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Exposition of John - Christ and Nicodemus - John 3:1-8

We begin with the usual Analysis of the passage that is to be before us:—

1.   The Person of Nicodemus, verse 1.

2.   The official Position of Nicodemus, verse 1.

3.   The Timidity of Nicodemus, verse 2.

4.   The Reasoning of Nicodemus, verse 2.

5.   What did Nicodemus’ ignorance demonstrate? verse 4.

6.   The Stupidity of Nicodemus, verse 4.

7.   The Instructing of Nicodemus, verses 5–8.

“There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him (John 3:1, 2). Nicodemus was a “ruler of the Jews,” which means, most probably, that he was a member of the Sanhedrin. As such, he is to be viewed here as a representative character. He gives us another phase of the spiritual condition of Judaism. First, he came to Jesus “by night” (verse 2); second, he was altogether lacking in spiritual discernment (verses 4, 10); third, he was dead in trespasses and sin, and therefore, needing to be “born again” (verse 7). As such, he was a true representative of the Sanhedrin—Israel’s highest ecclesiastical court. What a picture, then, does this give us again of Judaism! For the Sanhedrin it was nighttime, they were in the dark. And like Nicodemus, their representative, the Sanhedrin were devoid of all spiritual discernment, and had no understanding in the things of God. So, too, like Nicodemus, his fellow—members were destitute of spiritual apprehension. Again we say, What light does this cast upon Judaism at that time! So far, we have seen a blinded priesthood (John 1:21, 26); second, a joyless nation (John 2:3); third, a desecrated Temple (John 2:16); and now we have a spiritually dead Sanhedrim

“The same came to Jesus by night.” And why did Nicodemus come to the Lord Jesus by night? Was it because he was ashamed to be seen coming to Him? Did he approach Christ secretly, under cover of the darkness? This is the view generally held, and we believe it to be the correct one. Why else should we be told that he came “by night?” What seems to confirm the popular idea is that each time Nicodemus is referred to in the Gospel afterwards, it is repeated that he came to Jesus “by night.” In John 7:50, 51 we read, “Nicodemus saith unto them, (he that came to Jesus by night, being one of them,) Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?” And again in John 19:39 we are told, “And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pound weight.” What is the more noticeable is that something courageous is recorded of Nicodemus: his boldness in reprimanding the Sanhedrin, and his intrepidity in accompanying Joseph of Arimathea at a time when all the apostles had fled. It seems as though the Holy Spirit had emphasized these bold acts of Nicodemus by reminding us that at first he acted timidly. One other thing which appears to confirm our conclusion is his use of the personal pronoun when Nicodemus first addressed the Savior: “Rabbi,” he said, “we know that thou art a teacher come from God.” Why speak in the plural number unless he hesitated to commit himself by expressing his own opinion? and so preferred to shelter behind the conclusion drawn by others, hence the “we.”

“The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him” (John 3:2). This was true, for the miracles of Christ differed radically from those performed by others before or since. But this very fact warns us that we need to examine carefully the credentials of other miracle-workers. Is the fact that a man works miracles a sure proof that he comes from God, and that God is with him? To some the question may appear well-nigh superfluous. There are many who would promptly answer in the affirmative. How could any man perform miracles “except God be with him?” It is because this superficial reasoning prevails so widely that we feel it incumbent upon us to dwell upon this point. And it is because there are men and women today that work miracles, who (we are fully persuaded) are not “sent of God,” that a further word on the subject is much needed.

In these times men and women can stand up and teach the most erroneous doctrines, and yet if they proffer as their credentials the power to perform miracles of healing, they are widely received and hailed as the servants of God. But it is generally overlooked that Satan has the power to work miracles, too, and frequently the great Deceiver of souls bestows this power on his emissaries in order to beguile the unstable and confirm them in error. Let us not forget that the magicians of Egypt were able, up to a certain point, to duplicate the miracles of Moses, and whence obtained they this power unless from that old Serpent, the Devil! Let us not forget the warning of the Holy Spirit in 2 Corinthians 11:13, 14, “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.” And, finally, let us not forget it is recorded in Scripture that of the Antichrist it is written, “Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders” (2 Thess. 2:9). Yes, Satan is able to work miracles, and also to deliver this power to others. So, then, the mere fact that a certain teacher works miracles is no proof that he is “come from God.”

