

John included another summary of Jesus' activities (cf. v. 12). It enables the reader to gain a more balanced picture of popular reaction to Jesus than the preceding incident might suggest.

2:23           Jesus performed a number of signs (miracles with significance) while He was in Jerusalem at this time. These were probably healings and perhaps exorcisms. The Synoptics record that Jesus ministered this way virtually everywhere He went. Consequently many people believed on Him ("in His name"). This does not necessarily mean that they placed saving faith in Him as the Son of God however. Often the people who observed His miracles concluded that He was a prophet, but they were not always willing to acknowledge Him as God.

John usually used the Greek dative case when he described faith in a thing (e.g., "they believed the Scripture," v. 22; cf. 4:50; 5:47; 10:38). When he described faith in a person he did the same, or he sometimes used the verb "believe" (Gr. pisteuo) with the preposition "into" or "in" (Gr. eis) plus the accusative (e.g., "believed in His name," v. 23; cf. 8:30-31). These are synonymous expressions in John. Some interpreters have incorrectly argued that the former case indicates spurious faith, and the latter genuine faith. The context must determine this in every instance.[251]

2:24-25      Jesus' response to people, in contrast to their believing in Him, was not to put His trust ("entrust," Gr. pisteuo) in them. He knew people to be essentially untrustworthy. He knew that the initial enthusiasm and faith, based on miracles, that some people manifested would evaporate. Another view is that these were genuine believers who "were not ready for fuller disclosures from the One they had just trusted."[252] Some who initially believed on Jesus turned against Him later (6:15, 60, 66). He did not place His destiny in the hands of any others, though some of the Jews in Jerusalem were willing to place their lives in His hands (cf. 10:14-15). Further, He did not commit Himself to anyone to testify for Him (do public relations work), because Jesus was not dependent on human approval to accomplish His work.[253]

John may have meant that Jesus knew the nature of human beings, not that He knew the thoughts of every person that He encountered. The Great Physician could read people better than any human doctor can diagnose symptoms.[254] Besides, Jesus was not just a prophet, but the greatest Prophet, and even lesser prophets often demonstrated supernatural insight. On the other hand, John could have meant that Jesus, as only God can, knew the hearts of all people (1 Sam. 16:7; 1 Kings 8:39; Ps. 139; Jer. 17:10; 20:12; Acts 1:24).[255] The following two chapters particularly illustrate the truth of both of these statements: Jesus had great human insight as well as divine insight.

3.     Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus 3:1-21

John now presented evidence that Jesus knew people (2:25) like no others did, and that many believed in His name (2:23). This constitutes further witness that He is the Son of God. John summarized several conversations that Jesus had with various individuals in the next few chapters. They were remarkably different types of people, yet they all responded positively to Jesus. The first man was a representative of Pharisaic Judaism.[256]

"Narrative is in this section reduced to a minimum. … We are made to hear [in effect] not a conversation between two persons but the dialogue of church and synagogue, in which (according to the Christian view) the former completes and fulfills the latter, which is in consequence superseded."[257]

3:1             John introduced Nicodemus (lit. Conqueror of, or Victor over, the People) as a Pharisee who was a ruler of the Jews, namely, a member of the Sanhedrin (cf. 7:50-51). As a Pharisee Nicodemus would have had respect for the Jewish Scriptures and would have been nationalistic politically. He would have stressed the careful observance of Israel's laws and the traditions of the elders. Obedience to these was the way of salvation for Pharisees.

"In its own way this chapter does away with 'works of the law' every bit as thoroughly as anything in Paul. … The Pharisees had no vested interest in the Temple (which was rather the domain of the Sadducees). A Pharisee would, accordingly, not have been unduly perturbed by the action of Jesus in cleansing the Temple courts. Indeed, he may possibly have approved it, partly on the general principle that anything that put the Sadducees down a peg or two was laudable and partly in the interests of true religion."[258]

The Sadducees, in contrast, were more liberal in their theology and were more politically accommodating. In one sense the Sadducees were more liberal, in that they denied the existence of angels and the resurrection. But in another sense they were more conservative, in that they accepted as authoritative only the Old Testament and rejected much of the tradition that the Pharisees regarded as more authoritative than the Old Testament. Later Jesus mentioned that Nicodemus was a prominent teacher in Israel (v. 10). John also recorded that he was fair-minded (7:50-51).

3:2             John probably would not have mentioned that Nicodemus called on Jesus "at night" if that fact was insignificant. Probably this prominent Pharisee made his call at night in order to keep his visit private and uninterrupted (cf. 19:39). He may also have come at night because he was ashamed to be seen with Jesus.[259] The Pharisees generally were antagonistic toward Jesus, and Nicodemus apparently wanted to avoid unnecessary conflict with his fellow Pharisees. Whenever else John referred to "night" in his Gospel, the word has moral and spiritual connotations of darkness (cf. 9:4; 11:10; 13:30), and it probably does here. Nicodemus was in spiritual and intellectual darkness, as well as natural darkness, when he came to Jesus (cf. v. 10).[260]

Nicodemus addressed Jesus as "Rabbi," which was a respectful title that recognized Him as a teacher. One rabbi was coming to another for discussion. However this title also indicated the extent of this man's faith. He did not address Jesus as the Messiah, or the Son of God, or his Lord. All the same, he expressed belief that Jesus had come from God, in contrast to Satan (cf. 8:48, 52), in view of the miracles that Jesus was performing (cf. 2:23; 20:30; 21:24-25). This suggests that Nicodemus may have wanted to determine if Jesus was a prophet as well as a teacher.

To the Jews of Jesus' day no unusual teaching would have been acceptable without the evidence of miracles.[261] By the way, the Gospels present no one, friend or foe of Jesus, ever doubting that He performed miracles. They were so clearly miraculous that everyone acknowledged Jesus as a miracle worker.

"We" could be a way of saying himself (cf. v. 11). On the other hand, Nicodemus could have been representing others on the Sanhedrin besides himself, such as Joseph of Arimathea (cf. 19:38). A third option is that "we" suggests the current popular opinion about Jesus.[262] Note Nicodemus' courtesy and lack of hostility. These qualities mark him as a non-typical Pharisee.

"One of the things which impresses the writer as he reads the Gospels, is the blessed accessibility of the Lord Jesus."[263]

3:3             Jesus' abrupt dogmatic statement cut to the heart of the matter. He affirmed strongly that one cannot see the kingdom of God without a second birth from above (Gr. anothen, cf. v. 31).

"It is not learning, but life, that is wanted for the Messiah's Kingdom; and life must begin by birth."[264]

Anothen means both "again" (v. 4; cf. Gal. 4:9) and "from above" (v. 31; 19:11, 23).

"Although Nicodemus understood it to mean 'again,' leading him to conclude that Jesus was speaking of a second physical birth, Jesus' reply in verses 6-8 shows that He referred to the need for a spiritual birth, a birth 'from above.'"[265]

The term "kingdom of God," as Jesus used it consistently, refers to the messianic kingdom. That kingdom began with the appearance of Messiah, and it will culminate in His earthly kingdom, which will begin when He returns to this earth. It is not the universal sovereign rule of God over all throughout history but the rule of Messiah. To "see the kingdom of God" means to obtain eternal life (cf. Mark 9:43, 45, 47). John used kingdom language rarely (vv. 3, 5; 18:36).

This is the only passage in John that mentions the kingdom of God, though Jesus spoke of "My kingdom" in 18:36. He generally used life language instead of kingdom language (cf. 1:12-13). This is understandable since he evidently wrote late in the first century, when it was clear that God had postponed (delayed) the earthly kingdom of Messiah due to the Jews' rejection of their King. His readers needed to prepare for the future immediately by obtaining eternal life.

The implication of Jesus' illustration of new birth is that life with God in the future will require completely new equipment. Nicodemus had claimed to see something of who Jesus was by His signs. Jesus replied that no one can "see" (enter) God's (messianic) kingdom without new birth.

"If the kingdom does not dawn until the end of the age, then of course one cannot enter it before it comes. Predominant religious thought in Jesus' day affirmed that all Jews would be admitted to that kingdom apart from those guilty of deliberate apostasy or extraordinary wickedness (e.g., Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:1). But here was Jesus telling Nicodemus, a respected and conscientious member not only of Israel but of the Sanhedrin, that he cannot enter the kingdom unless he is born again. … The coming of the kingdom at the end can be described as the 'regeneration' of the world (Mt. 19:28, NIV 'renewal'), but here what is required is the regeneration of the individual before the end of the world and in order to enter the kingdom."[266]

"By the term born again He means not the amendment of a part but the renewal of the whole nature. Hence it follows that there is nothing in us that is not defective."[267]

3:4             Nicodemus asked Jesus to clarify what He meant by being born again. His question may imply that he was an older man. He was quite sure that Jesus was not referring to reincarnation or a second physical birth.[268] His crassly literal question may reflect some disdain for Jesus' affirmation, or Nicodemus may have been speaking wistfully, or he may have been eager or impatient to hear Jesus' explanation.

"The situation is no different today. When you talk with people about being born again, they often begin to discuss their family's religious heritage, their church membership, religious ceremonies, and so on."[269]

"Had our Lord said: 'Every Gentile must be born again,' he [Nicodemus] would have understood."[270]

3:5             Again Jesus prefaced a further affirmation with the statement that guaranteed its certainty. Entering the kingdom and seeing the kingdom (v. 3) are synonymous terms, though the former may be a bit clearer.

There are several views as to the meaning of being "born of water and the Spirit." The verse and its context contribute much to our understanding of this difficult phrase (cf. 1:33). Whatever its meaning, born of water and the Spirit must be synonymous with being born again or from above (vv. 3, 7), and being born of the Spirit (vv. 6, 8), since Jesus used these words to clarify the process of the new birth for Nicodemus.

The definite article translated "the" before "Spirit" is absent in the Greek text. The English translators have inserted it to clarify their interpretation of "spirit" (Gr. pneuma) as the Holy Spirit. A more literal translation would be simply "born of water and spirit."

The construction of the phrase being born of water and the Spirit in the Greek text indicates that the preposition "of" governs both water and Spirit. This means that Jesus was clarifying regeneration by using two terms that both describe the new birth. He was not saying that two separate things have to be present for regeneration to take place. It has but one Source.

Jesus' criticism of Nicodemus for not understanding these things (v. 10) indicates that what He taught about the Source of regeneration was clear in the Old Testament.

The only view that seems to be consistent with all of these factors is as follows: The Old Testament often used "water" metaphorically in order to symbolize spiritual cleansing and renewal (Num. 19:17-19; Isa. 55:1-3; cf. Ps. 51:10; Jer. 2:13; 17:13; Zech. 14:8). God's "spirit" (or "Spirit") in the Old Testament represents God's life (Gen. 1:2; 2:7; 6:3; Job 34:14). God previously promised that He would pour out His Spirit on people like water (Isa. 32:15-16; Joel 2:28-29). The result of that outpouring would be a new heart for those on whom the Spirit came (Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:26). Thus the revelation that God would bring cleansing and renewal like water, by means of or affected by His Spirit, was clear in the Old Testament.

Jesus evidently meant that unless a person has experienced spiritual cleansing and renewal (empowerment) from God's spirit (or Spirit), he or she cannot enter the kingdom. This is what He meant by being born from above or again (cf. 1 Cor. 6:11).[271]

Another view proposed by many scholars is that "water" is an allusion to the amniotic fluid in which a fetus develops in its mother's womb. Other scholars see it as a euphemistic reference to the semen, without which natural birth is impossible. In either case "water" refers to physical or natural birth, while "spirit" refers to spiritual or supernatural birth.[272] These proponents claim that Jesus was saying that natural birth is not enough. One must also experience supernatural birth to enter the kingdom. But this use of "water" is unique in Scripture. This view also assumes that two births are in view, whereas the construction of the Greek phrase favors one birth rather than two. If two were in view, there would normally be a repetition of the preposition "of" before the second noun.

Another popular view is that "water" refers to the written Word of God, and "spirit" refers to the Holy Spirit.[273] This figurative use of "water" does exist in the New Testament (cf. Eph. 5:26), but it is uncommon in the Old Testament. It is unlikely that Nicodemus would have associated water with the Word of God, and it would have been unfair for Jesus to rebuke him for not having done so. This view, like the former one, also specifies two separate entities. But again, the Greek text implies only one as the source of regeneration.

Some commentators take the "water" as an allusion to water baptism, and the "spirit" as referring to the Holy Spirit.[274] According to this view spiritual birth happens only when a person undergoes water baptism, and as a result experiences regeneration by the Holy Spirit. Some advocates of this view see support for it in the previous reference to water baptism (1:26, 33). But Scripture is very clear that water baptism is a testimony to salvation, not a prerequisite for it (cf. 3:16, 36; Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5). In addition, this meaning would have had no significance for Nicodemus. He knew nothing of Christian baptism. Furthermore, Jesus never mentioned water baptism again in clarifying the new birth to Nicodemus.

Others have suggested that the "water" could be a reference to the repentance present in those who underwent John's water baptism, and the "spirit" is an allusion to the Holy Spirit.[275] In this case repentance, understood as a change of mind, is necessary as a prerequisite for salvation. According to advocates of this view Jesus was urging Nicodemus to submit to John's baptism as a sign of his repentance, or at least to repent. The weakness of this view is that the connection between water and repentance is distant enough to cause misunderstanding.

Nicodemus' response (v. 9) expressed lack of understanding. If the connection between water and John's baptism were that clear, he probably would not have responded this way. It would have been simpler for Jesus just to say "repentance" if that is what He meant. Repentance, however, in the sense of a change in one's behavior, the fruit of a mental change, is not necessary as a prerequisite for salvation, since by that definition repentance is a meritorious work.

Some scholars believe that "water" refers to the ritual washings of Judaism, and "spirit" to the Holy Spirit. They think Jesus was saying that Spirit birth, rather than just water purification, is necessary for regeneration. But Jesus was not contrasting water and spirit but linking them.

Finally, at least one writer understood that when Jesus said "spirit" He meant it in the sense of "wind" (the same Greek word: pneuma), and used it as a symbol of God's life-giving work.[276] This view holds that the "wind" is parallel to the "water," which also symbolizes God's supernatural work of regeneration. However "wind" is an unusual, though legitimate, translation of pneuma. In the immediate context (v. 6), pneuma seems to mean spirit rather than wind. This fact has led almost all translators to render pneuma as "spirit" rather than as "wind" in verse 5, even though it does mean wind in verse 8.

3:6             Here, not in verse 5, Jesus clarified that there are two types of birth: one physical and one spiritual. "Flesh" again refers to human nature (cf. 1:14), namely, "all that belongs to the life of sensation."[277] The Holy Spirit gives people spiritual life. We are spiritually dead in sin until the Spirit gives us spiritual life. Jesus was clearly speaking of a spiritual birth, not a physical one. Nicodemus should not have marveled at the idea that there is a spiritual birth in addition to a physical birth, because the Old Testament spoke of it (cf. Ps. 87:5-6; Ezek. 36:25-28). It revealed that entrance into God's kingdom is a spiritual matter, not a matter of physical descent or merit. This was a revelation that most of the Jews in Jesus' day, including Nicodemus, either missed or misunderstood.

Dwight L. Moody said the following:

"Some day you will read in the papers that D. L. Moody, of East Northfield [Massachusetts], is dead. Don't you believe a word of it! At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now. I shall have gone up higher, that is all—out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal; a body that death cannot touch, that sin cannot taint, a body fashioned like unto His glorious body. I was born of the flesh in 1837. I was born of the Spirit in 1856. That which is born of the flesh may die. That which is born of the Spirit will live for ever."[278]

3:7             Nicodemus needed spiritual life. He needed to experience the new birth. He had evidently viewed acceptance by God like so many of his Jewish contemporaries did. If so, he thought that his heritage (ancestry, position, works—all that made him what he was) was adequate to get him into the kingdom and make him acceptable to God. He had to realize that he needed a complete spiritual cleansing and renewal, which only God could provide by His Spirit. Likewise today, most people are relying on themselves—who they are and what they have done—for acceptance with God. They, too, need to know that they need spiritual cleansing and life that only God can provide. They must be born again or there is no hope of their entering God's kingdom.

"There is no evolution from flesh to Spirit."[279]

The second "you" in verse 7 is plural in the Greek text. It continues the general reference to "someone" in verses 3 and 5.

"The fact that Nicodemus used the plural pronoun 'we,' [v. 2] and Jesus responded with the plural 'ye' … may indicate that Nicodemus was representing the religious leaders."[280]

3:8             Jesus used the wind to illustrate how the Spirit regenerates. And He used wordplay to present an even closer comparison. The Greek word pneuma can mean either spirit or wind, though it usually means spirit. Jesus said the pneuma (Spirit) operates like the pneuma (wind).

There are three similarities: First, both the Spirit and the wind operate sovereignly. Man does not and cannot control either one.[281] Second, we perceive the presence of both by their effects. Third, we cannot explain their actions, since they arise from unseen and partially unknowable factors. They are mysterious.

The person born of the Spirit is similar to both the Spirit and the wind in that it is impossible for unregenerate people to understand or control him or her. They do not understand his or her origin, present conduct, or final destiny. Nicodemus should have understood this too, since the Old Testament revealed the Spirit's sovereign and incomprehensible working in giving new life (e.g., Ezek. 37:1-10).

"Jesus' meaning is something like this: 'I am speaking most solemnly. Do not disregard this. It is, as you imply, quite impossible for a man to enter the womb of his mother for a second time and be born. But for all that a man must be reborn. This, I grant, is not a human possibility. But then I am not speaking about a human possibility. I am speaking about an activity of the Spirit of God.'"[282]

3:9-10        Nicodemus betrayed his ignorance of Old Testament revelation with his question (cf. 1 Sam. 10:6; Isa. 32:15; 44:3; Ezek. 11:19; 36:25-28; Jer. 31:33; Joel 2:28-29). Jesus' answer shows that Nicodemus' question implied that he did not believe what Jesus had said (cf. vv. 11-12). He had undoubtedly taught many Jews about entering the kingdom, but what Jesus now suggested was something new to him. The Jews spoke of converting to Judaism as a rebirth, and the Greek mystery religions referred to new birth, so the concept of being born again must not have been unknown to Nicodemus.[283]

Jesus responded with a question that expressed dismay that Nicodemus did not understand this biblical revelation. His deficiency was all the more serious because Nicodemus was the leading (or simply a[284]) teacher of Israel. His study of the Scriptures should have made him aware that no one can come to God in his or her own strength or righteousness without the necessity of God's spiritual cleansing (i.e., renewal, regeneration).

3:11           For the third time in this conversation Jesus affirmed a solemn truth (cf. vv. 3, 5). Nicodemus had begun the conversation by humbly referring to himself as one of many authoritative figures who believed that Jesus had come from God (v. 2): "we know." Now Jesus described Himself as one of several authoritative figures who was speaking the truth: "we know." Evidently He was referring to the Godhead. Another possibility is that both men were speaking editorially. Some believe that Jesus was referring to Himself and John the Baptist.[285] Others believe that He was referring to the Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist, and Himself.[286] Nicodemus probably thought Jesus was referring to Himself humbly, or possibly to Himself as one of several teachers.

Jesus claimed to be speaking the truth as an eyewitness, but Nicodemus was rejecting His witness. The Apostle John later made a similar claim. He said that he wrote his first epistle so that his readers might enter into the joy of fellowship with God, which the apostles, who were eyewitnesses of Jesus' ministry, already enjoyed (1 John 1:1-4). John's purpose in this Gospel, similarly, was that readers would accept his witness that Jesus was the Christ (20:30-31). Nicodemus had rejected the witness, and Jesus saw him as representing many others who also did (Gr. plural "you"). Nicodemus had failed to understand (v. 9), but his more serious error was his failure to believe Jesus' testimony about the new birth. It reflected failure to acknowledge who Jesus really was, which His signs and insight into Scripture evidenced.

"Nicodemus represents the half-believing Jews who were impressed by Jesus' signs but had not reached an adequate faith in him …"[287]

3:12           The earthly things that Jesus had told Nicodemus involved the new birth. The new birth is earthly in that it occurs on the earth. This teaching had been elementary. But Nicodemus had not believed it. Therefore he could not begin to believe things that Jesus might have told him about heavenly things. These things might have included such revelations as life beyond the grave, life in the kingdom, and the new heavens and new earth (Isa. 65:17).

If Jesus' response to Nicodemus in this verse was typical, it would mean that when a person rejects revelation, he or she thereby limits the revelation that comes to that one from then on. This is actually what usually happens.

Arthur Pink pointed out that Jesus skillfully responded to Nicodemus' statements by using many of the same words. Thus Jesus met Nicodemus on his own ground, and "made his own language the channel of approach to his heart."[288] This approach provides a good example for personal evangelists.


Nicodemus' Statements


Jesus' Responses

"We know that" (v. 2)

"We speak of what we know" (v. 11)

"You have come … as a teacher" (v. 2)

"Are you the teacher" (v. 10)

"Unless God is with him"
(v. 2)

"Unless someone is born again"
(v. 3)

"How can a person be born"
(v. 4)

"Unless someone is born" (v. 5)

"He cannot enter" (v. 4)

"He cannot enter" (v. 5)

"How can" (v. 9)

"How will" (v. 12)

"These things be" (v. 9)

"These things" (v. 10)


3:13           Jesus explained why He could speak authoritatively about heavenly things. No teacher had ascended into heaven and returned to teach about heavenly things. Evidently Jesus was referring to being personally present in heaven, since many prophets had received visions of heaven (e.g., Isa. 6; cf. 2 Cor. 12:2-4; Rev. 1:10-20). But the Son of Man descended from heaven, so He could teach about heavenly things.

The NIV translation implies that Jesus had already ascended into heaven, but that is not what the Greek text says. The Greek words ei me, translated "except," contrast a human who could have ascended into heaven, with the God-man who really did descend from heaven. Jesus here claimed to be the Son of Man (Dan. 7:13-14) who had come from heaven to reveal God to humankind (cf. 1:51).

"Throughout this Gospel John insists on Jesus' heavenly origin. This is one way in which he brings out his point that Jesus is the Christ. Here his heavenly origin marks Jesus off from the rest of humanity."[289]

3:14           In another sense Jesus would be lifted up to heaven. The Ascension is not in view here. Jesus' enemies lifting Him up toward heaven, like Moses lifted up the serpent on the pole toward heaven, is in view (cf. Num. 21:4-9). In the wilderness God promised the Israelites that whoever looked on the bronze serpent would receive physical life and not die.

"Why was not one of the actual serpents spiked by Moses to the pole? Ah, that would have marred the type: that would have pictured judgment executed on the sinner himself; and, worse still, would have misrepresented our sinless Substitute. In the type chosen there was the likeness of a serpent, not an actual serpent, but a piece of brass made like one."[290]

This is Jesus' earliest recorded prediction of His death. It is an allusion to death by crucifixion (cf. 8:28; 12:32, 34). Wherever the Greek word hypsoo ("lifted up") occurs in John's Gospel—and it only occurs in 3:14; 8:28; 12:32 and 34—it combines the ideas of crucifixion and exaltation (cf. Isa. 52:13—53:12).[291] The Synoptic evangelists viewed Jesus' exaltation as separate from His crucifixion, but John thought of the crucifixion as the beginning of His exaltation.

God had graciously provided continuing physical life to the persistently sinning Israelites. It should not, therefore, have been hard for Nicodemus to believe that He would graciously provide new spiritual life for sinful humanity.

Verse 13 pictures Jesus as the revealer of God who came down from heaven. Verse 14 pictures Him as the suffering exalted Savior. It was in His suffering that Jesus revealed God most clearly. These themes cluster around the title "Son of Man" in the fourth Gospel.

3:15           The purpose of Jesus' uplifting—as was the purpose of the uplifting of the bronze serpent in the wilderness—was the salvation (deliverance) of those who believed. By comparing Himself to that serpent Jesus was teaching that whoever trusted in Him and His death would receive "eternal life."

This is the first reference to eternal life in this Gospel. Eternal life refers to one's life in the messianic kingdom and forever after. It is life that one experiences, normally after resurrection, that fits him or her for the earthly kingdom. However John presented that life as something that people can experience in measure before the earthly kingdom begins. The eternal life that people receive at new birth is the life of the eternal Word (1:4). It comes to them by believing in the person and saving work of Jesus.

"The life Christians possess is not in any sense independent of Christ. It is a life that is 'hidden with Christ in God' (Col. 3:3). … The Jews divided time into the present age and the age to come, but the adjective ["eternal"] was used of life in the coming age, not that of the present age. 'Eternal life' thus means 'the life proper to the age to come.' It is an eschatological concept (cf. 6:40, 54). But as the age to come is thought of as never coming to an end the adjective came to mean 'everlasting,' 'eternal.' The notion of time is there. Eternal life will never cease. But there is something else there, too, and something more significant. The important thing about eternal life is not its quantity but its quality. … Eternal life is life in Christ, that life which removes a person from the merely earthly."[292]

Some authorities believe that verses 16 through 21 are the Apostle John's comments, his aside, rather than a continuation of Jesus' words to Nicodemus.[293] Others believe that Jesus' words continue through verse 21.[294] Red-letter editions of John's Gospel reveal the various translators' preferences. I prefer the second opinion. Unfortunately the old Greek texts do not contain quotation marks, or any punctuation for that matter, so it does not identify quotations for the reader. John may have written these verses without identifying the speaker in order to help the reader realize that what follows in verses 16 through 21 is just as authoritative as Jesus' preceding words. This section of the text is the heart of John's record of Jesus' early ministry (chs. 2—4).

3:16           This perhaps favorite and best-known verse in the whole Bible expresses the gospel message more clearly and winsomely than just about any other. Almost every word in it is significant.

Jesus' mission in the Incarnation (vv. 13, 17) with its consummation in the Cross (vv. 14-15) resulted from God's love for human beings. The construction of the Greek sentence underscores the intensity of God's love. He gave His best: His unique and beloved Son. The Jews believed that God loved the children of Israel, but John affirmed that God loved all people regardless of race.

According to one commentator, no Jewish writer specifically asserted that God loved His whole world.[295] But there is nothing in this verse or in the context that would limit "the world" to just the world of the elect.[296] This love of God is amazing, not so much because the world is so big, as because it is so bad (cf. 1:9). The Father loves the world with His unique kind of selfless love that provided the Incarnation and the Crucifixion. Galatians 2:20 reveals that the Cross shows the Son's love.

"The Greek construction puts some emphasis on the actuality of the gift: it is not 'God loved enough to give,' but 'God loved so that he gave.' His love is not a vague, sentimental feeling, but a love that costs. God gave what was most dear to him."[297]

Christians should not love the world with the selfish love that seeks to profit from it personally (cf. 1 John 2:15-17).

What God gave was His only Son. The title "Son of God" was first given to the prophesied Messianic King in 2 Samuel 7:14, and it is repeated in Psalm 2:7 and many other passages thereafter. Jesus stands in a unique relationship to God compared with other human beings who become God's children by new birth and adoption. He was always with the Father throughout eternity past, and is one in substance with the Father and the Holy Spirit (1:1-2).

The world stands under the threat of divine judgment because of the Fall and sin (3:36; Rom. 1:18). God, in His gracious love, has reached out and chosen some people from out of the world for salvation (15:19; Rom. 6:23). He does not take pleasure in pouring His wrath out on the lost, but He rejoices when people turn from their wicked ways to Him (Ezek. 18:23). The fact that God allows sinners to perish does not contradict His love. He has provided a way by which they need not perish, because He loves people. His ultimate purpose is the salvation of those who believe in His Son.

"The universal offer of the gospel is consistent with the Divine purpose of predestination, because: 1. Christ's atonement is a sufficient satisfaction for the sins of all men. 2. God sincerely desires that every man to whom the atonement is offered would trust in it."[298]

The consequences of belief are new birth (vv. 3, 5), eternal life (vv. 15-16), and salvation from sin and its effects (v. 17). The alternative is perishing (v. 16, cf. 10:28), losing one's life (12:25), and destruction (17:12). To "perish" (Gr. apoletai) does not mean to experience annihilation, but ruin, failure to realize God's purpose, and exclusion from His fellowship. The only alternatives are life or perishing; there is no other final state.

Cessation of belief does not result in the loss of salvation.

"We might say, 'Whoever believes that Rockefeller is a philanthropist will receive a million dollars.' At the point in time a person believes this, he is a millionaire. However, if he ceases to believe this ten years later, he is still in possession of the million dollars. Similarly, if a man has believed in Christ, he is regenerate and in possession of eternal life, even if he ceases to believe in God in the future."[299]

3:17           John further clarified God's purpose in sending His Son by explaining what it was not. It was not to "judge" or condemn (Gr. krino) humankind. Judging, as John spoke of it here, is the opposite of saving (cf. v. 18: 5:24). God could have condemned human beings without the Incarnation. Jesus will eventually judge everyone, but that was not God's purpose in the Incarnation. Rather it was to provide salvation for everyone through His death on the cross.

"The Jewish idea was that the Messiah would come 'to judge,' i.e., to condemn the world."[300]

How can we reconcile this verse with 9:39, where Jesus said that He came into the world for judgment (cf. 5:27)? Judging was a secondary duty associated with saving, but saving was Jesus' primary purpose (cf. Dan. 7:13-14). Jesus came into an already condemned world in order to save some. He did not enter a neutral world to save some and condemn others. Anyone who brings light casts a shadow, but the bringing of a shadow is only an attendant circumstance that is inevitable when one brings light.

"Though 'condemnation' is to many the issue of Christ's mission (vs. 19), it is not the object of His mission, which is purely a saving one."[301]

3:18           The person who believes in Jesus escapes condemnation (cf. 5:24; Rom. 8:1). But the person who does not believe in Jesus stands condemned already, with no way of escape (cf. 3:36). The reason for his or her condemnation, therefore, becomes his or her failure to believe on the One whom God lovingly and graciously has provided as the Savior. Escaping condemnation does not depend, therefore, on one's being a physical descendant of Abraham, as the Jews commonly believed. Faith is the instrumental means by which we obtain salvation. Failure to exercise faith in Jesus will result in spiritual death, just as failure to believe in the brazen serpent resulted in physical death for the Israelites (Num. 21:4-9). The difference between belief and unbelief is clear from here on in this Gospel.[302]

3:19           John explained the process of humankind's "judgment" (Gr. krisis, separating or distinguishing, not krima, the sentence of judgment). Even though light ("the Light") entered the world, people chose darkness over light ("the Light"). The light in view is the revelation that Jesus as the Light of the World brought from the Father, particularly the light of the gospel. By rejecting that light they, by the same token, reject "the Light" (Christ Himself). The reason people choose darkness over light is that their deeds are evil. They prefer their darkness to God's light because of what the darkness hides, namely, their sin.

3:20           Not only do evildoers love darkness (v. 19), but they also hate the light (or "Light"). The Greek word translated "evil" is phaula, meaning worthless. Evildoers avoid the light that Jesus brings, and Jesus Himself (cf. 1:9-11), because it exposes the vanity of their lives. It shows that they have no meaning, worthy goal, or hope for the future. They know that coming to the light (or Light) would convict them. Immorality lies behind much unbelief.

"People offer many excuses for not accepting Christ. Some cite the presence of hypocrites in the church. Others claim inability to believe some of the truths about Christ or the gospel. [Many say that they cannot accept the fact that God permits so much suffering in the world.] These are merely attempts to conceal a heart in rebellion against God. The ultimate reason people do not come to Christ is that they do not want to."[303]

3:21           People who responds positively to the truth, on the other hand, come to the "light" and its source: Jesus (the Light). They do not try to cover up worthless deeds, but they are willing to expose them to the searching light of God's revelation (cf. 1 John 1:8-9). They also humbly acknowledge that the good works that they do are really God's production. They do all this, of course, because God draws them to Himself. One fundamental difference between believers and unbelievers is their attitude toward the "light" (or Light). It is not their guilt before God. Both are guilty before Him.

A minority interpretation is that Jesus was distinguishing believers who acknowledged Christ openly, like John the Baptist, and secret believers, such as Nicodemus, rather than believers and unbelievers.[304]

Verses 19 through 21 point out the ultimate danger that each reader of this Gospel faces. If one tends to do as Nicodemus did and resists Jesus, it is because he or she does not want to come to the light for moral reasons (fear that their "deeds" will be exposed). People essentially turn from Jesus because the light that He brings reveals evil things about themselves that they want to remain hidden. Openness to the light is very important. God's gracious love encourages guilty sinners to open up to the Light.

"This [3:19-21] is one of the most important sections in the gospel of John for understanding the light/darkness polarization in Johannine theology and also for understanding John's gospel itself."[305]

Much of contemporary people's problem with the gospel is anthropological: It arises from a faulty view of themselves. People generally view human beings as morally and ethically neutral, if not good. Therefore the fact that God sent Jesus, and Jesus came to save sinners, seems only interesting to them at best. If people are good and not in need of salvation, they can applaud God's love as admirable. If people are neutral, they can take salvation or leave it. If they leave it, God appears unfair for condemning them. But people are not good or neutral but bad. They already stand condemned and destined to experience God's wrath. Therefore faith in Jesus becomes a necessary way of escape from that dreadful destiny. The Incarnation is a manifestation of divine grace, not just divine love.

4.     John the Baptist's reaction to Jesus' ministry 3:22-30

The writer next noted the parallel ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus in Judea. John the Baptist readily confessed Jesus' superiority to him, even though they were both carrying out the will of God. This was further testimony to Jesus' identity. This section constitutes the very core of the Apostle John's testimony to Jesus' identity in Jesus' early ministry (chs. 2—4).

3:22           Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus evidently took place in Jerusalem (2:23), which was within Judea. After that conversation, Jesus went out into the Judean countryside. Jesus had not yet commissioned the Twelve. That commissioning happened after John the Baptist's imprisonment (Mark 1:14). The "disciples" who accompanied Jesus may not have been the Twelve, but they were His followers, and they could have included all or some of the Twelve.

This is the only record in the Gospels that tells us that Jesus engaged in a baptizing ministry similar to John the Baptist's. It was undoubtedly baptism expressing repentance rather than Christian baptism. The writer later explained that Jesus did not do the baptizing Himself, but His disciples did it (4:2). Jesus was also spending time with these disciples, undoubtedly in order to help them understand and appreciate who He really was.

3:23           The exact location of Aenon (lit. Springs), near Salim, is unknown today. The best evidence seems to point to a site just south of Scythopolis (Old Testament Beth-shan).[306] The other possible site was a few miles east of Sychar (near Old Testament Shechem). The first site is about 15 miles south of the Sea of Galilee. The second is approximately midway between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. Both possible sites are only a few miles west of the Jordan River.[307] John the Baptist evidently chose the location, whichever was the actual historical site, for its abundant water that came from nearby springs. Many people were coming to him in order to express their repentance by undergoing water baptism.

"… the importance of the note is to show that John moved from the south to the north, leaving Jesus to baptize in the area not distant from Jerusalem."[308]

3:24           Obviously John continued preaching and baptizing after Jesus began ministering, and he did so until Herod Antipas imprisoned him. The Synoptic writers began their narratives of Jesus' public ministry with Jesus' ministry in Galilee. They viewed the beginning of His ministry as starting with John the Baptist's imprisonment (Mark 1:14). The Apostle John began his narrative of Jesus' ministry with His earlier Judean ministry. From John alone we learn that between Jesus' temptation and John the Baptist's arrest, John and Jesus baptized at the same time. His reference to John the Baptist's imprisonment is important because it helps the reader to see that John's account does not contradict the Synoptics. Yet his primary concern was John the Baptist's witness for Jesus.

3:25           Evidently the "dispute" in view centered on the relation of John's baptism to other ceremonial washings ("purification") that various other Jewish authorities supported. These other washings probably included the practices prescribed in the Old Testament, and more modern rites of purification that some Jewish leaders advocated. This verse provides the background from which John's disciples approached him in the next verse.

3:26           One of the contemporary baptism campaigns was the one that Jesus and His disciples were conducting. John's disciples mentioned it to John, implying that they wanted him to comment on it. They were particularly concerned that so many people ("all," as they phrased it) were going to Jesus for baptism. John's reply (vv. 27-30) suggests that they felt jealous of Jesus' popularity. They had failed to grasp the purpose of John's ministry.

"It is interesting to note that four of the greatest men in the Bible faced this problem of comparison and competition: Moses (Num. 11:26-30), John the Baptist (John 3:26-30), Jesus (Luke 9:46-50), and Paul (Phil. 1:15-18). A leader often suffers more from his zealous disciples than from his critics!"[309]

3:27           John replied to the implied question with an aphorism: a concise observation that contains a general truth. He meant that no one can receive anything unless God, in His sovereignty, permits it (cf. 6:65; 19:11; 1 Cor. 4:7). Regarding Jesus, this statement expressed the belief that God had permitted Him to enjoy the popularity that He was experiencing. It also expressed John's satisfaction with that state of affairs. John demonstrated an exemplary attitude. He recognized that God had assigned different ministries to Jesus and himself, and that it was wrong for him and his disciples to wish things were otherwise (cf. 1 Cor. 3:1-9; 4:1-7; 12:12-31).

3:28           John proceeded to remind his disciples that he never claimed to be the Messiah ("the Christ"), but only Messiah's forerunner, the herald sent ahead of Him (1:15, 20, 23, 26-34).

3:29           John's illustration showed that his attitude and behavior were consistent with normal conduct. In the illustration Jesus is the "bridegroom" and John is the bridegroom's "friend" (or "attendant").

"The assistant acted on behalf of the bridegroom and made the preliminary arrangements for the ceremony."[310]

"… groomsmen were customary in Judaea, but not in Galilee (Cheth. 25 a)."[311]

The "bride" is probably a reference to Israel (cf. Isa. 54:5; 62:4-5; Jer. 2:2; 3:20; Ezek. 16:8; Hos. 2:16-20). John was therefore implying that he played a supporting role in Messiah's unique relationship with Israel. This was a testimony to Jesus' identity as Messiah, whose voice John said he rejoiced to hear.

When John the Baptist spoke these words the church was an unknown entity in God's plan. So it is unlikely that it was in his mind. However the original readers of this Gospel were probably familiar with the Apostle Paul's revelations concerning the church being the "bride of Christ" (e.g., 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:25-27, 32). Israel had spurned her bridegroom when He came for her, and consequently He had taken a different "bride" for Himself. John's joy was complete, or "full" (Gr. pleroun), because he knew that he was fulfilling his role faithfully. Jesus' increasing popularity filled John's disciples with resentment, but it filled John with joy.

3:30           This classic expression of humility arose out of John's perception of, and acceptance of, his God-given role as Messiah's forerunner. Far from discouraging people from following Jesus, as his disciples implied he should, John would continue to promote Him—even sending his own disciples to Jesus. He viewed this as God's will, and therefore said it must be so. Would that all of us who are God's servants might learn to view Jesus' position, and ours, similarly. Submission to God's will, and the exaltation of Jesus, not prominence in His service, are what should bring joy to His servants.

"Humility is not the product of direct cultivation, rather it is a by-product."[312]

Unfortunately some of John's disciples continued to follow him, rather than taking their rabbi's advice to follow Jesus (cf. Acts 18:24-26; 19:1-7).

5.     The explanation of Jesus' preeminence 3:31-36

This pericope explains why Jesus must become greater. It also unites several themes that appear in chapter 3. It is not clear whether John the Apostle or John the Baptist is the speaker.

3:31-32      The incarnate Son of God has come to earth from above (cf. v. 13). The Apostle John sought to fulfill his purpose of proving that Jesus is the Christ (20:31) partially by stressing that Jesus' origin was "from above." Birth from above (v. 3), also called the new birth, can only come by faith in Him who is from above. Christ's place of origin illustrates His superiority over all earthly people that humanity limits to "the earth" (Gr. ge, this planet), including John the Baptist. Earth-bound humans can only reveal things that they experience on the earth, but Jesus could reveal things about heaven.

"He that is earthy in origin is earthy also by nature."[313]

John the Baptist could call people to repentance, but he could not reveal divine counsels, as Jesus who came from heaven could. Nor could he provide new life from above. Jesus had previously said that people do not typically receive His witness (v. 11), and the writer repeated that fact here. The Greek word martyria, "witness" or "testimony," appears some 47 times in this Gospel.

3:33           However some people do receive His witness. Those who do thereby demonstrate their belief that the Father, as well as the Son, is truthful.[314] Seals indicated a personal guarantee, as well as denoting ownership (cf. 6:27). They also made things secure (Matt. 27:66), and they concealed things (Rev. 22:10). Jesus so exactly revealed God's words that to believe Jesus is to believe God, and to disbelieve Jesus is to disbelieve God (cf. 1 John 5:10).

3:34           All of God's former messengers received a limited measure of God's Spirit. The Spirit came on the Old Testament prophets only for limited times and purposes. But God gave His Spirit to Jesus without any limits. This guaranteed the truth of all of Jesus' words. The Spirit descended on Jesus at His baptism and remained on Him (1:32-33; cf. Isa. 11:2; 42:1; 61:1). God gave His Spirit without measure (not "sparingly") only to Jesus (cf. 1 Cor. 12:4-11).

Another view, which I do not prefer, is that if God is speaking through a true prophet, then whatever he says is absolutely true. Conversely, false prophecy is never the product of the Spirit.[315]

"Thirty-nine times the Gospel of John refers to Jesus being sent from God (vv. 17, 34; 4:34; 5:23-24, 30, 36-38; 6:29, 38-39, 44, 57; 7:16, 28-29; 8:16, 18, 26, 29, 42; 9:4; 10:36; 11:42; 12:44-45, 49; 13:16, 20; 14:24; 15:21; 16:5; 17:3, 18, 21, 23, 25; 20:21). This affirms Jesus' deity and heavenly origin, as well as God's sovereignty and love in initiating the Son's Incarnation (cf. Gal. 4:4; 1 John 4:9-10, 14)."[316]

3:35           God not only gave Jesus His Spirit without measure, but He has placed everything in His hands as the executor of His will. The Father has been gracious to the Son because He loves Him, even as He has been gracious to human beings in providing salvation because He loves them. Everything that the Father has done, revealing and redeeming, flows from His love for people through the Son. This statement also points out the dependence of Jesus, in His humanity, on the Father, which is one of John's major themes.

3:36           In conclusion, John placed the alternatives side by side. Belief in the Son of God results in eternal life (1:12; 3:3, 5, 15, 16): life suited for eternity with God and enjoyed to a limited extent now. Unbelief results in God's wrath remaining on the unbeliever, and his or her not obtaining eternal life. John spoke of unbelief as disobedience (rejection, NIV), because when God offers salvation unbelief becomes disobedience.[317]

God's wrath is His personal response to unbelief. It is not some impersonal principle of retribution.

"It is the divine allergy to moral evil, the reaction of righteousness to unrighteousness. God is neither easily angered nor vindictive. But by his very nature he is unalterably committed to opposing and judging all disobedience."[318]

Unbelievers will experience God's wrath primarily in the future (cf. 5:28-29). This is the only reference to God's "wrath" in John's Gospel or his epistles, though it appears six times in the Book of Revelation (cf. Rom. 1:18—3:26).

"'The wrath of God' is a concept that is uncongenial to many modern students, and various devices are adopted to soften the expression or explain it away. This cannot be done, however, without doing great violence to many passages of Scripture and without detracting from God's moral character. Concerning the first of these points … there are literally hundreds of passages in the Bible referring to God's wrath, and the rejection of them all leaves us with a badly mutilated Bible. And with reference to the second, if we abandon the idea of the wrath of God we are left with a God who is not ready to act against moral evil. … We should not expect it [God's wrath] to fade away with the passage of time. Anyone who continues in unbelief and disobedience can look for nothing other than the persisting wrath of God. That is basic to our understanding of the gospel. Unless we are saved from real peril there is no meaning in salvation."[319]

The reference to obeying the Son has confused some readers. To obey the Son means to believe in Him (cf. 6:29). It does not mean that obedience to other commands of God, in addition to faith in Christ, are necessary for salvation.[320]

This verse brings the whole third chapter to a climax, and it emphasizes the significance of the Son for salvation and judgment.

In this pericope (vv. 31-36) the Apostle John explained that Jesus came from heaven with greater authority than any former prophet. What He revealed came from His own understanding in heaven. His words accurately and fully represented God. Most importantly, He came because the Father fully endowed Him with divine authority and assistance, out of love. Consequently He is to be the object of people's faith. All of these things show that He was superior to John the Baptist, as well as to every other divine representative.

The events in John's narrative of Jesus' first visit to Jerusalem (2:13—3:36) set the tone for Jesus' ministry, particularly His later occasions of ministry in Jerusalem (ch. 5; 7:10—10:42; 12:12-50). The conflict between belief and unbelief begins to surface here.

D.     Jesus' ministry in Samaria 4:1-42

The writer now showed Jesus moving north, from Judea into Samaria, where He had another important conversation with a person who was completely different from Nicodemus. As in the previous chapter, theological explanation follows personal encounter in this one.

1.     The interview with the Samaritan woman 4:1-26

There are several connections between this section and the preceding ones that provide continuity. One is the continuation of water as a symbol (cf. 2:6; 3:5; 4:10-15). Another is the continuation of discussion in which Jesus reveals Himself as the fulfillment of what the Old Testament anticipated. There are also significant contrasts: an unnamed woman who was an ordinary, low-ranking Samaritan and a disreputable sinner, contrasts with a named man who was a high-ranking, morally upright teacher of the Jews and a Pharisee. Nicodemus sought out Jesus at night, but Jesus sought out the Samaritan woman at noon. Jesus told Nicodemus that he had to do something (be born again), but he offered the woman a gift (the water of life). Concern over worship (the result of salvation) replaces concern over the new birth (the condition for salvation).

"Nicodemus was an eminent representative of orthodox Judaism. Now John records an interview Jesus had with one who stood for a class that was wholeheartedly despised by orthodox Judaism. From the point of view of the orthodox Jew there were three strikes against her: she was a Samaritan, a woman, and a sexual sinner."[321]

The present section begins with another reference to something that resulted from Jesus' rising popularity (cf. 3:22-26; 4:1-3). This section as a whole is also a model of evangelistic ministry.

"The Samaritan woman is a timeless figure—not only a typical Samaritan but a typical human being."[322]

4:1-3          This three-verse sentence provides the background for what follows. Jesus returned to Galilee from Judea, where He had been baptizing with His disciples, because the Pharisees were becoming increasingly aware of His broadening influence among the Jews. He wanted to avoid unnecessary, premature conflict with them—not for fear of them, but because they would interfere with His ministry and divinely determined schedule. John never referred to the Sadducees or the Herodians by name in his Gospel, because he viewed the Pharisees as the true representatives of the unbelieving nation of Israel.[323]

This is the first time that the writer described Jesus as "the Lord." This was appropriate in view of the superiority of Jesus that both Johns had just established (3:28-30, 31-36).

Jesus may have refrained from baptizing people in order to differentiate Himself from John, and to train His disciples.

"He would teach us that what is done by his ministers, according to his direction, he owns as done by himself."[324]

4:4             The most direct and most popular route from Judea to Galilee went through Samaria.[325] Even though the Jews and the Samaritans did not get along, most Galilean Jews chose to travel through Samaria rather than taking the longer route through Perea, east of the Jordan River, which Judean Jews preferred.[326] The trip from Galilee to Jerusalem via Samaria normally took three days.[327] Therefore John's statement that Jesus "had to" pass through Samaria does not necessarily mean that divine compulsion alone moved Him to choose that route.[328] However most students of this passage have believed that one of the reasons that Jesus took this route was to minister to the Samaritans.

Politically Samaria was part of the Roman province of Judea in Jesus' day. Nevertheless culturally there were ancient barriers that divided the residents of Samaria from the Jews who lived in Galilee and Judea. Wicked King Omri had purchased the hill on which he built the town of Samaria as the new capital of the northern kingdom of Israel (1 Kings 16:24). Herod the Great later changed its name to Sabaste.[329] The name "Samaria" eventually came to describe the district in which the city stood, and later even the whole former Northern Kingdom.

After the Assyrians captured the city and terminated the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C., they deported the prosperous citizens and imported foreigners who intermarried with the remaining poorer Israelites. Most of these foreigners continued to worship their pagan gods (2 Kings 17—18), and their influence affected the Israelites negatively.

The Jews who returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian Exile regarded the residents of Samaria as racial half-breeds and religious compromisers. The Samaritans ancestors resisted Nehemiah's attempts to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem (Neh. 4:1-2). They also built a rival temple on Mt. Gerizim opposite Shechem about 400 B.C., which they dedicated to Zeus Xenios.  Centuries later, John Hyrcanus, the Hasmonean ruler of Judea, destroyed both the rival Samaritan temple and Shechem about 128 B.C.

These actions all resulted in continued hostility between the Jews and the Samaritans. The Samaritans continued to worship on Mt. Gerizim, and they accepted only the Pentateuch as canonical and authoritative. A small group of Israelis who claim to be able to trace their ancestry back to the Samaritans survives in this region to the present day.

4:5             The site of Sychar is fairly certain because of unbroken tradition and the presence of a water source there (v. 6). It was very near the Old Testament town of Shechem, which was Joseph's burial site, near the base of Mounts Ebal and Gerizim (cf. Gen. 33:19; 48:22; Josh. 24:32). Today the modern town of Nablus stands nearby. Nablus is the modern form of the name that the site later received in honor of the Roman imperial family Flavia Neapolis.

4:6             The Greek words that John used to describe this well were pege (here in v. 6), meaning "a spring," and phrear (vv. 11, 12), meaning "a cistern." Evidently Jacob's Well was both a spring and a well. It was a deep hole that someone had dug in the ground that was fed by a spring. The site is still a popular tourist attraction, and the deep spring still flows. Edersheim estimated (in 1886) that the well was originally about 150 feet deep.[330]

The sixth hour, when Jesus arrived at the well, would have been noon. Even though Jesus was the eternal Word, He became fully human and shared the fatigue and thirst that all travelers experience (cf. Heb. 4:15-16).

4:7             Jesus took the initiative to speak to the woman. It was unusual for a woman to come to draw water alone, and to come in the heat of the day. Perhaps this woman's immorality led her to shun the company of other women and to seek solitude at the expense of comfort (cf. v. 18). Normally Jesus' disciples would have drawn the water. Jesus evidently asked the woman for a drink both because she was drawing water and in order to initiate conversation with her.

4:8             It seems unusual to me that all of Jesus' disciples left Him to buy food. Would it not have been more normal for only one or two to go? Perhaps this was also part of Jesus' preparation for His encounter with the Samaritan woman, along with His having to go through Samaria.

Strict Jews would not have purchased food from Samaritans, as Jesus' disciples were attempting to do. Their willingness to do so may reflect Jesus' looser views on ceremonial defilement. By looser I do not mean that Jesus viewed the Mosaic Law more loosely than He should have, but more loosely than most of the Pharisees did. Perhaps all the disciples went into the city because they anticipated difficulty in buying food from the Samaritans.

4:9             The Jews typically regarded the Samaritans as unclean apostates.[331] Shortly after this incident the Jews made a law stating that "the daughters of the Samaritans are menstruants from their cradle"—and therefore perpetually unclean.[332] The Pharisees actually prayed that no Samaritan would be raised in the resurrection.[333] When Jesus' enemies wanted to insult Him, they called Him a Samaritan (8:48).

"The normal prejudices of the day prohibited public conversation between men and women, between Jews and Samaritans, and especially between strangers. A Jewish Rabbi would rather go thirsty than violate these proprieties."[334]

This attitude accounts for the woman's shock at Jesus' request. Note that the woman's first word to Jesus was "How," and Nicodemus' first word to Jesus was also "How" (3:4). At this point she viewed Jesus simply as a Jew. Later, ironically, some Jews would call Him a Samaritan (8:48).

"There was a trace of sarcasm in the woman's reply, as if she meant, 'We Samaritans are the dirt under your feet until you want something; then we are good enough!"[335]

John explained for his readers who were unfamiliar with Jewish prejudices that the Jews did not use (Gr. synchrontai) the same objects (i.e., utensils) as the Samaritans or have any dealings ("associate") with them.[336] This was so that they could remain ceremonially clean.

4:10           Jesus ignored the woman's implied insult. She had drawn attention both to the gift of water that Jesus was requesting and to the identity of Jesus as a Jew. Jesus picked up on both subjects and used them to excite the woman's curiosity. Jesus implied that God had a greater "gift" (Gr. dorea) for her, and that He had the authority to give it to her. The word that Jesus used for "gift" occurs only here in the Gospels. It stressed the freeness of God's gift.[337] Here was another person who did not perceive Jesus' true glory or identity (cf. 1:14).

Most interpreters understand Jesus' reference to "the gift of God" as a reference to eternal life, though some believe that He was alluding to the Torah.[338] If the latter interpretation is correct, Jesus meant that if the woman knew her Torah, and who He was, she would have asked Jesus for something (cf. 3:10; 5:39-40). This interpretation seems unlikely to me, because her probably very limited knowledge of the Torah would not have enabled her to ask Jesus for living water. She did not yet recognize Him as the Messiah.

Jesus might have said: If you knew … who I am. But this might have implied that He (as a human) was the source of living water. By saying "If you knew … who it is" He implied that it is God who gives the water of life.[339]

The "living water" that Jesus promised has two meanings: Literally it refers to flowing water in contrast to stagnant water. Metaphorically it refers to the cleansing and refreshing grace that the Holy Spirit brings as a result of a proper relationship with God (7:38-39; cf. Isa. 1:16-18; Ezek. 36:25-27; Zech. 14:8; John 3:5). The Old Testament used water to symbolize teaching or doctrine, and living water as a metaphor for God (cf. Ps. 36:9; Isa. 55:1; Jer. 2:13; 17:13).[340]

Jesus' evangelistic method on this occasion was to start where the woman was—with something material (earthly or practical) that they both had in common, namely, the desire for water. He then captured her curiosity by implying that He was not just the person that He appeared to be, and that He could give her something very valuable though free. She would have wondered: Who is this, what is this gift of God, and what is this living water?

"Whenever He witnessed to people, Jesus did not use a 'sales talk' that He adapted to meet every situation. To Nicodemus, He spoke about new birth; but to this woman, He spoke about living water."[341]

4:11           The woman responded by trying to find out how Jesus could give her that living water, and who He was. Jesus had no bucket, so how could He given her the running water from the spring at the bottom of the well? She apparently thought that Jesus was teasing her. Her question expected a negative answer. Even today this is one of the deepest wells in Palestine, being over 75 feet deep, as local guides delight to point out.[342]

4:12           The woman could not see how Jesus could be greater than the patriarch ("our father") Jacob. Her reference to "our father Jacob" was probably another barb designed to remind this Jew that Jacob was the Samaritans' ancestor as well as the Jews'. The Samaritans traced their descent from Jacob through Joseph and his sons Ephraim and Manasseh.[343]

"There are not now [in the mid-19th century] two hundred Samaritans, all told, in the world. They themselves mention one hundred and fifty as the correct census."[344]

4:13-14      Jesus explained that He was not really speaking about literal water but about a spiritual source of refreshment and fulfillment that satisfied completely. To be able to provide such water Jesus would indeed have to be greater than Jacob. Jesus described this water as a "fountain" of water "springing up" within the individual. He was probably referring to the Holy Spirit, who provides eternal life (cf. 7:38-39). As in His conversation with Nicodemus (3:5), Jesus again alluded to the Old Testament passages that promised salvation pouring forth like satisfying water (e.g., Isa. 12:3; 44:3; 49:10; 55:1-7; Jer. 31:29-34; Ezek. 36:25-27; Joel 2:28-32). The water that Jesus promised provided satisfaction without hard work to acquire it, in contrast to the literal water that the woman had to draw out of the well by hand.

4:15           The woman did not pretend to understand what Jesus was talking about, but she did want to avoid the tiresome work involved in drawing water from Jacob's well. Since Jesus had offered it, she asked Him to give her whatever it was that He had (cf. 3:4; 6:34).

4:16           So far the woman thought only of her physical need for water and rest. Jesus now took the conversation in a different direction in order to help her realize that she had greater needs than physical needs, which He could meet (cf. 2:24-25). Jesus' instruction to call her husband was proper, because if He was really going to give her something valuable, her husband needed to be present. This was necessary to avoid any misunderstanding about the reason for the gift, especially in view of Samaritan/Jewish tensions. In that culture giving a gift to someone implied that the recipient would give something back to the giver. If Jesus had not told the woman to call her husband, she might have suspected that He wanted sexual favors in return for His gift.

4:17-18      The woman wanted Jesus' gift, so she admitted that she had no husband. She probably hoped that He would now give it to her. Instead, however, Jesus gave her a shocking revelation. He knew about her marital relations intimately, but He related what He knew tastefully. He commended her twice for telling the truth about her present marital status, but He also unmasked her past.

We do not know how each of her previous marriages ended, whether in death or divorce. But it would have been very unusual for all five former husbands to have died. The implication is that some divorce had torn her marriages apart. This implication is even more probable in view of the woman's present live-in arrangement with a sixth man. She was not living by the moral code of her religion. Perhaps this explains her coming to draw water alone, and at such an unlikely hour (v. 6).

4:19           Many women would have simply turned and walked away at such a revelation of their private lives and sins. This woman continued talking with Jesus. Probably she had become used to dealing with people who knew about her sinful life, so she coolly observed that Jesus must be a prophet. She believed that He could not have known these things without special insight (cf. v. 29; Luke 7:39).

"The word 'prophet' was used to refer to a wide range of 'gifted' people, and at this point may not, in the woman's mind, denote a full-orbed Old Testament prophet, let alone a messianic figure."[345]

"The Samaritans acknowledged no prophet after Moses other than the one spoken of in Deuteronomy 18:18, and him they regarded as the Messiah … For her to speak of Jesus as a prophet was thus to move into the area of messianic speculation."[346]

4:20           Being a woman of the world, she had probably learned that many "religious people" enjoy discussing controversial theological issues. She took the opportunity to divert the conversation, which was becoming uncomfortably convicting, hoping that Jesus would respond to her new subject. She must have thought that surely He could not resist the temptation to argue Jewish supremacy in the age-old Samaritan/Jewish debate.  But Barrett claimed that this view psychologizes the story in a way that John did not intend.[347]

"There are some people who cannot engage in a religious conversation with a person of a different persuasion without bringing up the points on which they differ."[348]

Another view is that the woman sincerely wanted to know the answer to her question:

"To a Samaritan no question could appear more worthy of a prophet's decision than the settlement of the religious centre of the world. Thus the difficulty which is proposed is not a diversion, but the natural thought of one brought face to face with an interpreter of the divine will."[349]

Perhaps both elements figured in her motivation: discomfort and curiosity.

Part of the old Jewish/Samaritan antagonism involved the proper place of worship. In Deuteronomy 12:5 God had said that His people were to seek the place that He would choose among their tribes where He would dwell among them. The Jews, accepting all the Old Testament as authoritative, saw God doing this later when He commanded David to build the temple in Jerusalem (2 Sam. 7:13; 1 Kings 11:13; 14:21; 2 Chron. 6:6; 12:13).

The Samaritans, who acknowledged only the authority of the Torah (Pentateuch), believed that Mount Gerizim, near Shechem, was the place that God had appointed. They based this belief on the fact that God had told the Israelites to worship Him on Mt. Gerizim after they entered the Promised Land (Deut. 11:29-30; 27:2-7, 12). In the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Israelites are said to have built their altar on Mt. Gerizim, not on Mt. Ebal (Deut. 27:4).

Shechem had long associations as a place where God had met with His people. It was where God first revealed Himself to Abraham, and where Abraham first built an altar after entering the Promised Land (Gen. 12:6-7). It was also where Jacob had chosen to live, and where he had buried his idols after returning from Paddan-aram (Gen. 33:18-20; 35:4).

"They [the Samaritans] had a tradition that Abraham's offering of Isaac took place on this mountain [Gen: 22:2, 9] and they held that it was here that Abraham met Melchizedek [Gen. 14:17]. In fact, most of the blessed events in the time of the patriarchs seem to have been linked with Gerizim!"[350]

4:21           Jesus avoided the temptation to abandon discussion of living water. He told the woman that the real issue was not where God's people had worshipped Him in the past, but how they would worship Him in the future. This was the more important issue since Messiah had come and would terminate worship as both the Jews and the Samaritans knew it. Jesus urged her to believe Him. After all, she had already acknowledged Him as a prophet. This command ("believe Me") was an added guarantee that what He said was true. The "hour" (Gr. hora) or time that Jesus referred to was the time of His passion.[351] "The Father" was a term for God that Jesus employed frequently (cf. 2:16; 11:41; 12:27-28; 17:1).

4:22           By "you" Jesus meant the Samaritans (plural "you" in Gr.). They worshipped a God whom they did not really know. The reason for this was their rejection of most of His revelation in the Old Testament. On top of this, the Samaritans had added pagan concepts to their faith, concepts that came from their Gentile forefathers. If the woman truly believed that Jesus was a prophet, as she claimed, she would have to accept His statement. There was more and truer information about God that she and her fellow Samaritans needed to learn than they presently knew. Jesus was providing that correction and some of that new revelation.

By contrast, the Jews accepted all of God's revelation in the Old Testament, and they therefore knew the God whom they worshipped. Additionally, they were the people through whom that revelation had come. Jesus here summarized all Old Testament revelation as being essentially soteriological (having to do with salvation). God intended His revelation to result in salvation for humankind (cf. 3:17). In that sense salvation had come "from the Jews" (cf. Rom. 3:2; 9:4-5). Salvation also came from the Jews in that Messiah came from Judah's tribe (Gen. 49:10), whereas the Samaritans traced their ancestry through Joseph.[352]

Jesus did not take sides on the question of the place of worship, but He did clarify the proper basis of authority as being the whole Old Testament.

4:23           The hour that was "coming" was the hour of Jesus' passion, when the old way of worship would end. That hour was already present in the sense that, since Messiah had come, His followers could begin to worship according to the new way. This figure of speech (oxymoron) means that what will characterize the future is even now present. An oxymoron involves the joining of contradictory or incongruous terms to make a point.[353] The time of unique privilege for the Jews was ending temporarily. It hinged on their acceptance of Messiah (cf. 2:19-20).

"True worshippers" are not those who will worship in the future, contrasted with those who have worshipped in the past. The distinction is not between Jews and Samaritans either. "True worshippers" are those from either time or group that worship God in spirit and truth.

What does it mean to worship "in spirit and truth"? The Greek text has one preposition (translated "in") that governs both nouns ("spirit" and "truth"), linked by the conjunction (translated "and," cf. 3:5; 4:24). This means that Jesus was describing one characteristic with two nouns, not two separate characteristics of worship. We could translate the phrase: truly spiritual. This is a hendiadys, a figure of speech in which the speaker expresses a single complex idea by joining two substantives with "and," rather than by using an adjective and a substantive. Though the idea is one, it has two components.

What is truly spiritual worship? It is, first, worship that is spiritual in every respect: in its source, mediator, object, subject, basis, and method. It rises from the "spirit" of the worshipper, not just his or her mouth. In other words, it is heartfelt. In addition, truly spiritual worship proceeds from a person who has spiritual life because of the new birth that the Holy Spirit has affected. It passes from believers to God through a spiritual mediator, namely, Jesus Christ. Its object is spiritual, namely, God who is spirit. And its subject is spiritual matters.

This worship can include physical activities, such as singing and studying, but it comprehends the spiritual realm as well as the physical. Its basis is the spiritual work that Jesus Christ did in His incarnation and atonement. Its method is spiritual as contrasted with physical. That is, it does not consist of merely physical actions but involves the interaction of the human spirit with the divine spirit. Generally speaking, Judaism was a worship of the letter, not of the spirit. It was external and emphasized ritual.

Many people today associate worship primarily with going to church, as the Jews did with going to Jerusalem. Jesus clarified that true worship transcends any particular time or place. We can and should worship God 24 hours a day as we set aside (sanctify) every activity as an expression of our love and service for the Lord.[354] That is truly spiritual worship.

"Truth" in this context contrasts with the hypocrisy that characterized so much of Jewish and Samaritan worship, which is still present in worship today. Samaritanism was a worship of falsehood, not of the truth. It was based on false information, and it relied on ritual activity for its effectiveness. Worship "in truth" is sincere, God-centered worship, rather than just going through motions, or worshipping for what the worshipper can get out of it, instead of as an offering to the Lord. It is also worship that is in harmony with the truth that God has revealed in His Word.

"A true idea of God is essential to a right service of Him."[355]

True worship of God is all about Him, not about us. Matt Redman's song "Heart of Worship" expresses this well: "I'll bring You more than a song, because the song itself is not what You've required. You search much deeper within than the way things appear. You're looking into my heart."

"The combination 'spirit and truth' points to the need for complete sincerity and complete reality in our approach to God."[356]

Another view of "in spirit and truth," is that "spirit" refers to the realm in which people must worship God, and "truth" refers to Jesus who is the Truth of God (14:6).[357] But in this context Jesus was apparently contrasting integrity and reality in worship with the externalism and hypocrisy that marked so much worship in His day.

A third view is that "spirit" refers to the heart, and "truth" refers to the Scriptures. The meaning then is that worshippers must be sincere and worship God in harmony with His self-revelation in Scripture. This is good advice, but again the context suggests a slightly different meaning of "truth" here, namely, a genuine offering from or of oneself to the real and actual, one and only, true God.

4:24           The AV translates Jesus as saying, "God is a spirit." From this translation one could infer that He is one spirit among many spirits. Other English translations have "God is spirit." The Greek text has no indefinite article ("a"), but it is legitimate to supply one, as is often true in similar anarthrous (without the article) constructions. However the absence of the article often deliberately stresses the character to the noun (cf. 1 John 1:5; 4:8). That seems to have been Jesus' intention here.

The sense of the passage is that God is "spirit" as opposed to "flesh." He is invisible, divine, and essentially unknowable. Nevertheless He has chosen to reveal Himself (1:1-18). Since He is a spiritual rather than a corporeal being (having a body), those who worship Him must do so in a spiritual rather than a material way. A spiritual (new) birth (3:5) is the prerequisite for true spiritual worship.

The essential reason that worship of God must be spiritual is that God is a spiritual being, not a physical god. Worship of a spiritual God requires spiritual worship, not just going through certain acts of worship at special places of worship. Furthermore, people cannot worship God in any manner that may seem attractive to them. They must worship Him as He, by His Spirit in His Word, has revealed that we should.

"The words 'in spirit and truth' relate both to the inner person [the heart] and to the outward acts. These must occur together, and when they do, true worship occurs."[358]

4:25           Jesus' explanation must have made some sense to this woman, who lived life on a very physical level. Nevertheless she did not pretend to comprehend all this spiritual talk. One thing she understood clearly, and she believed that Jesus would agree with her about this: Messiah was coming, and when He arrived, He would reveal divine mysteries and clarify all these matters (cf. 16:13). The Samaritans anticipated Messiah's arrival, as the Jews did, but the Samaritans viewed Him primarily as a teacher (Deut. 18:15-19).[359] They usually referred to Him as the Taheb (probably meaning "the Restorer" or possibly "He Who Returns").[360] Here John translated the meaning of "Messiah" ("He who is called Christ") for his Gentile readers (cf. 1:38, 41).

4:26           Because the woman was prepared to welcome Messiah in His prophetic dignity, Jesus then identified Himself to her as the Messiah whom she hoped for. Jesus did not reveal Himself to the Jews as the Messiah because of their identification of Messiah—almost exclusively—as a military deliverer. If He had done so, He may well have ignited a political revolution. He did not hesitate to identify Himself as Messiah to this woman, because as a Samaritan she did not hold the common Jewish view of Messiah.

The writer used Jesus' own clear testimony here, as another witness to His identity, so his readers would believe in Him. Jesus' self-revelation here climaxes John's account of this conversation. This is the only time that Jesus clearly identified Himself as the Messiah before His trial. However Mark 9:41 records that He used the term of Himself on another occasion indirectly. His self-identification here constituted an invitation for the woman to come to Him for salvation.

Nicodemus contrasts with the Samaritan woman in many ways. As John portrayed them in his narrative, these two individuals seem to typify Jews and non-Jews as well as the normal reactions of those groups to Jesus.


Contrasts between Nicodemus and the Samaritan Woman[361]



The Samaritan Woman





Pure Jewish

Mixed Gentile

Social status

Highly respected, ruler, teacher

Not respected, servant, learner


Jewish territory

Samaritan territory


At night

About noon











New birth

Living water





Faded out

Continued strong





No witness to others

Witness to others


2.     Jesus' explanation of evangelistic ministry 4:27-38

Jesus had modeled evangelistic effectiveness for His disciples, though, ironically, they were absent for most of the lesson. Now He explained the rewards, urgency, and partnership of evangelism (the spreading of the Christian gospel by public preaching or personal witness).

4:27           When Jesus' disciples returned from their shopping trip (v. 8), they were amazed to see Jesus talking with a woman. Their reaction reflects the typical Jewish prejudices against Samaritans and women. It was uncommon for rabbis to speak with women.[362] However they refrained from questioning her and Him, probably in order to avoid becoming involved in this unusual conversation.

4:28           The fact that the woman left her waterpot at the well suggests that she felt such excitement, at having apparently discovered the Messiah, that all but telling others left her mind. The Apostle John may have included this detail because her act had symbolic significance. Some commentators suggested that, in her excitement, she abandoned the old "waterpot" (ceremonial structure) that was no longer necessary (cf. v. 23). I doubt this interpretation and tend to view this detail as simply evidence of her excitement. There is plenty of symbolism in this story already that Jesus explained.

It would have been natural for the woman to report her discovery to the men in Sychar, because they (as the spiritual leaders) would have had to determine if Jesus really was the Messiah.

4:29           Her hyperbole ("who told me all the things that I have done") is understandable, and her example as a witness was a good one for John's readers. What made her think that Jesus could be the Messiah was not only His claim (His words) but His ability to know her past (His understanding). She wisely framed her thinking about Jesus in the form of a question to encourage investigation, rather than as a dogmatic assertion that others would probably have rejected out of hand (cf. v. 12).

4:30           The men, probably the community leaders, proceeded out of the city to the well in order to investigate Jesus' identity. Some of them may have wanted the secrets of this woman's past, perhaps secrets involving themselves, to remain buried.

4:31-32      Jesus showed little interest in eating, even though He was probably hungry (v. 6). He used the disciples' urging of Him to eat in order to teach them something about His priorities. Something was more satisfying to Him than physical food. They showed interest in physical need primarily, but He had more concern for spiritual need.[363]

4:33           The disciples continued to think only on the level of physical food, like the woman had thought only of physical water (v. 15). They were all unspiritual in their thinking.

4:34           Jesus responded that what satisfied Him ("My food"), more than physical food, was the spiritual nourishment that came from doing the Father's will and advancing His work (cf. Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4; Luke 4:4; John 5:36; 6:38). That mission involved bringing eternal life to people (cf. 20:21).

"The Messianic consciousness of Jesus is clear and steady (5:30; 6:38). He never doubted that the Father sent him."[364]

"The creative will of God, realized in obedience, sustains life."[365]

4:35           Jesus continued to speak of spiritual matters in physical terms. The whitened "fields" represent humankind in its condition of being ripe for divine judgment. Perhaps, as Jesus spoke these words, the disciples observed the customarily white-clothed men of Sychar wending their way through the fields toward them like so much living grain.

Jesus' reference to "four months" was probably proverbial. That was the approximate time between the last sowing and the earliest harvest reaping.[366] His point was that between the spiritual task of sowing the gospel and reaping belief, the intervening time may be very brief.[367]

The disciples needed spiritual vision. They could obtain it by lifting their eyes and looking on the fields of lost people, which are white for harvest, rather than being completely absorbed in their physical needs. As with physical grain, the opportunity for harvesting spiritually is relatively brief. If left unreached, like grain not reaped, people die in their sins.

"The trouble is not that the fields are not white. The trouble is that the labourers are not ready."[368]

4:36           The reaper ("the one who reaps," the harvester) in view was Jesus. Potentially His disciples could become reapers too. The wages that reapers receive are the reward for their labor. For Jesus this was the exaltation that the Father gave Him and the people that God will give Him for carrying out His will faithfully. For the disciples it is the rewards that they, and we modern disciples, can receive for faithful service. Some of this reward comes immediately, in the form of satisfaction and perhaps other blessings. The fruit is probably a reference to the people, as harvested grain, who will obtain eternal life. The person who sows is anyone who proclaims the gospel, but ultimately it is Jesus (cf. Matt. 13:37).

4:37           This verse, which contains a proverb, summarizes verse 38. It means that both sowers and reapers are necessary to get a good harvest. Sowers must not think that their work is secondary to reaping, and reapers must remember the important contribution of those who sow. Today some Christians do more sowing than reaping, and others experience more fruitful ministries as harvesters. Both are essential in God's plan (cf. 1 Cor. 3:6).

"The reaping of people for the granary of God is not the task of any one group, nor is it confined to one era. Each reaps the benefit of its forerunners, and succeeding generations in turn gain from the accomplishments of their predecessors."[369]

4:38           This proverb was true in the case of Jesus and His disciples. The purpose of the disciples' calling was reaping believers in Jesus. The Apostle John did not record Jesus commissioning them for that purpose earlier, but that was His purpose (cf. v. 2). The Old Testament prophets and John the Baptist had sowed, but now Jesus and His disciples were reaping (cf. Acts 2).

3.     The response to Jesus in Samaria 4:39-42

The response of the Samaritans to Jesus was considerably more positive than the response of the Jews had been (1:11; 2:23-25). This would prove true as Jesus' ministry continued. Non-Jews normally responded more positively to Jesus than did Jews, as seen both in the Gospels and in Acts.

4:39           Harvesting followed the arrival of the Samaritans who had come out from Sychar to see Jesus. Many of the Samaritans believed initially on Jesus because of the woman's verbal witness. She had brought them to Jesus. This verse should encourage every believing reader. God uses the witness of all types of people, witness concerning Jesus' identity, to bring others to faith in Him. Bearing witness is the work of disciples (cf. John the Baptist, and the apostles).

4:40           The openness of these Samaritans contrasts with the hostility of so many of Jesus' Jewish hearers (cf. 1:11). It required considerable humility for these Samaritans to invite a Jewish rabbi to stay with them (v. 9).

"The citizens of Jerusalem never asked Jesus to stay; afterward he passed through Jericho, and not a soul asked him to stay."[370]

4:41           During the following two days, many more Samaritans—more than just those who visited Jesus by Jacob's well—became believers in Him.

4:42           These additional converts believed because of Jesus' word (Jesus' own witness), which confirmed to them what the woman had said about Him. Jesus' testimony produced certain knowledge in the Samaritans ("we … know," v. 42). Their faith received a firmer foundation than just the witness of another believer. It rested on personal contact with Jesus. The joint testimony of believers and the Word of God is a powerful evangelistic combination. These simple Samaritans understood what sophisticated Nicodemus could not (cf. Matt. 11:25).

The title "Savior of the world" is unique to John, occurring only here and in 1 John 4:14 (cf. 1:29, 34; 3:17).

"… it is a significant fact that this magnificent conception of the work of Christ was first expressed by a Samaritan, for whom the hope of a Deliverer had not been shaped to suit national ambition."[371]

John's original readers would have been familiar with this title, because the Greeks and Romans gave it to several of their gods and emperors.[372] Nevertheless Jesus was the true Savior of the world, whom these Samaritans recognized as such. The Old Testament spoke of God in this role (e.g., Ps. 35:9; Jon. 2:9). Jesus was God in action saving the world. This title does not mean that everyone will experience eternal salvation, which is the doctrine of universalism, but that Jesus has made everyone savable, and that those who believe on Him obtain salvation.

"It is interesting to trace our Lord's movements that brought Him to Samaria. He was in Jerusalem (John 2:23) and then came into Judea (John 3:22). From Judea He went into Samaria (John 4:4), and the Samaritans declared Him to be 'the Savior of the world.' This is a perfect parallel to Acts 1:8—'And ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.' Our Lord has set the example. If we follow, He will give us the harvest."[373]

This was the first instance of cross-cultural evangelism that the Gospel evangelists recorded in Jesus' ministry. Jesus' ministry to Gentiles came later, according to their records. Jesus later charged the church to continue cross-cultural evangelism (Acts 1:8). Still later, Philip evangelized in Samaria with great success, perhaps in this very region (Acts 8:4-8). Jesus' ministry here was not only reaping, but sowing. Philip reaped what Jesus had sowed.

E.     Jesus' resumption of His Galilean ministry 4:43-54

Jesus continued to move north, back into Galilee, where He healed a nobleman's son.

1.     Jesus' return to Galilee 4:43-45

John again bridged the gap between important events in his narrative with a transitional explanation of how Jesus moved from one site to another (cf. 2:12; 4:1-3). John typically focused on clusters of events in Jesus' ministry (cf. 1:19, 29, 35, 43; 2:1). However this move completed a cycle in Jesus' movements, and it almost completed one in John's narrative.

4:43           The "two days" in view are those that Jesus spent ministering to the Samaritans (v. 40). He now resumed the trip to Galilee that John referred to in verse 3.

4:44-45      These verses seem incongruous. If a prophet has no honor in his own country, why did the Galileans welcome Jesus, since Galilee was His homeland? The Greek word patris translated "country" can mean either homeland or hometown. The Synoptics always used it to describe Nazareth (Matt. 13:57; Mark 6:4; Luke 4:24).

One explanation is that John viewed Judea as Jesus' homeland, or possibly Jerusalem as His hometown.[374] Perhaps John regarded Judea and Jerusalem as Jesus' spiritual homeland and hometown since He was David's spiritual heir. The "Jews" is a term that John used particularly of the Jews in Judea (cf. 1:19; 7:1). However John frequently referred to Nazareth as Jesus' physical home (1:45-46; 7:41, 52; 19:19). Besides, Jesus did not choose where He ministered based on the popular acceptance that He received. He did seek to avoid premature conflict with the religious leaders in Jerusalem, but the implication of verses 44 and 45 is that Jesus' honor was the determining factor. Furthermore, the reception that Jesus received in Galilee was not entirely positive.

A second explanation is that patris ("country") refers to heaven.[375] But this view does not explain why John included the proverb as an explanation for Jesus' going into Galilee from Judea. And if Jesus meant that heaven was His own country He would hardly have said that He received no honor there.

Probably patris refers to Galilee in contrast to Samaria, rather than in contrast to Judea.[376] Jesus' own country was Jewish turf rather than Samaritan territory. On Jewish turf Jesus had not experienced the honor that He had among the Samaritans (cf. 2:18, 20, 22, 23-25; 3:10; 4:1-3).

The "so" that begins verse 45 does not explain why Jesus went back into Jewish territory. He did not go there because the Jews typically rejected Him. The "so" introduces the reason for the Galileans' reception of Him that follows. The people from the Prophet's own country (Galilean Jews) only received Him because they had seen the miracles that He had done at Passover in Jerusalem, not because they honored Him as a prophet (cf. v. 48). Thus John was contrasting the unbelief of the Jews with the belief of the Samaritans.

2.     The second sign: healing the official's son 4:46-54

This incident completes a cycle in John's Gospel. Jesus performed His first sign in Cana (2:1), and now He returned and did another miracle there (v. 46). There is even a second reference to Capernaum (2:12; 4:46). Jesus performed at least three miracles in Capernaum: He healed a centurion's servant, He raised Jairus' daughter, and He healed this official's son (cf. Matt. 11:23-24).

John's account of Jesus' first miracle in Cana (2:11) ended with a reference to the weak faith of the Jews that rested only on miracles (2:23-25). His account of Jesus' second miracle in Cana (4:54) opens with a similar reference (4:45, 48).[377] In short, this section seems to be an inclusio, framed by two miracles in Cana, with two conversations occurring between them.[378] Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus is typical of the reception that the Jews gave Him, but His conversation with the Samaritan woman shows the reception that non-Jews more typically gave Him. We see these two attitudes toward Jesus not only in the Gospel accounts of His ministry, but also in Acts. The center section that the structure highlights is essentially an exposition of Jesus' mission (3:16-36).

A       Jesus' first sign in Cana 2:1-11

B       A reference to Capernaum, Jesus' headquarters 2:12

C       Hostility toward Jesus in Jerusalem 2:13-25

D       Nicodemus' response to Jesus 3:1-15

E       The importance of Jesus' mission 3:16-36

D'      The Samaritan woman's response to Jesus 4:1-38

C'      Acceptance of Jesus in Samaria 4:39-42

B'      A reference to Galilee, Jesus' major ministry arena 4:43-45

A'      Jesus' second sign in Cana 4:46-54

This pericope (4:46-54) constitutes the closing incident in John's account of Jesus' early public ministry (chs. 2—4). It shows Him returning to Cana, Nathanael's hometown (21:2), where He performed another significant miracle. John evidently included it in order to show that Jesus' demonstration of His authority resulted in some Jews believing on Him.

"Both the miracles performed at Cana … are thus shown to have been prompted by trust. Mary trusted her Son to do something to relieve the embarrassment of their host at the wedding. The father of the sick boy was equally confident that he could rely on Jesus' help. Both miracles are also shown to have resulted in a personal surrender to Jesus which is full Christian faith. His disciples believed on Him after the water had been turned into wine; the father and the rest of his household believed as the result of the healing of the boy: and in both cases the verb in the original is an inceptive aorist 'they put their faith in Him'."[379]

4:46           John's reference to Cana and the first miracle seems intended to remind the reader of that event and to suggest the completion of a cycle. John did not reveal the reason that Jesus returned there. The "royal official" (Gr. basilikos) was, going by his title, a man who served a king, in either a civil or a military capacity.[380] That king was probably Herod Antipas, in view of where this official lived. Antipas was not an official king, but the people popularly regarded him as one (cf. Mark 6:14). This official was probably Jewish (v. 48).

Whether this royal official was the Chuza who was Herod's steward, mentioned in Luke 8:3, remains a mystery. Jesus also healed the servant of a Gentile centurion in Capernaum (Matt. 8:5-13; Luke 7:2-10), but that was a different individual and a different occasion. An important feature of this sign was the significant distance between Jesus' location, in Cana, and where the official's son lay ill, in Capernaum.

4:47           The official appealed to Jesus to make the approximately 13-mile trip from Cana to Capernaum in order to heal his son. He obviously believed that Jesus could heal people, but there is no indication that he initially believed that Jesus was more than a healer.

"Instances are recorded in the Talmud, which may here serve as our guide. Various cases are related in which those seriously ill, and even at the point of death, were restored by the prayers of celebrated Rabbis."[381]

The official must have felt desperate to seek Jesus from such a distance. Jesus' first sign came in response to a mother's request (2:1-5), but this second one came in response to a father's request.