It is because we are in danger of being beguiled by these “deceitful workers” of Satan, who “transform themselves into the apostles of Christ,” that we are exhorted to “believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). And it should not be forgotten that the church at Ephesus was commended by Christ because they had heeded this exhortation, and in consequence had “tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars” (Rev. 2:2). “But,” it will be asked, “how are we to test those who come unto us in the name of Christ?” A most important and timely question. We answer, Not by the personal character of those who claim to come from God, for as 2 Corinthians 11:14, 15 tells us, “Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness.” And not by their power to work miracles. How then? Here is the Divinely inspired answer, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa. 8:20). They must be tested by the written Word of God. Does the professed servant of God teach that which is in accord with the Holy Scriptures? Does he furnish a “Thus saith the Lord” for every assertion he makes? If he does not, no matter how winsome may be his personality, nor how pleasing his ways, no matter how marvelous may be the “results” he “gets,” God’s command is, “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine (this teaching), receive him not into your house, neither bid him Godspeed” (2 John 10). Let us emulate the Bereans, of whom it is recorded in Acts 17:11, “they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”

And how did the Lord receive Nicodemus? Notice, He did not refuse him an audience. It was night-time, and no doubt the Savior had put in a full day, yet He did not seek to be excused. Blessed be His name, there is no unacceptable time for a sinner to seek the Savior. Night-time it was, but Christ readily received Nicodemus. One of the things which impresses the writer as he reads the Gospels, is the blessed accessibility of the Lord Jesus. He did not surround Himself with a bodyguard of attendants, whose duty it was to insure his privacy and protect Him from those who could be a nuisance. No; He was easily reached, and blessedly approachable—quite unlike some “great” preachers we know of.

And what was Christ’s response to Nicodemus’ address? This “ruler of the Jews” hailed Him as “a teacher come from God,” and such is the only conception of the Christ of God. But it is not as a Teacher the sinner must first approach Christ. What the sinner needs is to be “born again,” and in order to do this he must have a Savior. And it is of these very things our Lord speaks to Nicodemus—see verses 3 and 14. Of what value is teaching to one who is “dead in trespasses and sins,” and who is even now, under the condemnation of a holy God! A saved person is a fit subject for teaching, but what the unsaved need is preaching, preaching which will expose their depravity, exhibit their deep need of a Savior, and then (and not till then) reveal the One who is mighty to save.

Christ ignored Nicodemus’ address, and with startling abruptness said, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” This brings us to the central truth of the passage before us—the teaching of our Lord upon the new birth. Here we find that He speaks of first, the supreme Importance of the new birth (verse 3); second, the Instrument of the new birth—“water” (verse 5); third, the Producer of the new birth—“the Spirit” (verse 5); fourth, the imperative Necessity of the new birth—a new nature, “spirit” (verse 6); sixth, the obvious Imperativeness of the new birth (verse 7); seventh, the Process of the new birth (verse 8). Let us consider each of these points separately.

1. The supreme Importance of the new birth. This is exhibited here in a number of ways. To begin with, it is profoundly significant that the new birth formed the first subject of the Savior’s teaching in this Gospel. In the first two chapters we learn of a number of things He did, but here in John 3 is the first discourse of Christ recorded by this apostle. It is not how man should live that we are first instructed by Christ in this Gospel, but how men are made alive spiritually. A man cannot live before he is born; nor can a dead man regulate his life. No man can live Godwards until he has been born again. The importance of the new birth, then, is shown here, in that the Savior’s instruction upon it is placed at the beginning of His teaching in this Gospel. Thus we are taught it is of basic, fundamental importance.

In the second place, the importance of the new birth is declared by the solemn terms in which Christ spoke of it, and particularly in the manner in which He prefaced His teaching upon it. The Lord began by saying, “Verily, verily,” which means “Of a truth, of a truth.” This expression is employed by Christ only when He was about to mention something of a momentous nature. The double “verily” denoted that what He was about to say was of solemn and weighty significance. Let the reader learn to pay special attention to what follows these “Verily, verily’s” of the Savior, found only in John.