"Sometimes the Lord allows you to have a need in order to cause you to seek Him."[382]

"The nobleman believed that Jesus could heal his son, but he made two mistakes in his thinking: that Jesus had to go to Capernaum to save the lad, and that if the boy died meanwhile, it was too late."[383]

4:48           The official was simply responding like most Galileans would have ressponded. Jesus used the plural "you," indicating that this man's unbelief was typical of most of his neighbors (cf. 2:24). Jesus' mention of "signs" (Gr. semeia) pointed to the significance of His miracles. This is the only place in John's Gospel where "wonders" occurs. This word (Gr. terata) stresses the wonder or awe that these miracles produced in those who witnessed them. Jesus' use of the word suggests that the people wanted to see miracles just so they could marvel at them.

Jesus implied that the man did not believe in Him. He did, of course, believe that Jesus could heal His son, but he had not yet come to believe that He could heal from a distance. Jesus viewed that second level of belief as the significant one. The official may well have thought: What do you mean I do not believe on you? The man probably felt rebuked by Jesus' comment, but Jesus' aim was to bring him to deeper faith in Himself.

"This miracle is a notable instance of our Lord 'not quenching the smoking flax:' just as His reproof of the Samaritan woman was of His 'not breaking the bruised reed.'"[384]

4:49           The officer showed little interest in the reasons that people did or did not believe in Jesus, since his little "child" (Gr. paidion) lay at death's door. He desperately appealed again to Jesus to come quickly to Capernaum before his child died.

4:50           Jesus did not do what the father asked, but He gave him a promise instead: His son would live. The official seized the promise and departed for home alone, demonstrating that he believed that Jesus could heal from a distance. If he had refused to go home without Jesus, he would have been disbelieving Jesus' word. He chose not to insist on receiving evidence, and he exercised faith without tangible proof. Thus he believed in Jesus in a deeper sense than he had at first. He put his faith in Jesus' promise: "the word that Jesus spoke to him."

"The official became a model of what it means to believe apart from signs."[385]

4:51-52      His servants met him on his way back to Capernaum with good news. Jesus had made His promise about 1:00 p.m. on the day before the official met his servants. When he met them, he learned that his son's condition had improved significantly—not just had begun to improve, as he had expected—but at the very moment Jesus had given His promise. His recovery was no coincidence.

4:53           This resulted in the man believing in Jesus to an even deeper level, though he may not have understood that He was the Son of God. The members of his household believed in Jesus too (cf. 2:11; Acts 10:2; 11:14; 16:15, 31; 18:8). He learned that Jesus' word is powerful to save even at a distance. His faith grew from "crisis faith" (v. 47), to "confident faith" (v. 50), to "confirmed faith" (v. 53), to "contagious faith" (v. 53).[386]

"The miracle was a double one—on the body of the absent child; on the heart of the present father; one cured of his sickness, the other of his unbelief."[387]

4:54           John, interestingly, called this miracle the "second sign" that Jesus performed, even though He did other miracles in both Galilee and Judea after He had changed the water to wine (cf. 2:23; 3:2). Additionally, this is the second of several (seven) miracles that John labeled in his Gospel as signs, although he numbered only the first two. These facts point to John's regarding of the first and second signs as similar and related to each other. The structure of this part of John's narrative, as explained above, accounts for his view of this second sign.

John explained further that Jesus performed this sign after He had come out of Judea into Galilee. This appears to be another geographical signpost designed to help the reader follow Jesus' movements. It also suggests a contrast between the unbelief that marked Judea and the faith that was more prominent in Galilee.

This miracle, like the first one that John described in detail, had a limited audience. Only the family and household servants of the official knew of it at first. This was typical of Jesus' ministry. While Jesus performed many public miracles, and huge crowds followed Him because they witnessed them, they had the desired impact on relatively few individuals (cf. 1:11-12).

John recorded many witnesses to Jesus' identity in his record of Jesus' early ministry (chs. 2—4). This part of John's Gospel is a section framed by two miracles in Cana with two statements about unbelief by Jesus, and two evangelistic conversations of Jesus occurring between those miracles. The first sign testified to His creative power to change the quality of things.[388] His cleansing of the temple showed His authority over the institutions of Judaism. Nicodemus testified to Jesus having come from God, and His role as an authoritative teacher, which was a common Jewish response to Him. John the Baptist bore witness to Jesus' identity as the Messiah. The Samaritan woman's testimony implied that Jesus was omniscient. Many other Samaritans acknowledged Jesus as the Savior of the world, which was a common Gentile response to Him. The official whose son Jesus healed from afar came to recognize Him as the Healer whose word can overcome the problem of distance as well as disease.[389]

The first sign in John's Gospel shows Jesus' power over time, and the second sign shows His power over space. The first one resulted in Jesus' disciples believing in Him (2:11), and the second one resulted in non-disciples believing in Him (4:53). John the Apostle also called Jesus the Son of God, the Giver of eternal life, and the One from heaven. This section of the book, therefore, makes an important contribution to the advance of John's argument and the fulfillment of his purpose (20:30-31).

F.     Jesus' second visit to Jerusalem ch. 5

"In chapters 1—4 the subject is described from the standpoint of a spectator, ab extra [from without], and we are thus enabled to see something of the impression created on others by our Lord as He deals with individuals in Jerusalem, Samaria, and Galilee. When, however, we turn to chapters 5—10, we cannot but be conscious of a change of standpoint, for we see Christ as it were from within, from His own point of view, in all the glory of His self-conscious personal revelation. In each chapter He is seen to concentrate attention on Himself in various aspects, and men are enabled to see something of what He claims to be in relation to God and man."[390]

"Up to the present time the Lord has offered Himself to typical representatives of the whole Jewish race at Jerusalem, in Judaea, in Samaria, and in Galilee, in such a way as to satisfy the elements of true faith. Now the conflict begins which issues in the Passion. Step by step faith and unbelief are called out in a parallel development. … The crises of its development are the national Festivals. And the whole controversy is gathered round three miracles. (1) The healing of the impotent man at Bethesda (v.). (2) The healing of the man born blind (ix.). (3) The raising of Lazarus (xi.)."[391]

Until now John presented Jesus dealing with individuals almost exclusively. This continues, but now there is more interaction with the Pharisees. The first two signs that John recorded were done privately, but the next two were public. Furthermore, Jesus did the miracle recorded in chapter 5 on the Sabbath day, which drew the attention and opposition of the Pharisees. Reactions to Jesus among the Jews moved from reservation (e.g., 3:1-15) to outright hostility. Chapters 5 through 10 trace the development of this antagonism. However the main emphasis in this section is what Jesus revealed about Himself through His actions and His words.

"Chapters v and vi should probably be grouped together as a single section. They are connected by a common theme, which may be described as the nature and causes of Israel's lack of faith in Jesus. Chapter v is concerned with the form which this unbelief took among the Jews at Jerusalem, and chapter vi with the expression of it by the peasants in Galilee."[392]

In chapter 5 opposition to Jesus began with objection to His healing on the Sabbath. This led to Jesus explaining His relationship to His Father.

1.     The third sign: healing the paralytic 5:1-9

This third sign in John's Gospel signaled Jesus' identity and created controversy that followed. Particularly it testified to Jesus' authority over time.[393]

5:1             Some time later Jesus returned to Jerusalem to celebrate one of the Jewish feasts and to use that occasion to minister. John did not specify which feast it was. Elsewhere in his Gospel, when John identified the feast in view, he did so because the events and teaching that followed had relevance to that particular feast (cf. 2:13; 6:4; 7:2; 10:22; 11:55). Here they did not. Consequently the identity of the feast is unimportant for the interpretation of the text.[394] It does, however, have implications for our understanding of the length of Jesus' earthly ministry. Apparently John mentioned a feast just to account for Jesus' presence in Jerusalem.[395] Hoehner favored one of the three pilgrim feasts that the Mosaic Law required Jewish males to attend, which were Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. He preferred the last of these, though he conceded that certain identification is probably impossible.[396] Andrews favored Passover.[397] Edersheim believed that this was the Feast of Purim:

"For no other feast could have intervened between December (John 4:35) and the Passover (John 6:4), except that of the 'Dedication of the Temple,' and that is specially designated as such (John 10:22), and not simply as 'a feast of the Jews.'"[398]

John probably only mentioned the feast to explain Jesus' return to, and presence in, Jerusalem.

5:2             John frequently used the Greek historic (dramatic) present tense in order to describe past events. Therefore this verse does not prove that he wrote his Gospel before the fall of Jerusalem. Wallace is one scholar who believed that it does prove this.[399] He pointed out that the equative verb, estin, translated "is," used here, nowhere else in the New Testament is clearly a historical present. Perhaps this is the one place where it is.

The Sheep Gate was evidently a gate in the north part of Jerusalem's wall, just west of its northeast corner (cf. Neh. 3:1, 32; 12:39). Various Greek manuscripts refer to this pool as Bethesda, Bethsaida, Bethzatha, and Belzetha, but the first name is probably the correct one. It means "House of Outpouring" or perhaps "House of Mercy."[400] The modern name is St. Anne's Pool.

Evidently there were two pools with a covered colonnade or portico on all four sides of the complex and a fifth colonnade that separated the two pools.[401] The pool may have been used for swimming, since the word "pool" (Gr. kolumbethra, which was a common word for "swimming pool" outside the New Testament) is related to the word "swim" (Gr. kolumbao).[402]

5:3a            Many disabled people used to lie in these porticoes because of the healing elements in the water.

5:3b-4        This section of the text has doubtful authenticity. No Greek manuscript before A.D. 400 contains these words.[403] Evidently scribes added these statements later to explain the troubling of the waters that occurred periodically (v. 7).[404] However these scribal explanations were probably based on a superstition. They appear to have been common in Jesus' day. A more probable explanation for the troubling of the water is the presence of springs that occasionally gushed water into the pools below the surface of the water.[405] Probably the water had a high mineral content that had medicinal benefits for people suffering from muscle and joint ailments.

5:5             This man's sickness appears to have been paralysis that resulted in his inability to walk at least (v. 7), which seems to have been a result of sin (v. 14). Perhaps a severe arthritic condition complicated his ailment. John's reference to the length of his illness seems to be just to document its seriousness and the man's hopeless condition. Some commentators tried to find symbolic significance in the "38 years," but that seems unwarranted to me and to others.[406] For example, 38 years recalls the period during which the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, following their rebellion at Kadesh-barnea, before they entered the Promised Land.

5:6             Jesus could have learned about the man's condition from others, or John may have written what he did in order to impress his readers with Jesus' supernatural knowledge. In Capernaum Jesus had healed another paralytic who was lowered through the roof in front of him (Mark 2:1-12). But at Bethesda He reached out to the man as one among many invalids. Jesus' question may have probed the man to discover if he had a desire for healing and if he was willing to put himself in Jesus' hands. Other reasons may have been to focus attention on Himself, to remind the man of his utter helplessness, and/or to give the man hope.[407]

Some people, unfortunately, are perfectly content to remain in their miserable condition (cf. 3:19-20). Jesus apparently only delivered people who wanted His help. Jesus' question also led the man to reflect on his helpless condition. Evidently this was the only person that He healed that day, even though there were many more whom He could have healed (v. 3; cf. Acts 3:2). Jesus only saves people who want salvation and whom He sovereignly chooses to save (cf. 6:37).

"It is impossible to find any ground in the man himself as a reason for Christ singling him out for special favor. The only explanation is the mere sovereign pleasure of Christ Himself [cf. v. 21]."[408]

The preceding quotation focuses on divine sovereignty. The following one on human responsibility. Probably both are legitimate.

"My question is this: Why didn't Jesus heal the whole crowd? … There was only one who had given up hope of getting into the pool. All of them were still hoping to get in. They had their friends, their families. They had their different ones to help them. But this man said, 'Sir, I have no one. I've given up hope.'"[409]

5:7             Obviously the paralytic believed that only the first person to enter the water after its stirring would experience healing. This was probably the popular idea that arose from superstition. The man's statement that he had no one to help him appears to have been a veiled request that Jesus would volunteer to be that helper. The invalid had the desire for healing but not the means to obtain it. His statement also shows that he had more faith in the means of healing than in the Lord and that he had to do something to be healed.

"We must feel that, while faith was commonly the prerequisite of healing, it was not absolutely necessary. Jesus is not limited by human frailty as he works the works of God."[410]

5:8             Jesus' words healed the man (cf. vv. 25, 28-29; 11:43). They also instructed him (cf. Mark 2:11). Obviously Jesus had given him enough strength, as well as health, to carry his light mat.

5:9             The invalid experienced healing immediately. Jesus did instantly what God normally does slowly. When the man walked away, carrying his mat, he testified to his healing (v. 11). Normally we cannot immediately use muscles that we have not used for a long time, because they atrophy. But this man had the full use of his muscles instantaneously. Isaiah had predicted that when Messiah came, He would heal the lame (Isa. 35:1-7). Here was proof—for all Jerusalem to see—that Messiah had appeared. He had healed a man whom sickness had bound for 38 years.

"The impotent man met the Omnipotent Man."[411]

By carrying his pallet on the Sabbath, the man triggered a controversy. By commanding him to do so, Jesus was responsible for the situation that followed. Indeed, He deliberately created it. This probably explains in part why Jesus healed this particular man: in order to provoke the controversy.

2.     The antagonism of the Jewish authorities 5:10-18

More than once Jesus used His Sabbath activities to make the Jews consider who He was (cf. Matt. 12:1-14; Mark 2:23—3:6; Luke 13:10-17; 14:1-6). Here He wanted them to realize that He had the right to work on the Sabbath, like His Father did. This is the first open hostility to Jesus that John recorded.

5:10           According to the prevailing Jewish interpretation of the law, it was not legitimate to carry anything from one place to another on the Sabbath (cf. Neh. 13:15; Jer. 17:21-27). Doing so constituted a capital offense that could result in stoning. The rabbis allowed for exceptional actions done for compassionate reasons, such as moving a lame person.[412] But they did not allow healing on the Sabbath. God's intent in the fourth commandment was to free people from having to work seven days a week in order to earn a living (Exod. 20:9-11; Deut. 5:12-15). Therefore this healed paralytic was not breaking the spirit of the law, but he was violating the rabbinic interpretation of it.

5:11           The healed man passed off his responsibility for disobeying the rabbis' rule by blaming Jesus. This was no way to express gratitude for what Jesus had done for him (cf. v. 15). But he probably feared for his life.

5:12           The Jewish leaders wanted to know who had dared to contradict the accepted meaning of the fourth commandment. In their eyes, Jesus was a worse offender than the man who had carried his pallet.

Significantly, the leaders did not show any interest in the man's cured condition. That should have shown them that Jesus was the Messiah, but they saw the Healer as simply an offender.

5:13           The man did not know who Jesus was. This indicates that it was not his faith that had elicited the healing as much as God's grace reaching out to a needy person. Jesus had slipped away, probably to avoid premature confrontation with the leaders (cf. 6:15; 8:59; 10:39; 12:36).

It is not at all clear whether this man believed on Jesus. We do not know, either, if he sought a closer relationship with Jesus following his healing. Many people accept God's gifts but ignore the Giver. Some experience miracles but do not go to heaven. Apparently it was not the reaction of this man that John wanted to emphasize but the lesson on the importance of believing in Him that Jesus used the occasion to teach.

5:14           Some time shortly after that Jesus found the man in the temple precincts, which stood south of the Bethesda Pool in Jerusalem. Evidently Jesus had been looking for him. He warned the man not to use his healing as an opportunity to sin further. If he did, worse consequences than his former ailment would befall him (cf. Acts 5:1-11; 1 Cor. 11:30; 1 John 5:16). Jesus may have had eternal damnation, as well as immediate consequences, in mind, since the man showed no evidence of possessing eternal life. Certainly not everyone whom Jesus healed experienced spiritual regeneration. Jesus' point was that the man needed to regard his new health as an opportunity to make a new break with sin (cf. Gal. 5:13).

"Sickness is not always the direct result of personal sin (John 9:1-4), but in this case it apparently was."[413]

5:15           It seems that the man's motive for telling the authorities about Jesus was not to glorify Him. He knew that they wanted to find Jesus because they considered Him a lawbreaker. Clearly the ungrateful man wanted to save his own skin by implicating Jesus in what had happened. He did not appreciate Jesus' warning (v. 14). It is possible that the man was simply stupid. However the evidence seems to point more convincingly to a hard heart rather than to a hard head.

"The lame man is an example of someone who responded inappropriately to Jesus' signs … Thus he 'represents those whom even the signs cannot lead to authentic faith.'"[414]

5:16           "These things" seem to refer to Jesus' acts of healing the man and commanding him to take up his mat and walk. Rather than worshipping Jesus, or at least considering His claims, the Jewish authorities persecuted Jesus for doing what they considered to be work on the Sabbath. Their persecution initially took the form of verbal opposition, as the following verses clarify.

"This is the first open declaration of hostility to Christ (though the words and sought to slay him, which are wrongly added in this verse from v. 18, must be omitted); and it is based upon the alleged violation of the letter of the Law with regard to the Sabbath [e.g., Jer. 17:21], as in the other Gospels, Matt. xii. 2 ff. and parallels."[415]

Jesus could have waited until the next day to heal the man. And He could have healed him without drawing attention to Himself. He also could have healed him without telling him to carry his mat. Jesus did all these things in order to create a public situation in which He revealed that He had the same nature, power, and authority as God the Father.

5:17           Jesus defended Himself by stating that He was doing God's work. The rabbis regarded God as working on the Sabbath by simply maintaining the universe and continuing to impart life. They did not accuse Him of violating the Sabbath.[416] Jesus too viewed God as constantly at work ("My Father is working until now"). Jesus claimed to be doing what God was doing ("I Myself am working"). He described His work as coordinate with the Father's work, not dependent on it. God did not suspend His activities on the Sabbath, and neither did Jesus.

This was a virtual claim to deity. Jesus was claiming that His relationship to the Law was the same as God's, not the same as man's. Moreover, by speaking of God as "My Father," Jesus was claiming a relationship with Him that was unique from that of the Jews corporately. The work that Jesus had done was the same kind as His Father's work. He provided deliverance and a new life for the paralyzed man, like the Father provides salvation for those whom sin has bound. Obviously Jesus was arguing differently here than in the instances of Sabbath controversy that the Synoptics record.

"The most notable feature about Jesus in the Fourth Gospel … is the control He displayed over all persons and situations."[417]

5:18           The Jewish leaders did not miss the force of what Jesus was claiming, namely, His equality with God the Father. Liberal interpreters who say that Jesus never claimed to be God have a difficult time with this passage. John here noted that these Jews had already been trying to do away with Jesus. These claims resulted in them increasing their efforts.

"Did Jesus really make Himself 'equal with God'? Well, let us see. He here claims equality in seven particulars. 1. Equal in working … (verse 19). 2. Equal in knowing … (verse 20). 3. Equal in resurrecting … (verse 21 with verses 28, 29). 4. Equal in judging … (verse 22 with verse 27). 5. Equal in honour … (verse 23). 6. Equal in regenerating … (verses 24, 25). 7. Equal in self-existence … (verse 26)."[418]

To the contemporary western mind the idea of a "son" connotes a different, independent person. But the ancient eastern mind thought of a son as the extension of his father. The word connoted identification with, rather than distinction from, the father. The ancients considered a good son as one who followed in his father's footsteps exactly.

Jesus was equal with God in His essence. Both the Father and the Son are deity (1:1-2). But Jesus was not equal with the Father in the administrative order of the Trinity. The Son was subordinate to the Father in this respect. This distinction is one that the Jewish leaders struggled with and that Jesus proceeded to clarify partially.

"It would seem that in their eyes God could exalt a man to be as God, but whoever made himself as God called down divine retribution on himself. They saw Jesus in the latter category."[419]

The emphasis in this section of the text is on Jesus being an extension of His Father, and on the legitimacy of His continuing His Father's work, even on the Sabbath.

"A close look shows how similar John's form of the Sabbath argument is to Jesus' Synoptic claim that he is Lord of the Sabbath. The Synoptics stress Jesus' position and authority; John stresses the relational foundation behind such a claim."[420]

This is the second of seven incidents that the Gospel evangelists recorded in which Jesus came into conflict with the Jewish religious leaders over Sabbath observance. The chart below lists them in probable chronological order.


Sabbath Controversies






The disciples plucked ears of grain in Galilee.





Jesus healed a paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem.





Jesus healed a man with a withered hand in Capernaum.





Jesus referred to the Jews circumcising on the Sabbath.





Jesus healed a man born blind in Jerusalem.





Jesus healed a woman bent over in Judea.





Jesus healed a man with dropsy in Perea.






3.     The Son's equality with the Father 5:19-29

The preceding controversy resulted in Jesus clarifying His relationship to His Father further. Jesus proceeded to reply to His enemies' charge that He was not equal with God the Father. This is the most thoroughgoing statement of Jesus' unity with the Father, divine commission, authority, and proof of Messiahship in the Gospels. Jesus moved from clarifying His relationship to the Father, to explaining His function as the Judge of humanity, to citing the witnesses that established His claims.[421]

5:19           Jesus introduced His reply with another solemn affirmation. He began by assuring the Jewish leaders that He was not claiming independence from the Father. He was definitely subordinate to Him, and He followed the Father's lead (cf. 4:34; 5:30; 8:28; 12:50; 15:10; Luke 5:17). Jesus described His relationship to the Father as similar to that of a son growing up in a household who learns a trade from his father while remaining submissive to him. The Son of God receives authority from the Father, obeys Him, and executes His will. Jesus would have to be God in order to do this perfectly. It was also impossible for the Son to act independently, or to set Himself against the Father, as though He were another God.

"Equality of nature, identity of objective, and subordination of will are interrelated in Christ. John presents him as the Son, not as the slave, of God, yet as the perfect agent of the divine purpose and the complete revelation of the divine nature."[422]

"Some have mistakenly said that Jesus was here disclaiming equality with the Father. On the contrary, the whole context argues the opposite (vv. 18, … 23, 26). Our Lord is simply saying that He and the Father work together (cp. v. 17)."[423]

5:20           Jesus next clarified why He could do whatever the Father does. He could do so because the Father loves the Son (cf. 3:36). Because the Father lovers the Son, the Father shows the Son all the things that the Father does. Continuous disclosure indicates love. The "greater works than these" (i.e., the healing of a paralytic and commanding him to carry his mat on the Sabbath) that the Father will show the Son include giving life to the dead (v. 21) and pronouncing final judgment (v. 22). Part of the purpose of these "greater works" was to face His critics with His divine authority so that they would consider His claims.

5:21           The fact that the Father discloses everything He does to the Son, and the Son does whatever the Father does, is clearly proven by the Son's giving life to the dead. The Jews acknowledged that only God could raise the dead (2 Kings 5:7; Ezek. 37:13). This involves overcoming the forces of sin and death. Jesus claimed that authority here, and He demonstrated it later (11:41-44). His healings were a lesser demonstration of the same power. The Son's will is so identical with the Father's will that His choices reflect the Father's will. Eternal spiritual life and resurrected physical life are both in view.

5:22           This verse probably explains the former one rather than restating it, which the NIV translation implies. The roles of the Father and the Son are parallel in verse 21, but there is a distinction between them in this verse. The Father and the Son both give life, but the Father has committed all judgment to the Son (cf. Acts 17:31).

"This was something new to Jews. They held that the Father was the Judge of all people [cf. Gen. 18:25], and they expected to stand before him at the last day."[424]

They believed this in spite of Daniel 7:13 and 14, which reveals that "the Ancient of Days" (God the Father) has given authority to "a son of man" to rule the earth.

The Son's giving of life is in preparation for His judging. Judgment here probably includes discriminating (balanced and just review), not just announcing final condemnation (sentencing). This verse clarifies the roles of the Father and the Son, whereas 3:17 deals with the primary purpose of the Son's incarnation.

5:23           The reason that the Father has delegated judging to the Son is so that all may honor the Son as they honor the Father. Subordination usually results in less honor. The Father has guaranteed that the Son will receive equal honor with Himself by committing the role of judging entirely to Him. Therefore failure to honor the Son reflects failure to honor the Father. Conversely honoring the Son honors the Father (cf. Phil. 2:9-11). God will not share His honor with another (Isa. 42:8, 10-12). Consequently for Him to share His honor with the Son must mean that the Son and the Father are equal with one another.

"The 'religious' people who say that they worship God, but who deny the deity of Christ, have neither the Father nor the Son!"[425]

These people include unsaved Muslims, Jews, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Unitarian Universalists, if they believe what their churches teach.

"There is small comfort here for those who praise Jesus as teacher and yet deny his claims to worship."[426]

5:24           Jesus proceeded from talking about His relation to the Father to explaining His relation to people. He developed one idea from the preceding argument more fully. He introduced it with a solemn affirmation. Jesus had just said that He gave life to whomever He pleased (v. 21). He now described these people as those who hear His Word and believe the Father ("Him who sent Me"). They will not experience condemning judgment (cf. 3:18; Rom. 6:14; 8:1), but they begin already to experience eternal life (cf. 3:36; Eph. 2:1, 5).

"Realized eschatology" refers to the aspect of future conditions that exist already in the present. In this case the condition is the believer's possession of eternal life. Whereas eternal life is something that believers look forward to in the future, believers also already have it in the present. Beasley-Murray called this verse "the strongest affirmation of realized eschatology applied to the believer in the NT."[427] People pass from one realm (death) to another (life) the moment they believe (cf. 1 John 3:14)

Jesus' word had brought new life to the paralytic (v. 8). His word will also bring eternal life or eternal death to everyone. His word is the same as the Father's word, since the Son only says what the Father gives Him to say (v. 19). Jesus specified the Father as the object of faith because, as He had just explained, the Son mediates everything from the Father—not because Jesus is an inappropriate object of faith (cf. 3:16; 14:1). The Son represents the Father to humankind, so when we place faith in the Son, we are placing it in the Father as well.

"The two conditions of eternal life are (1) knowledge of the revelation made by the Son, and (2) belief in the truth of it, that is, belief in the word of the Father who speaks through the Son."[428]

Therefore the believer's basis of eternal security, and his or her assurance of eternal life, both rest on the promise of the Son.

"To have eternal life now is to be secure throughout eternity. The words of this verse should not be taken simply as a statement of fact. They are that. Anyone who hears and believes has eternal life. But the words also constitute an invitation, a challenge. They are a call to hear Christ and to take the step of faith."[429]

5:25           Jesus continued to describe what believers will experience in the future fully, which they already experience now partially (cf. 4:23), namely, resurrection life. They will experience it in the future physically, but they experience it now spiritually (i.e., in the spiritual realm; cf. Rom. 6:13). Jesus' word gives believers spiritual life now, and it will raise the dead in the future (cf. vv. 28-29; 11:43).

5:26           This verse explains why Jesus can do these things. He can do them because He has life resident within Himself. He is self-existent, whereas humans must receive their life from Him: the source of life. The Father gave the Son life (cf. v. 22; 1:4). That is, the Father delegated it to Him, just as He delegated judgment to Him. The Son can give life to others because the Father gave Him the authority to do so.

5:27           Similarly God has given the Son authority to judge (vv. 21-22). Jesus revealed an additional reason for this here. It is because Jesus is the Son of Man (Dan. 7:13-14). He is the Anointed One whom God has sent, but He is also fully human—the only perfect Man who can represent humankind before God. Jesus can judge humanity because He belongs to humanity and understands it (cf. Heb. 2:17). The absence of a definite article before the title stresses the quality of Jesus as "Son of Man" (cf. Heb. 1:2).[430]

5:28-29      Jesus urged His hearers not to marvel that it would be His voice that would summon the dead eventually (cf. 11:43). All the dead will hear the Son of Man's voice in the future, calling them forth to judgment. Believers are those who do good, which in this context means believing on the Son (6:29; cf. 3:21). Theirs will be a resurrection resulting in eternal life. Those who do evil, by not believing on the Son (3:36; cf. 3:19), will experience eternal condemnation following their resurrection. As always, judgment is on the basis of one's works.

Another view is that only unbelievers are in view in both descriptions.[431] However believers and unbelievers have both been prominent throughout the foregoing discussion.[432]

Jesus spoke of three different resurrections in this passage: the dead in sin who rise to new life spiritually (vv. 24-25), the physical resurrection of believers (vv. 25, 28-29), and the physical resurrection of unbelievers (vv. 28-29).

4.     The Father's witness to the Son 5:30-47

Jesus now returned to develop a theme that He had introduced previously, namely, the Father's testimony to the Son (vv. 19-20). Jesus proceeded to cite five witnesses to His identity, all of which came from the Father, because the Jews had questioned His authority.

"The train of argument in this section is like a court scene, reminiscent of the trial scenes in the OT, when witnesses are summoned by Yahweh to testify on behalf of the gods of the nations in the face of the manifest truth of the only God, whose witnesses his people are (see esp. Isa 43:8-13; 44:6-11)."[433]

5:30           This verse is transitional. It concludes Jesus' explanation of the Son's equality with the Father (vv. 19-29), and it introduces His clarification of the Father's testimony about the Son (vv. 31-47). Some translations consider it the conclusion of the preceding pericope, and others take it as the beginning of the next one.

Jesus' point was that He could not do anything independently of the Father because of His submission to Him. His judgment is the result of listening to His Father. His judgment is "righteous" (fair) because the desire for self-glory does not taint it. The Son's "will" (purpose) is totally to advance the Father's will.

"Judges often have difficulty in knowing what is law and what is right, but the Son's task as Judge is simple enough, the will of the Father which he knows (verse 20)."[434]

5:31                    "This second main division of the discourse consists, like the first, of two parts. The witness to the Son is first laid open (31-40), and then the rejection of the witness in its cause and end (41-47)."[435]

Jesus had said that the Son can do nothing independently of the Father (vv. 19, 30). That includes even bearing witness about Himself. Jesus did not mean that if He said anything about Himself it must be false, though apparently some of the Jews thought He meant that (cf. 8:13). He meant that the truthfulness of His claims about Himself did not rest on His own testimony exclusively.

"He says in substance, 'I do not ask you to take my word alone concerning who I really am.'"[436]

Jesus had just explained that He only said and did what the Father said and did. Therefore Jesus' witness ("testimony") about Himself must reflect the Father's witness about Him.

Some students of John's Gospel have thought that Jesus contradicted what He said here in 8:14 ("Even if I am testifying about Myself, My testimony is true"). But there He was speaking about His personal knowledge as the basis for His testimony about Himself. Here He was speaking about the Father's witness to His identity.

5:32           The "another" that bore witness about Jesus was the Father. Jesus was not speaking of the Father's witness as essentially different from His own witness. He viewed His own witness as simply an extension of the Father's witness, since He always faithfully represented the Father's will.[437]

"The witness of the Father may not be acceptable to the Jews; it may not even be recognized by them. But it is enough for Jesus. He knows that this witness is 'true.' … It is the witness of the Father and nothing else that brings conviction to him."[438]

5:33           Jesus knew that His critics would not accept the Father's witness to His identity, even though Jesus claimed that His words accurately represented the Father's will. He could not prove this claim to their satisfaction. Therefore He cited another human witness who testified about Jesus' identity, namely, John the Baptist. John came into the world to bear witness to the light (1:7). Accordingly, he had borne witness about Jesus to the Jews who had come from Jerusalem to ask who he was (1:19-28). Furthermore, he had identified Jesus publicly as the Lamb of God (1:29-34). John had truly testified to the truth that Jesus was the divine Messiah (cf. 1:40-41).

5:34           Jesus did not need, and did not accept, human testimony in order to establish His identity in His own mind. The only witness He needed was the Father's witness. He simply mentioned John the Baptist's witness in order to establish His identity in His hearers' minds—so that they might believe on Him and obtain salvation.

5:35           Jesus again gave a brief evaluation of John the Baptist's ministry. Evidently John's public ministry had ended by this time, since Jesus spoke of his witness as past. John was not the true light (Gr. phos, 1:8-9), but he was a "lamp" (Gr. lychnos) that bore witness (cf. Ps. 132:17; 2 Cor. 4:6-7). John's ministry had caused considerable messianic excitement. Unfortunately most of John's hearers only chose to follow his teaching temporarily (2:23-25). When Jesus appeared most of the Jews no longer followed John. Thus John's witness to Jesus' identity was true, but it had little continuing impact.

"Ah! dear reader, will the Saviour be able to say of you, in the coming day, 'He was a burning and shining lamp?'"[439]

5:36           Jesus had weightier evidence for His identity than John's witness. It came from His Father, and it took several forms. The first of these forms was the "works" (Gr. erga) that Jesus performed (cf. 10:25; 14:11). These works included all of Jesus' activities: His miracles, His life of perfect obedience, and His work of redemption on the cross. Miracles alone did not prove Jesus' deity, since Moses, Elijah, and Elisha had done miracles too. Everything that Jesus did was simply an extension of the Father's work (vv. 19-30). Once we understand the Father/Son relationship we can see that everything that Jesus said and did was precisely what the Father said and did.

5:37-38      Another witness to Jesus' identity was the Father's witness apart from Jesus' works. The form that this witness took (as Jesus thought of it) is not clear. Perhaps He meant the witness that the Father had given at His baptism. However John did not narrate that event in this Gospel, though he recorded John the Baptist's witness of it (cf. 1:32-34).

Probably Jesus meant the Father's total witness to Jesus including Old Testament prophecies, prophetic events, and Israel's institutions—including His witness at Jesus' baptism. Jesus probably meant all of God's anticipatory revelation about Jesus (cf. Heb. 1:1).[440] Jesus probably did not mean the Father's witness through the Old Testament exclusively, since He mentioned that later (v. 39). Another, though improbable meaning, is the internal witness of the Spirit (6:45; 1 John 5:9-12). That idea seems too far removed from the present context to be valid.

In spite of the Father's witness Jesus' hearers had not heard it, because of their unbelief. Unlike Moses and Jacob, they had neither heard God's voice nor seen His form (cf. Exod. 33:11; Gen. 32:30-31), even though Jesus' words were the Father's words, and those who saw Jesus had seen God (3:34; 14:9-10; 17:8). Furthermore, God's word did not abide in them, as it had in Joshua and the psalmist (cf. Josh. 1:8-9; Ps. 119:11). John used the phrase "remaining in" you, here and elsewhere, in order to denote "permanent possession and abiding influence" (cf. 1 John 3:15).[441]

"Many have the word of God coming into them, and making some impressions for awhile [sic], but it does not abide with them; it is not constantly in them, as a man at home, but only now and then, as a wayfaring man [a traveler on foot]."[442]

Jesus was the living Word of God, but these Jews had little time for Him. The Jewish authorities had not grasped the significance of God's previous testimony concerning the Son, which Jesus summarized here as threefold evidence. Jesus may have been implying that His critics were not true Israelites. They had not even done what their forefathers had done ("believe"), even though Jesus was a clearer revelation of God than what the patriarchs had.

5:39-40               "From the essential elements of revelation, external (voice, shape) and internal (word), the Lord passes to the record of Revelation in Scripture. This the Jews misused."[443]

Even though the Jews diligently sought God in the pages of their Scriptures, they failed to recognize Jesus for who He was. The Greek verb translated "examine" could be an imperative (AV) or an indicative (NASB, NIV). The context favors the indicative mood. The Jewish leaders of Jesus' day were serious students of the Old Testament, but they studied it for the wrong reason, namely, to earn eternal life through their studious efforts (cf. Rom. 7:10; Gal. 3:21).

"After the destruction of the temple of Solomon in 586 B.C., the Jewish scholars of the Exile substituted the study of the Law for the observance of the temple ritual and sacrifices. They pored over the OT, endeavoring to extract the fullest possible meaning from its words, because they believed that the very study itself would bring them life."[444]

The study of Scripture had become an end in itself, rather than a way of getting to know God better. Their failure to recognize Jesus as the Messiah testified to their lack of perceiving the true message of Scripture (cf. 1:45; 2:22; 3:10; 5:45-46; 20:9; 2 Cor. 3:15). Eternal life comes through believing on Jesus, not through Bible study (vv. 21, 26; cf. 1:4; Rom. 10:4), even though it is through Bible study that one comes to know Jesus better. Like John the Baptist, the Old Testament pointed away from itself to Jesus.

"The teaching of the Old Testament is never exhausted. As we know more of Christ it reveals more to us concerning Him."[445]

"… we know that at the time of the Syrian persecutions, just before the rising of the Maccabees [2nd century B.C.], the possession of portions or of the whole of the Old Testament by private families was common in Israel. For, part of those persecutions consisted in making search for these Scriptures and destroying them (1 Macc. i. 57), as well as punishing their possessors (Jos. Ant. xii. 5, 4)."[446]

"It is blessed to note the order in which Christ placed the three witnesses to which He appealed in proof of His equality with God. First, there was the witness of His own Divine works. Second, there was the witness which the Father had borne to Him through the prophets. Third, there was the testimony of the Holy Scriptures, written by men moved by the Holy Spirit. Thus in these three witnesses there is a remarkable reference made to each of the three Persons in the Holy Trinity."[447]

5:41           Jesus did not appeal to the testimony of humans in order to determine His own identity (v. 35), nor did He receive the praise ("glory," Gr. doxa) of people for this purpose. Jesus' criticisms of His hearers did not arise from wounded pride. He said what He did in order to win the Father's praise, not man's praise.

5:42           Jesus' critics, in contrast, behaved in order to receive praise from one another (cf. v. 44). Jesus knew them well, but they did not know Him. Love for God did not motivate them as it did Him.

"The Jews worked out their pattern of religion and tried to fit God into it. They did not seek first the way of God and then try to model their religious practices on it. They succumbed to the perennial temptation of religious people."[448]

5:43           These critics also failed to come to Jesus for life (v. 40) because they refused to acknowledge that He had come from the Father. By rejecting Jesus they had rejected the Father's Ambassador who had come in His name, and they had therefore rejected the Father Himself. If they had known and loved the Father they would have recognized Jesus' similarity to the Father. Having rejected the true Messiah the religious leaders would follow false messiahs, especially another messiah coming in his own name. The ultimate false messiah would be Antichrist. Rejection of what is true always makes one susceptible to counterfeits (cf. Luke 23:18-23).

5:44           Jesus' critics could not believe on Him because they preferred the praise of men to the praise of God. They consistently chose what was popular over what was true. In contrast, Jesus lived solely for God's glory and did not seek the praise of people (cf. Rom. 2:29).

5:45           These critics' most severe indictment would not come from Jesus but from Moses, whom they so strongly professed to follow but did not. Moses never taught that the Law was an end in itself. He pointed the people to the coming Prophet and urged them to listen to Him (Deut. 18:15-19). They had refused to do this. Moreover, these Jews had broken the Law that Moses had urged them to follow. Jesus' primary function was to save, not to judge (3:17).

5:46           The Jews typically hoped that they could earn salvation by keeping the Law, and they believed that their relationship to it as Jews gave them a special advantage with God. They had set their hope on Moses in that respect. They foolishly hoped in Moses rather than in the One to whom Moses pointed. If they had paid attention to Moses, they would have felt conviction for their sin and would have been eager to receive the Savior. If they had really believed Moses, they would also have believed Jesus, whom Moses wrote about.

5:47           Jesus' critics did not believe Moses' writings or they would have accepted Jesus. Since they rejected Moses' writings it was natural that they would reject Jesus' words. Both men spoke the words of God, who was their authority. The Jews' rejection of Moses' writings was essentially a rejection of God's Word. Note that Jesus believed that Moses wrote the Torah (Pentateuch), something many critical scholars deny.

This discourse constituted both a condemnation of Jesus' critics and an invitation to believe on Him. Jesus cited much testimony that God the Father had given that identified Jesus as the divine Messiah. These witnesses were, besides God the Father: John the Baptist, all of Jesus' works, all that the Father had previously revealed that pointed to Jesus, the Old Testament, and specifically the witness of Moses in the Torah.

John omitted many events in the life of Jesus— between John 5:47 and 6:1—that the Synoptic evangelists recorded as happening. These include the resumption of Jesus' Galilean ministry (Matt. 5—7; 8:5-13, 18, 23-34; 9:18-35; 10:1—13:53; 14:1-12; Mark 2:23—6:30; Luke 6:1—9:10a).

G.     Jesus' later Galilean ministry 6:1—7:9

This section of the Gospel records the high point of Jesus' popularity. His following continued to build, and antagonism also continued to increase. This is the only section in John that narrates Jesus' later Galilean ministry, which occupies so much of the Synoptic Gospels.

"As chapter 5 relates the rise of opposition in Jerusalem, so chapter 6 relates the rise of opposition in Galilee."[449]

1.     The fourth sign: feeding the 5,000 6:1-15 (cf. Matt. 14:13-23; Mark 6:30-46; Luke 9:10-17)

The importance of this sign is clear in that all four Gospels contain an account of it. Apparently John was familiar with the other evangelists' versions of this miracle as well as being an eyewitness of the event. His story complements the others (cf. vv. 5, 15). This miracle demonstrated Jesus' authority over quantity.[450] It constitutes further proof that Jesus was the Son of God.

"The record of a critical scene in Christ's work in Galilee follows the record of the critical scene at Jerusalem. At Jerusalem Christ revealed Himself as the Giver of life; here He reveals Himself as the Support and Guide of life. In the former case the central teaching was upon the relation of the Son to the Father; in this case it is on the relation of Christ to the believer. … The two signs, the Feeding of the Five Thousand (1-15), and the Walking on the Sea (15-21), combine to show Christ as the support of life and as the guide and strengthener of the toiling. Through His disciples He first satisfies the multitudes, and then He Himself, at first unseen and unrecognized, brings His laboring disciples to the haven of rest."[451]

6:1             After an undesignated lapse of time (cf. 5:1) Jesus traveled to the east side of the Sea of Galilee. That was the more sparsely populated side where fewer Jews and more Gentiles lived. It was particularly to the northeast coast that He went (cf. Matt. 14:13; Mark 6:32; Luke 9:10). Evidently John's readers knew this lake as the Sea of Tiberias. Tiberias was the chief city on its western coast of the lake. Herod Antipas had founded it in A.D. 20 and named it in honor of the current Roman emperor, Tiberius, who ruled from A.D. 15 to 35.

6:2             Multitudes followed Jesus because they wanted to benefit from His miraculous powers, as well as to hear Him teach (cf. 2:23-25).

"Like the vast majority of men and women, they [these Galileans] supposed that their needs as human beings were limited to their physical requirements. They were, in consequence, very ready to accept Jesus as a political Christ, who would be a purveyor of cheap food and establish an economic Utopia, for that would render the task of satisfying these physical needs less laborious."[452]

6:3             Jesus went up on the mountainside in order to be alone with His disciples, who had just returned from their mission throughout the towns of Galilee (Mark 6:30-32; Luke 9:10). He had just heard that Herod Antipas had beheaded John the Baptist (Matt. 14:12-13). The crowd soon found Him, and He healed many of the people and taught them (Matt. 14:14; Mark 6:33-34; Luke 9:11). Only John mentioned that this happened on a mountainside. Perhaps he did this so his readers would see a parallel with what happened on Mt. Sinai (vv. 31-32; cf. Exod. 16:21). Or possibly it is just a detail that he as an eyewitness observed.

6:4             Evidently John identified the nearness of the Passover because of Jesus' later references to Himself as the Bread of Life (vv. 33, 35, 51) and thus the fulfillment of what the Passover bread typified.

"The people were thinking in terms of blood, flesh, lambs, and unleavened bread. They longed for a new Moses who would deliver them from Roman bondage."[453]

This was John's second reference to a Passover feast during Jesus' ministry (cf. 2:13, 23; 11:55; 13:1). Evidently this event happened two years after Jesus' first cleansing of the temple and one year before He died on the cross. If Hoehner's chronology is correct, it would have taken place in April of A.D. 32.[454]

"The movement from the miracle to the discourse, from Moses to Jesus (vv. 32-5, cf. i. 17), and, above all, from bread to flesh, is almost unintelligible unless the reference in v. 4 to the Passover picks up i. 29, 36, anticipates xix. 36 (Exod. xii. 46; Num. ix. 12), and governs the whole narrative."[455]

The Passover was an intensely nationalistic celebration in Israel. This accounts for the extreme zeal that many of the Jews demonstrated when they sought to draft Jesus as their political deliverer (v. 15).

"If those thousands were all genuine disciples, it was well; but if not—if the greater number were following Christ under misapprehension—the sooner that became apparent the better. To allow so large a mixed multitude to follow Himself any longer without sifting would have been on Christ's part to encourage false hopes, and to give rise to serious misapprehensions as to the nature of His kingdom and His earthly mission. And no better method separating the chaff from the wheat in that large company of professed disciples could have been devised, than first to work a miracle which would bring to the surface the latent carnality of the greater number, and then to preach a sermon which could not fail to be offensive to the carnal mind."[456]

6:5             John telescoped the events of the day. He omitted mention of Jesus' teaching and healing ministry (Matt. 14:14; Mark 6:34; Luke 9:11), as well as the disciples' concern for food (Matt. 14:15; Mark 6:35-36; Luke 9:12). Instead he focused on the prominent miracle. His account also shows Jesus' initiative in solving the food problem. Only John recorded that Jesus approached Philip about the need. This would have been understandable, since Philip was from Bethsaida, the nearest sizable town (1:44).

6:6             John also explained that Jesus' question was a test in Philip's discipleship training, not an indication that Jesus wondered what to do initially.

"The 'compassion' of Christ, though noted frequently by the other Evangelists [e.g., Matt. 14:14; Mark 6:34], is never referred to by John, who dwells upon the dignity and glory of His Divine person."[457]

Francesco D'Andria, archaeological excavation director at Hierapolis, in present-day Turkey, announced in 2011 that he had discovered the tomb of the martyred apostle Philip in a newly excavated church.[458]

6:7             Philip too, like Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, was thinking only on the physical level. Two hundred denarii represented about eight months' wages for a working man. Such a large sum might be the minimum they could scrape by with, but it would not provide enough bread to satisfy the people—even a little. Philip, like an accountant, put his mental calculator to work and concluded that the situation was hopeless.[459]

6:8-9          Andrew had discovered a little boy (Gr. paidarion, a double diminutive) who had five small barley biscuits and two small fish (Gr. opsaria). Probably the fish would have served as a relish to eat with the bread.[460] Barley bread was the food of the poor in Israel. One writer called the boy's food mere "hors d'oeuvres."[461] Another writer believed that this was a larger meal than a boy could eat, and so he must have intended to sell it.[462] Andrew seems to have felt embarrassed that he had even suggested such an inadequate solution to the problem.

John may have intended his unique inclusion of the details of this boy and his lunch in order to remind his readers of Elisha's similar miracle (2 Kings 4:42-44). The same Greek word for "boy" occurs in the Septuagint translation of that story (2 Kings 4:38, 41).[463] The main point, however, was the lack of adequate food plus Jesus' ability to feed a multitude with such meager rations. But notice too that the boy gave up all that he had to Jesus, which provides a great example for us readers.

6:10           When the disciples had confessed their own inadequacy Jesus proceeded to demonstrate His adequacy. He instructed the disciples to seat the multitude on the comfortable, abundant grass. Jesus, as the Good Shepherd, made His "sheep" lie down in green pastures (cf. Ps. 23:2). Perhaps Jesus seated them also in order to discourage the people from rushing madly for the food once they realized what was happening. All four evangelists recorded the size of the crowd in terms of the males present. This was customary since these people lived in a predominantly male oriented culture. The scene also recalls Moses feeding the Israelites in the wilderness with bread from heaven.

6:11           Jesus first thanked God for the food in prayer, as pious Jews normally did (cf. v. 23). In this He set a good example. Evidently Jesus multiplied the food while He broke it apart and distributed it to the people. John stressed the lavishness of Jesus' supply. The Son of God has always been the perfectly sufficient Provider of people's needs (cf. 2 Cor. 12:9).

John probably did not intend here that we make connections with the Lord's Supper, as some have suggested. He omitted references that would have obviously connected the two meals, such as the breaking of the bread and the distribution of the pieces. And there is no mention of drink.

John also did not refer to the disciples' role in assisting Jesus by serving the people, probably in order to keep Jesus central in the narrative. Obviously there is nothing in the text to support the popular liberal interpretation that the miracle was that Jesus made the people willing to share their food.[464]

6:12-13      Everyone had enough to eat. Jesus satisfied everyone's appetite. There was even quite a bit of food left over that Jesus instructed His disciples to collect in order to avoid waste. The leftover pieces (Gr. klasmata) that remained were not crumbs or scraps on the ground, but pieces broken by Jesus and not consumed.[465]

All four evangelists noted that there were 12 large Jewish "baskets" (Gr. kophinos) of bread fragments left over. Commentators have suggested that these baskets and their number represent either food for the disciples or food for Israel's 12 tribes. At least this detail proves the abundance of Jesus' provision for the people who were present. Each of the Twelve had his own evidence of Jesus' supernatural power and His adequacy.

"The Jews had a custom of leaving something for those that served."[466]

"We need never be anxious that there will not be enough left for our own needs. God never allows a generous giver to be the loser. It is miserliness which impoverishes. The disciples had more left at the finish than they had at the beginning!"[467]

6:14           The Jews who enjoyed Jesus' provision concluded that He must be "the Prophet" whom Moses had predicted (Deut. 18:15-19; cf. John 1:21; 7:40, 52). Jesus fed the Israelites in a wilderness area (Matt. 14:15; Mark 6:35), as Moses had, with bread that apparently came from heaven.

6:15           Moses additionally had provided military leadership for the Israelites and had liberated them from the oppression of the Egyptians. These later Jews concluded that Jesus could do the same for them, so they now sought to secure His political leadership forcefully. This decision marks the high point of Jesus' popularity. Jesus realized their intention and withdrew from the crowd by ascending the mountainside farther by Himself in order to pray (Matt. 14:23; Mark 6:46). The time was not right for Him to establish His kingdom on earth.

This sign demonstrated Jesus' identity as the Son of God, and it prepared for Jesus' revelation of Himself as the Bread of Life (vv. 22-59).[468]

"… the feeding miracle is understood as falling within the fulfillment of the hope of a second Exodus. This flows together with the thought of the event as a celebration of the feast of the kingdom of God, promised in the Scriptures (Isa 25:6-9)."[469]

Notice that this sign illustrates three solutions to problems that people typically try: First, Philip suggested that money was the solution to the problem (v. 7). Second, Andrew looked to people for the solution (v. 9). Third, Jesus proved to be the true solution (v. 11). A fourth solution appears in the other Gospel accounts of the miracle (Matt. 14:15; Mark 6:36; Luke 9:12): get rid of the problem. The disciples told Jesus to send the people away, to let them fend for themselves (cf. Matt. 15:23).

In satisfying the need of the people Jesus used what someone made available to Him. In this case, as in most others, He used a very insignificant person, in the sight of other people, with very insignificant resources. Jesus did not create food out of thin air.

"The practical lesson is clear: whenever there is a need, give all that you have to Jesus and let Him do the rest. Begin with what you have, but be sure you give it all to Him."[470]

2.     The fifth sign: walking on the water 6:16-21 (cf. Matt. 14:24-33; Mark 6:47-52)

John probably included this incident for a number of reasons: It accounts for the return of Jesus and His disciples to the western shore of Galilee, where Jesus gave the discourse on the Bread of Life. Perhaps He did so to continue the Exodus theme (cf. vv. 14-15). It is primarily further proof that Jesus was the Son of God, as He claimed.

The disciples went from the thrill of great success to the agony of potential defeat—even loss of life. The feeding of the 5,000 was a lesson, and Jesus' walking on the water was the test following the lesson.

"In the feeding of the five thousand, our Lord revealed Himself to the multitudes as Jehovah Raah, the Lord our Shepherd (see Psalm 23:1). Here we read of another incident where He revealed Himself as God manifest in the flesh. By walking on the water, He revealed Himself as El Elyon, the possessor of heaven and earth (see Genesis 14:19)."[471]

6:16           "Evening" could refer to any time in the late afternoon before sunset, as the Jews used this term. The feeding of the 5,000 evidently happened on the northeast coast of the Sea of Galilee, southeast of Bethsaida Julius. This town stood immediately east of the place where the Jordan River empties into the lake on its northern coast. Some of the town may have been on the western side of the Jordan.[472]

6:17-18      The disciples' destination was Bethsaida, to the north northwest of where Jesus had fed the 5,000 (Mark 6:45). When Jesus did not appear at Bethsaida by nightfall, they decided to travel on to Capernaum without Him. But because of the storm, they ended up at Gennesaret, farther to the northwest (Mark 6:53).

In John's Gospel darkness often has symbolic significance, implying a bad situation (cf. 3:2; 13:30). Jesus' absence cast another foreboding cloud over the disciples.

6:18           To make the occasion even worse, a strong wind came up and created a storm on the lake. The wind normally came from the west, the direction in which the disciples headed. Mark described the disciples as straining at the oars (Mark 6:48). They were evidently rowing west against the wind.

6:19           The distance the disciples had rowed, in the Greek text, was 25 or 30 stadia, which is between two and three-quarters miles and three and one-half miles. Matthew and Mark wrote that the disciples were in the middle of the lake, probably meaning that they were well out into it (Matt. 14:24; Mark 6:47). Some scholars, wishing to downplay this miracle, have translated the Greek preposition epi as "by" the sea rather than "on" the sea.[473] But the context and the Synoptics clearly present Jesus as walking on the water, not on the shore beside the water.

Mark reported that the disciples thought Jesus was a ghost (Mark 6:49). John simply described them as "frightened." This emphasis has the effect of focusing on Jesus' reduction of their fear. The fear of the disciples, plus Jesus' ability to calm their fear, is the point of John's record of this miracle. Jesus met the disciples between 3:00 and 6:00 a.m. (Matt. 14:25; Mark 6:48).

"Sometimes we are caught in a storm because we have disobeyed the Lord. Jonah is a good example. But sometimes the storm comes because we have obeyed the Lord. When that happens, we can be sure that our Saviour will pray for us, come to us, and deliver us … Jesus had led His people into the green pastures (John 6:10), and now He brought them into the still waters (Ps. 23:2). What a wonderful Shepherd He is!"[474]

"Notice that the disciples did not give up in despair—they continued 'rowing' (v. 19)! And ultimately the Lord came to their side and delivered them from the angry tempest."[475]

6:20           Jesus identified Himself by saying literally "I am" (Gr. ego eimi). This was sometimes a way that Jesus described Himself as God, as John recorded Jesus' words (e.g., 8:24). However the clause does not always mean that, since it is also the normal way of identifying oneself (cf. 9:9). In those instances the translation "It is I" gives the intended meaning. Here Jesus was just identifying Himself to the disciples, though obviously someone who could walk on water was more than a mere man.

"Look around, and we shall be disheartened. Look within, and we shall be discouraged. But look unto Him, and our fears will vanish."[476]

6:21           When the disciples realized that it was Jesus they willingly received Him into the boat. Perhaps Jesus met the disciples fairly close to their destination, and so it did not take them long to arrive there. Perhaps with Jesus in the boat, the remaining trip appeared to them to be a short one—or with the wind subdued, it may not have taken them long to reach land. Any of these explanations could account for John's description: "immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going." Some commentators believed that John recorded a second miracle in this verse, and that the boat supernaturally reached Gennesaret swiftly.[477] There seems little point to such a miracle, however, and there is nothing in the text that draws attention to it.

"The storm on the lake, besides being an apt emblem of the trial of faith, was for the twelve an important lesson in faith, helping to prepare them for the future which awaited them. The temporary absence of their Master was a preparation for His perpetual absence. The miraculous interposition of Jesus at the crisis of their peril was fitted to impress on their minds the conviction that even after He had ascended He would still be with them in the hour of danger."[478]

The feeding of the 5,000 presents Jesus as the Provider of people's needs. His walking on the water pictures Him as the Protector of those who trust and obey Him. The second of these two signs taught the disciples that Jesus had authority over nature (cf. Job 38:8-11; Ps. 29:3-4, 10-11; 65:5-7; 89:9; 107:29).[479] John undoubtedly recorded the incident in order to teach his readers the same lesson. Both miracles demonstrated Jesus' equality with the Father, whom Old Testament writers described as doing these very things.

3.     The bread of life discourse 6:22-59

Jesus proceeded to clarify His identity by continuing to teach the crowds and His disciples. He did so by developing the metaphor of the Bread of Life, which He claimed to be. Jesus used the feeding of the 5,000 as a basis for explaining His identity to the multitudes. He compared Himself to bread.

"Again, it was a ministry of 'grace and truth' (John 1:17). In grace, our Lord fed the hungry people; but in truth, He gave them the Word of God."[480]

"The discourses fall into three groups: vv. 26-40, vv. 41-51, vv. 52-58. Each group is introduced by some expression of feeling on the part of those to whom the words are addressed, a simple question (v. 25), a murmuring (v. 41), a contention among themselves (v. 52). The thoughts successively dealt with are distinct: (1) the search after life, (2) the relation of the Son to God and man, (3) the appropriation by the individual of the Incarnate Son; and it appears that the audience and place do not remain the same. There are evident breaks after v. 40, and v. 51. The 'Jews' are introduced in vv. 41, 52, but not before. The last words were spoken 'in synagogue' (v. 59), but it is scarcely conceivable that the conversation began there."[481]

The people's search for Jesus 6:22-25

6:22           The multitude on the "other side" must have still been near the northeast shore, after Jesus had fed the 5,000, south of Bethsaida. They were across the lake from the northwestern shore, where Jesus and the disciples were now (cf. Mark 6:53). They could not figure out where Jesus could have gone. The disciples had left in one boat alone, without Jesus. There was only one other boat still there, so they knew that Jesus had not used it to leave the area.

6:23           While the crowd waited for Jesus to appear, other boats with people from Tiberias, on the western shore, arrived.

6:24           Eventually the crowd realized that Jesus was not there in that region, so they boarded the small boats that had come from Tiberias and set out for Capernaum. They probably thought that they could find Jesus there because Capernaum was His headquarters.

6:25           When they did find Him, they wanted to know how He got there.

Why did John bother to relate this seemingly unimportant information? Apparently he did so in order to document the fact that Jesus really had crossed the lake by walking on the water. Another reason could be that his description supports Jesus' statement that the people were looking for Him (v. 26). In view of what these people proceeded to demand of Jesus (a sign, vv. 30-31), it was important that John show that they were the very people who had witnessed the sign of the miraculous feeding.

Jesus' creating desire for the bread 6:26-34

This section of the text contains Jesus' puzzling but attractive description of the Bread of Life. Jesus was whetting His hearers' appetites for it (cf. 4:10). The pericope ends with them asking Him to give them the Bread (v. 34), but others stopped following Him (v. 66).

"He spoke … with Calvary in view, setting Himself forth as the life of the world in terms applicable to a sacrificial victim, whose blood is shed, and whose flesh is eaten by those presenting the offering; not mincing His words, but saying every thing in the strongest and intensest manner possible."[482]

6:26           Jesus' introductory words identified another very important statement that follows (cf. vv. 32, 47, 53). He did not answer the people's question (v. 25) and tell them that He had walked across the surface of the lake. He did not want them to follow Him primarily because He could do miracles. He understood that their interest in Him was mainly because of His ability to provide for them physically. They were not interested in Him, or the significance of His signs, which identified Him as the God-man, but because Jesus could fill their stomachs.

"They were more concerned with hungry stomachs than with hungry souls."[483]

"Do you go to church for some material need? social need? religious need? Or do you go to meet Him?"[484]

Many people today are only interested in Jesus because of the benefits that He might give them. Jesus proceeded to explain what the miracle that they had witnessed signified.

6:27           Jesus had previously spoken to the Samaritan woman about living water (4:10, 14). Now He spoke to these Galileans about food that lasts. He was, as previously, contrasting physical and spiritual nourishment. Consequently the descriptions that follow contain a mixture of literal and metaphorical language. Jesus wanted His hearers to view the spiritual aspects of His mission as more important than its physical aspects.

The people apparently understood His reference to "food that lasts for eternal life" as meaning physical food that does not go bad. As the Son of Man Jesus claimed to have authority to give this food because God the Father had set His seal of approval on Jesus. The Father had authorized the Son to act for Him (cf. 5:32-47). This was one of the functions of a seal in Jesus' culture. And God setting "His seal" on something or someone was a common expression for that thing being true.[485] Jesus was speaking of Himself as the food (vv. 35, 53). The Son would give this food and eternal life, but the people had a responsibility to work (i.e., believe the gospel, v. 29) for it too.

6:28           "The works of God" are the works that God requires to obtain the food that lasts, even eternal life. The people were still thinking on the physical level. They thought that Jesus was talking about some physical work that would yield eternal life. Not only that, they assumed that they could do it, and that by doing it they could earn eternal life. They either ignored, or misunderstood, or forgot, or disbelieved, Jesus' statement that He would give them eternal life (cf. Rom. 10:2-4). There is something within the fallen nature of human beings that makes working for eternal life more attractive than receiving it as a gift. That thing is pride.

6:29           The only work that God requires of people for salvation is faith in His Son (cf. 3:11-17). The "work" that Jesus specified was not something physical at all. It was what God requires, namely, trust in Jesus (cf. Rom. 3:28). However it is a work that He also enables.[486] Jesus' reply was a flat contradiction of the idea that people can earn salvation with their good deeds. This is another of the many great evangelistic verses in John's Gospel (1:12; 3:16, 36; 5:24; 6:47; et al.). In this discourse Jesus equated believing (vv. 29, 47) with coming to Him (v. 35), and eating this Bread (vv. 50, 51).

6:30           Jesus had just plainly told the people what work they needed to do in order to obtain eternal life (v. 29). Now they asked Him what work He would do to prove that He was God's authorized representative, which He claimed to be (cf. 1 Cor. 1:22).

6:31           They suggested that producing bread from heaven like Moses did might convince them. Their unwillingness to believe the sign that Jesus had given them the previous day shows the hardness of their hearts. No matter what Jesus did, the unbelievers always demanded more.

Probably Jesus' provision of bread for thousands of people the previous day led them to ask for this greater miracle. Some of them had concluded that Jesus might be the Prophet that Moses had predicted (v. 14). If He was, He ought to be able to do greater miracles than Moses did. The manna that Moses produced spoiled if it was left uneaten overnight, but Jesus seemed to be promising bread that would not spoil ("that lasts").

The source of the people's loose quotation is probably Psalm 78:24. However there are also similarities to Nehemiah 9:15; Exodus 16:4 and 15; and Psalm 105:40.

"This section of the discourse is to be understood against the background of a Jewish expectation that, when the Messiah came, he would renew the miracle of the manna."[487]

6:32           The people were viewing Moses as the source of the blessing of manna in the past. They believed that the manna was given through his merits and ended with his death.[488] There is also some evidence that they believed that Moses was interceding for them in the present as well.[489] Jesus pointed them beyond Moses to the true source of the manna, namely, God. He wanted them to look to God for their needs, not to a human channel of God's blessing.

6:33           Jesus also turned the conversation away from the request for a physical sign back to the subject of the bread that lasts. God, not Moses, had given manna in the past, but He was giving a different type of "bread" now. Jesus described it as coming down out of heaven and providing life for the entire world—not just the Israelites. With this response Jesus effectively took Moses and his sign, which the people had put in a superior place over Himself, and placed them in an inferior place under Himself. The true (Gr. alethinos, genuine or original, cf. 1:9) "bread" is the Bread that satisfies ultimately: Jesus. In this discourse Jesus mentioned seven times that He had come down out of heaven, stressing the fact that He was God's divine gift to humanity (vv. 33, 38, 41, 42, 50, 51, 58).

6:34           Jesus had commended the new "bread" sufficiently now for the people to request it of Him, like He had commended the living water to the Samaritan woman. He had set the people up for the revelation that He was that "bread." If they were sincere in their desire for it, they would accept Him. Yet the people did not realize what they were requesting, just as the woman at the well did not (cf. 4:15). They were still thinking of physical bread. They wanted some new type of physical bread from then on that would never spoil.

Jesus' identification of the bread 6:35-40

6:35           Jesus now identified Himself as the "bread" about which He had been speaking (cf. v. 47; Isa. 55:1-2). The Jews regarded the real bread from heaven as the Law.[490] Jesus did not say He had the bread of life, but that He was that bread.

"The Jews asked for something from Christ: He offers them Himself."[491]

Jesus claimed to be able to satisfy completely, like bread and water satisfy physically. His hearers did not need to return to Him for salvation repeatedly, as they had assumed (v. 34), since He would also satisfy them permanently (cf. 13:9-10). The word translated "never" is emphatic in the Greek text. Coming to Jesus and believing on Jesus are synonymous concepts, just as bread and water together represent total human need. Jesus did not mean that continual dependence on Him was unimportant (cf. 15:4-5). He meant that believing on Him for salvation would satisfy the basic human need and desire for life. Again Jesus linked "life" with Himself. He is what sustains and nourishes spiritual life. It is by feeding on Him (coming to Him and believing on Him) that we obtain life initially and continue to flourish spiritually.

"If a man truly has life-giving contact with Jesus he never ceases to be dependent on him … but the initial contact does not need to be repeated."[492]

Jesus' claim to be "the bread of life," three times in this discourse (vv. 35, 48, 51), is the first of seven such claims that John recorded Jesus making in his Gospel. Jesus used the same expression (Gr. ego eimi, "I am," plus a predicate) in each case. Two other instances of ego eimi and a predicate occur (8:18, 23), but they are slightly different in meaning. Ego eimi without the predicate appears in 6:20; 8:24, 28, 58; and 18:6. Each of these seven "I am" claims expresses Jesus' relationship to humankind's basic spiritual needs metaphorically.


Jesus' "I am" claims




The Bread of Life

Satisfier and sustainer of life

6:35, 48

The Light of the World

Dispeller of sin's darkness


The Gate

Entrance into security and fellowship

10:7, 9

The Good Shepherd

Protector and guide in life

10:11, 14

The Resurrection and the Life

Hope in death


The Way, the Truth, and the Life

Certainty in perplexity about the way to God


The True Vine

Source of vitality and productivity

15:1, 5


"To Jewish ears this 'I am' aroused associations of the divine, for in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament [the Septuagint], the expression is frequently used by God Himself. There is little doubt that John's repeated use of this expression is meant to awaken these divine associations."[493]

"Jesus is the one who bears the divine name (cf. Ex. 3:14). For John, this story takes on the character of a theophany, not unlike the Transfiguration recorded by the Synoptics."[494]

6:36           Jesus charged these Galileans with unbelief, like He had formerly charged the Judean residents of Jerusalem with it (5:36-38). They had seen Him physically, and on the physical level they had concluded that He might be the predicted Prophet. But they had not seen (understood) who He really was. They did not believe that He was the divine God-man. Physical sight and spiritual insight are two different things.

"At heart, the common people were no more ready for the Kingdom of Christ than their rulers. The main difference was that in the case of the rulers there were certain vested rights at stake, while the people in general thought they had nothing much to lose in any event."[495]

6:37           These people's lack of faith did not indicate that Jesus had failed or that God's plan had failed. The ability to believe on Jesus requires divine enablement. It is only those whom the Father enables to believe that come to Jesus in faith. These are all the people whom the Father gives to the Son as gifts. Jesus viewed the ultimate cause of faith as God's electing grace, not man's choice.

Jesus promised not to turn away ("cast out") anyone who comes to Him in faith. He used a figure of speech (litotes) in order to stress strongly the positive fact that all who believe in Him find acceptance and security. In litotes the speaker or writer affirms a positive truth by negating its opposite. For example "This is no small matter" is a litotes meaning "This is a very significant matter." In the first part of this verse Jesus spoke of the elect as a group, and in the second part He referred to every individual in the group. Jesus had confidence that the Father would draw the elect to Him, and the believer may have confidence too in the Son receiving and retaining him or her. How can a person know if he or she is one of the elect? Let him or her come to Jesus in faith.

6:38           Jesus next explained why He would accept all who come to Him and would preserve them. The purpose of the Incarnation was that the Son would fulfill the Father's will.

6:39           The Father's will was that the Son should lose not a single individual ("nothing") of all whom the Father gave Him. Preserving them includes raising them from the dead to eternal life.

6:40           The distant purpose of the Father is the eternal life of those whom He gives to the Son, namely, those who believe on the Son. Jesus Himself will raise each believer. This is an added proof of every believer's security.

"This thought is of the greatest comfort to believers. Their assurance is based not on their feeble hold on Christ, but on his sure grip on them (cf. 10:28f.)."[496]

"Here, as in 5.24-9, John balances exactly the two aspects of the Christian life, in present possession and future hope; and there is nothing to indicate that he thought one more important than the other."[497]

Seeing the Son equals believing in Him. Jesus meant seeing with the eyes of faith. "The last day" is the day of the resurrection of believers, whenever it may occur. It is "last" in the sense that it will be the last day that we experience mortality.

"John 6:37-40 contains Jesus' explanation of the process of personal salvation. These are among the most profound words He ever spoke, and we cannot hope to plumb their depths completely. He explained that salvation involves both divine sovereignty and human responsibility."[498]

The fact of divine election was not something that either Jesus or John—or the Apostle Paul—was embarrassed to mention. Even though God has chosen the elect for salvation, they must believe on Jesus. Jesus balanced these truths beautifully in this discourse (cf. 17:1, 6, 9, 24). He likewise affirmed the eternal security of the believer (cf. 17:11-12). If one believer failed to reach heaven it would be a disgrace for the Son, since it would indicate His inability or unwillingness to fulfill the Father's will. Judas Iscariot may appear at first to be an exception, but God did not choose him for salvation (vv. 70-71; 17:12), even though Jesus chose him as one of the Twelve.

Jesus' identity as the Bread of Life 6:41-51

6:41           Jesus' claim to be the bread of life that had come down from heaven was something that His hearers found hard to understand and accept.

"This verse seems to mark the presence of new persons and a new scene, as well as a new stage in the history. The verses 37-40 were probably addressed specially to the immediate circle of the disciples. Thus we can understand how the Jews dwelt on the words in which Christ identified Himself with the true spiritual food of the world, while they took no notice of the loftier prerogatives which followed from this truth, since the exposition of these was not directed to them."[499]

In his Gospel John often used the term "the Jews" to represent the Jews who opposed Jesus during His ministry (cf. 2:18, 20; 5:16). It became something of a technical term as he used it. It often means more than just a racial group in this Gospel.

6:42           Some of Jesus' hearers had known Him all His life. Even more of them had come to know Him and His family since Jesus had moved to Capernaum, where Jesus gave this discourse (v. 59). His claim to have come down out of heaven seemed to them to contradict what they knew about His human origins. Again they were thinking only in physical terms. If they had known the truth about His virgin birth and incarnation they would have understood that what He claimed was accurate.

"The Messiah was to come 'in the clouds,' suddenly to appear; but Jesus had quietly grown up among them."[500]

Micah 5:2 specified the Messiah's birthplace as Bethlehem of Judah, but Jewish apocalyptic literature said that he would appear suddenly in the clouds or from the sun (cf. 4 Ezra 7:28; 13:32; The Apocalypse of Baruch 13:32).[501]

It is interesting that the Israelites in the wilderness who received the manna from heaven also grumbled (Exod. 15:24; 17:3; Num. 11:4-6). People's dissatisfaction with God's good gifts shows the perversity of the human heart. It was Jesus' claim to a heavenly origin that offended these people, as it had offended the people of Jerusalem (5:18).

"The Incarnation of the Son of God in Jesus was and remains the great stumbling block in Christianity for the Jews."[502]

The New Testament reveals nothing about Joseph after Jesus' childhood. He passed off the scene, but statements such as this one suggest that he had lived in Nazareth as Jesus was growing up. Probably Joseph died sometime before Jesus began His public ministry.

6:43           Jesus did not allow the people's confusion about His origin to distress Him. But He rebuked their grumbling dissatisfaction ("complaining").

"These words of Christ make manifest the depths of human depravity. They expose the inveterate stubbornness of the human will. They explain the 'murmuring' of these Jews."[503]

6:44           He reminded them of what God had given them: the offer of salvation. He explained that those of them whom the Father had chosen for salvation would believe in Him, regardless of their inability to reconcile His earthly and heavenly origins. The important thing for them to do was believe Him, not first harmonize all the apparent contradictions that they observed.

Jesus clarified also that the Father's drawing (Gr. helkyo) is selective (cf. v. 37). He does not just draw everyone in the general sense of extending the gospel invitation to them, though He does that. He selects some from the mass of humanity and brings them to Himself for salvation. It is that minority that Jesus will raise up to eternal life on the last day (cf. v. 40). This truth does not contradict 12:32, where Jesus said that He would draw (Gr. helkyo) all men to Himself. There He was speaking of all peoples (ethnic groups) without distinction—not just Jews but also Gentiles. He did not mean all people without exception.

"The thought of the divine initiative in salvation is one of the great doctrines of this Gospel, and indeed of the Christian faith."[504]

6:45           Jesus clarified what God's "drawing" involves. He cited recognized authority for His statement that all whom the Father had chosen would come to Him. Old Testament prophets had revealed that God would teach His people (Isa. 54:13; cf. Jer. 31:34). The person whom God taught about Jesus' identity would believe in ("comes to") Him. That enlightenment comes primarily through the Scriptures, which is God's principle tool in bring people to Himself.

"When he compels belief, it is not by the savage constraint of a rapist, but by the wonderful wooing of a lover."[505]

6:46           Jesus further clarified how God draws people to Himself by explaining how He does not do it. It is not by giving a mystical revelation of Himself in His unveiled splendor to people. Jesus is the only One who has seen God fully (cf. 1:18). He is the only mediator of that knowledge of God, without which no one can know God. God teaches people about Himself through Jesus. Listening to Jesus then becomes essential for learning about God. God draws the elect to Himself by revealing Himself through Jesus. The Scriptures bear witness to that revelation.

6:47                    "At this point the discourse takes a fresh start. The objection of the Jews has been met, and the Lord goes on to develop the idea set forth in vv. 35, 36, taking up the last word: 'He that believeth' (omit on me, the phrase stands absolutely [without further explanation]) hath 'eternal' life. The actual existence of true faith implies the right object of it."[506]

Jesus introduced His repetition and summary of the essential truth that He was teaching with another strong affirmation. This summary continues through verse 51. He repeated what He had told Nicodemus more concisely (3:15). In spite of the truth of the Father's drawing the elect to Himself, it is still imperative that they believe in Jesus. This is the human responsibility. However belief in Jesus is not something that deserves a reward from God; it is not meritorious. It is simply the proper response to God's working. The result is eternal or everlasting life, which the new believer begins to enjoy the moment he or she believes in Jesus. All of this is part of what Jesus meant when He claimed to be the bread of life. Eternal life was at stake, not just physical life.

Another interpretation of what Jesus meant, when He said, "The one who believes has eternal life," follows:

"Believing is not the cause of a sinner obtaining Divine life, rather is it the effect of it. The fact that a man believes, is the evidence that he already has Divine life within him. True, the sinner ought to believe. Such is his bounden duty. And in addressing sinners from the standpoint of human responsibility, it is perfectly proper to say 'Whosoever believeth in Christ shall not perish but have eternal life.' Nevertheless, the fact remains that no unregenerate sinner ever did or ever will believe. The unregenerate sinner ought to love God, and love Him with all his heart. He is commanded to. But he does not, and will not, until Divine grace gives him a new heart. So he ought to believe, but he will not till he has been quickened into newness of life. Therefore, we say that when any man does believe, is found believing, it is proof positive that he is already in possession of eternal life. 'He that believeth on me hath (already has) eternal life': cf. John 3:36; 5:24; 1 John 5:1, etc."[507]

Many Bible students, including myself, have difficulty accepting this view: that regeneration precedes faith. We believe that God gives the elect the grace to believe the gospel, without which grace no one can be saved, but that a person is not regenerated until he or she believes the gospel (cf. Acts 16:31).

6:48           Jesus repeated His claim to being the bread of life (cf. v. 35). As an effective communicator Jesus repeated His statements when He knew they needed emphasis.

6:49           Jesus had been speaking of everlasting life, and had claimed that He, as the bread of life, could provide it. Now He clarified the distinction between the physical bread that God provided in the wilderness, and the spiritual bread that He provided in Jesus. The result of eating the manna was temporary satisfaction but ultimately physical death.

6:50           But the result of believing in Jesus was permanent satisfaction and no death—i.e., victory over physical death and no threat of the second (or spiritual) death.

"When God gave the manna, He gave only a gift; but when Jesus came, He gave Himself. There was no cost to God in sending the manna each day, but He gave His Son at great cost. The Jews had to eat the manna every day, but the sinner who trusts Christ once is given eternal life. … It is not difficult to see in the manna a picture of our Lord Jesus Christ. The manna was a mysterious thing to the Jews; in fact, the word manna means 'What is it?' (see Ex. 16:15). Jesus was a mystery to those who saw Him. The manna came at night from heaven, and Jesus came to this earth when sinners were in moral and spiritual darkness. The manna was small (His humility), round (His eternality), and white (His purity). It was sweet to the taste (Ps. 34:8) and it met the needs of the people adequately."[508]

"This is one of the many, many verses of Scripture which affirms the eternal security of the believer."[509]

6:51           This verse contains a final summary of the main ideas in this section. Jesus is "living Bread," not manna, but He also came down from God ("out of heaven") like manna did. Those who believe on Him (whoever "eats from this bread") will experience eternal life ("live forever").

"This is the meaning of this never dying [v. 50]: though he go down to death, he shall pass through it to that world where there shall be no more death. To live for ever [sic] is not to be for ever, but to be happy for ever."[510]

Jesus would give His body, like bread, so that the world could live spiritually. He referred to His coming sacrificial death. Not only had the Father given the Bread, but the Bread would now give Himself ("My flesh"). John characteristically emphasized Jesus' death as being for life rather than for sin.[511]

"In words dark and mysterious before the event, clear as day after it, the speaker declares the great truth, that His death is to be the life of men; that His broken body and shed blood are to be as meat and drink to a perishing world, conferring on all who shall partake of them the gift of immortality."[512]

The meaning of believing 6:52-59

Jesus introduced a new metaphor for believing on Him, namely, eating His flesh. The following pericope is highly metaphorical.

6:52           As Jesus' hearers had objected to what He had said about His identity (vv. 41-42), so they now expressed confusion about what He meant by eating His flesh. An intense argument (Gr. emachonto) erupted among them. John probably meant that they were struggling among themselves to understand His meaning. In what sense would Jesus give His flesh to eat as food?[513]

6:53           This is the fourth and last of Jesus' strong prefaces in this discourse (cf. vv. 26, 32, 47). It should be obvious to any reader of this discourse by now that Jesus was speaking metaphorically and not literally. By referring to His "flesh" and "blood," Jesus was figuratively referring to His whole person. This is a figure of speech called synecdoche, in which one part stands for the whole. Jesus was illustrating belief—what it means to appropriate Him by faith (v. 40).

Jesus was again stressing His identity as the revealer of God with the title Son of Man. Blood, when used as a symbol in the Old Testament, represented violent death primarily. Thus Jesus was hinting that He would die violently. He connected the importance of belief in Him with His death. The idea of eating blood was repulsive to the Jews (cf. Lev. 3:17; 17:10-14). Jesus' hearers should have understood that He was speaking metaphorically, but this reference offended many of them (vv. 60-61).

"It is misunderstood by many [Roman Catholics] who hence infer that, if they take the sacrament [the consecrated elements of the Eucharist, especially the bread or Host] when they die, they shall certainly go to heaven."[514]

6:54           He expressed the same truth first negatively (v. 53) and then positively (v. 54a). He referred again to resurrection as well, because it is the inauguration of immortal eternal life (cf. vv. 39, 40, 44).

"… the present statement is only another form of v. 47 (compare v. 40), 'He that believes has life eternal.'"[515]

"This act of receiving Christ is done once for all. I cannot receive Him a second time, for He never leaves me!"[516]

Many interpreters of verses 53 and 54 have seen allusions to the Lord's Supper in what Jesus said. Sacramentalists among them find apparent support here for their belief that participation in the Eucharist is essential for salvation. However, Jesus had not yet said anything about the Christian communion service. Besides, He was clearly speaking of belief metaphorically, not the communion elements. Most importantly, the New Testament presents the Lord's Supper as a commemoration of Jesus' death, not a means for obtaining eternal life. Nevertheless these verses help us appreciate the symbolism of the Eucharist.

"In short, John 6 does not directly speak of the eucharist; it does expose the true meaning of the Lord's supper as clearly as any passage in Scripture."[517]

"Four times over [vv. 39, 40, 44, and 54] He [Jesus] declared in express terms that all who partook of this bread of life should be raised again at the last day. The prominence thus given to the resurrection of the body is due in part to the fact that throughout His discourse Jesus was drawing a contrast between the manna which fed the Israelites in the desert and the true bread of which it was the type. The contrast was most striking just at this point. The manna was merely a substitute for ordinary food; it had no power to ward off death: the generation which had been so miraculously supported passed away from the earth, like all other generations of mankind. Therefore, argued Jesus, it could not be the true bread from heaven; for the true bread must be capable of destroying death, and endowing the recipients with the power of an endless existence."[518]

6:55           This verse explains why Jesus' statements in verses 53 and 54 are true. Jesus' Person, symbolized by His flesh and blood, is what truly satisfies and sustains life. This is the function of literal food and drink as well.

6:56           Because Jesus' Person is what truly satisfies and sustains life, one who believes in Him "remains" (Gr. meno, abides) in Him. This is a new term in the discussion, but it is synonymous with having eternal life. Jesus was saying that believers continue to possess eternal life; they will never lose it. Believers remain in Christ, and He remains in them. Jesus was not speaking here about the importance of believers abiding in fellowship with God, as He did later in chapter 15. Here He was speaking to unbelievers about entering into a saving relationship with God.

6:57           Jesus traced the eternal life, which the believer receives when he or she trusts in Jesus, back through the Son to the living God (cf. 5:21, 24-27). This helps us see that eternal life is essentially God's life that He imparts to believers. It also clarifies Jesus' central role as the Mediator of eternal life from the Father to humankind.

"The Christian life is a mediated life. John, though he has been called a mystic, is unaware of any religious life which is not wholly dependent on Jesus."[519]

6:58           In conclusion Jesus returned to His initial claim that He had come from the Father (v. 29). The Jews often substituted the term "heaven" for "God" out of respect for God's name, and Jesus did that here. This is a figure of speech called metonymy, in which the speaker or writer uses the name of one thing for that of another associated with or suggested by it. The Israelites who ate the physical bread that came down from God died in the wilderness (vv. 30-31), but those who believe in ("eat") the spiritual bread that came down from Him will live forever.

6:59           John now identified the historical context in which Jesus gave this teaching. Jesus gave this discourse in the synagogue in the town of Capernaum, which He had adopted as the home base of His ministry in Galilee (cf. 2:12). This verse evidently marks the conclusion of the discussion that took place within that synagogue.

Archaeologists have uncovered what they believe may be the foundations of this synagogue. Visitors to the site of Capernaum may now view a reconstructed building that dates from three or four hundred years later.