In the third place, Christ here plainly intimated the supreme importance of the new birth by affirming that “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (verse 3). If then the kingdom of God cannot be seen until a man is born again, the new birth is shown to be a matter of vital moment for every descendant of Adam.

“Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). There is some doubt in our mind as to exactly what is referred to here by “the kingdom of God.” In the first place, this expression occurs nowhere else in this Gospel but here in John 3:3, 5. In the second place, this fourth Gospel treats of spiritual things. For this reason we think “the kingdom of God” in this passage has a moral force. It seems to us that Romans 14:17 helps us to understand the significance of the term we are here studying. “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” In the third place, the kingdom of God could not be “seen” by Nicodemus except by the new birth. We take it, then, that the “kingdom of God” in John 3 refers to the things of God, spiritual things, which are discerned and enjoyed by the regenerate here upon earth (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:10, 14). The word for “see” in the Greek is “eidon,” which means “to know or become acquainted with.” The full force, then, of this first word of Christ to Nicodemus appears to be this: “Except a man be born again he cannot come to know the things of God.” Such being the case, the new birth is seen to be a thing of profound importance.

“Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” (John 3:4). What a verification was this of what the Lord had just told Nicodemus. Here was proof positive that this ruler of the Jews was altogether lacking in spiritual discernment, and quite unable to know the things of God. The Savior had expressed Himself in simple terms, and yet this master of Israel altogether missed His meaning. How true it is that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14), and in order to have spiritual discernment a man must be born again. Till then he is blind, unable to see the things of God.

2. The Instrument of the new birth. “Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (v. 5). Regeneration is a being born “of water.” This expression has been the occasion of wide difference of opinion among theologians. Ritualists have seized upon it as affording proof of their doctrine of baptismal regeneration, but this only evidences the weakness of their case when they are obliged to appeal to such for a proof text. However, it may be just as well if we pause here and give the scriptural refutation of this widely held heresy.

That baptism is in no wise essential to salvation, that it does not form one of the conditions which God requires the sinner to meet, is clear from many considerations. First, if baptism be necessary to salvation then no one was saved before the days of John the Baptist, for the Old Testament will be searched from beginning to end without finding a single mention of “baptism.” God, who changes not, has had but one way of salvation since Adam and Eve became sinners in Eden, and if baptism is an indispensable prerequisite to the forgiveness of sins, then all who died from Abel to the time of Christ are eternally lost. But this is absurd. The Old Testament Scriptures plainly teach otherwise.

In the second place, if baptism be necessary to salvation, then every professing believer who has died during this present dispensation is eternally lost, if he died without being baptized. And this would shut heaven’s door upon the repentant thief, as well as all the Quakers and members of the Salvation Army, the vast majority of whom have never been baptized. But this is equally unthinkable.

In the third place, if baptism be necessary to salvation, then we must utterly ignore every passage in God’s Word which teaches that salvation is by grace and not of works, that it is a free gift and not bought by anything the sinner does. If baptism be essential to salvation, it is passing strange that Christ Himself never baptized any one (see John 4:2), for He came to “save his people from their sins.” If baptism be essential to salvation, it is passing strange that the apostle Paul when asked point blank by the Philippian jailer, “What must I do to be saved?” answered by saying, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” Finally, if baptism be essential to salvation, it is passing strange the apostle Paul should have written to the Corinthians, “I thank God I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius” (1 Cor. 1:14).

If then the words of Christ “born of water” have no reference to the waters of baptism, what do they signify? Before replying directly to this question, we must observe how the word “water” is used in other passages in this Gospel. To the woman at the well Christ said, “Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14). Was this literal “water?” One has but to ask the question to answer it. Clearly, “water” is here used emblematically. Again, in John 7:37, 38 we are told, “In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” Here, too, the word “water” is not to be understood literally, but emblematically. These passages in John’s Gospel are sufficient to warrant us in giving the word “water” in John 3:5 a figurative meaning.

If then the Lord Jesus used the word “water” emblematically in John 3:5, to what was He referring? We answer, The Word of God. This is ever the instrument used by God in regeneration. In every other passage where the instrument of the new birth is described, it is always the Word of God that is mentioned. In Psalm 119:50 we read, “For Thy word hath quickened me.” Again, in 1 Corinthians 4:15 we find the apostle saying, “I have begotten you through the gospel.” Again, we are told “Of his own will begat he us with (what?—baptism? no but with) the word of truth” (James 1:18). Peter declares, “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever” (1 Pet. 1:23).

The new birth, then, is by the Word of God, and one of the emblems of the Word is “water.” God employs quite a number of emblems to describe the various characteristics and qualities of His Word. It is likened to a “lamp” (Psalm 119:105) because it illumines. It is likened unto a “hammer” (Jer. 23:29) because it breaks up the hard heart. It is likened unto “water” because it cleanses: see Psalm 119:9; John 15:3; Ephesians 5:26: “Born of water” means born of the cleansing and purifying Word of God.

3. The Producer of the new birth. “Born of water, and of the Spirit” (John 3:5). The Holy Spirit of God is the Begetter, the Word is the “seed” (1 John 3:9) He uses. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh: and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). And again, “It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing” (John 6:63). Nothing could be plainer. No sinner is quickened apart from the Word. The order which is followed by God in the new creation is the same He observed in the restoring of the old creation. A beautiful illustration of this is found in Genesis 1. The opening verse refers to the original creation of God. The second verse describes its subsequent condition, after it had been ruined. Between the first two verses of Genesis 1 some terrible calamity intervened—most probably the fall of Satan—and the fair handiwork of God was blasted. The Hebrew of Genesis 1:2 literally reads, “And the earth became a desolate waste.” But six days before the creation of Adam, God began the work of restoration, and it is indeed striking to observe the order He followed. First, darkness abode upon “the face of the deep” (Gen. 1:2); Second, “And the Spirit of God moved upon (Hebrew ‘brooded over’) the face of the waters”; Third, “And God said, Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3); Fourth, “And there was light.” The order is exactly the same in the new creation. First, the unregenerate sinner is in darkness, the darkness of spiritual death. Second, the Holy Spirit moves upon, broods over, the conscience and heart of the one He is about to quicken. Third, the Word of God goes forth in power. Fourth, the result is “light”—the sinner is brought out of darkness into God’s marvelous light. The Holy Spirit, then, is the One who produces the new birth.

4. The imperative Necessity of the new birth. “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). By his first birth man enters this world a sinful creature, and because of this he is estranged from the thrice Holy One. Of the unregenerate it is said, “Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.” Unspeakably solemn is this. When Adam and Eve fell they were banished from the Paradise, and each of their children were born outside of Eden. That sin shuts man out from the holy presence of God, was impressively taught to Israel. When Jehovah came down on Sinai to give the Law unto Moses (the mediator), the people were fenced off at the base of the Mount, and were not suffered to pass on pain of death. When Jehovah took up His abode in the midst of the chosen people, He made His dwelling place inside the holy of holies, which was curtained off, and none was allowed to pass through the veil save the high priest, and he but once a year as he entered with the blood of atonement. Man then is away from God. He is, in his natural condition, where the prodigal son was—in the far country, away from the father’s house—and except he be born again he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

“Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” This is not an arbitrary decree, but the enunciation of an abiding principle. Heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people. And this is the very nature of the case. An unregenerate man who has no relish at all for spiritual things, who is bored by the conversation of believers, who finds the Bible dull and dry, who is a stranger to the throne of grace, would be wretched in heaven. Such a man could not spend eternity in the presence of God. Suppose a fish were taken out of the water, and laid upon a salver of gold; suppose further that the sweetest of flowers surrounded it, and that the air was filled with their fragrance; suppose, too, that the strains of most melodious music fell upon its ears, would that fish be happy and contented? Of course not. And why not? Because it would be out of harmony with its environment; because it would be lacking in capacity to appreciate its surroundings. Thus would it be with an unregenerate soul in heaven.