The Apostle Paul went to the Jewish synagogues in the towns that he evangelized because they were the places where pious Jews normally congregated to listen to God's Word. We should probably view Jesus' teaching ministry here as similar to Paul's later practice. Both men announced God's revelations to lost religious Jews, and they appealed to them to believe the gospel.

4.     The responses to the bread of life discourse 6:60—7:9

Considerable discussion followed Jesus presentation of Himself as the bread of life. John noted the responses of many people who were following Jesus around, then the response of the Twelve, and finally the response of most of the Jews. What followed probably happened in the adjoining courtyard, or outside the synagogue, or perhaps inside after Jesus had concluded His discourse.

"The present paragraph [vv. 60-71] marks the close of the Galilean ministry of Jesus, and in it John presents, in summary form and in dependence upon certain significant synoptic incidents, the result of that ministry. Cf. 12.37-50, where the work of Jesus in Jerusalem, and indeed his whole public ministry, is similarly summarized."[520]

The response of many disciples 6:60-65

6:60           Not only the Jews generally (v. 52), but many of Jesus' followers ("disciples"), found His teaching about the bread of life "unpleasant" (or shocking, Gr. skleros, also translated elsewhere "difficult" or "hard"). The term "disciple" (lit. learner) is clearly not synonymous with the term "believer" in the Gospels. In verse 64 Jesus said that some of these disciples did not believe on Him. Some of Jesus' disciples were believers, but many of them were following Him simply to learn from Him and then decide if He was the Messiah or not. The term "disciples" sometimes refers specifically to the 12 apostles (e.g., Luke 6:13).

This teaching about the bread of life persuaded many in this inquisitive category of disciple to abandon Jesus (v. 66). Some of them undoubtedly wanted the physical benefits of Jesus' messianism, but they had little interest in spiritual matters (cf. vv. 14-15, 26, 30-31). Others could not see beyond Jesus' humanity to His true identity (vv. 41-46). Others probably could not accept Jesus' claim to be greater than Moses (vv. 32-33, 58). Still others found Jesus' language offensive, particularly His references to eating flesh and drinking blood (vv. 53-54).

6:61           Evidently Jesus spoke these words to a large group of His followers that included the Twelve. He suggested that He would yet reveal things that would be even harder for them to accept than what they had heard so far. He had told them that He had come down from heaven (v. 38), and this had scandalized (Gr. skandalizei) them. What would they think if they actually saw Him ascend back into heaven?

"Thoughts are words to Christ; we should therefore take heed not only what we say and do, but what we think."[521]

6:62           Jesus may have been referring to His bodily ascension, but perhaps He was speaking of His crucifixion (cf. 3:14). This latter explanation is in harmony with Jesus' metaphorical language that He had been using throughout the previous discourse. Jesus' crucifixion was in a sense the first step in His ascending back to the Father, since it permitted Him to do so. Certainly Jesus' crucifixion was the most humanly offensive aspect of His entire ministry (cf. 1 Cor. 1:23 where the same Greek word, skandalizei, occurs). Perhaps Jesus' crucifixion and ascension are in view.

"The Passion, the Resurrection, the Ascension, were steps in the progress of the 'ascending up' through suffering, which is the great offence of the Gospel."[522]

6:63           Some of Jesus' disciples turned from Him because they preferred the material realm to the spiritual realm, for which Jesus had an obvious preference. He admonished them that the Spirit gives real life (cf. Gen. 1:2; Ezek. 37:14; John 3:6), whereas the flesh provides nothing of comparable importance. The words that Jesus had spoken to them dealt with spiritual realities and resulted in spiritual life. Furthermore they were words that came from God's Spirit. Therefore they were extremely important.

6:64           In spite of the importance of spiritual life, Jesus said He recognized that some of His disciples did not believe on Him. This was a tragic irony. They had followed Jesus, had listened to Him, had seen His miracles, but they did not believe Him. Again, a disciple is not necessarily a believer.

John added that Jesus knew who did not believe on Him—even which one of His disciples would betray Him (vv. 70-71)—in order to show that human unbelief did not take Jesus by surprise.

"Jesus had given ample opportunity for faith to all those who followed him; yet from the beginning his spiritual discernment made him aware of those whose faith was genuine and those whose attachment was only superficial."[523]

"The beginning" is probably a reference to the beginning of Jesus' ministry, though it is possibly another reference to Jesus' pre-incarnate existence (cf. 1:1).

6:65           Again Jesus expressed His belief that the human decision to believe or not believe rested ultimately in God's elective purpose (vv. 37, 44). Thus He did not view the unbelief of His disciples as an indication that He had failed. Even so, Jesus did not present the importance of belief on Himself as something that His hearers could take or leave either. It meant the difference between life and death for them, so He urged them to believe.

The response of the Twelve 6:66-71

6:66           Jesus lost "many" of His disciples because of the Bread of Life Discourse. His explanation to them following the discourse did not change their minds. He had made no concessions. They had understood Him correctly the first time. The Greek phrase ek toutou ("As a result of this") can mean "from this time" or "for this reason." Both meanings fit here.

"The sermon on the bread of life produced decisive effects. It converted popular enthusiasm for Jesus into disgust; like a fan, it separated true from false disciples; and like a winnowing breeze, it blew the chaff away, leaving a small residuum of wheat behind."[524]

In this passage we see four responses to Jesus: seeking (vv. 22-40), murmuring (vv. 41-51), striving (vv. 52-59), and departing (vv. 60-71).[525]

6:67           Jesus' question in this verse assumed a negative answer, as is clear from the Greek construction and the NASB translation. He undoubtedly asked it, not because He had questions about the Twelve's perseverance (v. 64), but because they needed to reaffirm their commitment to Him. It would have been easy for them to agree with the crowd. The question also implied that very many of His disciples had abandoned Jesus, perhaps the majority.

6:68-69      As was his custom, Peter spoke up for the Twelve. "Lord" (Gr. kurios) can mean simply "sir," but here it probably has a deeper meaning. These disciples were reaffirming their allegiance to the One whom Peter now identified as "the Holy One of God" (cf. Ps. 16:10; Isa. 41:14; 43:3; 47:4; 48:17; Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34). Peter probably did not mean that they viewed Jesus as their last resort, but that Jesus was their only hope. They believed that Jesus' teachings ("words") resulted in eternal life for those who believed (v. 63), and they had believed in Him as the holy Messiah whom God had sent. It is less likely that Peter meant that Jesus' words only concerned or dealt with eternal life.

"Three anchors, we infer from these words, helped the twelve to ride out the storm: Religious earnestness or sincerity; a clear perception of the alternatives before them; and implicit confidence in the character and attachment to the person of their Master."[526]

Peter's confession of faith here is not the same as the one He made at Caesarea Philippi (Matt. 16:16; Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20). The content is different as is the occasion. Probably Peter's confession of Jesus' full deity occurred first at Caesarea Philippi. Here he evidently meant that the Twelve believed that Jesus was who He had claimed to be in the preceding discourse, namely, the Messiah who had come with divine revelation from God.

"Here the confession points to the inward character in which the Apostles found the assurance of life: there the confession was of the public office and theocratic Person of the Lord."[527]

Peter referred to Jesus as "the Holy One" later in his preaching on the day of Pentecost, but that was after he had received much more understanding, particularly as a result of Jesus' resurrection (Acts 2:27; 3:14).

6:70           It might appear that the Twelve had chosen Jesus as their rabbi, but really the choice had been His (Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-16). He had chosen them, and they had then believed on Him, even as the Father chooses the elect who then later believe on Jesus. Reflecting His knowledge of those who believed in Him and those who did not (v. 64), Jesus revealed that even among the Twelve there was one unbeliever ("a devil"). Jesus had chosen him to be one of the Twelve, but God had not chosen Him for salvation (cf. 13:10-11; 17:12; Acts 1:25; Ps. 41:9).

The Greek word translated "devil" (Gr. diabolos) does not have an article with it in many reliable ancient Greek manuscripts. This usually indicates an emphasis on the quality of the noun. Here it probably means that one of the Twelve was devil-like (cf. Mark 8:33). The Greek word is the equivalent of the Hebrew satan, meaning "adversary" or "accuser." It means slanderer or false accuser, but when it occurs as a substantive it means Satan (e.g., 8:44; 13:2; cf. 13:27). Jesus probably meant that one of the Twelve was going to behave like Satan because Satan would direct him. This was the first time that Jesus hinted that one of the Twelve was a hypocritical believer.

6:71           John, not Jesus, identified the devil among the Twelve as Judas. His devilish act was to be the betrayal of Jesus into His enemies' hands. "Iscariot" is probably a transliteration of the Hebrew is qeriyot, meaning "man of Kerioth," Kerioth being a village in southern Judah (Josh. 15:25).

"The record of the great controversy at Jerusalem, during which faith and unbelief were fully revealed, falls into two parts. The first part ([chs.] vi.—x.) contains the outline of the successive stages of the controversy itself; the second the decisive judgment (xi., xii.). … This central section of the whole Gospel [chs. 7—10] contains events and discourses connected with two national festivals, the Feast of Tabernacles and the Feast of Dedication, which commemorated the first possession of Canaan and the great recovery of religious independence. Thus the festivals had a most marked meaning in regard to the life of the Jews, and this, as will be seen, influenced the form of the Lord's teaching. There is a clear progress in the history. The discussions at the Feast of Tabernacles (vii., viii.) are characterized by waverings and questionings among the people. The discussions at the Feast of Dedication show the separation already consummated (ix., x.)."[528]

The response of the Jews 7:1-9

"John 7 has three time divisions: before the feast (vv. 1-10), in the midst of the feast (vv. 11-36), and on the last day of the feast (vv. 37-52). The responses during each of those periods can be characterized by three words: disbelief, debate, and division."[529]

This section relates the reaction of another significant group of people to Jesus. They were the Jews generally, including Jesus' brothers. The section also prepares the reader for the following presentation of Jesus' ministry in Jerusalem that happened at the Feast of Tabernacles.

"In this Gospel Jerusalem is the storm-centre of the Messiah's ministry, where He vindicates His claims before consummating His work by suffering outside its walls."[530]

7:1             Opposition to Jesus had by now become so strong, particularly in Judea, that He chose to stay and minister around Galilee. This is a brief reference to Jesus' later Galilean ministry, which the Synoptics describe more fully. The Jewish leaders were continuing to lay plans for Jesus' execution (cf. 5:18). John noted their increasing hostility here and in the following chapters (cf. vv. 19, 30, 32, 44; 8:59; 10:39; 11:8, 53).

7:2             The Feast of Tabernacles ("Booths") occurred six months after Passover (6:4). Matthew 12 through 17 and 21 record some events that happened during this six-month period, which John passed over without comment. That year the Feast of Tabernacles fell on September 10 through 17, A.D. 32.[531] It was a fall grape and olive harvest festival (Exod. 23:16; Lev. 23:33-36, 39-43; Deut. 16:13-15). In Jesus' day it was the most popular of the three required Jewish feasts.[532] It commemorated the Israelites' sojourn in the wilderness. Many devout Jews built temporary shelters out of branches and lived in them for the week in order to simulate the wilderness conditions in which their forefathers had lived.

7:3-4          Jesus' half-brothers advised Him to go to the feast so that His remaining disciples would continue to believe on Him and so that more people would become His disciples. They evidently supposed that Jesus wanted as large a following as possible. They encouraged Him to promote Himself, perhaps because they saw some advantage for themselves in His doing so. It is difficult to tell if these brothers spoke sincerely or sarcastically. Perhaps some were sincere and others were sarcastic.

Satan had tempted Jesus to glorify Himself similarly (Matt. 4:1-10). God's plan for Jesus' exaltation was different from theirs and involved the Cross. The way unbelievers plan to obtain glory for themselves is frequently contrary to God's way of doing things (cf. Phil. 2:3-11).

7:5             John noted that not even Jesus' brothers believed on Him, even though they acknowledged that He did mighty works (v. 3). This implies that many others who knew Jesus well did not believe on Him either. Two of these half-brothers were James and Jude, who later became believers and wrote the New Testament books that bear their names (cf. Acts 1:14; 1 Cor. 15:7). Familiarity with Jesus did not and does not guarantee faith in Him (cf. Ps. 69:8).

7:6             Jesus replied that it was not the right "time" (Gr. kairos) for Him to go to Jerusalem, namely, the Father's time, which Jesus called "My time" (cf. 2:4). However His brothers could go to the feast at any "time" (Gr. kairos). They were not on a mission and a timetable from God as He was.

"John's picture of Jesus is of one steadily moving on to meet his divinely appointed destiny."[533]

Another interpretation is that Jesus meant that the time of His death was not yet at hand. However the Greek word that Jesus used when referring to His death and its consequences in John's Gospel is always hora ("time") elsewhere, not kairos (2:4; 7:30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 13:1; 17:1).

7:7             Jesus alluded to the opposition that awaited Him in Jerusalem. His brothers had no particular reason to be careful about when they went to the feast, but Jesus would be in danger when He went. They were part of "the world," but Jesus did not belong to it in the same sense that they did (1:10; cf. 15:18-21; 17:14, 16). Another reason for the Jews' antagonism was Jesus' convicting preaching that called for repentance and faith in Him. This verse explains Jesus' statement in the preceding verse.

7:8             Having offered His explanation Jesus encouraged His brothers to go on to the feast without Him. Again He intimated that the Father was setting His agenda and He needed to follow it rather than His brothers' suggestion (cf. 2:4). God's time for Him to go had not yet arrived.

The NIV added "yet" in the clause "I am not [yet] going up to the feast." This word has weak textual support, though it represents a valid interpretation. Many old Greek manuscripts do not contain it. Probably copyists added it to explain what Jesus meant, since He did go to Jerusalem shortly after He spoke these words (v. 10).

7:9             God's immediate will for Jesus was to stay in Galilee.

H.     Jesus' third visit to Jerusalem 7:10—10:42

This section of the text describes Jesus' teaching in Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles and the Feast of Dedication. John evidently included this teaching in his narrative because it contains important revelations of Jesus' identity. And it explains the mounting opposition to Jesus that culminated in His crucifixion.

1.     The controversy surrounding Jesus 7:10-13

7:10           Jesus proceeded to head for Jerusalem shortly after His half-brothers left Galilee to go there because the Father led Him to go at that time. He did not announce His arrival with great publicity (or "publicly"), as His brothers had recommended, but went without fanfare ("as though in secret"). If He had gone sooner, the authorities would have had more opportunities to arrest Him (v. 1).

7:11           Since John usually used the phrase "the Jews" to describe the Jewish authorities who were hostile to Jesus (cf. 1:19; 7:13; et al.), that is probably who was trying to find Him. Their intentions seem wicked (cf. 11:8).

7:12           Jesus was a controversial subject of conversation at the feast among "the crowds" (both the local Judeans and the pilgrims from elsewhere). His presence provoked considerable "talk" (Gr. goggusmos, grumbling, cf. 6:41, 61). Some people believed that He was a good man, but others believed that He was a charlatan and was misleading people. According to the Talmud, deceiving the people was a crime punishable by stoning.[534]

7:13           The people spoke to one another about Jesus privately, not in public where they might be overheard, because they did not want their leaders to associate them with Jesus. "The Jews" here clearly refers to Israel's leaders.

This pericope provides background for the story of Jesus' ministry in Jerusalem that follows. It helps the reader sense the atmosphere of public opinion in which Jesus then ministered.

2.     Jesus' ministry at the Feast of Tabernacles 7:14-44

John presented this occasion of Jesus' teaching ministry as consisting of three emphases: Jesus' authority, His origin and destiny, and the promise of the Holy Spirit. This section has also been seen as consisting of two cycles (vv. 15-36 and 37-52) with three parts: Jesus' teaches (vv. 15-24; 37-39), the resultant speculation among the people (vv. 25-31; 40-44), and the mission of the Jewish officials and its consequences (vv. 32-36; 45-52).[535] Everything recorded as happening between 7:14 and 8:59 took place in the temple.

Jesus' authority 7:14-24

7:14           Toward the middle of the week-long feast Jesus began teaching publicly in the temple, perhaps in the court of the women.[536] This verse sets the scene for what follows immediately.

"Probably His teaching consisted in exposition [explanation] of the Scripture."[537]

"… all along the inside of the great wall which formed the Temple-enclosure ran a double colonnade—each column a monolith of white marble, 25 cubits high [about 37.5 feet], covered with cedar-beams."[538]

7:15           It was quite common for Jewish males to be able to read and write. The people do not appear to have expressed amazement at Jesus' ability to do that. The Judean Jews (cf. 1:19) marveled at Jesus' understanding of religious matters (cf. Matt. 7:28-29; Mark 1:22). They knew that He had not had a formal theological education under the rabbis (cf. Acts 4:13).

"To the Jews there was only one kind of learning—that of Theology; and only one road to it—the Schools of the Rabbis."[539]

"It is sometimes true today that unschooled men in various walks of life forge ahead of men of lesser gifts with school training. See the like puzzle of the Sanhedrin concerning Peter and John (Acts 4:13). This is not an argument against education, but it takes more than education to make a real man."[540]

7:16           Jesus responded to the Jews' observation about His lack of rabbinic training by explaining that His teaching had come from the One who had sent Him. He was referring, of course, to God the Father (cf. 5:19-30). His teaching had not come from Himself. He meant that His was not teaching that He had dreamed up or arrived at solely through independent study. Jewish rabbis normally cited other rabbis as the sources of their information. Jesus avoided giving the impression that He was an inventive upstart, but He also implied that His teaching was not simply the continuation of rabbinic tradition.

"It is characteristic of many of the outstanding men of the Bible that they are convinced that they must do what they are doing, and say what they are saying, because they have received a divine commission."[541]

7:17           Jesus further claimed that the key to validating His claim that His teaching came from God was a person's willingness to do God's will. The normal way that the rabbis settled theological debates was through discussion. But Jesus taught that the key factor was moral rather than intellectual. If anyone was willing to do God's will, not just to know God's truth, God would enable that one to believe that Jesus' teaching came from God (cf. 6:44).

"The only condition for understanding the claims of Jesus is faith. 'Doing the will of God' does not mean ethical obedience as a preliminary to dogmatic Christianity, but believing in him whom God sent (6:29 … ). Such faith enables the believer to perceive the congruence of the moral character of Jesus' mission with the divine will."[542]

The most important starting point in understanding Jesus' teaching then is a commitment to follow God's will. Once a person makes that commitment God begins to convince him or her regarding what is true. Faith must precede reason, not the other way around.

"His hearers had raised the question of his competence as a teacher. He raises the question of their competence as hearers."[543]

Jesus was not saying that the accuracy of our understanding is in direct proportion to our submission to God. Some very godly people have held some very erroneous views about Jesus and His teachings. There are also other factors that determine how accurate our understanding may be—such as intellectual capacity and correct methodology. Neither was He saying that if a person happens to do God's will he or she will automatically understand the origin of Jesus' teaching. His point was that submission to God, rather than intellectual analysis, is the foundation for understanding truth, particularly the truth of Jesus' teachings (cf. Prov. 1:7).

"Spiritual understanding is not produced solely by learning facts or procedures, but rather it depends on obedience to known truth. Obedience to God's known will develops discernment between falsehood and truth."[544]

7:18           The person who advances his or her original ideas will glorify himself or herself. That may not be his or her underlying motive, though it often is, but that will be the result. Conversely, the person who advances the ideas of another ends up glorifying the other person rather than himself or herself. Jesus claimed to do the latter and to desire the glory of the One who sent Him. That desire demonstrated His righteousness and made it unthinkable that He would be deceiving the people (v. 12).

"In the Palestinian Targum the dutiful son is one 'who has consideration for the glory ('iqar or 'honour') of his father' (Gen. 32:7 (8), 11 (12), TJ1; Lev. 19.3 Neofiti)."[545]

7:19           Jesus had just claimed that God had given Him His teaching and that He proclaimed it faithfully as a righteous man. Now He contrasted His critics with Himself. They claimed that Moses had given them his teaching, but they did not carry it out faithfully as righteous people. Therefore it was incongruous that they sought to kill Jesus (cf. vv. 44-45). They accused Him of unrighteousness (vv. 12, 18), but really they were the unrighteous ones. They sought to kill Him even though Moses had taught that God's will was to refrain from murder (Exod. 20:13). Obviously they had not submitted to God's will as it came to them through Moses. It is no wonder that they failed to understand Jesus' teaching.

7:20           Many of Jesus' hearers did not realize the depth of the hateful antagonism of Israel's leaders toward Him. They naively thought that He was crazy to think that someone was trying to kill Him. The Jews of Jesus' day commonly thought of mental illness, in this case paranoia, as being demon-induced. This explains their reference to Jesus having a demon (cf. 10:20). These people were not charging Jesus with getting His power from Satan, as others had (Matt. 9:34; 10:25; 12:24; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15; cf. Matt. 11:18). There are several stories about demon possession in the Synoptics, but there are none in John.

7:21           The one "deed" (lit. work, Gr. ergon, i.e., a miraculous work) that Jesus had done, to which He referred, was evidently the healing of the paralytic at the Bethesda pool (v. 23; 5:1-9). It had caused all who heard of it to marvel (5:10-18). Furthermore, it had started the controversy about Jesus in Jerusalem.

7:22           The antecedent of ""For this reason" or "Yet" (NIV; Gr. dia touto) is unclear. It could refer to what precedes. This interpretation would yield a translation such as "you all marvel because of this."[546] However John consistently placed this phrase first when he used it in other clauses.[547] Probably Jesus was referring to His healing of the paralytic (v. 21) as symbolizing God's desire for physical wholeness.

Jesus probably meant that Moses had prescribed circumcision for the physical well-being of the Israelites, as well as for other reasons (Lev. 12:3). The Jews recognized this and consequently circumcised male infants on the eighth day following their births—even if that day was a Sabbath.[548] Normally observant Jews did no work on the Sabbath.

Jesus' parenthetic reference to the fact that the circumcision legislation really began with the patriarchs, and not Moses, was a slight depreciation of Moses. Jesus' critics claimed to follow Moses faithfully, but in keeping the circumcision law, they were not truly honoring him but Abraham (Gen. 17:9-14). Technically Moses only incorporated the circumcision law into the Mosaic Code, as he did many other older laws.

7:23           Jesus' critics permitted an act on the Sabbath that resulted in the health of a person, and an infant at that, on the Sabbath. They should not, therefore, object to His healing a whole adult ("an entire man") on the Sabbath. Besides, they performed circumcisions regularly on the Sabbath, but Jesus had healed only one man on one Sabbath. Circumcision was an operation designed to ensure good health, not restore health. The circumcised child was not ill. Jesus, on the other hand, had healed a man who had suffered with a serious handicap for 38 years. Furthermore, circumcision was also only a purification rite, but healing a paralytic involved deliverance from enslavement. Therefore it was unfair for Jesus' critics to be angry with Him for what He had done.

The Jews had established a hierarchy of activities by which they judged the legitimacy of performing any work on the Sabbath (cf. Matt. 12:9-10). They based this hierarchy on necessary need: urgency. Jesus also operated from a hierarchical viewpoint, but He based His hierarchy on what was best for people (Mark 2:27).

"Had his opponents understood the implications of the Mosaic provision for circumcision on the Sabbath they would have seen that deeds of mercy such as he has just done were not merely permissible but obligatory. Moses quite understood that some things should be done even on the Sabbath. The Jews had his words but not his meaning."[549]

7:24           Jesus concluded His defense by warning His hearers against judging according to outward appearance (cf. Deut. 16:18-19; Isa. 11:3-4; Zech. 7:9). Their superficial judgment about what was legitimate activity for the Sabbath had resulted in superficial judgment about Jesus' work and person. He told them to stop judging superficially. They needed to pass judgment on the basis of righteous criteria: what was truly right.

Jesus' origin and destiny 7:25-36

7:25-26      Though many of the Jewish pilgrims in the temple courtyard did not realize how antagonistic the religious leaders were to Jesus (v. 20), some of the local residents of Jerusalem did. They marveled that Jesus was speaking out publicly and that the authorities were not opposing Him. They expected that if Jesus were a deceiver, the Jewish rulers would punish Him, but if He was the Messiah, they would acknowledge Him as such. The authorities acted as they did because they feared the people. The situation led some of the locals to suspect that the leaders might actually know that Jesus was the Messiah ("the Christ").

7:27           The people of Jerusalem felt inclined to disbelieve that Jesus was the Messiah because they believed that their human Messiah's earthly origin would be unknown. This belief was a tradition.[550] It was certainly not scriptural, since the Old Testament clearly predicted that Messiah's birthplace would be Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2).

"It seems to have been expected that Messiah would appear suddenly (perhaps from Dan. vii. 13, or from Isai. liii. 8), no one knew whence, while Christ had lived long among His countrymen in obscurity and yet known to them."[551]

The common understanding of Jesus' origin was that since He was known to have grown up in Nazareth, He apparently was born there too. They viewed Him as a Galilean. Not only did the people fail to perceive Jesus' heavenly origin, but they were also wrong about His earthly origin. In fact, they did not know Him very well at all.

7:28-29      Whenever John described Jesus as crying out, an important public pronouncement followed (cf. 1:15; 7:37; 12:44). Jesus said that His hearers did know Him and where He was from. Probably He meant that they knew who He was superficially (cf. v. 24), and they knew that He came from Nazareth (6:42), but they knew less than they thought. They did not know the One who had sent Him, though Jesus did know Him, because He had come from that One. Jesus was speaking ironically: they knew of His earthly origins but not of His heavenly origin.

The One who had sent Jesus on His mission was "true" (Gr. alethinos, real, genuine; cf. 8:26). Jesus meant that the true God really had sent Him, regardless of what others might think about His origin and mission. Unfortunately they did not know the One who had sent Him, even though they prided themselves on knowing the true God (cf. Rom. 2:17-19). They did not know God because they did not know their Scriptures (cf. 5:46). They did not know Jesus because they did not know the Father who had sent Him. In verse 16 Jesus had disclaimed originality for His teaching, and here He disclaimed originality for His mission.[552]

"He was once again claiming to be God! He was not simply born into this world like any other human; He was sent to earth by the Father. This means that He existed before He was born on the earth."[553]

7:30           Evidently those Jews who intended to "arrest" (Gr. piazo) Jesus wanted to prevent Him from teaching the people (cf. vv. 32, 44; 8:20; 10:39). But they could not do this because His "hour" (Gr. hora)—the time for His crucifixion and its consequences—had not yet arrived. God prevented Jesus' premature arrest.

7:31           Even though some of the Jews tried to arrest Jesus many from the multitude believed in Him. Jesus' presence provoked a division among His hearers (cf. v. 12; 1:11-12; 3:18-21). Some believed because of the signs that He had performed. This was not a strong basis for faith (cf. 2:11, 23; 4:48). They concluded that He was the Messiah, but the common understanding of Messiah was that He would be a powerful human deliverer. Probably few, if any, of these Jews believed that Jesus was also God Incarnate.

"But throughout this Gospel it is better to believe on the basis of miracles than not to believe at all, so there is no condemnation of this faith as inadequate."[554]

7:32           The Pharisees heard that some of the Jews present were voicing their belief that Jesus must be the Messiah. These comments moved them to act immediately to arrest Jesus. When the common people turned to Jesus they turned away from the Pharisees and their teachings. Together with the chief priests, who were mainly Sadducees and not friendly toward the Pharisees, the rulers ordered the temple police ("officers") to arrest Jesus. This attempt illustrates the seriousness of the situation as the authorities viewed it. Probably the arrest warrant came from the Sanhedrin. The temple police were Levites who were responsible to the Sanhedrin.

7:33           Jesus again said that His hour had not yet come, only in different words. When His hour later passed He would go to the Father. The Jews would search for Him but not be able to find Him. He was going where they could not come, namely, to heaven. Death was not the end for Jesus. They could not come where He was going because of their present unsaved condition. That required regeneration (cf. 8:21; 13:33).

7:34           Time was running out—both for Jesus to finish His work, and for the Jews to believe on Him. The Jews had only a little while longer to place their faith in Him before Jesus would leave them and depart to heaven. After Jesus left them many Jews would seek their Messiah but not find Him. That is what has been happening ever since Jesus ascended, and it will continue to happen until He returns to earth at His second coming (Zech. 12:10-13; Rev. 1:7). Jesus was, of course, referring enigmatically (in a veiled way) to His death.

7:35-36      Again Jesus' hearers thought that He was speaking of physical matters and earthly places. "The Dispersion" was the term that described the Jews who had scattered from the land of Israel and were living elsewhere in the world. Jesus' hearers thought He meant that He would be ministering to Jews, or perhaps Gentile proselytes, who were living outside Israel. (In the New Testament the word "Greek" refers to non-Jews and is synonymous with "Gentiles" [cf. Col. 3:11]). This seemed too far-fetched to them to be a messianic activity. Their question expected a negative answer.

"Here, as more than once in this Gospel, the Jews are unconsciously prophesying. The departure of Jesus in death would indeed be beneficial, but not because it would remove from the earth a false Messiah, as they supposed, but because, as a result of the proclamation of the gospel which would follow His death and resurrection, Gentiles would be brought into the people of God."[555]

These Jews did not understand where Jesus was going any more than they understood where He had come from (v. 27). They were so exclusive in their thinking that they thought it very improbable that Jesus would leave the land of Israel. Ironically, the Christian apostles did go to those very areas and peoples in order to preach the Christ whom the Jews rejected.

The promise of the Spirit 7:37-44

Having announced His departure Jesus proceeded to offer the Holy Spirit for those who believed on Him. Jesus gave much more information about the coming Holy Spirit to His disciples in the upper room just before His arrest (cf. chs. 14—16).

7:37           The Feast of Tabernacles lasted seven days (cf. Deut. 16:13). However the day following the feast was a day of convocation that the people popularly considered as part of the feast (cf. Lev. 23:36). It is difficult to tell if John meant the seventh or the eighth day when he referred to "the great day of the feast." Edersheim believed it was the seventh day.[556] Other commentators believed it was the eighth.[557]

"For the rabbis 'the last day' of the festival was the eighth day, but they never spoke of it as the greatest day. Since the water-drawing rite and the dancing in the light of the great menoras [lampstands] were omitted on the eighth day, the description of 'the greatest day' is thought by many to denote the seventh day, when the priests processed around the altar with the water drawn from [the Pool of] Siloam not once but seven times … It is also to be recognized that the invitation [of Jesus] would have been equally relevant on the eighth day, which was celebrated as a Sabbath with appropriate ceremonies and was attended by a great congregation."[558]

Jesus used this occasion to make another important public proclamation (cf. v. 28). Perhaps Jesus laid low until this day in order to avoid arrest, and then presented Himself again publicly. He invited anyone who was spiritually thirsty to come to Him and to take what would satisfy and sustain them (cf. 4:10, 14).

Early on each of the seven mornings of the feast the high priest would lead a procession from the Pool of Siloam to the temple. Another priest would first fill a golden pitcher with water from the pool. He would then carry it through the Water Gate, which was located on the south side of the temple, and into the temple courtyard. There he would ceremoniously pour the water into a silver basin on the west side of the bronze altar, from which it would flow through a tube to the base of the altar.

Many Jews would accompany the ceremonial priests on those seven feast-day mornings. Some of them would drink from the Pool of Siloam, while others would chant Isaiah 55:1 and 12:3: "You there! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters." "Joyously draw water from the springs of salvation."

Back in the temple courtyard the priest would then pour water into the basin at the time of the morning sacrifice. Another priest, at the same time, would also pour the daily drink offering of wine into a different basin. Then they would both pour the water and the wine out before the Lord. The pouring out of water represented God's provision of water in the wilderness in the past and His provision of refreshment and cleansing in the messianic age. The pouring out of wine symbolized God's bestowal of His Spirit in the last days.

Every male present would simultaneously shake his little bundle of willow and myrtle twigs (his lulab) with his right hand and hold a piece of citrus fruit aloft with his left hand. The twigs represented stages of the wilderness journey, marked by different kinds of vegetation, and the citrus fruit symbolized the fruit of the Promised Land.[559] Everyone would also shout three times: "Give thanks to the LORD!" Worshippers in the temple courtyard would then sing the Hallel (Ps. 113—118).[560] This was such a happy occasion that the Mishnah stated: "He that never has seen the joy of the Water-drawing has never in his life seen joy."[561]

This water rite had become a part of the Israelites' traditional celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles. Essentially it symbolized the fertility and fruitfulness that the rain brought. In the Old Testament God likened His blessings in the messianic kingdom to the falling of rain (Ezek. 47:1-7; Zech. 13:1). The Jews regarded God's provision of water in the wilderness, and rain in the land, as foretokens of His great blessings on the nation under Messiah's reign. Thus the water rite in the Feast of Tabernacles had strong messianic connotations.

Jesus "stood" in order to announce His invitation to everyone in the temple courtyard. Normally rabbis sat when they taught. Therefore Jesus' standing position, as well as His words, stressed the importance of what He said. Jesus' claim was even more striking because on the eighth day no water was ever poured out (if this happened on the eighth day). When Jesus called out His invitation He was claiming to be the fulfillment of all that the Feast of Tabernacles anticipated. He announced that He was the One who could provide messianic blessing: that He was the Messiah. Jesus' words compared His own Person to the rock in the wilderness that supplied the needs of the Israelites.[562]

"Here is the Gospel in a single short sentence ["If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink," cf. Rev. 22:17]."[563]

7:38           Some commentators believed that the end of Jesus' statement did not occur at the end of this verse. They understood Jesus as saying, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me, and drink the one who believes in Me."[564] This view results in the antecedent of "his innermost being" or "him" being Jesus rather than the believer. This view makes Jesus the source of the living water, which is biblical. However the punctuation in the NASB and NIV probably represents the better translation.[565]

The antecedent of "his innermost being" or "him" is most probably the believer rather than Jesus. This does not mean that Jesus was saying that the believer was the source of the living water. The living water is a reference to the Holy Spirit elsewhere in John, and it is Jesus who pours out the Spirit like living water (4:14). Jesus also spoke elsewhere of the living water springing up like a fountain within the believer (4:14). The idea is not that the Spirit will flow out of the believer to other believers. Believers are not the source of the Spirit for others. Rather the idea is that the Spirit from Jesus springs up within each believer and gives him or her satisfying spiritual refreshment.

Water satisfies thirst and produces fruitfulness. Similarly the Spirit satisfies the inner person and enables him or her to bear fruit. The Greek expression translated "From his innermost being" is ek tes koilias autou (lit. from within his belly). The belly here pictures the center of the believer's personality. It may imply the womb, the sphere of generation.[566] The belly is that part of a person that constantly craves and is never really satisfied.

"The believer should not be like a sponge—taking in but not giving out—but like a spring, ever fresh and giving forth."[567]

There is no specific passage in the Old Testament that contains the same words that Jesus mentioned here. Consequently He must have been summarizing the teaching of the Old Testament (cf. Exod. 16:4; 17:6; Num. 20; Neh. 8:5-18; Ps. 78:15-16; Isa. 32:15; 44:3-4; 58:11; Ezek. 39:29; 47:1-9; Joel 2:28-32; Zech. 14:8). One writer believed that Jesus had Ezekiel 47:1 through 11 particularly in view.[568] In these passages the ideas of the Spirit and the Law sustaining God's people like manna and water converge. Jesus claimed that He alone could provide the satisfying Spirit. This was an offer of salvation.

7:39           John helped his readers to understand that Jesus was referring to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which happened after Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension on the day of Pentecost (cf. 15:26; 16:7; Acts 1:5, 8; 2). That outpouring was something that God had not done before. It was similar to what Joel predicted He would do in the last days (Joel 2:28-32; cf. Acts 2:16-21). "Those who believed in Him" includes all subsequent believers, in addition to the believers on the day of Pentecost (cf. 1 Cor. 12:13). Jesus announced that the Holy Spirit would come on all believers, not just on select believers, as had been true previously. John frequently spoke of Jesus' death, resurrection, ascension, and exaltation as all part of His glorification (11:4; 12:16, 23; 13:31; cf. Phil. 2:8-9).[569]

7:40-41      Jesus' spectacular offer led some people to conclude that He was the promised Prophet (Deut. 18:15, 18; cf. Acts 3:22) or possibly the Messiah ("the Christ"). Evidently it was His claim of providing living water—as Moses had provided physical water—that led to their associating Jesus with one of those predicted individuals. Formerly Jesus had provided bread like Moses had provided manna (6:14).

But apparently these Jews did not equate "the Prophet" with "the Christ." They apparently looked for two separate individuals to come, since they seem to have anticipated a suffering servant and a triumphant Messiah in two different people. Others doubted that Jesus was the Messiah because of His apparent Galilean origins.

7:42           One indication that the Jews expected Messiah to appear soon is the fact that these people could refer to messianic predictions spontaneously.

"Perhaps this is another illustration of Johannine irony, for Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The very passage that convinced his critics that he could not be the Messiah was one of the strongest to prove that he was."[570]

7:43-44      These opinions about Jesus divided the people then as they still do today. Some of those who heard Jesus issue His invitation wanted to arrest Him (cf. vv. 30, 32; 8:20; 10:39), but no one did, undoubtedly because such action was contrary to the Father's sovereign will.

This concludes John's account of Jesus' teaching on this occasion.

3.     The unbelief of the Jewish leaders 7:45-52

7:45-46      When the officers of the temple guard returned to the Sanhedrin without Jesus, the Sanhedrin members asked why they had not arrested Him (cf. v. 32). The officers replied that no "man" (Gr. anthropos, emphatic in the Greek text) had ever spoken the way Jesus did (cf. v. 15). They too spoke more truly than they knew. Jesus was more than a man. Jesus' authority and wisdom obviously impressed them as well as it impressed the other people. They had gone to arrest Jesus, but Jesus had arrested them with His words.

It may seem unusual that these officers would so weakly admit that they had failed in their mission. But they were not hardened Roman soldiers who carried out their orders like robots. They were Levites whose interests were mainly religious. Their statement is another witness to the true identity of Jesus.

7:47-48      The religious leaders implied that the officers were ignorant and that none of the real thinkers and important people in the nation had believed in Jesus. The "rulers" were the Sanhedrin members, and the "Pharisees" were the official teachers. They implied that all the leaders without exception believed that Jesus was a deceiver, but that was not true. Already Nicodemus (v. 50) had privately voiced his belief that Jesus was a teacher who had come from God (3:2), and others of the leaders believed in Jesus (cf. 12:42; Matt. 9:18; Mark 5:22; Luke 8:41). This was a clear case of intimidation. Again John's irony is apparent: The proudly wise were clearly fools (cf. 1 Cor. 1:26-31).

7:49           The rulers claimed knowledge of the Law that was superior to that of the common people (Gr. ochlos, "crowd" or mob), some of whom believed in Jesus. They condescendingly judged the officers' opinion of Jesus as worthy only of the "accursed" uneducated. The rabbis taught: "It is forbidden to have mercy on one who has no knowledge."[571] If more of these leaders had taken the time to listen to Jesus, as Nicodemus did, they may have formed a different opinion of how well He fulfilled the Law. Pride in one's knowledge often results in spiritual blindness. The crowd was supposedly under God's curse because they did not know the Law or obey it (Deut. 28:15). Really it was the leaders who were under its curse for not believing in Jesus (3:36).

7:50-51      All this blind prejudice apparently became more than Nicodemus could bear. Finally he questioned condemning Jesus out of hand without first listening to Him (cf. Acts 5:34-39). He did not defend Jesus. That may have been too threatening. He did raise an objection to his colleagues' procedure on the grounds of fair play (cf. Deut. 1:16-17).

"Judges have two ears, to remind them to hear both sides."[572]

Nicodemus' word of caution alone does not necessarily indicate that he had become a believer in Jesus, though he may well have become one (cf. 19:38-39). The most we can say is that he was willing to defend Jesus' rights.

"John's Gospel depicts three stages in the spiritual career of Nicodemus. In John 3 it is midnight: here in John 7 it is twilight: in John 19 it is daylight in his soul."[573]

7:52           Nicodemus' colleagues did not reply rationally but emotionally. They had already decided Jesus' case without hearing Him defend Himself. They did not want to listen to any information that might prove that He was who He claimed to be. They replied to Nicodemus' challenge with contempt and accused him of being a despised Galilean himself, since he sought to defend a Galilean. Unable to refute the logic of Nicodemus' argument they attacked his person, which is an old debating tactic designed to win an argument but not necessarily to arrive at the truth.

It is unclear if they meant that no prophet ever came from Galilee or that "the Prophet" (Deut. 18:15) would not come from there. Obviously Jonah, Hosea, Nahum, and other prophets had come from (out of) Galilee, so it seems unlikely that they meant literally "no prophet." Moses did not predict where "the Prophet" would come from. As mentioned above, the Jews of Jesus' day seem to have regarded the Prophet and the Messiah as two different individuals. The messianic Son of David would come from Bethlehem, but where would the Prophet come from? If the Sanhedrin had taken the trouble to investigate Jesus' origins thoroughly they would have discovered that He had not come from Galilee originally but from Bethlehem.

"… rage is blind, and deep prejudice distorts all facts."[574]

People still let prejudice (prejudging) and superficial evaluation blind them to the truth.

4.     The woman caught in adultery 7:53—8:11

The textual authenticity of this pericope is highly questionable. Most ancient Greek manuscripts dating before the sixth century do not contain it. But over 900 ancient manuscripts do contain it, including the important early so-called Western text (uncial D). We have about 24,000 ancient manuscripts of the New Testament or parts of it. This number, by the way, contrasts strongly with the number of early copies of the writings of other ancient writers. For example, we have about 643 old copies of the writings of Homer, 8 of Herodotus, 9 of Euripides, 8 of Thucydides, 7 of Plato, 49 of Aristotle, and 20 of Tacitus. Furthermore, the earliest copy of the New Testament that we have dates about 125 years after its composition, whereas the earliest copy of one of the extra-biblical writings referred to above dates about 400 years after its composition.