Once more. The new birth is an imperative necessity because the natural man is altogether devoid of spiritual life. It is not that he is ignorant and needs instruction: it is not that he is feeble and needs invigorating: it is not that he is sickly and needs doctoring. His case is far, far worse. He is dead in trespasses and sins. This is no poetical figure of speech; it is a solemn reality, little as it is perceived by the majority of people. The sinner is spiritually lifeless and needs quickening. He is a spiritual corpse, and needs bringing from death unto life. He is a member of the old creation, which is under the curse of God, and unless he is made a new creation in Christ, he will lie under that curse to all eternity. What the natural man needs above everything else is life, Divine life; and as birth is the gateway to life, he must be born again, and except he be born again, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. This is final.

5. The Character of the new birth. But what is the new birth? Precisely what is it that differentiates a man who is dead in sins from one who has passed from death unto life? Upon this point there is much confusion and ignorance. Tell the average person that he must be born again and he thinks you mean that he must reform, mend his manner of life, turn over a new leaf. But reformation concerns only the outer life. And the trouble with man is within. Suppose the mainspring of my watch were broken, what good would it do if I put in a new crystal and polished the case until I could see my face in it? None at all, for the seat of the trouble is inside the watch. So it is with the sinner. Suppose that his deportment was irreproachable, that his moral character was stainless, that he had such control of his tongue that he never sinned with his lips, what would all this avail while he still had (as God says he has) a heart that is “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked?” The new birth, then, is something more than reformation.

Others suppose, and there are thousands who do so, that being born again means becoming religious. Tell the average church-goer that “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God,” and these solemn words afford him no qualms. He is quite at ease, for he fondly imagines that he has been born again. He will tell you that he has always been a Christian: that from early childhood he has believed in Christianity, has attended church regularly, nay, that he is a church-member, and contributes regularly toward the support of the Gospel. He is very religious. Periodically he has happy feelings; he says his prayers regularly, and on Sundays he reads his Bible. What more can be required of him! And thus many are lulled to sleep by Satan. If such an one should read these lines, let him pause and seriously weigh the fact that it was man eminently religious that the Savior was addressing when He declared, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus was not only a religious man, he was a preacher, and yet it was to him Christ said, “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.”

There are still others who believe that the new birth is a change of heart, and it is exceedingly difficult to convince them to the contrary. They have heard so many preachers, orthodox preachers, speak of a change of heart, that they have never thought of challenging the scripturalness of this expression, yet it is unscriptural. The Bible may be searched from Genesis to Revelation, and nowhere does this expression “change of heart” occur upon its pages. The sad thing is that “change of heart” is not only unscriptural, but is it antiscriptural, untrue, and therefore, utterly misleading. In the one who has been born again there is no change of heart though there is a change of life, both inward and outward. The one who is born again now loves the things he once bated, and he hates now the things he once loved; and, in consequence, his whole line of conduct is radically affected. But, nevertheless, it remains true that his old heart (which is “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked”) remains in him, unchanged, to the end.

What, then, is the new birth? We answer, It is not the removal of anything from the sinner, nor the changing of anything within the sinner; instead, it is the communication of something to the sinner. The new birth is the impartation of the new nature. When I was born the first time I received from my parents their nature: so, when I was born again, I received from God His nature. The Spirit of God begets within us a spiritual nature: as we read in 2 Peter 1:4, “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature.”

It is a fundamental law which inheres in the very nature of things that like can only produce like. This unchanging principle is enunciated again and again in the first chapter of Genesis. There we read, “And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind” (John 1:12). And again, “And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind” (John 1:21). It is only the blindness and animus of infidelistic evolutionists who affirm that one order of creatures can beget another order radically different from themselves. No; that which is born of the vegetable is vegetable; that which is born of the animal is animal. And that which is born of sinful man is a sinful child. A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit. Hence, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” It cannot be anything else. Educate and cultivate it all you please, it remains flesh. Water cannot rise above its own level, neither can a bitter fountain send forth sweet waters. That which is born of flesh is flesh; it may be refined flesh, it may be beautiful flesh, it may be religious flesh. But it is still “flesh.” On the other hand, “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” The child always partakes of the nature of his parents. That which is born of man is human; that which is born of God is Divine. That which is born of man is sinful, that which is born of God is spiritual.

Here, then, is the character or nature of the new birth. It is not the reformation of the outward man, it is not the education of the natural man, it is not the purification of the old man, but it is the creation of a new man. It is a Divine begetting (James 1:18). It is a birth of the Spirit (John 3:6). It is a being made a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). It is becoming a partaker of the Divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4). It is a being born into God’s family. Every born again person has, therefore, two natures within him: one which is carnal, the other which is spiritual. These two natures are contrary the one to the other (Gal. 5:17), and in consequence, there is an unceasing warfare going on within the Christian. It is only the grace of God which can subdue the old nature; and it is only the Word of God which can feed the new nature.

6. The obvious Imperativeness of the new birth. “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again” (John 3:7). Without doubt, Nicodemus was startled. The emphatic statements of Christ staggered him. The vital importance and imperative necessity of the new birth were points which had never exercised his conscience or engaged his serious attention. He was amazed at the Savior’s searching declarations. Yet he ought not to have been. Really, there was no cause for him to stand there in openmouthed wonderment. “Marvel not,” said Christ. It was as though the Lord had said, “Nicodemus, what I have said to you should be obvious. If a man is a sinner, if because of sin he is blind to the things of God, if no amount of religious cultivation can change the essential nature of man, then it is patent that his deepest need is to be born again. Marvel not: it is a self-evident truth.”

That entrance into the kingdom of God is only made possible by the new birth, that is, by the reception of the Divine nature, follows a basic law that obtains in every other kingdom. The realm of music is entered by birth. Suppose I have a daughter, and I am anxious she should become an accomplished musician. I place her under the tuition of the ablest instructor obtainable. She studies diligently the science of harmony, and she practices assiduously hours every day. In the end, will my desire be realized? Will she become an accomplished musician? That depends upon one thing—was she born with a musical nature? Musicians are born, not manufactured. Again; suppose I have a son whom I desire should be an artist. I place him under the instruction of an efficient teacher. He is given lessons in drawing; he studies the laws of color-blending; he is taken to the art galleries and observes the productions of the great masters. And what is the result? Does he blossom out into a talented artist? And again it depends solely on one thing—was he born with the nature and temperament of an artist? Artists are born, not manufactured. Let these examples suffice for illustrating this fundamental principle. A man must have a musical nature if he is to enter the kingdom of music. A man must have an artistic nature if he is really to enter the realm of art. A man must have a mathematical mind if he is to be a mathematician. There is nothing to “marvel” at in this: it is self-evident; it is axiomatic. So, in like manner, a man must have a spiritual nature before he can enter the spiritual world: a man must have God’s own nature before he can enter God’s kingdom. Therefore “Marvel not … ye must be born again.”

7. The Process of the new birth. “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). A comparison is here drawn between the wind and the Spirit. The comparison is a double one. First, both are sovereign in their activities; and second, both are mysterious in their operations. The comparison is pointed out in the word “so.” The first point of analogy is found in the word “where it listeth” or “pleaseth”; the second is found in the words “canst not tell.”

“The wind bloweth where it pleaseth … so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” The wind is irresponsible: that is to say, it is sovereign in its action. The wind is an element altogether beyond man’s control. The wind neither consults man’s pleasure, nor can it be regulated by his devices. So it is with the Spirit. The wind blows where it pleases, when it pleases, as it pleases. So it is with the Spirit.

Again; the wind is irresistible. When the wind blows in the fullness of its power it sweeps everything before it. Those who have looked upon the effects of a tornado just after it has passed, know something of the mighty force of the wind. It is so with the Spirit. When He comes in the fullness of His power, He breaks down man’s prejudices, subdues his rebellious will, overcomes all opposition.