None of the church fathers or early commentators, with  the exception of Jerome, referred to this story in their comments on this Gospel. Instead they passed from 7:52 right on to 8:12. Several later manuscripts identify it as special by using an asterisk or obelus at its beginning and ending. (An obelus is a straight horizontal stroke, either simple, or with a dot above and another dot below it.)  Writers of ancient manuscripts used obeli to mark a forged, corrupt, doubtful, or superfluous word or passage. Some old copies have this pericope placed after 7:36, or 7:44, or 21:25, or Luke 21:38. Its expressions and constructions seem to some scholars more similar to Luke's writings than they are to John's.[575]

"This entire section, 7:53-8:11, traditionally known as the pericope adulterae, is not contained in the earliest and best MSS [manuscripts] and was almost certainly not an original part of the Gospel of John. Among modern commentators and textual critics, it is a foregone conclusion that the section is not original but represents a later addition to the text of the Gospel."[576]

The event described here probably occurred, though the passage may represent a blending of two different accounts (cf. 21:25).[577] Perhaps it was a piece of oral tradition that later scribes inserted here in order to illustrate the sinfulness of the Jewish leaders (cf. 7:24; 8:15, 46).[578]

"It may be accepted as historical truth; but based on the information we now have, it was probably not a part of the original text."[579]

Then did the Holy Spirit inspire it? I think He did, since He has preserved it as a part of John's Gospel through centuries of critical analysis. It is in some respects similar to some of the apocryphal stories, which some Christian traditions accept as inspired but which others do not.

How should the modern Christian use this story? Some expositors do not preach or teach the passage publicly because they believe it is uninspired.[580] However other Christians disagree and accept it as equally authoritative as the rest of Scripture.[581] Roman Catholics accept it because it was in Jerome's Latin Vulgate translation (late fourth century A.D.), which they regard as authoritative.

If this pericope may not have been part of the inspired text of John's Gospel, why have I bothered to expound it below? I have done so because most English Bibles contain this pericope, and many Christians believe it is authentic. It is possible that, even though it was not a part of John's original Gospel, the Holy Spirit did inspire it—though this view has problems connected with it.[582] The fact that this chapter begins with a sinful woman possibly being stoned, and the next chapter ends with a sinless Man possibly being stoned, has led some interpreters to support its authenticity.[583]

7:53           The wording of this verse suggests that the story that follows was originally the continuation of another narrative. "Everyone" apparently refers to people at a gathering in Jerusalem. This could refer to the Sanhedrin and the officers mentioned in 7:45 through 52. However it could also refer to other people on a different occasion.

8:1             The introductory "But" (Gr. de) is only mild, and it contrasts Jesus' action with that of those people who went home (7:53). Some scholars have noted that Jesus spent His nights somewhere on the Mount of Olives during His final Passover-week celebration (Luke 21:37), but there is no evidence that He did so at other times.[584] However silence is never a strong argument. Jesus may have stayed there on His other visits to Jerusalem without the evangelists noting it.

8:2             This verse also sounds similar to the Synoptic Gospels' accounts of Jesus' activities during His final few days before His crucifixion (cf. Luke 21:37-38). Yet we know that Jesus taught in the temple courtyard at other times as well (5:19-47; 7:14-52).

8:3-4          This is the only place in John's Gospel where the writer mentioned the scribes and the Pharisees together, though their association in the Synoptics is common. This is one reason that many scholars doubt that John wrote this passage. Jesus' critics brought a woman whom they claimed to have caught in the very act of committing adultery, and they placed her in the center of the group that Jesus was teaching. They addressed Him respectfully, though hypocritically, as "Teacher" (Rabbi).

We can only speculate about what had happened to the adulteress's partner in sin. Perhaps he had escaped, or perhaps the authorities had released him, since their main interest seems to have been the woman. The Mosaic Law required that both parties involved in adultery should be stoned (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22). Jesus did not challenge the scribes and Pharisees' charge, nor did He try to prove it unjust.

8:5-6a        Jesus' critics were correct in their interpretation of the Mosaic Law (cf. Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22-24). However the Jews of Jesus' day apparently did not enforce this law often, especially in urban areas.[585] The writer said that the authorities wanted to trap Jesus into saying something that they could use against Him (cf. Matt. 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26). They appear to have wanted Jesus' execution more than the woman's.

If Jesus advocated not executing the woman, the lawyers and Pharisees could charge Him with teaching the people to violate the Law. If He recommended executing her, He would contradict His own reputation for being gracious and forgiving (cf. Luke 5:20; 7:47; 19:10), and He would advocate action contrary to Roman law. On top of that, He would alienate Himself from the Jews. The decision to execute might have gotten Him in trouble with the Roman authorities too (cf. 18:31). Essentially the problem was how to reconcile justice and mercy.[586]

8:6b           This is the only mention of Jesus writing that appears in the New Testament, along with verse 8. The Greek verb katagrapho, used here in the past tense ("wrote"), allows for writing words, drawing pictures, or making signs.[587] There have been several suggestions about what Jesus may have written in the dust, all of which are guesses: Perhaps He wrote the words of Jeremiah 17:13b: "Those who turn away on earth will be written down, because they have forsaken the fountain of living water, that is the LORD."[588] Perhaps He wrote Exodus 23:1b: "Do not join your hand with a wicked person to be a malicious witness."[589] Perhaps He wrote the sins of the woman's accusers. Jesus may have written the same words that He proceeded to speak, giving a visual as well as an audible decision.

If the account of this incident is complete, the writer must have felt that what Jesus wrote was secondary to His writing action, since John did not identify what He wrote. Perhaps Jesus was reminding the scribes and Pharisees that God had originally written the Ten Commandments with His finger (Exod. 31:18). Jesus' act reminds the reader of this and so suggests that Jesus is God, the Lawgiver.[590] His writing on the ground may have symbolized His ratification of God's moral law.[591] Another possibility is that just as God gave the Old Covenant by writing with His finger, so God (Jesus) was giving the New Covenant by writing with His finger.

Perhaps Jesus wrote on the ground in order to, at the same time, delay answering His critics. This would have had the double effect of heightening their anticipation of His reply and giving them time to repent of their deed. His action may have been simply "a studied refusal to pronounce judgment."[592] The mention of this writing act here anticipates His doing the same thing again later (v. 8).

8:7             When Jesus finally answered His critics He cited passages in the Mosaic Law. Jesus lived under this Law and respected it. These verses required that in cases of stoning at least two witnesses of the sin, who had not participated in it, should be the first to throw the stones (Lev. 24:14; Deut. 13:9; 17:7). Jesus did not mean that the accusers needed to be sinless. The Law did not require that, but they had to be innocent of the particular sin of the accused.

Jesus meant that they needed to be free from the sin of adultery, or at least free of involvement in prearranging this woman's adultery. They had asked Him to pass judgment, and now He was exercising His rightful function as the Judge of humankind. In addition to passing judgment on the woman, He also passed judgment on her judges.

"Christ was here intimating that they, His would-be accusers, were no fit subjects to demand the enforcement of the law's sentence."[593]

Jesus' reply put the dilemma back on His accusers' shoulders. If they proceeded to stone the woman they were virtually claiming that they had not sinned. If they did not stone her they would be admitting that they had sinned. Jesus now took the place of the woman's defense attorney as well as her judge (cf. 1 John 2:1).

"It [this verse] is often used by opponents of capital punishment as indicating His [Jesus'] abolition of it. … Jesus did not reject the Mosaic law, for He enjoined that a stone be thrown (v. 7). This is no abolition of the death penalty!"[594]

8:8             This is another puzzling reference. Jesus' second stooping over and writing on the ground had the result of freeing Jesus' critics from His convicting gaze. Perhaps the writer mentioned it to show that it was God who, by the Holy Spirit, would produce conviction through Jesus' authoritative words rather than through His physical eye contact (cf. Matt. 7:28-29; John 7:46). By writing on the ground again Jesus graciously gave the scribes and Pharisees another opportunity to rethink their decision and change their minds about what they were doing. He also possibly wrote so that He did not need to speak.

8:9             The scribes and Pharisees' actions virtually confessed their guilt. Evidently the older ones among them had the most tender consciences. They had plotted to kill the woman. Adultery is no insignificant sin, but compared to murder it has less severe consequences. Time and accumulated wisdom frequently increase one's sense of personal guilt, unless a person hardens his or her heart completely. Probably we should understand the words "He was left alone" as implying that the accusers departed, which would have left Jesus, the woman, and perhaps other onlookers. This left the woman and Jesus with no accusers.

"When one turns on the light, all the rats, the bats, and the bedbugs crawl away."[595]

The action of the woman's accusers was remarkable. Jesus' words brought deep conviction to His opponents remarkably soon. To top it off, they ended up making a public declaration of their own guilt and dropping their charge against the woman, even though she was probably guilty of adultery.

8:10           Jesus' addressed the woman respectfully (cf. 2:4; 4:21; 19:26; 20:13). He asked if no one who was condemning her remained. He did not ask her if she was guilty. She may have been. As the acting judge in her case, He showed more interest in her prosecutors than in her guilt.

8:11           Without any prosecutors left Jesus dismissed the case. This was His prerogative as her acting judge (and her future Judge). He only issued her a warning. She would have to stand before Him again in the future, but this was not the time that He wanted to pass judgment on her (cf. 3:17). He gave her mercy and time to change her ways (cf. 1:14). Thus He was not easy on sin. The ultimate reason that He could exempt her from condemnation is that He would take her condemnation on Himself and die in her place (cf. Rom. 8:1).

"It was not, 'Go and sin no more, and I will not condemn thee,' for that would have been a death-knell rather than good news in her ears. Instead, the Saviour said, 'Neither do I condemn thee.' And to every one who takes the place this woman was brought into, the word is, 'There is therefore now no condemnation' (Rom. 8:1). 'And sin no more' placed her, as we are placed, under the constraint of His love."[596]

"This is not strictly forgiveness, because no word about forgiveness is given, but Jesus' act is gracious in allowing her the opportunity to recover from her sin."[597]

"Christ was without sin, and might cast the first stone; but though none more severe than he against sin, none more compassionate then he to sinners, for he is infinitely gracious and merciful, and this poor malefactor finds him so."[598]

"Law and grace do not compete with each other; they complement each other. Nobody was ever saved by keeping the Law, but nobody was ever saved by grace who was not first indicted by the Law. There must be conviction before there can be conversion."[599]

This incident is further proof that Jesus was far more righteous, and much wiser, than the Jewish religious leaders who sought to kill Him. It is also another demonstration of His patience and grace with sinners.

"Reviewing the case, Jesus brought forth the judgment, 'Stone her.' Unfortunately for the Pharisees, He had required, as the Law had stated, that the witnesses be qualified. The Pharisees who were accusing the woman, not for the good of Israel but to trap Jesus, were stuck. They knew they were malicious. Thus they had to step down or else incur the punishment required of malicious witnesses—the very stoning they desired for the accused! Jesus pronounced the final decree. Since He was the only witness left, and the Mosaic Law required two, she was free. But the Prophet instructed her to avoid all guilt under the Law, since Deuteronomy 18:15 said the people were to listen to the Prophet. John 7:53—8:11 shows in numerous ways that Jesus is indeed the Prophet of whom Moses wrote."[600]

Jesus' role as the Judge of human beings is quite clear in this incident, but His role as the coming Prophet may need clarification. Moses, the prophet through whom God gave the Old Covenant, had announced that God's will for His people was that they stone adulterers and adulteresses. Jesus, the Prophet through whom God gave the New Covenant, now announced a change. God's people were no longer to stone these sinners, but to show them mercy and leave the judging to God.

What if Jesus' enemies had brought a murderer before Him? Would Jesus have said the same thing? I think not. God had made His will concerning the punishment of murderers clear in Genesis 9:5b and 6, which contains the Noahic Covenant. The Mosaic Covenant continued the same policy, as does the New Covenant. The way that God has told society to deal with adultery has changed. That is why we do not execute adulterers in the church age. But the way that He has told us to deal with murderers has not changed; we are still to put them to death.

5.     The light of the world discourse 8:12-59

Following Jesus' claim to be the Water of life (7:37-38) official opposition against Him intensified considerably. The following sections of this Gospel trace this rising opposition. While some people believed on Jesus, most of His own rejected Him (cf. 1:11-12). This section of the text deals with Jesus' claim to be the Light of the world and the controversy that it generated.

Jesus' testimony about Himself 8:12-20

8:12           The context of the events in this paragraph continues to be the temple during the Feast of Tabernacles (v. 20, cf. 7:14). Jesus was speaking to the Jews who had assembled there, some of whom were residents of Jerusalem and others of whom were pilgrims from other parts of Israel and the world. This teaching may have taken place on the day after the feast, which was also a day of great celebration.[601]

Jesus here made the second of His "I am" claims (cf. 6:35). This time He professed to be "the Light of the world" (cf. 1:4). Incidentally, John used the word "world" some 77 times in his Gospel, in contrast to the other three evangelists who used it a total of only 15 times, which indicates John's global perspective and interest.[602] The water of life and the bread of life metaphors represent what satisfies and sustains life. The "Light of life" metaphor stands for what dispels the darkness of ignorance, sin, and death. Jesus was claiming that whoever believes in ("follows") Him will enjoy the light that comes from God's presence and produces life.

The light metaphor was ancient in Israel's history. The Jews associated light with God's presence. He had created light on the first day, and lights on the fourth day of Creation (Gen. 1:3, 14-19). He had revealed Himself in a flame to Moses on the Midianite desert (Exod. 3). He had also protectively led the Israelites through the wilderness in a cloudy pillar of fire (Exod. 13:21-22; 14:19-25; Num. 9:15-23), and He had appeared to them on Mt. Sinai in fire. These are only a few instances in which God had associated His presence with fire and light (cf. Ps. 27:1; 36:9; 119:105; Prov. 6:23). Symbolically the light represented various characteristics of God, particularly His revelation, holiness, and salvation (cf. Ezek. 1:4, 13, 26-28; Hab. 3:3-4).

Isaiah had predicted that the Servant of the LORD would be a light to the nations (Isa. 49:6). God Himself would illuminate His people in the messianic age (Isa. 60:19-22; Zech. 14:5b-7; cf. Rev. 21:23-24). However in Jesus' day the light of righteousness was in mortal conflict with the darkness of sin (1:4, 9; 3:19-21). Many religions contain the light and darkness symbolism, but John presented Jesus as the true Light.

It is particularly the aspect of light as revelation that constituted the focus of the controversy surrounding Jesus' claim. The Jews considered the Old Testament and their traditions as authoritative revelation: the true light. They also spoke of Torah, the temple, Adam, and Johanan ben (son of) Zakkai, one of their leaders, as the light of the world.[603] Now Jesus challenged that authority by claiming to be the true (final and full, cf. 1:9) revelation from God (cf. Heb. 1:1-3). He invited the Jews to follow Him as the true Light (1:9; cf. the pillar of fire in the wilderness).

"More important to the immediate context, the theme of light is not unrelated to the question of truthfulness and witness in the following verses, for light cannot but attest to its own presence; otherwise put, it bears witness to itself, and its source is entirely supportive of that witness."[604]

Part of the Feast of Tabernacles was the lamp-lighting ceremony. Every evening during the festival a priest would light the three huge torches on the menorah (lampstand) in the women's court (or treasury) of the temple. These lights would illuminate the entire temple compound throughout the night. People would bring smaller torches into the temple precincts, light them, and sing and dance—sometimes all through the night. It was one of the happiest occasions of the entire Jewish year.[605]

"Now the brilliant candelabra were lit only at the beginning of the Feast of Tabernacles; there is dispute as to the number of nights on which the illumination took place, but none as to the fact that at the close of the feast it did not. In the absence of the lights Jesus' claim to the Light would stand out the more impressively."[606]

By the way, in chapters 6, 7, and 8 Jesus claimed that He fulfilled these wilderness types of God: manna, water, and light.

"… the Pharisees could not have mistaken the Messianic meaning in the words of Jesus, in their reference to the past festivity: 'I am the Light of the world.'"[607]

"… 'light' is one of the three things which God is said to be. In John 4:24 we are told, 'God is spirit.' In 1 John 1:5, 'God is light'; and in 1 John 4:8, 'God is love.' These expressions relate to the nature of God, what He is in Himself. Hence, when Christ affirmed 'I am the light of the world,' He announced His absolute Deity."[608]

8:13           On another occasion Jesus had said that if He alone bore witness to His own identity His witness would not be admissible under the Mosaic Law (5:31). The Mosaic Law required at least two witnesses in order to guard against only one witness giving biased testimony (cf. Deut. 17:6; 19:15). The Pharisees now quoted Jesus' statement back to Him. However they implied that because Jesus was bearing witness about Himself, seemingly without a second corroborating witness, therefore His witness could not be true.

8:14           Jesus corrected His critics' false conclusion. Even if Jesus was the only witness to His own identity, His witness would still be true. Frequently only one person knows the facts.

"Stier (Words of the Lord Jesus) argues that one might as well say to the sun, if claiming to be the sun, that it was night, because it bore witness of itself. The answer is the shining of the sun."[609]

Jesus' witness was not false because it stood alone, even though it was insufficient under the Mosaic Law. The Pharisees had misunderstood Him. Consequently He proceeded to review His former teaching in somewhat different terms (cf. 5:19-30, 36-37).

Jesus claimed to offer "true" (Gr. alethes, cf. 5:31) testimony because He knew His own origin and destiny (cf. 7:29, 33-34). His critics knew neither of these things.

8:15           The Pharisees were evaluating Jesus only by using the external facts about Him that they knew. They were going about the evaluation process in a typically human way (cf. 2 Cor. 5:16). Jesus used "flesh" (Gr. sarx) here in a metaphorical sense, meaning human nature. His critics should have considered the spiritual teaching about Jesus' identity that the Father was providing through the witness of the Old Testament, John the Baptist, and Jesus' miracles, in addition to Jesus' own testimony about Himself. Jesus was not "judging" (Gr. krino) anyone superficially, and they should not judge Him superficially either.

Another interpretation is that Jesus meant that He did not come to condemn anyone but to save them (cf. 3:17).[610] However that view only involves Jesus playing with words to make a pun. He seems to have been contrasting His judging with the Pharisees' judging. Another unlikely view is that Jesus meant that, when He did judge people, it would not be He who was really judging. Rather He would only be executing the Father's will (cf. 5:27, 45).[611] The problem with this view is that the Father has committed all judgment to the Son (5:27-29), and Jesus will judge eventually.

8:16           Jesus was not judging anyone at that time. That aspect of His ministry lies in the future. However, even if He did judge then, His judgment would prove right ("true"; Gr. alethine, valid), because in that activity as well He would be acting under, and with, the Father (cf. 5:30). As Jesus represented the Father faithfully by revealing Him, so He will represent the Father's will faithfully by judging. He did everything and will do everything with divine authority and in harmony with divine intention.

8:17-18      Therefore Jesus was not really testifying alone. He had the second witness that the Law demanded, namely, the Father.

Jesus' reference to "your Law" is unusual, since in one sense it was His law. However Jesus was in the process of setting aside the Law of Moses as a code of conduct (cf. Mark 7:19). The revelation that He brought superseded it. So in another sense the Mosaic Law belonged to the Pharisees but not to Him (cf. 7:19, 51). Furthermore, by referring to their Law Jesus was emphasizing that, since the Law was theirs, they needed to obey it.

"No human witness can authenticate a divine relationship. Jesus therefore appeals to the Father and Himself, and there is no other to whom He can appeal."[612]

8:19           Perhaps the Pharisees misunderstood Jesus. They were perhaps continuing to think on the physical level while He was speaking of spiritual realities. If so, we should not criticize them too much for this, because Jesus' teaching that God was His Father was new (cf. 5:18). However their request was probably an intentional insult (cf. v. 41).

"In the East, to question a man's paternity is a definite slur on his legitimacy."[613]

The Pharisees virtually admitted here, by their revealing question, that they did not know Jesus' origins—even though they had claimed that they knew were Jesus came from earlier (7:27). Their inability to recognize Jesus as the Son of God showed that they really did not know God. If they had known God, they would have recognized Jesus as His Son. The rest of chapter 8 deals with the theme of fatherhood.

8:20           John concluded his narrative of this encounter by identifying its setting (cf. 6:59). The Jews apparently called the Court of the Women "the treasury" because it contained 13 ram's horn (shophar) shaped receptacles for the Jews' monetary offerings (cf. Mark 12:41-42).[614] Each one bore an inscription showing how the priests would use the gifts deposited in them.

The last part of verse 20 makes the point that, if they could have, these leaders would have arrested and executed Jesus immediately. However it was not yet God's time for His Son to die (cf. 2:4; 7:6, 30). Thus John again stressed the Father's sovereign control over the events that shaped Jesus' ministry. The Court of the Women was the most public part of the temple for the Jews (cf. Mark 12:41-43; Luke 21:1).[615] The Gentiles had no access to it.

The main point of this section is the increasing animosity that the Jewish leaders felt and expressed toward Jesus.

Jesus' claims about His origin 8:21-30

Jesus began to contrast Himself with His critics.

8:21           Evidently what follows continues Jesus' teaching in the temple when He spoke the words that John recorded in the preceding verses. The Greek word palin ("again") indicates a pause, but not a significant break in the narrative (cf. v. 12). The content of His teaching in this verse recalls 7:33 and 34.

When Jesus said that He was going away, He was speaking of His death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. The Jewish leaders would not seek Jesus personally, but they would continue to search for the Messiah. They would die in their "sin" (singular) of unbelief because they rejected Jesus. Jesus was going to His Father in heaven. These Jews could not come there because they had rejected Jesus.

8:22           Jesus' hearers wondered if He was speaking about taking His own life. In 7:34 and 35 they wondered if He was talking about going on a mission to the Gentile world. In both cases they did not grasp that Jesus was speaking of spiritual, rather than physical, spheres of reality. But these people again spoke better than they realized. Jesus' departure would involve His death, not as a suicide but as a sacrifice for sin. Consequently their words here are an ironic prophecy of Jesus' death (cf. 11:49-50).[616]

8:23           Jesus explained their reason for misunderstanding Him as being traceable to their origin. Jesus was from God above, whereas they came from His fallen and rebellious creation below. The second contrast in this verse clarifies the first. In order to understand Jesus' meaning His hearers needed new birth (3:3, 5) and the Father's illumination (6:45).

8:24           Jesus' hearers would die in their "sins" (plural) unless they believed in Him. Only belief in Him could rescue them from this fate. Here Jesus viewed their many sins (plural) as the consequences of their sin (singular, v. 21) of unbelief.

"The attitude of unbelief is not simply unwillingness to accept a statement of fact; it is resistance to the revelation of God in Christ."[617]

Jesus' hearers needed to believe that He was "I am." In this context this phrase has heavy theological connotations (cf. vv. 28, 58; 13:19). It appeared puzzling at first, but later Jesus' hearers realized that He was claiming to be God (cf. v. 59). The NIV's "the one I claim to be" is an interpretation of Jesus' meaning that is perhaps more misleading than helpful. Jesus was alluding to the title that God gave Himself in the Old Testament (Exod. 3:14; Deut. 32:39; Isa. 41:4; 43:10, 13, 25; 46:4; 48:12). Essentially "I am" means the eternally self-existent being.[618] Unless a person believes that Jesus is God, in contrast with less than God, he or she will die in his or her sins.

8:25           Jesus' hearers did not understand what He meant at first, and now being quite confused they asked Him: "Who are You?" Jesus responded that He was saying nothing different from what He had been saying about His identity since the beginning of His ministry. Another interpretation follows:

"That is to say, The question which you ask cannot be answered."[619]

"I am" was a new title of the Messiah, but it represented revelation that was consistent with what Jesus had always claimed about Himself.

8:26           Jesus also claimed to have much more to reveal to His hearers, regardless of its immediate effect. Part of that would involve judgment for their unbelief. But all of what He would say would be true, because it would come from God ("He who sent Me"). It would not be simply His own words spoken independent of the Father (cf. 3:34; 5:19-30; 8:15-16).

8:27           John clarified for his readers that Jesus had been speaking about His Father when He mentioned the One who sent Him. John did not want his readers to suffer from the same confusion that those who originally listened to Jesus did. Jesus had explained earlier that it was God the Father who had sent Him (5:16-30).

"Though Christ spoke so plainly of God as his Father in heaven, yet they did not understand whom he meant. Day and night are alike to the blind."[620]

8:28-29      Lifting up ("lift up," Gr. hypsoo) the Son of Man refers to His crucifixion, which John viewed as His exaltation (cf. 3:14; 12:23). Some interpreters, however, believe it refers to both His crucifixion and His elevation to the messianic throne.[621] The title "Son of Man" is messianic (Dan. 7:13-14), with emphasis on His perfect humanity. Jesus' enemies would lift Him up. When they did they would realize that Jesus was the self-existent God. Jesus did not mean that His crucifixion would convince all of His critics regarding His true identity but that that exaltation would be the key to many of them believing on Him (cf. 12:32). The Crucifixion would convince many unbelievers of Jesus' true identity, and we know that it did (cf. Acts 2).

"This concept of the death on the cross of one who was one with the Father is the great central thought of this Gospel."[622]

Jesus again affirmed that everything He said came from and with the authority of His Father (cf. vv. 16, 18, 26). All that He said and did was the Father's will, including the Cross. Jesus continually expressed His dependence on the Father, and He gloried in the Father's presence with Him (cf. 3:34; 5:30; 6:38; 8:16; et al.). Even though His own people rejected Jesus and crucified Him, the Father had never abandoned Him. Jesus' ultimate purpose was to please His Father, and He fulfilled that purpose.

8:30           John noted that in spite of the confusion of many that resulted from Jesus' teaching, many others believed on Him because of these words (cf. 7:31). God opened their understanding with Jesus' illuminating and life-giving words.

The challenge to professing believers 8:31-47

Jesus next addressed those in His audience who had expressed some faith in Him (v. 30).

8:31           The mark of a true disciple is continuation in the instructions of his or her teacher. A disciple is by definition a learner, not necessarily a believer in the born again sense. A disciple remains a disciple as long as he or she continues to follow the instruction of his or her teacher. When that one stops following faithfully, he or she ceases to be a disciple (e.g., Judas Iscariot). A believing disciple cannot lose his or her salvation, which comes as a gift from God. Genuine believers can continue to be disciples of Jesus, or they can cease to be His disciples—temporarily or permanently. God never forces believers to continue following Him, though He urges them to do so (cf. 21:15-23).

Some interpreters have sought to differentiate two types of believers in verses 30 and 31 on the basis of the words used. The first, they say, were genuine believers, which the Greek phrase pisteuo eis plus the accusative ("believe in Him") in verse 30 identifies. The second group was only professors, they say, which the Greek phrase pisteuo plus the dative ("believed Him") in verse 31 identifies. This linguistic distinction does not hold up however. The first construction, allegedly describing genuine faith, describes counterfeit faith in 2:23 through 25. And the second construction, that supposedly always describes superficial faith, describes genuine faith in 5:24. As this story unfolds it becomes clear that the believers mentioned in this verse rejected Jesus' claims to deity, so they believed Jesus in a superficial way but not in a saving way.

Other interpreters see this verse as introducing Judaizing Christians: Jewish believers who genuinely believed in Jesus as their Savior, but also believed that Christians need to obey the Mosaic Law (cf. Gal. 1:6-9). But there is nothing in the context to support this view.

Still others believe that Jesus was teaching that perseverance is the mark of true faith: that genuine believers will inevitably continue to follow Jesus as His disciples and false believers will not.[623] This view contradicts the teaching of other Scriptures that view true believers as capable of not following Jesus faithfully. Many Scriptural injunctions urge believers to follow the Lord faithfully, rather than turning aside and dropping out of the Christian race (e.g., 1 Tim. 1:18-20; 4; 6:11-21; 2 Tim. 1:6, 13; 2:3-7, 12-13, 15-26; 3:14-17; 4:1-8; Titus 3:8). This verse is talking about discipleship, not salvation—and rewards, not regeneration. This view misunderstands the teaching of Scripture regarding perseverance. The Bible consistently teaches that it is the Holy Spirit who perseveres within the believer, keeping him or her securely saved.[624] It does not teach that believers inevitably persevere in the faith, but that believers can defect from the faith while remaining saved (e.g., 1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 1:15; 4:10, 16). It is the Savior who perseveres with the saints, not necessarily the saints who persevere with the Savior (2 Tim. 2:13).[625]

This view also incorrectly reads "believer" for "disciple" in the text. These are two different terms describing two different groups of people in relation to Jesus. Disciples may or may not be genuine believers, and believers may or may not be genuine disciples. Today Christians sometimes describe a believer who is also a disciple as a growing Christian, and a believer who is not a disciple as a backslidden Christian.

"Those who have believed Jesus, that is, accepted his word, must continue in it if they are to be true disciples and to know the truth."[626]

8:32           Disciples who continue to abide ("continue," Gr. meno) in Jesus' word (v. 31) come to know the truth. Jesus' words are "truth" because He is the incarnation of truth (1:14; 14:6). This truth, Jesus' words, sets people free when they truly understand and believe His teaching. It liberates them spiritually from ignorance, sin, and spiritual death.

"… their own tradition had it, that he only was free who laboured in the study of the Law. Yet the liberty of which He spoke came not through study of the Law, but from abiding in the Word of Jesus."[627]

Many people misapply this verse. It occurs as a motto in numerous public libraries in the United States, for example, with the implication that any true information has a liberating effect. That is only true to a degree. In the context Jesus was speaking about spiritual truth that He revealed. Thus people in our day have the same problem with Jesus' words as people in Jesus' day did. Many take them as referring to physical rather than spiritual things. It is spiritual truth that Jesus revealed that is in view here. Jesus was speaking particularly of the gospel. It is the truth that sets people truly free.

8:33           Jesus had spoken as though most of His hearers (the unbelievers among them) were slaves, but they emphatically denied being such. They could not have meant that they had never been physical slaves, since the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Syrians, and most recently the Romans, had all enslaved them. Probably they meant that they had never been spiritual slaves. Another view is that they meant that their spirit had never been broken.[628] They viewed themselves as spiritually right with God because of their descent from Abraham, with whom God had made a special covenant (cf. Matt. 8:12; Mark 2:17; John 9:40). They denied that they had any significant spiritual need for liberation. Here is another indication that many of the Jews in Jesus' day thought that they would enter the Messianic kingdom simply because they were the physical descendants of Abraham (cf. Matt. 3:9; Luke 3:8).

8:34           Jesus proceeded to clarify what He meant. He prefaced His declaration with a strong affirmation of its truth (cf. vv. 51, 58). Everyone who commits acts of sin becomes sin's slave. The Greek present participle poion ("who commits sin") implies continual sinning rather than an occasional lapse. This is a general truth that applies to both believers and unbelievers (cf. Rom. 6:16): People who continually commit sin become the slaves of sin. Sin tends to become habit-forming and is addictive, "like the worst narcotic".[629] This type of slavery is more fundamental and personal than even physical slavery.

How does this revelation harmonize with Paul's teaching about the believer's relationship to sin that he wrote in Romans 6? In Romans 6 Paul explained that at regeneration God broke sins power that makes the believer a slave of sin. Sin does not have the power to enslave believers that it did before we believed in Jesus. Nevertheless, believers can become sin's slaves by continually practicing sin (Rom. 6:16). We do not need to be sin's slaves any longer, since God has broken its enslaving power over us. We are no longer its slaves, but we can still choose to live as its slaves by repeatedly submitting to temptation and sinning. Sin gains power over us when we yield to temptation. And it can enslave even believers.

Similarly a heroin addict cannot break his or her addiction without radical treatment. The treatment can result in total rehabilitation, but the former addict can choose to become a slave again by returning to his or her habit. However he or she does not have to return, since liberation has taken place.

Another illustration is Israel in the Old Testament: Having experienced liberation from the Egyptians, the Israelites chose to return to slavery under the Assyrians and Babylonians, though they did not need to do that. By continually sinning they set themselves up for these strong enemies to take them captive, which they did.

8:35           These unbelieving Jews thought of themselves as occupying a privileged and secure position, as sons within God's household, because they were Abraham's descendants (v. 33). Jesus now informed them that they were not sons but slaves. The implication was that they did not enjoy a secure position but could lose it. This is what actually happened after the Jews (as a nation) refused to receive Jesus as Messiah (cf. Rom. 9—11). They lost their privileged position in the world temporarily (until the Second Coming). Jesus was not speaking in this context about the loss of personal salvation but of the loss of Israel's national privilege.

The "son" in Jesus' explanation stands for Himself (v. 36). The Greek word translated "son" here is huios, which John consistently used to describe Jesus. He referred to believers as God's "children" (Gr. tekna).

8:36           The "Son" of God, like a slave-owner—the illustration in the preceding verse continues—also has the authority to liberate slaves—in this case spiritual slaves—from their bondage to sin and its consequences. Real freedom consists of liberty from sin's enslaving power to do what we should do. It does not mean that we may do just anything we please. We are now free to do what we ought to do: what pleases God, which we could not do formerly. When we do what pleases God we discover that it also pleases us. Hope for real freedom, therefore, does not rest on Abrahamic ancestry but on Jesus' redeeming action.

8:37           Jesus acknowledged that the Jews listening to Him were Abraham's descendants, but only on the physical level (cf. Rom. 2:28-29; 9:6, 8; Gal. 3:29). Their desire to kill Him—because they rejected His teaching ("word")—did not evidence true spiritual kinship with Abraham. Abraham had welcomed God's three angel representatives who visited him with revelations from above (Gen. 18:1-22). Jesus' hearers had not welcomed God's final human Representative who visited them revelations from above.

8:38           Jesus claimed to be God's Son, while the Jews claimed to be Abraham's children.

"Jesus was not simply a man telling other men what he thought about things; He was the Son of God telling men what God thought about things."[630]

As the conduct of these Jews showed, they were not Abraham's true children. By contrast Jesus' words proved that He was God's true Son, because His conduct backed up His words. Jesus' point was that conduct reveals paternity. He was hinting that their father was not God since they wanted to kill Him.

8:39-41a    The Jews stubbornly insisted that they were Abraham's descendants. By claiming Abraham as their father at this stage in the discussion they were saying that they were as good as Abraham.

"… no principle was more fully established in the popular [Jewish] conviction, than that all Israel had part in the world to come (Sanh. x. 1), and this, specifically, because of their connection with Abraham. … Abraham was represented as sitting at the gate of Gehenna, to deliver any Israelite who otherwise might have been consigned to its terrors."[631]

Jesus proceeded to repeat the difference between His hearers and Abraham (cf. Gal. 3:16-29). He also implied again that someone other than Abraham was their spiritual father.

8:41b         The Jews rejected Jesus' claim that they were not genuine children of Abraham. Their reference to "sexual immorality" may have been a slur on Jesus' physical paternity. They apparently had heard that Joseph was not Jesus' real father.

"The Jews put it about that Mary had been unfaithful to Joseph; that her paramour had been a Roman soldier called Panthera; and that Jesus was the child of that adulterous union."[632]

Who was Jesus then, with His questionable pedigree, to deny their ancestry? They claimed that, on the spiritual level, God was their father (Exod. 4:22; Deut. 14:1-2). They apparently believed that Jesus surely could not deny that, though He disputed their connection to Abraham.

8:42           However Jesus was not even willing to grant that they were Abraham's children in the spiritual sense and thus the children of God. How could they respond to Him as they did and still claim to be behaving like Abraham and God? If they were God's true children, they would love Jesus rather than be trying to kill Him. They would acknowledge that God had sent Him.

8:43           These Jews were having difficulty believing what Jesus was saying, specifically about Himself. Jesus identified the source of this difficulty as within them ("you cannot listen to My word"), not in His ability to communicate clearly. The difficulty lay in their inability to accept the truth that He spoke because of their presuppositions, prejudice, and parentage (v. 44). Listening here does not mean mere hearing and understanding but responding positively.

"The meaning of this cannot is an obstinate will not."[633]

8:44           Finally Jesus identified the true spiritual father of these Jews, to whom He had been alluding (vv. 38, 41). Their attitudes and actions pointed to the devil as their "father" for two reasons: First, they wanted to kill Jesus, and Satan was a murderer from the beginning of his career as a fallen angel. He indirectly murdered Adam and then Abel. Second, they had abandoned the truth for lies, and the devil, who is "a liar and the father of lies," had consistently done the same thing throughout history (cf. Gen. 2:17; 3:17).[634]

"Here, Jesus is as directly confrontational as anywhere in John."[635]

"… as believers are recognized as the children of God because they bear his image, so are those rightly recognized to be the children of Satan from his image, into which they have degenerated [1 John 3:8-10]."[636]

In one sense every human being is a child of the devil, since we all do the things that he does because of our sinful human nature. We usually think of this sinful behavior as identifying fallen Adam as our father, but Satan was behind the Fall. But the believer is also a child of God by faith in Jesus Christ. Consequently we are always manifesting the traits of one spiritual "father" or the other. This phenomenon is the result of walking either by the flesh or by the Spirit (cf. Gal. 5:16-17).

8:45           Liars not only speak untruth, but they also reject the truth. These Jews rejected Jesus partially because He spoke the truth. The only way children of the devil can believe and welcome the truth is if God draws them and teaches them the truth (6:44-45).

8:46-47      Obviously many of Jesus' critics thought that He was guilty of committing sin (cf. 5:18). Jesus asked if any of them could prove Him guilty of sin (cf. 18:23). This was one of Jesus' clearest claims to being God. Not one of His critics could prove Him guilty, because He was not guilty (cf. 1 Pet. 2:22). No mere mortal could risk making such a challenge as Jesus did here.

The Qur'an does not say that Jesus was sinless, but Muslims believe that He was sinless because the Qur'an never says He sinned. They believe that He was a sinless man, but not God.

"The perfect holiness of Christ is in this passage demonstrated, not by the silence of the Jews, who might have ignored the sins of their questioner, but by the assurance with which His direct consciousness of the purity of His whole life is in this question affirmed."[637]

Jesus again claimed that His hearers did not accept His words because they did not belong to God.

The violent response of Jesus' critics 8:48-59

8:48           Since the Jews who were listening to Jesus could not refute His challenge they resorted to verbal abuse (cf. 7:52). Perhaps they called Him "a Samaritan" because He had questioned their ties to Abraham. This may have been a Samaritan attack against the Jews as well.[638] Perhaps they also said this because He took a lax view of the tenets of Judaism as they understood them, as the Samaritans did. This is the only record of this charge in the Gospels.

However there are several other instances of the Jews claiming that Jesus had a demon or was demon-possessed (cf. 7:20; 8:52; 10:20). Perhaps these superficial believers concluded that only a demon-possessed heretic would accuse them as Jesus did.[639] Jesus had claimed that their father was the devil, and now they accused Him of being the devil's agent. This charge came after Jesus' repeated statements that He had come from God, and it illustrates the unbelief of these "believing" Jews (v. 31).

8:49           Jesus soberly denied their charge. His claims resulted from His faithfulness to His Father, not from demonic influence. Jesus' aim was to honor His Father by faithfully carrying out His will. The Jews' goal was to dishonor Jesus. They tried to do this by rejecting the testimony that the Father sent through Him.

8:50           Jesus did not try to justify Himself. He sought the Father's glory, not His own. What others thought of Him on the human level was relatively immaterial. God the Father's approval was all that mattered to Him because the Father, not man, was His judge (cf. 1 Cor. 4:2-5).

8:51           The central purpose of Jesus' mission was not glory for Himself but glory for His Father—by providing salvation for humankind. Jesus' introduction of this strong statement emphasized its vital importance. Following Jesus' word is synonymous with believing on Him (cf. 5:24; 8:24). The "death" in view here is eternal death (cf. 11:25).

"The assurance relates to life which physical death cannot extinguish, and so to the death of the spirit; the believer receives eternal life, i.e., the life of the kingdom of God, over which death has no power and which is destined for resurrection."[640]

8:52           The Jews interpreted Jesus' statements as referring to physical death. They did not believe that all people are spiritually dead because of the Fall.[641] They judged that only a demoniac would claim that his words were more powerful than the revelations that Abraham and the prophets, who had died, had received and passed down. Tasting of death here means experiencing the second death (separation from God in hell; cf. Heb. 2:9).

8:53           If Jesus' words had the power to prevent death, then Jesus must have been claiming to be greater than anyone who had died. The Jews' question in the Greek text expects a negative answer. Certainly Jesus could not mean that He was greater than these men could He? They asked who Jesus was proudly claiming to be (cf. 5:18; 10:33; 19:7).[642] They missed the point that He had been stressing throughout this discourse and throughout His ministry, namely, that He did not exalt Himself at all. He simply did the deeds and said the words that His Father had given Him to do and say (vv. 28, 38, 42, 50).

"Observe that this is more than asking, 'Who does he think he is?' It is a case of what he is exalting himself to be."[643]

Jesus rarely asserted His deity. He did not even promote Himself. Instead He chose to live a godly life before people and let them draw their own conclusions, as God gave them understanding (cf. Matt. 16:13-17). Yet He wanted people to believe in Him.

8:54           Jesus then refuted His critics' accusation that He was glorifying Himself. Any glory apart from glory that God bestows amounts to nothing (cf. Heb. 5:5). Rather, Jesus said that it was the Father who was glorifying Him. Ironically His critics, who claimed to know God, failed to perceive that this was what God was doing.