Again; the wind is irregular. Sometimes the wind moves so softly it scarcely rustles a leaf, at other times it blows so loudly that its roar can be heard miles away. So it is in the matter of the new birth. With some the Holy Spirit works so gently His work is imperceptible to onlookers; with others His action is so powerful, so radical, revolutionary, His operations are patent to many. Sometimes the wind is only local in its reach, at other times it is widespread in its scope. So it is with the Spirit. Today He acts on one or two souls, tomorrow, He may—as at Pentecost—“prick in the heart” a whole multitude. But whether He works on few or many He consults not man; He acts as He pleases.

Again; the wind is invisible. It is one of the very few things in nature that is invisible. We can see the rain, the snow, the lightning’s flash; but not so the wind. The analogy holds good with the Spirit. His Person is unseen.

Again; the wind is inscrutable. There is something about the wind which defies all effort of human explanation. Its origin, its nature, its activities, are beyond man’s ken. Man cannot tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth. It is so with the activities of the Holy Spirit. His operations are conducted secretly; His workings are profoundly mysterious.

Again; the wind is indispensable. If a dead calm were to continue indefinitely all vegetation would die. How quickly we wilt when there is no wind at all. Even more so is it with the Spirit. Without Him there could be no spiritual life at all.

Finally, the wind is invigorating. The life-giving properties of the wind are illustrated every time a physician orders his sick patient to retire to the mountains or to the seaside. It is so, again, with the Spirit. He is the One who strengthens with might in the inner man. He is the One who energizes, revives, empowers. How marvelously full was the figure employed by Christ on this occasion. How much is suggested by this single word “wind.” Let the above serve as an example of the great importance and value of prolonged meditation upon every word of Holy Writ.

God has thrown an impenetrable veil over the beginnings and processes of life. That we live we know, but how we live we cannot tell. Life is evident to the consciousness and manifest to the senses, but it is profoundly mysterious in its operations. It is so with the new life born of the Spirit. To sum up the teaching of this verse: “The wind bloweth”—there is the fact. “And thou hearest the sound thereof”—there is evidence of the fact. “But knowest not whence”—there is the mystery behind the fact. The one born again knows that he has a new life, and enjoys the evidences of it, but how the Holy Spirit operates upon the soul, subdues the will, creates the new life within us, belongs to the deep things of God.

Below will be found a number of questions bearing on the passage which is to be before us in the next chapter. In the meantime let each reader who desires to become a “workman that needeth not to be ashamed” diligently study the whole passage (John 3:9–21) for himself, paying particular attention to the points raised by our questions:—2

1.   What does verse 9 go to prove?

2.   What solemn warning does verse 10 point?

3.   What is the force of the contrast between earthly things and heavenly things in verse 12?

4.   How are we to understand verse 13 in view of Enoch’s and Elijah’s experiences?

5.   What Divine attribute of Christ is affirmed in verse 13?

6.   What is the connection between verse 14 and the context?

7.   Why was a “serpent” selected by God to typify Christ on the Cross? verse 14. Study carefully the first nine verses of Numbers 21.[1]

 

 

2 (No doubt the reader will be glad to know that the Author has published a booklet containing the substance of the above entitled The New Birth, which the Lord has been pleased to own in blessing to many. Price 15 cents per copy. Order from the Bible Truth Depot, Swengel, Pa.—I. C. H.).

[1] Pink, A. W. (1923–1945). Exposition of the Gospel of John (pp. 103–119). Swengel, PA: Bible Truth Depot. (Public Domain)

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Exposition of John - Christ Cleansing the Temple - John 2:12-25

Chapter Seven

Christ Cleansing the Temple

John 2:12–25

Contents

1.   I. The Typical Meaning

2.   II. The Practical Lessons

“After this he went down to Capernaum, he, and his mother, and his brethren, and his disciples: and they continued there not many days” (John 2:12). This verse comes in as a parenthesis between the two incidents of the Cana marriage-feast and the cleansing the temple. Like everything else in this chapter, it may be studied from a twofold viewpoint, namely, its immediate application and its remote. In both of these applications the reference to Capernaum is the key, and Capernaum stands for two things—Divine favor and Divine judgment; see Matthew 11:23.