"Their relation to God was formal; his was familial."[644]

8:55           Jesus next identified these superficial believers (cf. v. 31) as unbelievers. They had not yet come to believe that He was God (to "know Him"), even though some of them thought that He was a crazy prophet. For Jesus to deny knowing God would be as much of a lie as His critics' claim that they knew God. The proof that Jesus really did know God was His obedience to God's Word.

Jesus knew ("know," Gr. oida) God inherently and intuitively, but His critics did not "know" (Gr. ginosko) God by experience or observation. We should not put too much emphasis on the differences between these two Greek words though, since John often used synonyms without much distinction.[645]

8:56           Jesus was, of course, referring here to Abraham as the physical ancestor of His hearers, not their spiritual father. The occasion of Abraham's rejoicing, to which Jesus referred, is unclear. The commentators have suggested various incidents in his life that Moses recorded (i.e., Gen. 12:2-3; 15:17-21; 17:17; 21:6; 22:5-14).

"But how did Abraham see Christ's day: Some understand it of the sight he had of it in the other world. The longings of gracious souls after Jesus Christ will be fully satisfied when they come to heaven, and not till then. It is more commonly understood of some sight he had of Christ's day in this world. They that received not the promises, yet saw them afar off. There is room to conjecture that Abraham had some vision of Christ and his day, which is not recorded in his story."[646]

I think the most likely possibility is Genesis 12:3, which records the prediction that God would bless the whole world through Abraham. In any case,Jesus said that Abraham anticipated His "day" ("the entire dispensation of Christ"[647]). Jesus was claiming that He fulfilled what Abraham looked forward to. We need to be careful not to read back into Abraham's understanding of the future what we know from revelation about the future that God gave after Abraham died. Clearly Abraham did know that his seed would become the channel of God's blessing to the entire world.

The Hebrew and Greek words translated "seed" (Heb. zera, Gr. sperma) are collective singulars, as is the English word "seed." It is not clear from these words whether one or more seeds are in view. The Bible uses the phrase "seed of Abraham" to refer to four entities: Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:16), Abraham's spiritual children (believers, Gal. 4:6-9, 29), his physical descendants (the Jews, Gen. 12:1-3, 7; et al.), and his physical and spiritual posterity (saved Jews, Rom. 9:6, 8; Gal. 6:16).

8:57           The Jews did not understand Jesus' meaning because they disregarded the possibility of His deity. To them it seemed ludicrous that Abraham could have seen Jesus' day, in any sense, since millennia separated the two men. Evidently they chose 50 years old as a round number symbolic of the end of an active life (cf. Num. 4:3). Jesus was obviously not that old, since He began His public ministry when He was about 30 (Luke 3:23) and it only lasted about three and a half years. According to Hoehner's chronology Jesus would have been in His mid-thirties at this time.[648]

8:58           This was the third and last of Jesus' solemn pronouncements in this discourse (cf. vv. 34, 51). If Jesus had only wanted to claim that He existed before Abraham He could have said: "I was." By saying "I am" He was not only claiming preexistence but deity (cf. vv. 24, 28; 5:18; Exod. 3:14; Isa. 41:4; 43:13).[649]

"It is eternity of being and not simply being that has lasted through several centuries that the expression indicates."[650]

"The meaning here is: Before Abraham came into being, I eternally was, as now I am, and ever continue to be."[651]

"The doctrine of the eternity of the Son of God is the most important doctrine of Christology as a whole because if Christ is not eternal then He is a creature who came into existence in time and lacks the quality of eternity and infinity which characterizes God Himself."[652]

Jesus existed before Abraham came into being ("was born," Gr. genesthai).

8:59           The Jews understood that Jesus was claiming to be God. They prepared to stone ("picked up stones to throw at") Him for making what they considered to be a blasphemous claim (5:18; Lev. 24:16). Such treatment, without a trial, was an accepted form of punishment when someone supposedly defied the Mosaic Law or the traditions of the elders (cf. Luke 4:29; John 10:31; Acts 7:58; 21:31).[653] But Jesus hid Himself, because His hour had not yet come (2:4; 7:6, 8, 30, 44; 8:20; 18:6). Then He departed from the temple grounds (cf. 7:14). He did not protest or retaliate, which is another indication of His submission to the Father.

This concludes Jesus' Light of the World Discourse (vv. 12-59). The Light of the world now symbolically abandoned the Jews by leaving the temple, and went out to humanity in general, represented by the man born blind in the next chapter.

6.     The sixth sign: healing a man born blind ch. 9

This chapter continues the theme of Jesus as the Light of the world (8:12; 9:5). When the Light shone, some received spiritual sight, like this blind man, who received both physical and spiritual sight. However the Light blinded others (vv. 39-41). This chapter shows the continuing polarization of opinion that marked Jesus' ministry, while the differences between those who believed on Him and those who disbelieved became more apparent.

"This short chapter expresses perhaps more vividly and completely than any other John's conception of the work of Christ."[654]

"There are more miracles of the giving of sight to the blind recorded of Jesus than healings in any other category (see Matt. 9:27-31; 12:22-23; 15:30-31; 21:14; Mark 8:22-26; 10:46-52; Luke 7:21-22). In the Old Testament the giving of sight to the blind is associated with God himself (Exod. 4:11; Ps. 146:8). It is also a messianic activity (Isa. 29:18; 35:5; 42:7), and this may be its significance in the New Testament. It is a divine function, a function for God's own Messiah, that Jesus fulfills when he gives sight to the blind."[655]

The healing of the man 9:1-12

The exact time of this miracle and Jesus' following discourse is unclear. Evidently these events transpired sometime between the Feast of Tabernacles (7:2, 10; September 10-17, A.D. 32.) and the Feast of Dedication (10:22-39; December 18, A.D. 32.).[656] Westcott believed that 10:22 locates the time of the events in 9:1 through 10:2, as well as those in 10:22 through 39, during the Feast of Dedication.[657] Robertson believed that this incident did not take place at this feast.[658] This sixth of John's seven select signs shows Jesus' power over misfortune.[659]

9:1             Probably Jesus "passed by" in Jerusalem (8:59), perhaps on the day following the events just narrated. He was, perhaps, in or near the temple.[660] John apparently noted that the man had been blind from birth in order to prove his helpless condition, and perhaps to compare him with those who were spiritually blind from birth (cf. vv. 39-41; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:1-3). While the Synoptics record several instances in which blind people received their sight, this is the only case of this happening to a man who was born blind. In fact, this is the only miracle recorded in the Gospels in which the sufferer is said to have been afflicted from birth.[661] This miracle also illustrates the origin and development of faith.

9:2             The Jews regarded blind people as especially worthy of charity.[662] The disciples' question reflected popular Jewish opinion of their day. Clearly the Old Testament taught that sin brings divine punishment (e.g., Exod. 20:5; 34:7; Ezek. 18:4). This cause and effect relationship led many of the Jews, as well as many modern people, to conclude that every bad effect had an identifiable sinful cause.[663] That conclusion goes further than the Bible does (cf. Job; 2 Cor. 12:7; Gal. 4:13). Sin does lie behind all the suffering and evil in the world, but the connection between sin and suffering is not always direct or traceable.

The disciples, like their contemporaries, assumed that either one or both of the blind man's parents had sinned, or he had, and that that sin was the cause of his blindness.[664] Some of the Jews believed in pre-natal sin and/or the pre-existence of the soul.[665]

"It is not absolutely certain they were thinking of the possibility of the man having sinned in a pre-natal condition. As R. A. Knox points out, they may not have known that the man was born blind, and the Greek might be understood to mean, 'Did this man sin? or did his parents commit some sin with the result that he was born blind?'"[666]

Some of the Jews believed in reincarnation, so that may have been in the back of the disciples' minds.[667] I doubt this possibility. It seems reasonable to assume that Jesus had made it clear to His disciples that there is no reincarnation of the soul (cf. Heb. 9:27).

"The disciples did not look at the man as an object of mercy but rather as a subject for a theological discussion. It is much easier to discuss an abstract subject like 'sin' than it is to minister to a concrete need in the life of a person."[668]

9:3             Neither of the disciples' options was the reason for this man's blindness. God was going to display His works in this man's life. There is no punctuation in the old Greek texts, so it may help to understand Jesus' meaning to omit the period at the end of verse 3 and to read verses 3 and 4 as follows: "But in order that the works of God might be displayed in him, we must work the works of Him who sent Me, as long as it is day."[669] If this is the proper way to read these verses, and I think it is, Jesus was not giving an answer to His disciples' question. He was simply saying that it was neither that this man who sinned nor was it his parents. Period.

It is wrong to conclude that every instance of suffering is the direct result of a particular act of sin (cf. Job). Some suffering is (cf. 5:14; 1 Cor. 11:29-30), but some is not (cf. Luke 13:1-5). It is also wrong to conclude that God permits every instance of suffering because He intends to miraculously relieve it. Jesus did not reveal the reason for this man's condition. It is a mistake to conclude that God made him blind from birth so that Jesus could give him sight. This is not what Jesus meant.

"Only God knows why babies are born with handicaps, and only God can turn those handicaps into something that will bring good to the people and glory to His name."[670]

"The question for us is not where suffering has come from, but what we are to do with it."[671]

Notice the positive viewpoint of Jesus. The disciples viewed the man's condition as an indication of divine displeasure, but Jesus saw it as an opportunity for divine grace.

"If God be glorified, either by us or in us, we were not made in vain."[672]

9:4             Jesus' "We" probably refers to Himself alone, though He could have meant Himself and the disciples. Jesus later spoke of His disciples continuing His work (14:12; cf. 20:21). The "day" in view is probably a reference to the spiritual daylight generated by the Light of the world's presence on the earth. Darkness would descend when He departed the earth and returned to heaven (cf. 12:35). The nighttime "when no one can work" may refer to the spiritual darkness that would engulf the world after Jesus departed this earth and returned to heaven. I doubt that this is a reference to the Tribulation. In the Tribulation there will be many people who are doing God's works.

9:5             While Jesus was in the world—during His earthly ministry as the incarnate Son of God—He was the Light of the world. He provided the light of the revelation of God for the world.

9:6             The healing of the blind man that followed shows the Light of the world dispelling darkness while it was still day. Perhaps Jesus spit on the ground so that the blind man would hear what He was doing. Jesus applied His saliva directly when He healed the deaf man with the speech impediment in the Decapolis (Mark 7:33) and the blind man near Bethsaida (Mark 8:23). In the case of blind Bartimaeus, Jesus simply healed with a word (Mark 10:46-52). Here He mixed His saliva with soil from the ground and made mud. Applying the moist mud to the blind man's eyes would have let him feel that Jesus was doing something for him. Jesus may have intended these sensory aids to strengthen the man's faith.[673] Another possibility is that, by making clay, Jesus did something on the Sabbath that his adversaries would have objected to, and so caused the discussion with them that followed (cf. v. 14). Jesus may have varied His methods of healing so people would not think that the method was more important than the Man doing the healing.

Perhaps Jesus also used saliva and mud in order to associate this act of healing with divine creation (Gen. 2:7).[674] Another suggestion is that by covering the man's eyes with mud Jesus was making his blindness even more intense in order to magnify the cure (cf. 1 Kings 18:33-35).[675] Some students of this passage have suggested that Jesus was using something unclean to cause a cure in order to show His power to overcome evil with good.[676] Another view is that Jesus introduced an irritant so the man would want to irrigate his eyes.[677] Compare the Holy Spirit's ministry of conviction that leads to obedience. Another view is that Jesus used the methods and customs of His day, since spittle, especially the spittle of some distinguished person, was believed by some to have curative properties.[678] Other interpreters take Jesus' action as symbolical: the saliva signifying the Word of God, and the clay humanity.[679]

"The use of clay also [as well as saliva] for healing the eyes was not unknown."[680]

"It was not that Jesus believed in these things, but He kindled expectation by doing what the patient would expect a doctor to do."[681]

"The blind man, introduced as the theme of a theological debate, becomes the object of divine mercy and a place of revelation."[682]

9:7             Jesus then instructed the blind man to go to the pool of Siloam, in southeast Jerusalem, and wash the mud off his eyes.[683] He obeyed Jesus, received his sight, and departed from the pool seeing. His obedience gave evidence of his faith that something good would come as a result of obeying Jesus.

It is probably significant that Jesus sent the man to that particular source of water. John interpreted the meaning of Siloam as "Sent" for his readers. Jesus had sent the man, he obeyed, and he received sight. Similarly all who obeyed Jesus' command to believe on Him received spiritual sight. Westcott believed that the interpretation of the name of the pool ("Sent") connects the pool with Christ, not with the man. It was when the man went to Him who had been "sent" from the Father, which the name of the pool reflected, that he was healed.[684]

"Sight was restored by clay, made out of the ground with the spittle of Him, Whose breath had at first breathed life into clay; and this was then washed away in the Pool of Siloam, from whose waters had been drawn on the Feast of Tabernacles that which symbolized the forthpouring of the new life by the Spirit."[685]

9:8-9a        John's record of the conversation of the blind man's neighbors is interesting. It shows that the change in him was so remarkable that even some people who knew him well could not believe that he was the same man.

"The change wrought by regeneration in the converted Christian is so great that other people often find it difficult to believe he is the same person; so it was with the physical change effected by Jesus in the blind beggar."[686]

9:9b           The former beggar's personal testimony settled the debate. No one could argue with that. Evidently this man had been a beggar out of necessity rather than by choice. He later demonstrated a sense of humor, a knowledge of history and Scripture, the ability to withstand intimidation, and the ability to argue logically and effectively (cf. vv. 27, 30-32). These traits show that he was far from mentally incompetent.

"Those who are savingly enlightened by the grace of God should be ready to own what they were before."[687]

9:10           Jesus had not accompanied the man to the pool, so he could not point Him out to the crowd as his healer. Here is further evidence that Jesus was not promoting Himself in order to gain glory but was simply doing the work that God had given Him to do.

9:11           When questioned about the miracle the former blind man could only report the facts of his case, and the name of Jesus, whom he had not yet seen. The crowd obviously wanted to find Jesus. The man's description of Jesus gives no indication that he was a true believer. Jesus did not perform this healing because the man believed that He was God's Son or even the Messiah. It was simply an expression of God's grace that became an opportunity for teaching.

9:12           The man did not know where Jesus was either, when "the neighbors, and those who previously saw him" (v. 8) asked him. These people evidently wanted to find Jesus.

The Pharisees' first interrogation 9:13-23

"John evidently wants us to see that the activity of Jesus as the Light of the world inevitably results in judgment on those whose natural habitat is darkness. They oppose the Light and they bring down condemnation on themselves accordingly."[688]

9:13           The formerly blind man's neighbors probably brought him to their religious leaders ("the Pharisees") just to hear their opinion of what had happened to him.

9:14           John now introduced the fact that Jesus had healed the man on a Sabbath, because it became the basis for much of the discussion that followed. Most of the Pharisees would have regarded Jesus' action as inappropriate work that violated traditional Sabbath ordinances (cf. 5:9, 16; 7:21-24). He had, after all, made clay, anointed the man's eyes, and healed the man.

9:15           When the Pharisees asked the man how he had received his sight, he explained the method that Jesus had used. Previously the man's neighbors and others had asked him this question (v. 10), but now the Pharisees repeated their question (they "were asking him again").

9:16           Jesus' caused a division among the people again (cf. 7:40-43). Some of the Pharisees, offended by Jesus' violation of traditional Sabbath laws, concluded that He could not represent God, who had given the Sabbath laws. Their argument was a priori: beginning with the Law and working forward to Jesus' action.

Others found the evidence of a supernatural cure most impressive, and they decided that Jesus must not be a common sinner but someone special who could do divine acts. Their argument was a posteriori: beginning with the facts and working back to Jesus' action. Ironically, the second group had the weaker argument, since miracles do not necessarily prove that the miracle-worker is from God. Still, their conclusion was true, whereas the conclusion of the first group with the stronger argument was false. At least some of the Pharisees considered the possibility that Jesus had come from God (cf. 3:2).

9:17           Faced with having to decide if Jesus was from God or not, the healed man concluded that He was a prophet similar to other miracle-working Old Testament prophets (e.g., 2 Kings 2:19-22; 4:18-44; 5:1-14). This was an advance over his previous description of Jesus as simply "the man who is called Jesus" (v. 11). John presented his faith as growing.

9:18-19      Evidently the Pharisees chose to interview the healed man's parents because they could not unite on a decision about Jesus. They wanted more information from people closer to him than just his neighbors (v. 8). Only his parents could affirm that he had been truly blind from birth.

9:20-21a    The man's parents confirmed that he was indeed their son and that he had been blind from birth, so they testified that a unique miracle had taken place. Yet they were unwilling to give their opinion about how their son became able to see, or to identify Jesus as his Healer. They probably knew the answers to these questions, since John proceeded to explain that they had other reasons for not giving more information (vv. 22-23).

9:21b         They suggested that the investigators question their son on these points, since he himself was capable of giving legal testimony (cf. Ps. 27:12). Jewish boys became responsible adults at the age of 13. The age of this man is unknown, but in view of his confident responses to the Pharisees that follow, he appears to have been much older than 13.

9:22-23      The reason for the parents' silence was their fear of excommunication from their local synagogue for affirming that Jesus was the Messiah.

"The Jews had three types of excommunication: one lasting 30 days, during which the person could not come within six feet of anybody else; one for an indefinite time, during which the person was excluded from all fellowship and worship; and one that meant absolute expulsion forever. These judgments were very serious because no one could conduct business with a person who was excommunicated."[689]

"For a Jew to be put out of the synagogue meant that he was ostracized by everyone."[690]

We now learn that the official position about Jesus was that He was not the Messiah, and anyone who affirmed that He was the Messiah was in danger of being persecuted (cf. 7:13). Some scholars have argued that such a test of heresy was impossible this early in the relations between believers and unbelievers in Jesus.[691] But other scholars have rebutted these objections effectively.[692]

"'Already the Jews had decided' does not necessarily indicate a formal decree of the Sanhedrin. It might well mean that some of the leading men had agreed among themselves to take action against the supporters of Jesus, perhaps to exclude them from the synagogues, perhaps to initiate proceedings in the Sanhedrin."[693]

Interestingly, the Apostle John considered confession of Jesus as the Messiah to be a litmus test that identifies genuine Christians (1 John 5:1). In 1 John 5:1 the title "Christ" (the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew "Messiah") comprises all the biblical revelation about Messiah, specifically that He was divine as well as human. During Jesus' ministry, however, confessing Jesus as the Messiah did not necessarily involve believing in His deity (cf. 1:41; Matt. 16:16). It meant at least believing that He was the promised messianic deliverer of Israel, which was the popular conception of Messiah.

Some of John's original readers who had become Christians from a Jewish background, and had been put out of their synagogues because of their faith in Jesus, would have identified with the blind man and his parents at this point.

The Pharisees' second interrogation 9:24-34

The Pharisees, who considered themselves enlightened, now tried to badger the formerly blind man into denying that Jesus was a prophet (v. 17).

9:24           The Pharisees proceeded to question the healed man again. They had already decided that Jesus was "not from God" (v. 16), but they had to admit that He had done a remarkable miracle. Having failed to prove that Jesus was not from God, they now hoped that the healed man would cave in to pressure from the authorities and testify that Jesus was a sinner. Not only that, they suggested that the man would be glorifying God by speaking the truth, if he agreed with their conclusion (cf. v. 15; Josh. 7:19). Another evidence of Johannine irony appears: The Pharisees assumed that glorifying God and glorifying Jesus were mutually exclusive, when actually to glorify the Son is to glorify the Father (cf. 5:23).

Their disdain for Jesus comes through in their calling Him only "this man" and "a sinner." A "sinner" in the Pharisees' eyes was someone who broke the oral traditions as well as the Mosaic Law because they had no regard for them. Probably they called Jesus a "sinner" because He had healed the man on a Sabbath. They hoped the restored man would point to some instance of Jesus' disobedience that would confirm and strengthen their case against Him (cf. 1 Pet. 2:22). Notice that these judges prejudiced everyone against Jesus from the start by announcing that they had already determined that He was a sinner.

9:25           The healed man refused to speculate on Jesus' sinfulness. He left that to the theological heavyweights. But he also refused to back down and deny that Jesus had given him sight. Here is another of many instances in the fourth Gospel of personal testimony, which John consistently presented as important and effective in verifying Jesus' miracles. Regardless of a believer's understanding of all that is involved in Jesus' person and works, he or she can always testify to the change that Jesus has effected in his or her own life.

9:26           The Pharisees apparently hoped that, as the man repeated his story, he would either contradict himself or in some other way discredit his own testimony. This is the third time that the Pharisees asked how the miracle had happened (vv. 15, 19, 26). People are often more curious about the mechanics of miracles than they are about the person who performs them. Likewise people are often more concerned about identifying whom they can blame than they are in really helping people.

9:27           The restored blind man refused to review the obvious facts. He now knew that the Pharisees did not want the truth but only information that they could use against Jesus. They had not listened to him in the sense of believing him the first time (cf. 5:25). He sarcastically suggested that perhaps the reason they wanted to hear about Jesus—one more time—was because they wanted to follow Him as His disciples. This response indicates that the man felt no intimidation from his accusers. He knew that he stood on solid ground with his testimony, so much so that he could mock his examiners with a bit of humor.

9:28-29      The Pharisees saw nothing funny in the man's reply however. They were deadly serious in their attempt to gather enough information so that they could discredit Jesus. They undoubtedly realized that this former beggar had seen through their veiled attempt to condemn Jesus unjustly. They met his good-natured put-down with insult. They turned his charge back on himself and presented following Jesus as irreconcilable with following Moses. Of course, the Pharisees were not the disciples of Moses that they claimed to be. Ironically, Jesus was. Failure to know where Jesus came from amounted to failing to know where He received His authority. Moses had come from God, but Jesus' critics claimed that Jesus had not come from God (v. 16; cf. 7:27).

"The Pharisees were cautious men who would consider themselves conservatives, when in reality they were 'preservatives.' … A 'preservative' simply embalms the past and preserves it. He is against change and resists the new things that God is doing."[694]

We see here an essential difference between Judaism and Christianity (cf. 1:17). The Jews continue to profess allegiance to Moses, like the Pharisees did here, while Christians claim to follow Jesus, which is what they charged the healed man with doing. Following Jesus involves accepting Moses' revelation as authoritative, since Jesus authenticated Moses' writings.

Earlier Jesus' enemies said they knew where He came from, namely, Galilee (7:27). They were wrong in their assessment of Jesus' earthly origin just as they were wrong about His heavenly origin. Here they were speaking of His authoritative origin, specifically who had sent Him.

9:30           The healed man not only possessed a sense of humor and courage but also common sense. It seemed amazing to him that the Pharisees could not see that Jesus had come from God ("not know where He is from"). Their unbelief, in view of the evidence, was incredible to him. The proof that Jesus had come from God was His ability to perform such a powerful and constructive miracle as giving sight to a man born blind.

9:31           A fundamental biblical revelation is that God responds positively to the God-fearing, but He does not hear (in the sense of always granting the requests of) those who sin (Job 27:9; 35:13; Ps. 34:15-16; 66:18; 145:19; Prov. 15:29; 28:9; Isa. 1:15). Obviously not all miracle-workers had come from God (cf. Exod. 7:22; 8:7), but there had been exceptions to the rule. The former blind man showed considerable spiritual insight.

"It is always risky to identify spiritual power with divine power. But such theological niceties do not trouble the healed man. His spiritual instincts are good, even if his theological argumentation is not entirely convincing."[695]

9:32-33      The man was correct that Scripture recorded no former healing of a man born blind. Evidently Jesus had not healed anyone in this condition previously either. At least this restored man had not heard of any such cases. He therefore concluded that Jesus must have come "from God." In his mind Jesus did not qualify as the "sinner" that the Pharisees were making Him out to be.

9:34           Scorn and ridicule have often served as a final resort when evidence fails, and these tactics served the Pharisees this way here. Jesus' accusers implied that this man's congenital blindness was the result of a sinful condition ("You were born entirely in sins") that rendered him incapable of spiritual insight (cf. v. 2). By saying this they unintentionally admitted that Jesus had cured a man blind from birth.

He [the blind man] had not only taught the rabbis, but had utterly routed them in argument."[696]

"Those that are ambitious of the favours of God must not be afraid of the frowns of men."[697]

"How could anybody be steeped in sin at birth? Everybody is born with a sinful nature (Ps. 51:5; Rom. 5:12), but a baby can hardly commit numerous acts of sin moments after it is born!"[698]

The Pharisees did not argue the exceptions to the rule that the man cited (v. 33), nor did they offer any other possible explanations for the miracle. No one seems to have remembered that Isaiah had prophesied that when Messiah appeared He would open the eyes of the blind (Isa. 29:18; 35:5; 42:7).

This poor man lost his privilege of participating in synagogue worship for taking his stand in support of Jesus ("they put him out," cf. v. 22). Many other Jewish believers followed him in this fate throughout the years since this incident happened. This is the first persecution of Jesus' followers that John recorded.

"The Rabbinists enumerate twenty-four grounds for excommunication, of which more than one might serve the purpose of the Pharisees."[699]

"… how many a preacher there is today, who in his fancied superiority, scorns the help which ofttimes a member of his congregation could give him. Glorying in their seminary education, they cannot allow that an ignorant layman has light on the Scriptures which they do not possess. Let a Spirit-taught layman seek to show the average preacher 'the way of the Lord more perfectly,' and he must not be surprised if his pastor says—if not in so many words, plainly by his bearing and actions—'dost thou teach us?'"[700]

Spiritual sight and blindness 9:35-41

"John is interested in the way the coming of Jesus divides people."[701]

9:35           The healed man had responded positively and courageously to the light that he had so far, but he did not have much light. Therefore Jesus took the initiative and sought him out with further revelation designed to bring him to full faith.

"How true it is that those who honor God are honored by Him. … He [Jesus] cheered this man with gracious words. Yea, He revealed Himself more fully to him than to any other individual, save the Samaritan adulteress. He plainly avowed His deity: He presented Himself in His highest glory as 'the Son of God [cf. 5:25; 10:36; 11:4].'"[702]

Jesus' purpose was not just to provide physical healing for the man, but to bring him to salvation. So when Jesus found him, He asked him: "Do you believe [place your trust] in the Son of Man?" Some early manuscripts and modern translations have "Son of God" here, but "Son of Man" has the better textual support. A personal response to God's grace is essential for salvation. "You" is emphatic in the Greek text. Jesus probably chose this title for Himself because it expressed the fact that He was the Man who had come "from God" (Dan. 7:13-14; cf. John 1:51; 3:13-14; 5:27; 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28). Furthermore it connotes Jesus' role as Judge, which He proceeded to explain (v. 39).

In other words, Jesus was asking the man if he trusted in the God-man, though Jesus did not identify Himself as that Man. The healed blind man, ironically, had never before seen Jesus, so he did not know Him by sight.

9:36           The man replied by asking Jesus to point the Son of Man out to him. He seemed ready to believe in Him, and he evidently thought that Jesus was going to identify his healer. The title "Lord" (Gr. kyrie) means "Sir" in this context. Once again someone spoke better than he knew, since this man's questioner was "Lord" in a larger sense than he first realized (cf. v. 38).

"He asks that faith may find its object. His trust in Jesus is absolute."[703]

9:37-38      Jesus then identified Himself, introducing Himself ("He is the one who is talking with you") as the Son of Man (cf. 4:26). Perhaps He told the man that he (the man) had seen Him (Jesus) in order to connect the miracle with the miracle-worker. The man may have suspected that Jesus was his healer because of the sound of His voice, but seeing Him made the identification certain. The man had seen Him with the eyes of faith previously, but now he also saw Him physically, with recognition. Similarly modern believers see Him by faith, but in the future faith will give way to sight.

Jesus removed all possibility of misunderstanding when He identified Himself as the One who now spoke to the man. The man confessed his faith in Jesus, and appropriately proceeded to bow down (Gr. proskyneo) in worship before Him. This is the only place in this Gospel where we read that anyone worshipped Jesus. Now the respectful address "Lord" took on deeper meaning for him (v. 36). However the man still had much to learn about the full identity of Jesus and its implications, as all new believers do. This man was no longer welcome in his synagogue, but he took a new place of worship at Jesus' feet. Worship means acknowledging and ascribing worthiness to someone or something.

This blind man's pilgrimage from darkness to light is clear from the terms that he used to describe Jesus. First, he called Him "the man who is called Jesus" (v. 11). Second, he referred to Jesus as "a prophet" (v. 17). Third, he came to believe that Jesus was a prophet who had come "from God" (v. 33). Finally, he acknowledged Jesus as "Lord" (v. 38). This man's progress, from dark unbelief to the light of faith, is very significant in view of John's stated purpose of bringing his readers to believe that Jesus is the Christ (20:31). It shows that this process sometimes, indeed usually, involves stages of illumination. It is also interesting that the problems that this man had with the Pharisees were what God used to open his spiritual eyes to who Jesus really was. It is often through difficulties that God teaches us more about Himself.

9:39           Jesus concluded His comments to the man by explaining something of His purpose in the Incarnation.

"The last three verses of chapter ix make it clear that this incident has been recorded primarily because it is an acted parable of faith and unbelief, and therefore of judgment, a theme that is never absent for long from this Gospel."[704]

Jesus' primary purpose was to save some, but in doing so He had to pass "judgment" (Gr. krima, cf. 3:17-21, 36; 12:47). Judging was the result of His coming, not the reason for it.

"He had not come to act in judgment, but His coming did create a crisis."[705]

The last part of this verse consists of two purpose clauses. Jesus was evidently alluding to Isaiah 6:10 and 42:19. His coming inevitably involved exposing the spiritual blindness of some so that they might recognize their blindness, turn to Him in faith, and see (cf. vv. 25, 36). Conversely, His coming also involved confirming the spiritual blindness of those who professed to see spiritually but really did not because of their unbelief (cf. vv. 16, 22, 24, 29, 34). Jesus is the pivot on which all human destiny turns.[706] Jesus explained that what had happened to this man and the Pharisees was an example of what His whole ministry was about.[707]

"… a certain poverty of spirit (cf. Mt. 5:3), an abasement of personal pride (especially over one's religious opinions), and a candid acknowledgment of spiritual blindness are indispensable characteristics of the person who receives spiritual sight, true revelation, at the hands of Jesus …"[708]

"By willfully confining their vision men lose the very power of seeing."[709]

9:40           Some Pharisees had been listening in on Jesus' conversation with the restored man. They suspected that Jesus might be referring to them when He spoke of the spiritually blind (v. 39). They wanted to make sure that Jesus was not accusing them of spiritual blindness, since they considered themselves the most enlightened among the Jews.

9:41           Jesus replied to them using irony. He said that if they were spiritually blind, and realized their need for enlightenment, they would not be guilty of sin, specifically unbelief, because they would accept Jesus' teaching. However they did not sense their need but felt quite satisfied that they understood God's will correctly. Consequently they did not receive the light that Jesus offered. They were wise in their own eyes, but really they were fools (Prov. 26:12). Their sin of unbelief remained with them, and they remained in their sin and under God's condemning wrath (3:36). Light causes some eyes to see, but it blinds other eyes. Jesus' revelations had the same effects.

"By contrast [with the increasing perception of the man born blind] the Pharisees, starting with the view that Jesus is not from God (v. 16), question the miracle (v. 18), speak of Jesus as a sinner (v. 24), are shown to be ignorant (v. 29), and finally are pronounced blind and sinners (v. 41)."[710]

"If the Pharisees had been really blind, if they had had no understanding of spiritual things at all, they would not have sinned in acting as they did (cf. Rom. 5:13). They could not be blamed for acting in ignorance [cf. 1 Tim. 1:13]. They would then not have been acting in rebellion against their best insights. But they claim to see. They claim spiritual knowledge. They know the law. And it is sin for people who have spiritual knowledge to act as they do."[711]

The deceitfulness of sin often makes those people who are in the greatest need of divine revelation and illumination think that they are the most enlightened human beings. Only the Spirit of God, using the Word of God, can break through that dense darkness to bring conviction of spiritual blindness, and to create openness to the truth (cf. 1 Cor. 2:6-16).

"… it is precisely when men say that they see, and because they say that they see, that their sin remaineth. They continue to be guilty men, however unconscious of their guilt."[712]

"Some of the most dogmatic people today are the atheists and the cultists. They say they see, but they are blind. They reject the Lord Jesus Christ, and so their sin remains. Although they are not walking around with a white walking stick, they are blind."[713]

This chapter advances the revelation of Jesus' true identity, which was one of John's primary objectives in this Gospel. It also shows that, as the light of this revelation became clearer, so did the darkness, because some people prefer the darkness to the light (3:19).

"This miracle is a sign that Jesus can open the eyes of the spiritually blind so that they can receive the complete sight which constitutes perfect faith. Faith means passing from darkness to light; and to bring men this faith, to give them the opportunity of responding when the divine Spirit draws them to Himself, is the primary purpose for which Jesus has been sent into the world."[714]

7.     The Good Shepherd discourse 10:1-21

Evidently this teaching followed what John recorded in chapter 9, but exactly when between the Feast of Tabernacles (7:2, 14, 37) and the Feast of Dedication (v. 22) it happened is unclear. The place where Jesus gave it appears to have been Jerusalem (v. 22). Probably this teaching followed the preceding one immediately. The thematic as well as the linguistic connections are strong. The formerly blind beggar had just been put out of the fold of his synagogue (9:34), so Jesus spoke of His fold, which the beggar had now entered (cf. 9:35-38).

"The Pharisees supported themselves in their opposition to Christ with this principle, that they were the pastors of the church, and that Jesus was an intruder and an imposter, and therefore the people were bound in duty to stick to them, against him. In opposition to this, Christ here describes who were the false shepherds, and who the true, leaving them to infer what they were."[715]

"A signal instance of the failure of hireling shepherds has been given; instead of properly caring for the blind man, the Pharisees have cast him out (9.34). Jesus, on the other hand, as the good shepherd, found him (9.35, heuron auton) and so brought him into the true fold."[716]

"In a sense, the chapter break here is unfortunate. This event really is a commentary on the conflict of John 9 (10:19-21)."[717]

Jesus' presentation of the figure 10:1-6

This teaching is quite similar to what the Synoptic evangelists recorded Jesus giving in His parables.[718]

Jesus evidently chose the figure of a good shepherd in order to contrast Himself with the bad shepherds who were misleading God's "sheep." Many Old Testament passages rebuked Israel's shepherds who failed in their duty (cf. Isa. 56:9-12; Jer. 23:1-4; 25:32-38; Ezek. 34; Zech. 11). God was Israel's Shepherd (cf. Ps. 23:1; 80:1; Isa. 40:10-11). The shepherd metaphor also was a good one to picture Jesus' voluntary self-sacrifice for His people.

"The shepherd was an autocrat over his flock, and passages are not lacking where the shepherd imagery is used to emphasize the thought of sovereignty. Jesus is thus set forth in this allegory as the true Ruler of his people in contrast to all false shepherds."[719]

10:1           Jesus again stressed the importance of this teaching with a strong introductory preface. He then proceeded to point out several things about first-century shepherding that illustrated His ministry. John's original readers would have understood these similarities easily since shepherding was widespread.

Jesus described a flock of sheep in a "fold" or pen that had solid walls and only one door or gate. Evidently the pen in view was a large enclosure some distance from any human dwelling place. Customarily several families who owned sheep would feed their sheep in nearby pastures and hire a watchman to guard the gate to such an exposed enclosure. The watchman would admit authorized individuals but would exclude the unauthorized ones who might want to steal or kill some of the sheep.[720] The words "thief" (Gr. kleptes, stressing trickery; cf. Luke 11:52) and "robber" (Gr. lestes, stressing violence; cf. Matt. 21:13) are quite close in meaning.

God frequently compared His relationship with Israel to that of a Shepherd and His sheep in the Old Testament (e.g., Ps. 80:1; Isa. 40:11; Ezek. 34:10-16; cf. Ps. 23:1). He also called Israel's unfaithful leaders wicked shepherds of His people (e.g., Isa. 56:9-12; Jer. 23:1-4; 25:32-38; Ezek. 34:4; Zech. 11). Additionally, God predicted that one day a descendant of David would shepherd the nation properly (Ezek. 34:23-25; 37:24-28). Thus these figures all had special meaning for the Jews to whom Jesus first addressed this teaching. The sheepfold stands for Judaism.

In verse 1 the thieves and robbers clearly refer to the religious leaders who were unfaithful to God and were seeking to harm His "sheep" for personal gain (cf. 9:41). Their rejection of Jesus, as the Shepherd whom God had sent, identified them for what they were. Satan, the ultimate enemy, was working through them.

10:2           In contrast to thieves and robbers, an approved shepherd would enter the pen through its gate rather than over one of its walls. The "door" represented the lawful way of entrance into Judaism for the shepherd. (The Latin word for "shepherd" translates as "pastor.")

"Several flocks were often gathered into one fold for protection during the night.  In the morning each shepherd passed into the fold to bring out his own flock; and he entered by the same door as they."[721]

Jesus was saying figuratively that He came to Israel as God's authorized representative: the Messiah. The religious leaders, on the other hand, did not have divine approval for their dealings with Israel, which were essentially destructive as well as selfish.

10:3           The "doorkeeper" was the person hired to protect the sheep from their enemies. In the case of Jesus' ministry, this person corresponded to John the Baptist. Another view is that the doorkeeper refers to the Holy Spirit.[722] However all of the guardians of God's "flock" throughout history may be in view: Moses, John the Baptist, God the Father, the Holy Spirit, and others.[723] Normally there were sheep from several different flocks, belonging to several different owners, that stayed together in these large pens.

Upon entering the pen a shepherd would call his own sheep to come out from the others, and he would lead them out to pasture. Normally shepherds did this with a distinctive call or whistle. The shepherd in Jesus' story, however, called each sheep by its own name, which evidently was not uncommon in Jesus' day (cf. 1:43; 11:43; Luke 19:5).[724] The scene thus pictures Jesus calling every individual whom the Father had given Him to follow Him out from among the non-elect Jews (cf. Num. 27:15-18; John 14:9; 20:16, 29; 21:16). Jesus' "sheep" listen to His voice and follow Him (cf. 5:24).

"The Pharisees threw the beggar out of the synagogue, but Jesus led him out of Judaism and into the flock of God!"[725]

10:4           Many shepherds drove their sheep before them, and some of them used sheep dogs to help them herd the sheep. However other shepherds went ahead of their sheep and led them where they wanted to take them. This second description reflects the style of Jesus' leadership. He led His disciples, who followed Him wherever He went in obedience to His lead and command (cf. Gal. 5:18). The shepherd's sheep follow him because they know his voice. They recognize him for who he is, namely, their shepherd.

10:5           Conversely, sheep will not follow false shepherds ("strangers"), because their voices (or teaching) are strange to them. Jesus was describing what is typical behavior in such relationships, not that every individual sheep always behaves this way in every instance, as experience testifies.

"Alas and alas, if only our modern pastors had the sheep (old and young) so trained that they would run away from and not run after the strange voices that call them to false philosophy, false psychology, false ethics, false religion, false life."[726]

Some people appeal to verses 4 and 5 to support the theory that true Christians will inevitably follow Christ and will never depart from Him. This seems wrong for at least three reasons: First, Jesus said that His sheep follow Him, not a stranger, because they know the Good Shepherd's voice (what He says, His teaching). Sheep normally do follow their shepherd because they know his voice, but there are exceptions among sheep and among Christians.

Second, if following false teachers was impossible for Christians, why are there so many warnings against doing precisely that in the New Testament?

Third, John identified this saying of Jesus as a figure of speech (or compressed thought, v. 6). Illustrations typically make a main point, so we should not expect this illustration to correspond to reality in every detail, much less to teach doctrine in all its parts.

The point of these verses is how God forms His flock. People come to Jesus because He calls them, and they follow Him because they belong to Him. Many of the Jews who heard Jesus' voice disregarded Him, because they considered Abraham or Moses or some other rabbi to be their shepherd.

10:6           Many of the Jews who heard these words did not understand what Jesus was talking about. They did not respond to the Shepherd's voice. They could hardly have failed to understand the relationship between shepherds and sheep, which was so common in their culture. Nevertheless they did not grasp Jesus' analogy of Himself as Israel's true Shepherd.

The Greek word paroimia ("figure of speech") occurs elsewhere in John's Gospel (16:25, 29) but never in the Synoptics. A similar word, parabole ("parable"), appears often in the Synoptics but never in the fourth Gospel. Both words, however, have quite a wide range of meanings encompassing many kinds of figurative language. But there is some difference.

"It [paroimia] suggests the notion of a mysterious saying full of compressed thought, rather than that of a simple comparison."[727]

Parables generally stress only one or a few points of comparison, but the sustained metaphors that follow develop many similarities. John did not refer to any of Jesus' teachings as parables in his narrative, but the Synoptic writers all used the term "parables."

Jesus' expansion of the figure 10:7-18

The difference between this teaching and Jesus' parables in the Synoptics now becomes clearer. Jesus proceeded to compare Himself to a pen gate ("door") as well as to a shepherd. He also described Himself leading His "sheep" into the "fold" as well as out of it. Jesus was using His illustration to teach more than one lesson.

10:7           Jesus introduced another of His "I am" claims. He professed to be "the door" or gate of the sheepfold (cf. 1:51; 14:6). In relation to the fold, Christ is the door, to which He gives admission. In relation to the flock, He is the good shepherd, to which He gives care and guidance.[728] Some commentators have pointed out that some ancient Near Eastern shepherds slept in the gateways of their sheepfolds and so served as human gates.[729] This may seem to alleviate the incongruity of Jesus being both the shepherd and the door. But the other differences in the two pictures of the fold, presented in verses 1 through 5 and 7 through 18, argue for separate though similar illustrations rather than one harmonious illustration. This pericope does not simply explain the previous illustration but it develops certain metaphors in that illustration.

"The 'door of the sheep' is to be distinguished from the 'door of the sheepfold' in v. 1. The latter was the Divinely-appointed way by which Christ had entered Judaism, in contrast from the false pastors of Israel whose conduct evidenced plainly that they had thrust themselves into office. The 'door of the sheep' was Christ Himself, by which the elect of Israel passed out of Judaism."[730]

10:8           Jesus contrasted Himself, as the door, with the thieves and robbers who preceded Him. He provided protection and security for His "sheep," whereas the others sought to exploit them. The thieves and robbers in this context refer to the religious leaders of Jesus' day (cf. v. 1). They are obviously not a reference to Israel's faithful former leaders, such as Abraham, Moses, and other true prophets.

10:9           Jesus described Himself as that which opens to or blocks a passageway, which is what a door is (cf. 14:6). His "sheep" could enter and leave the "sheepfold" through Him. Obviously the sheepfold here does not refer to Israel as it did previously (vv. 1-5). People could not go in and out of Judaism at will through Jesus. It probably represents the security that God provides, and the "pasture" outside stands for what sustains their spiritual health and growth. Jesus provides for His people's security needs and for all of their daily needs 24 hours a day.

"The fullness of the Christian life is exhibited in its three elements—safety, liberty, support."[731]

"The 'door' in v. 1 was God's appointed way for the shepherd into Judaism. The 'door' in v. 7 was the Way out of Judaism, by Christ leading God's elect in separation unto Himself. Here in v. 9 the 'door' has to do with salvation, for elect Jew and Gentile alike."[732]

10:10         Thieves' aims are ultimately selfish and destructive, but Jesus came to give life, not to take it.[733]

"The world still seeks its humanistic, political saviours—its Hitlers, its Stalins, its Maos, its Pol Pots—and only too late does it learn that they blatantly confiscate personal property (they come 'only to steal'), ruthlessly trample human life under foot (they come 'only … to kill'), and contemptuously savage all that is valuable (they come 'only … to destroy')."[734]

Jesus, on the other hand, not only came to bring spiritual life to people, but He came to bring the best quality of life to them. The eternal life that Jesus imparts is not just long, but it is also rich. He did not just come to gain "sheep," but to enable His "sheep" to flourish and to enjoy contentment and every other legitimately good thing possible: an "abundance of all that sustains life."[735]

10:11         Verses 7 through 10 expand the idea of "the door" from verses 1 through 5, and verses 11 through 18 develop the idea of "the shepherd" from those verses.

"Two points are specially brought out in the character of 'the good shepherd,' His perfect self-sacrifice (11-13), and His perfect knowledge (14, 15), which extends beyond the range of man's vision (16)."[736]

Here is another "I am" claim. Jesus is "the good shepherd" in contrast to the bad shepherds just described (vv. 8, 10a). Rather than killing the "sheep" so that He might live, as the bad shepherds did, Jesus was willing to sacrifice His life (Gr. psyche, the total self) so His "sheep" might live. It is this extreme commitment to the welfare of the sheep that qualified Jesus as the good shepherd. Jesus' other titles, "great shepherd" (Heb. 13:20-21) and "chief shepherd" (1 Pet. 5:4), stress different aspects of His character as a shepherd. Good shepherding involves protecting, providing, and sacrificing.

"Good" (Gr. kalos) connotes nobility, attractiveness, and worth, not merely gentleness. It contrasts Jesus with the unworthy and contemptible shepherds that He proceeded to describe (vv. 12-13). Another possible interpretation follows:

"Jesus does not here compare himself with other shepherds; he asserts far more than that he is relatively better than other shepherds, namely that he is a shepherd in a sense in which no other man can ever be a shepherd. … Unfortunately, the English is unable to reproduce this weight of meaning in translation."[737]

Laying down one's life is a uniquely Johannine expression that describes a voluntary sacrificial death (cf. vv. 17, 18; 13:37-38; 15:13; 1 John 3:16). Likewise the preposition hyper ("for") usually connotes sacrifice (cf. 13:37; 15:13; Luke 22:19; Rom. 5:6-8; 1 Cor. 15:3). Most shepherds do not intend to die for their sheep but to live for them. They only die for their sheep accidentally. But Jesus came to die for His "sheep" purposely. Of course, Jesus also came to die for the whole world (6:51; 11:50-52).

"All through the Old Testament it is the sheep that die for the shepherd. But when we come to this picture, it is the other way around."[738]

10:12-13    Thieves and robbers are wicked, but hired hands are typically just selfish. They take care of sheep for what they can get out of it, not for the sake of the sheep themselves. While a good shepherd may be willing to sacrifice himself for the safety and welfare of his sheep, a hireling will typically save himself and run away when danger arises (cf. Jer. 10:21-22; 12:10; Zech. 11:4-17). This is understandable since the shepherd, who owns his sheep, has a vested interest in them, whereas a hired hand does not. Israel's leaders acted like hired hands when they tried to preserve their own positions and willingly sacrificed Jesus. Christian leaders behave like hired hands when they put their own needs ahead of those they serve (cf. 1 Pet. 5:2-3). Attitude is the crucial difference between a true shepherd and a hired hand.

10:14         The fact that the shepherd and the sheep know each other is very important. Jesus stressed His identity as the good shepherd again (v. 11).

"What matters supremely … is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it—the fact that He knows me. I am graven on the palms of His hands. I am never out of His mind. All my knowledge of Him depends on His sustained initiative in knowing me."[739]

10:15         The sheep must know their shepherd, and they can know Him like the Son knows the Father. The Son must know the Father in order to follow His will, just like the "sheep" must know the "shepherd" in order to follow Him faithfully. Jesus taught that the relationship that the "sheep" enjoy with Himself is unique, just as His relationship with His Father is unique. Yet each person maintains his own identity. People do not become God, as the New Age movement, for example, teaches.

"Christ first took our nature that we might afterwards receive His."[740]

The repetition of the shepherd's sacrificial death ("I lay down My life") in this verse also stresses that knowing the "shepherd" involves appreciating the extent of His love.

"'Know' (ginosko) in this Gospel connotes more than the cognizance of mere facts; it implies a relationship of trust and intimacy."[741]

John also used the word "know" this way in 1 John (4:7, 8, 16; 5:20) where he expounded the importance of not just believing in but abiding in Jesus Christ.

"Within traditional Reformed theology the doctrine of limited atonement has been deduced from a doctrine of election. The doctrine is often presented more as a matter of logic than of direct scriptural testimony. Serious appeal is made to two central passages only, Jn. 10:15 and Eph. 5:25. Scriptural testimony, on the other hand, points in the direction of objective universal atonement."[742]

"The Reformed position is that Christ died for the purpose of actually and certainly saving the elect, and the elect only. This is equivalent to saying that He died for the purpose of saving only those to whom He actually applies the benefits of His redemptive work."[743]

If the passages cited by Reformed theologians said that Christ died only for the elect (His sheep, His church, His people) there would be no doubt that He died only for the elect. But these passages simply identify a particular group within all of humanity. Christ died for all, including His sheep, His church, and His people.

10:16         The "other sheep" in view refer to Gentiles outside the fold of Israel who would believe in Jesus (cf. vv. 3-4). This is one of a few intimations in the Gospels that a new body of people would replace Israel as the people of God in the future (cf. 17:20; Eph. 2:11-22; 3:6). These "sheep," with those from Israel, would compose one "flock," namely, the church (cf. 1 Cor. 10:32). This statement of Jesus rules out the possibility of a Jewish church and a Gentile church: two separate and distinct churches. That one new "flock" would have one shepherd, namely Jesus, who would become—to change the figure—the Head of the church. Jesus knew these "other sheep" (vv. 14-15) as well as He knew those who would believe on Him in Israel: "this fold" (cf. Ps. 100:3).

10:17         Having declared the intimate knowledge that the Father and the Son share, Jesus now explained why the Father loved Him as He did. Jesus did not mean that the Father's love resulted from the Son's performance. It would still have existed if Jesus had failed to obey Him completely. The Father loved the Son unconditionally. However the Son's full obedience to the Father's will resulted in the Father having a special love for the Son that obedience under testing drew forth (cf. Heb. 5:8). Similarly, God loves all believers unconditionally, but when they obey Him, they enjoy an intimacy with Him that only obedience makes possible (cf. 15:14).

Jesus died sacrificially with His resurrection and glorification in view. He did not die thinking that He would remain dead. His death was one event in a larger chain of events, with the big picture always in view as Jesus anticipated the Cross.

10:18         Superficially observers could have concluded that Jesus died because the Jews conspired against Him.[744] However Jesus revealed that behind that instrumental cause was the efficient (or effectual) cause of God's purpose (cf. Acts 4:27-28). God had given Jesus the authority to offer Himself as a sacrifice for humankind's sins and the authority to rise from the dead. Nevertheless the Son remained submissive to the Father in the triune hierarchy. Jesus willingly offered Himself; no human took His life from Him. But He offered Himself in obedience to the Father's will.

"It was not the nails, but the strength of His love to the Father and to His elect, which held Him to the Cross."[745]

Anyone can lay his or her life down in death sacrificially, but only Jesus could lay it down and then take it back again in resurrection. The New Testament writers attributed Jesus' resurrection to all three members of the Trinity: the Father (Rom. 6:4), the Son (John 2:19), and the Spirit (Rom. 8:11).

The division among Jesus' hearers 10:19-21

Again Jesus' claims resulted in some of His hearers believing in Him and others disbelieving (cf. 7:12, 43; 9:16).

10:19         Here the expression "the Jews" refers to the Jewish people generally, not specifically to the religious leaders, as it usually does in this Gospel. Evidently it was the apparent contradiction between Jesus' claim to be the coming shepherd of Israel, and His claim that He would die for the "sheep," that caused the cleavage.

10:20-21    Some of the Jews even concluded that Jesus was demon-possessed and therefore insane (cf. 7:20; 8:48). Others concluded that He was sane and sober, because of His gracious revelations and His ability to cure the man born blind (9:1-12). John continued to stress the two opposite conclusions that people continued to draw, even though Jesus' witness to His deity was sufficiently consistent and clear. This should be an encouragement to all of us who testify for Him. Not even Jesus Himself convinced everyone that He was God's Son.

Some interpreters believed that Jesus returned to Galilee between this event and the next, and that He returned to Jerusalem later (cf. Luke 9:51).[746]

8.     The confrontation at the Feast of Dedication 10:22-42

The present section of the fourth Gospel is strongly Christological (dealing with His person, nature, and role) and focuses on Jesus' identity. In this subdivision of the text Jesus presented Himself as the Messiah (vv. 22-30) and as the Son of God (vv. 31-39). This resulted in the climax of hostility against Him.

"It becomes clear that people must either recognize that Jesus stands in such a relation to the Father as no one else ever did, or else reject him entirely."[747]

The final few verses of this chapter are transitional and describe Jesus' withdrawal from Jerusalem and the fact that many people believed on Him (vv. 40-42).

Jesus' claim to be the Messiah 10:22-30

10:22         "At that time" is a general reference to the closeness of the Feast of Dedication and the events narrated in the previous pericope (vv. 1-21). It does not mean that the events in the preceding section occurred exactly before that feast. The NIV "Then came" gives the sense well.

"… His Peraean Ministry, which extended from after the Feast of Tabernacles to the week preceding the last Passover, was, so to speak, cut in half by the brief visit of Jesus to Jerusalem at the Feast of the Dedication. Thus, each part of the Peraean Ministry would last about three months; the first, from about the end of September to the month of December; the second, from that period to the beginning of April. Of these six months we have (with the solitary exception of St. Matthew xii. 22-45), no other account than that furnished by St. Luke, although, as usually, the Jerusalem and Judaean incidents of it are described by St. John. After that we have the account of His journey to the last Passover, recorded, with more or less detail, in the three Synoptic Gospels."[748]

The eight-day Feast of Dedication, now called Chanukah (or Hanukkah), the Feast of Lights, was not one of the feasts prescribed in the Mosaic Law. The Jews instituted it during the inter-testamental period (cf. 1 Macc. 4:36-59; 2 Macc. 1:9, 18; 10:1-8). Besides the Mosaic feasts, the Jews of Jesus' day also celebrated the Feast of Esther, or Purim.[749]

"Christ's testimony at Hanukkah, and its place in the Gospel of John, which stresses the theme of light, is a testimony to Christians that Hanukkah emphasizes His great work of providing salvation to a spiritually blind world."[750]

This feast commemorated the purification and rededication of the temple by Judas Maccabeus ("Judas the Hammer") on the twenty-fifth of Chislev (modern late December and early January), 164 B.C. The Syrian invader Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) had profaned the temple, three years earlier, by replacing the brazen altar with a pagan one, on which he offered a pig as a sacrifice to Jupiter. Antiochus attempted to Hellenize Judea, but the Jewish patriot Judas Maccabeus was able to lead a guerilla revolt that has borne his name ever since: the Maccabean revolt. After three years he defeated the Syrians and liberated the Jews.

"It was the last great deliverance that the Jews had known, and therefore it must have been in people's minds a symbol of their hope that God would again deliver his people."[751]

10:23         In warmer weather, Jesus would have taught in one of the open-air courtyards of the temple. Because it was winter, He taught what follows in Solomon's colonnade, on the temple courtyard's eastern side. Perhaps John mentioned this detail because it was in Solomon's colonnade that the first Christians gathered regularly (Acts 3:11; 5:12). One writer suggested that John may have included the reference to winter because of the spiritual climate, namely, the generally frigid attitude of the Jews toward Jesus.[752] John may have made other references to times and seasons with such allusions in mind as well (e.g., 13:30).

10:24         Jesus had often hinted at being Israel's Messiah when He spoke publicly to the Jews. But He had not plainly claimed to be the Messiah ("the Christ") like He had when He had talked with the Samaritan woman (4:26). The reason the Jews wanted Jesus to make His claim clear here appears to have been so that they could condemn and eventually kill Him. This motivation becomes more apparent when we notice how Jesus responded to their request than it is when we examine what they said.

Jesus did not give them the unambiguous answer that they requested. He had made clear claims about His identity, and many of the Jews had believed on Him. It was His critics' determined unbelief that made His claims obscure to them, not His inability or unwillingness to reveal Himself. Furthermore, for Jesus to have claimed to be the Jews' Messiah publicly would have stirred up a political movement that He did not want to lead.

10:25         Jesus did not mean that He had claimed publicly to be the Messiah. He had not. He meant that He had showed the Jews that He was the Messiah indirectly, by His works (cf. 5:16-47; 6:32-59; 7:14-30). His miracles proved who He was, namely, God's Son sent to fulfill the Father's prophesied will. But the Jews generally rejected that testimony because they wanted a different type of Messiah.

10:26         The ultimate reason these Jews did not understand Jesus was that they were not of the "sheep" that the Father had given to the Son (cf. vv. 1-18; 6:37). This condition did not excuse their unbelief, but it explained it.

"From the human standpoint, we become His sheep by believing; but from the divine standpoint, we believe because we are His sheep. … In the Bible, divine election and human responsibility are perfectly balanced; and what God has joined together, we must not put asunder."[753]

10:27         This verse records Jesus repeating revelation that He had previously given (vv. 3-5, 14).

10:28         The "eternal life" that Jesus gives is made possible through His own life. Consequently it is impossible for His "sheep" to ever perish—not just after we die, but also after the moment we trust in Christ onward. The sheep's ultimate security rests with the good shepherd, who promised here that no one would be able to snatch them out of His hand—no thief (v. 10), no robber (v. 8), no wolf (v. 12), no one—including oneself (cf. Rom. 8:35-39).

The construction of the Greek clause translated "they will never perish" is with a double negative (ou me apolontai eis ton aiona). The double negative in Greek stresses the impossibility strongly (cf. 3:16). Jesus had previously said that part of the task that the Father had given Him to do was to preserve all those whom the Father gave Him (6:37-40). Thus we can see that it is impossible, even for one of the "sheep," to wriggle out of the good shepherd's grasp.

An Arminian interpretation, with which I disagree, follows:

"However weak the sheep are, under Jesus they are perfectly safe. Yet a believer may after all be lost (15:6). Our certainty of eternal salvation is not absolute. While no foe of ours is able to snatch us from our Shepherd's hand, we ourselves may turn from him and may perish willfully of our own accord."[754]

"We should notice that the teaching of this verse is not that believers will be saved from all earthly disaster, but that they will be saved, no matter what earthly disaster may befall them."[755]

This is one of the clearest promises of the eternal security of the believer that God has given us in His Word. It is also a clear statement of the fact that eternal life comes to us as a gift, not as wages that we earn (cf. Eph. 2:8-9).

"Faith rests upon election, not upon human choice."[756]

"A dear little lady talking about the assurance of her salvation once said, 'Nobody can take you out of His hand.' Someone replied, 'Well, you might slip through His fingers.' And she replied, 'Oh my no, I couldn't slip through His fingers; I am one of His fingers.' That is true, friends. We are members of the body of Christ."[757]

10:29         Jesus strengthened this promise of security. He reminded His hearers that because what He did was simply to execute the Father's will, it was the Father, as well as Himself, who would keep His "sheep" secure (cf. 17:12).

"The 'hand of Christ' (v. 28) is beneath us, and the 'hand' of the Father is above us. Thus are we secured between the clasped hands of Omnipotence!"[758]

"The greatness of the Father, not of the flock, is the ground of [basis for] the safety of the flock."[759]

"The impossibility of true believers being lost, in the midst of all the temptations which they may encounter, does not consist in their fidelity and decision, but is founded upon the power of God."[760]

No one can steal from God. No one has superior strength or wisdom to overpower or outwit Him (cf. Col. 3:3). No one will snatch His "sheep" from God (v. 28), and no one can do so either.

10:30         Jesus did not mean that He and the Father were the same person of the Godhead. If He had meant that He would have used the masculine form of the word translated "one" (Gr. heis). Instead He used the neuter form of the word (Gr. hen). He meant that He and the Father were one in their action. This explanation also harmonizes with the context, since Jesus had said that He would keep His "sheep" safe (v. 28), and that His Father would keep them safe (v. 29).

This verse has been at the center of serious discussions about Jesus' nature that have taken place over the centuries. Those who believe that Jesus was fully God and fully man (the orthodox view), and those who believe that Jesus was not fully God (Arians), have both appealed to it to support their positions. Unitarians have limited this oneness to unity of will and design.[761] Therefore we need to look at it carefully.

First, Jesus' claim to oneness with the Father here does not in itself prove the Son's unity in essence with the Father. In 17:22 Jesus prayed that His disciples might be one as He and the Father were one, namely, in their purpose and beliefs. Second, other passages in this Gospel declare that the Father and the Son are one in more than just their purpose and beliefs (cf. 1, 18; 8:58; 12:41; 20:28). Third, the context of this verse also implies that Jesus did everything His Father did (cf. 5:19) and that Jesus and the Father united in fulfilling one divine will and one divine task. Fourth, this Gospel has consistently presented Jesus as a unique Son of God, not one of many sons. Fifth, 17:55 uses the Father/Son unity as the basis for the disciple/disciple unity in analogy, not the other way around, implying that the former is the more fundamental unity.[762]

"… in order to prove that none can pluck them out of HIS hand [v. 28], He adds, 'I [the shepherd of the "sheep"] and the Father [the owner of the "sheep"] are one.' One in what? unquestionably in the work of power whereby He protects His sheep and does not suffer them to be plucked out of His hand."[763]

In short, this verse does not say that Jesus was claiming to be of the same essence as God. Here He claimed to function in union with the Father. However the context, and other statements in this Gospel, show that His unity with the Father extended beyond a functional unity and did involve essential metaphysical unity as well.[764]

The Jews had asked Jesus for a plain statement about His messiahship. Jesus gave them far more: a claim that He fully and completely carried out the Father's will, which strongly suggested Jesus' deity. Jesus' statement in this verse is the climax of the preceding discussion (vv. 22-29; cf. 5:18; 8:59).

Jesus' claim to be God's Son 10:31-39

"He [Jesus] presented Himself to the nation and He was rejected: His works were rejected in John 5:16; His words were rejected in John 8:58-59; and His Person was rejected in John 10:30-31."[765]

10:31         Clearly the Jews understood Jesus to be claiming more than simple agreement with God in thought and purpose. They understood Him to be claiming equality with the Father as deity. That is why they prepared to stone Him for blasphemy. This is the first explicit charge of blasphemy (though cf. 8:59). They believed Jesus was blaspheming because He was claiming to be God (cf. 5:18; 8:59; Mark 14:61-64).

10:32         Before they could act, Jesus asked them for which of His many "good works" (Gr. erga kala) they were stoning Him. Jesus' question confronted the Jews with the incongruity of executing a man for restoring people who had suffered from handicaps. Jesus' miracles testified that He was doing divine work. But the Jews did not think this through.

10:33         The Jews responded that it was not for His works, but for His words, that they were going to kill Him. The reader should realize by now, after reading this far in John's Gospel, that Jesus was exactly who He claimed to be: one with the Father—and more than a mere mortal. A man was not making himself out to be God. God had made Himself into a Man (1:1, 14, 18)!

If Jesus was not really claiming to be God, He could have easily corrected the Jews' misunderstanding here. The fact that He did not is further proof that the Jews correctly understood that He was claiming to be God.

10:34         Jesus proceeded to point out that the Jews' authoritative revelation, the Old Testament, proved His claim. He cited Psalm 82:6 in order to show that the Old Testament used the word "gods" (Heb. elohim) to refer to persons other than God Himself. If God spoke of people as "gods," why should the Jews object if Jesus implied that He was God?

The identity of the people whom God addressed as gods in Psalm 82:6 is debatable. The most popular and probable view is that they were Israel's judges who were functioning as God's representatives, and so they were in that sense little gods (Ps. 82:1-4; cf. Exod. 21:6; 22:8).[766] Another view is that these "gods" were angels.[767] This seems unlikely because the contrast in view in the psalm is between God and mere man, not angels. A third view is that God was addressing the whole nation of Israel when He gave them the Law. There He spoke to the people as His sons, and in this sense was calling them gods in the psalm.[768] However the context, which involves a contrast between God as the true Judge (Ps. 82:1, 8), and the people whom He rebuked for judging falsely (Ps. 82:2-7), seems to favor the first view.

10:35-36    Jesus proceeded to explain why He had referred to Psalm 82:6. It was inconsistent for them to stone Him for claiming to be God and the Son of God when the Old Testament spoke of humans as gods and as God's sons.

The clause "the Scripture cannot be nullified" means that man cannot declare it invalid, set it aside, or prove it false.

"It means that Scripture cannot be emptied of its force by being shown to be erroneous."[769]

Jesus' statement affirms the unity, authority, and inerrancy of Scripture. Jesus held a very high view of Scripture. His point was that it was inconsistent for the Jews to claim the Old Testament as their authority ("your Law," v. 34) and then to disregard something that it said because they did not agree with it.

"In the singular he graphe usually means a single passage of Scripture, and the verb translated broken [nullified] (luo) is used in v. 18 of disregarding the letter of the law. The meaning here is 'this passage of Scripture cannot be set aside as irrelevant to the matter under discussion'."[770]

Jesus did not use this argument in order to claim that He was God. He used it to stall His critics. He wanted them to see that the divine terms that He was using to describe Himself were terms that the Old Testament itself used of human beings. They could not logically accuse Him of blasphemy for the simple reason that the Father had set Him aside and sent Him into the world with a special mission. He was a legitimate Son of God for this reason.

As the Jews had sanctified (set apart for a holy purpose) their temple after its desecration by Antiochus Epiphanies, so God had sanctified His Son. The Jews celebrated the sanctification of their physical temple with the Feast of Dedication (v. 22), but they were unwilling to accept the spiritual temple (center of worship) that replaced it, namely, Jesus.

10:37-38    Jesus next identified the evidence that His critics should consider, namely, His works, including His miracles (cf. v. 25). He acknowledged that verbal claims were not sufficient in themselves. The Jews should learn from His works, and continue to learn from them, that He was doing the same kinds of good works that God the Father did. Jesus manifested divine compassion and divine power in His works, the same traits that characterized God the Father's works.

10:39         Jesus' critics correctly understood His latest words (v. 38) as a claim to equality with the Father. Therefore they again tried to arrest Him. Jesus eluded them again because it was not yet time for His passion (cf. 7:30; 8:20). This act was the climax of official antagonism during this period of Jesus' ministry—so far.

It is clear from the Jews' reactions to Jesus words, here and in verse 31, that they realized that Jesus was claiming to be God. Their hatred of Him was not due to ignorance but to deliberate rejection. How then could Peter say, when referring to Jesus' crucifixion, "And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers also did" (acts 3:17)? I believe Peter meant that the Jews did not fully appreciate the significance of what they were doing when they crucified Jesus, even though His claims to deity were known by many of them.

Jesus' withdrawal from Jerusalem 10:40-42

10:40         John presented Jesus' departure from Jerusalem as the result of official rejection of Him. The event had symbolic significance that the evangelist probably intended. Jesus withdrew the opportunity for salvation from the people there because they refused to accept His gracious offer of salvation. Evidently Jesus went from Jerusalem back to Bethany in Perea, on the east side of the Jordan River (cf. 1:28).

10:41-42    John the Baptist was by this time dead. However many people recognized that Jesus was the fulfillment of what John the Baptist had predicted of Messiah. Their attitude contrasts with the hatred and unbelief of many in Jerusalem. They accepted John the Baptist's testimony about Jesus, because it proved to be true so far, not because the forerunner had performed signs, which he had not done. The witness of John the Baptist continued to bear fruit even after his death, because he pointed people to Jesus.

The Apostle John probably identified Jesus' destination as he did in order to imply the ending of Jesus' public ministry, which John the Baptist had introduced. References to John the Baptist form an inclusio that brackets the record of Jesus' public ministry to the multitudes in this Gospel (1:19—10:42).

I.      The conclusion of Jesus' public ministry chs. 11—12

The major theme of this Gospel, which is Jesus' identity as the Son of God, continues dominant in these chapters. It was just as important for Jesus' disciples to grow in their understanding of who He was, and to grow in their faith in Him, as it was for the general public to do so. This section of the Gospel shows Jesus withdrawing from Jerusalem (11:1—12:11), and then returning to it for His triumphal entry, plus His final appeal to the people to believe on Him (12:12-50). This section also takes the reader to the climax of belief and unbelief in Jesus' public ministry.

1.     The seventh sign: raising Lazarus 11:1-44

Jesus had presented Himself as the water of life, the bread of life, the Light of life, the door of the sheep, and the good shepherd. Now He revealed Himself as the resurrection and the life. This was the seventh and last of Jesus' miraculous signs that John recorded, and it was the most powerful revelation of His true identity.[771] It shows Jesus' authority over humankind's greatest and last enemy: death (cf. 5:21, 25, 28). Some scholars view Jesus' own resurrection as one of His signs.[772] Others prefer to view it in a different class from the miracles that Jesus performed while He was living on the earth.[773] I favor the second option.

"The claim of Jesus to be working in complete and conscious union with His Father led the Jews to attempt unsuccessfully to stone Him [10:31]. But it was His claim to bestow upon believers the gift of eternal life by raising them from spiritual death which led, according to the Johannine narrative, to His crucifixion [11:53]."[774]

"Physical death is the divine object lesson of what sin does in the spiritual realm. As physical death ends life and separates people, so spiritual death is the separation of people from God and the loss of life which is in God (John 1:4). Jesus has come so that people may live full lives (10:10)."[775]

There are some similarities between the first and the seventh signs: The context of both miracles was family life. Both were performed to strengthen faith (2:11; 11:15). And both are said to have been manifestations of divine glory (2:11; 11:4, 40). Jesus performed four of these signs in Galilee and three in Judea.

"Mark records the raising of Jairus' daughter, but she had only just died. Luke tells of the raising of the widow's son of Nain, but he had not been buried. But here, in the case of Lazarus, not only had the dead man been placed in the sepulcher, but corruption had already begun to consume the body. … The same climactic order is to be seen in connection with the state of the natural man which John's 'signs' typically portray. 'They have no wine' (2:3), tells us that the sinner is a total stranger to Divine joy (Judges 9:13). 'Sick' (4:46), announces the condition of the sinner's soul, for sin is a disease which has robbed man of his original health. The 'impotent man' (5:7), shows us that the poor sinner is 'without strength' (Rom. 5:6), completely helpless, unable to do a thing to better his condition. The multitude without any food of their own (6:5), witnesses to the fact that man is destitute of that which imparts strength. The disciples on the storm-tossed sea (6:18), before the Saviour came to them, pictures the dangerous position which the sinner occupies—already on the 'broad road' which leadeth to destruction. The man blind from his birth (9:1), demonstrates the fact that the sinner is altogether incapable of perceiving either his own wretchedness and danger, or the One who alone can deliver him. But in John 11 we have that which is much more solemn and awful. Here we learn that the natural man is spiritually dead, 'dead in trespasses and sins.' [Eph. 2:1] Lower than this we cannot go. Anything more hopeless cannot be portrayed. In the presence of death, the wisest, the richest, the most mighty among men have to confess their utter helplessness. Thus, this is what is set before us in John 11."[776]

Lazarus' death 11:1-16

In this pericope John stressed Jesus' deliberate purpose in allowing Lazarus to die, and the reality of his death.

11:1           The name "Lazarus" probably is a variant of "Eleazar," meaning "God Helps."[777] The Synoptic writers did not mention him, which is perhaps why John identified him as Mary and Martha's brother. These sisters appear in John's Gospel for the first time here, but they appear in all the Synoptics, which evidently preceded the fourth Gospel (cf. Matt. 26:6-12; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 10:38-42). The "Bethany" in view is the one almost two miles east of Jerusalem (v. 18), not the one in Perea to which the writer referred earlier (1:28).

11:2           John's further description of Mary alludes to the later event that he would narrate in 12:1 through 8. Perhaps he believed that his original readers would have heard of this incident already (cf. Matt. 26:6-12; Mark 14:3-9), or he may have just been tying his two references to Mary together.

11:3           The title "Lord" (Gr. kyrie) was respectful and did not necessarily imply belief in Jesus' deity. Obviously Jesus had had considerable contact with Lazarus and his two sisters, so much so that the women could appeal to Jesus' affectionate "love" (Gr. phileis) for their brother when they urged Him to come visit him. They also believed that Jesus could help their brother by healing him (cf. v. 21; Ps. 50:15). They must have realized that Jesus was in danger anywhere near Jerusalem (v. 8).

"The verse now before us plainly teaches that sickness in a believer is by no means incompatible with the Lord's love for such an one. There are some who teach that sickness in a saint is a sure evidence of the Lord's displeasure. The case of Lazarus ought forever to silence such an error. Even the chosen friends of Christ sicken and die. How utterly incompetent then are we to estimate God's love for us by our temporal condition or circumstances! … The Lord loves Christians as truly when they are sick as when they are well."[778]

11:4           Evidently Jesus spoke these words to the messenger who brought the news of Lazarus' death, expecting that he would repeat them to Mary and Martha (cf. v. 40). Jesus meant that it was not God's ultimate purpose that Lazarus' sickness was his death, though his sickness did prove fatal. Lazarus' imminent death would give way to resurrection and the revelation of Jesus glorified as God's Son (cf. 9:3). In this Gospel God's "glory" is usually a reference to His self-revelation, rather than to the praise that came to Him from others (cf. 1:14-18; 5:23; 12:28; 17:4).[779] Ironically this miracle not only displayed Jesus' identity as God's Son, but it also led to His death, which was the ultimate manifestation of His identity and glory.

"The purposes of a sovereign God in suffering are seen in three specific accounts in John's Gospel. With the healing of the infirm man at the pool of Bethesda (John 5), Jesus taught that sin may be the cause of suffering and sickness. In healing the man born blind, Jesus stated that the reason for the man's blindness was neither his sin nor his parents' sin, but that the work of God might be shown (9:3). And Jesus intentionally delayed his arrival at Bethany so that he and his Father would be glorified when he raised Lazarus from the dead (11:4)."[780]

11:5           John dispelled any doubt about Jesus' true "love" (Gr. agape) for this family. His delay did not show disinterest but divine purpose (cf. 2:4; 7:3-10).

11:6           Jesus' delay in moving toward Jerusalem to restore Lazarus was entirely self-determined though in submission to His Father's will (cf. 2:3-4; 7:3-9; 8:29).

"Let us learn from this that when God makes us wait, it is the sign that He purposes to bless, but in His own way—usually a way so different from what we desire and expect [cf. Isa. 30:18]."[781]

"Friend, sometimes He allows our loved ones to die. We need to recognize that He has a reason, and His ways are perfect. Jesus never moves by sentiment. That is what spoils people and that is how parents spoil their children. He is motivated by love, and that love is for the good of the individual and for the glory of God."[782]

11:7-8        Jesus' decision to return to the Jerusalem area in Judea seemed foolhardy to the disciples, who reminded Him that the Jews there had recently tried to stone Him (10:31, 39). They obviously did not yet appreciate the Father's protection of His Son until His appointed hour, or the inevitability of Jesus' death.

11:9-10      The Jews and the Romans commonly regarded the total daylight hours as twelve, and the nighttime hours as twelve. Literally Jesus was referring to the daylight hours. Metaphorically the daylight hours represented the Father's will. Jesus was safe as long as He did the Father's will. For the disciples, as long as they continued to follow Jesus, "the Light of this world," they would not stumble. Walking in the "night" pictures behaving without divine illumination or authorization. Living in the realm of darkness (i.e., evil) is dangerous (cf. 1 John 1:6).

"When there is darkness in the soul, then we will stumble indeed."[783]

"… men must not follow a supposed inner light, but accept Jesus as the light of the world (8.12; 9.5)."[784]

11:11         Jesus explained further why He needed to go to Bethany. Sleep was a common Old Testament metaphor for death (e.g., someone "slept with his fathers"; 1 Kings 2:10; 11:21; et al.). However the idea that people would awaken from this sleep, while revealed in the Old Testament (Dan. 12:2), was an eschatological (end times) expectation. Normally people thought of those who died as remaining dead. Martha later voiced her belief in "the resurrection on the last day" (v. 24). But she clearly did not entertain the idea that Lazarus would rise from the dead before that day.

11:12-13    The disciples' confusion is understandable, as is John's clarification of Jesus' meaning. Jesus' mention of sleep here should have remined the disciples of Daniel 12:2, where Daniel wrote that "many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt." It should have led them to ask: Are You going to do what Daniel wrote that God will do in the future? Earlier Jesus had used this same word, "sleep," to describe Jairus' daughter, whom He also raised to life (Matt. 9:24; Mark 5:39; Luke 8:52). Even though the disciples apparently failed to make this connection at the time, afterward they, and the readers of this account, could see that Jesus was claiming to do what God promised to do, thereby signifying that He was God.

The New Testament writers commonly referred to death as sleep for the Christian, because his or her resurrection to life is a prominent revelation, and it is certain (cf. Acts 7:60; 1 Cor. 15:6, 20, 51; 1 Thess. 4:13-18).

"In the Bible the word sleep is used of physical rest (Genesis 2:21-22), of laziness and indifference (Romans 13:11), of an unsaved condition (Ephesians 5:14), and of death (Daniel 12:2; 1 Thessalonians 4:14."[785]

Pink pointed out seven things that the figure of sleep suggests: (1) Sleep is perfectly harmless. (2) Sleep comes as a welcome relief after the sorrows and toils of the day. (3) In sleep we lie down to rise again. (4) Sleep is a time of rest. (5) Sleep shuts out the sorrows of life. (6) One reason perhaps why death is likened to a sleep is to emphasize the ease with which the Lord will quicken us. (7) Sleep is a time when the body is fitted for the duties of the next day.[786]

That Jesus was not teaching "soul sleep" should be clear from Luke 16:19 through 31. The doctrine of soul sleep is the teaching that at death the soul, specifically the immaterial part of man, becomes unconscious until the resurrection of the body. The story of the rich man and Lazarus, in Luke 16, shows that people are conscious after death and before their resurrection.[787] Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh-Day Adventists believe in soul sleep.[788]

11:14-15    Apparently Jesus was glad that He had not been present when Lazarus died because the disciples would learn a strong lesson from his resurrection that would increase their faith. The sign that Lazarus' death made possible would be the clearest demonstration of Jesus' identity so far, and it would convince many people that He was God's Son.

"The disciples did already believe in one sense (ii. 11, vi. 69). But each new trial offers scope for the growth of faith. So that which is potential becomes real. Faith can neither be stationary nor complete."[789]

11:16         This is the first reference in the Gospels to Thomas saying something. John described this member of the Twelve (Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13) further as the one called "the Twin." The name "Thomas" evidently comes from the Hebrew tom and the Aramaic toma, both of which mean "twin." "Didymus" is the Greek equivalent of "Twin." We do not know for sure who Thomas' twin brother or sister may have been. Some commentators have suggested that Didymus was a name that Jesus had given to Thomas, indicating that faith and unbelief were twins in his nature.[790] Usually Peter was the spokesman for the Twelve, but here, as later, John presented Thomas as speaking out (cf. 14:5; 20:24-29; 21:2).

"We do not know whose twin he was, but there are times when all of us seem to be his twin when we consider our unbelief and depressed feelings!"[791]

Most Christians tend to think of Thomas as a doubter, because of His unwillingness to believe in Jesus' resurrection later (20:24-29). But here his devotion to Jesus and his courage stand out. He did not understand how safe or unsafe the disciples would be, going up to Bethany, since they were with Jesus, who was walking in obedience to His Father (vv. 9-10). Neither did Thomas understand that the death that Jesus would die was a death that His disciples could not readily participate in with Him—at least not yet (cf. 1:29, 36). Nevertheless he spoke better than he knew. John probably recorded his well-intended challenge because it was a significant call to the disciples: to take up their cross and follow Jesus (cf. 12:25; Mark 8:34; 2 Cor. 4:10).

"Though he was lacking in intelligence, he was deeply attached to the person of the Lord Jesus."[792]

The revelation of the resurrection and the life 11:17-29

The scene now shifts from the region near Bethany of Perea (1:28; 10:40) to the Bethany in Judea. Both towns were sites where people believed on Jesus.

11:17         There is some evidence that the later Jewish rabbis believed that the spirit of a person who had died lingered over the corpse for three days, or until decomposition of the body had begun. They believed that the spirit then abandoned the body and then any hope of resuscitation was gone. They apparently felt that there was still hope that the person might revive during the first three days after death. Other scholars question whether this is what the Jews believed as early as this event.[793] In either case, the fact that Jesus raised Lazarus after he had been dead for four days would have left no question that Jesus had truly raised a dead person. Customarily the Jews buried a corpse the same day the person died, due to the warm climate and the relatively rapid rate of decay that it caused (cf. Acts 5:5-6, 10).[794]

"Not only the rich, but even those moderately well-to-do, had tombs of their own, which probably were acquired and prepared long before they were needed, and treated and inherited as private and personal property. In such caves, or rock-hewn tombs, the bodies were laid, having been anointed with many spices, with myrtle, aloes, and, at a later period, also with hyssop, rose-oil, and rose-water."[795]

It is impossible to reconstruct an exact timetable of these events as they progressed day by day, though most commentators offered their views, all of which involve some speculation. We do not know exactly how long it took the messenger to reach Jesus, or how long Lazarus lived after the messenger came and told Jesus that Lazarus was dying (v. 3). Neither do we know how long it took Jesus to reach Bethany of Judea from where He was.

"… it was the practice to visit the grave, especially during the first three days."[796]

11:18-19    Bethany of Judea was about 15 stadia (approximately one and three-quarters miles) east of Jerusalem. John implied that many family friends came from Jerusalem in order to console Mary and Martha. Prolonged grieving that often lasted several days was customary in the ancient Near East.[797] Therefore many people from Jerusalem either witnessed or heard about Jesus' miracle.

11:20         This picture of Martha as the activist, and Mary as the more passive of the two sisters, harmonizes with Luke's presentation of them (Luke 10:38-42).

11:21         Martha addressed Jesus respectfully, but probably not reverentially, as "Lord." Some readers of the story have interpreted this verse as containing a rebuke, but Martha's words there do not necessarily imply criticism. They at least express Martha's great grief and her confidence in Jesus' power to heal people. There is some evidence that Martha tended to be bossy (cf. Luke 10:40).

11:22         In view of verses 24 and 39, this verse probably does not mean that Martha believed that Jesus could raise Lazarus back to life then and there. More likely Martha was reaffirming her personal confidence in Jesus that her severe loss had not shaken. Her words in both verses expressed what many others who had faith in Jesus also believed. Her words probably do, however, reveal that she believed that Jesus' power was limited by distance. And yet, Jesus had healed both a centurion's servant and a nobleman's son at a distance by His spoken word.

11:23         Jesus' response was also typical of Him. His words had an obvious literal meaning, but they were truer than anyone present realized at the moment. This is typical of John's ironical style, in which he used words with two meanings.[798] Jesus offered Martha comfort, based on the Old Testament assurance that God would resurrect believers (Isa. 26:19; Dan. 12:2; cf. John 5:28-29).

11:24         Martha, like the Pharisees, believed this Old Testament revelation, though the Sadducees did not (cf. Acts 23:7-8).[799] "The last day" refers to the end of the present age as the Jews viewed history, namely