Taking the immediate application first, this verse tells us that for a short season Israel occupied the position of being in God’s peculiar favor. The mother of Jesus (as we saw in our last chapter) stands for the nation of Israel, and particularly for Israel’s privileges—for she was the one most honored among women. “His brethren” represents the nation of Israel in unbelief; proof of this is found in John 7:5. “His disciples” were the little remnant in Israel who did believe in Him, see John 2:11. With these, the Lord Jesus went down to Capernaum; but they “continued there not many days.” Not for long was Israel to enjoy these special favors of God. Soon Christ would leave them.

But this twelfth verse also has a prophetic significance. Its double application being suggested by the twofold meaning of Capernaum. Capernaum, which was exalted to heaven, was to be brought down to hell. Hence the force of “He went down to Capernaum.” So it was with the nation of Israel. They had been marvelously favored of God, and they should be as severely punished. They should go down into the place of punishment—for this is what Capernaum speaks of. And this is exactly where the Jews have been all though this Christian dispensation. And how blessed to note that as the mother, brethren, and disciples of Christ (who represented, respectively, the nation of Israel privileged, but unbelieving, and the little remnant who did believe) went down to Capernaum—the place of Divine judgment—that the Lord Jesus went with them. So it has been throughout this Christian dispensation. The Jews have suffered severely, under the chastisements of God, but the Lord had been with them in their dispersion—otherwise they, had been utterly consumed long, long ago. The statement they continued there not many days” is also in perfect keeping with its prophetic significance and application. Only two “days” shall Israel abide in that place of which Capernaum speaks; on the third “day” they shall be delivered—see Hosea 6:2.

Let us now give a brief and simple Analysis of the passage which is to be before us: the Cleansing of the Temple:—

1.   The Time of the Cleansing, verse 13.

2.   The Need of the Cleansing, verse 14.

3.   The Method of Cleansing, verses 15, 16.

4.   The Cause of the Cleansing, verse 17.

5.   The Jews’ demand for a Sign and Christ’s reply, verses 18–22.

6.   Christ’s miracles in Jerusalem and the unsatisfactory result, verses 23, 24.

7.   Christ’s knowledge of the human heart, verse 25.

We shall study this passage in a manner similar to that followed in our exposition of the first half of John 2, considering first, the typical meaning of the cleansing of the Temple; and, second, its practical suggestions.

I. The Typical Meaning

The first of the questions which we placed at the end of the last chapter, and which we asked our readers to meditate on in preparation for this, was, “Why is the cleansing of the temple referred to just here?” The careful student will have noticed that in each of the other Gospels, the cleansing of the temple is placed right at the close of our Lord’s public ministry, as one of the last things He did before His apprehension. But here, the Holy Spirit has placed Christ’s cleansing of the temple almost at the beginning of His public ministry. This has led the majority of the commentators to conclude that these were two totally different occasions and incidents, separated by a space of three years. In support of this conclusion some plausible arguments are advanced, but we are not at all sure of their validity. Personally, we are strongly inclined to believe that what is recorded in Matthew 21:12, 13 is the same incident as is before us here in John 2, and that the Holy Spirit has ignored the chronological order (as is so often the case in the Gospels) for His own good reasons. What these reasons may be we shall suggest below. Before advancing them, let us first state why we regard the cleansing of the temple here in John 2 as being identical with that which is described in Matthew 21:12, 13, and the parallel passages in Mark and Luke.

The points of likeness between the two are so striking that unless there is irrefutable evidence that they are separate incidents, it seems to us the most natural and the most obvious thing to regard them as one and the same. We call attention to seven points of resemblance.

First, Matthew places the cleansing of the temple at the beginning of the Passover week, and John tells us that “the Jews” Passover was at hand (Matthew 2:12).

Second, Matthew mentions those that “sold and bought” being in the temple (Matthew 21:12); John says the Lord found in the temple “those that sold oxen,” etc. (John 2:14).

Third, Matthew refers to the presence of those that “sold doves” (Matthew 21:12); John also speaks of the “doves” (John 2:16).

Fourth, Matthew tells us that Christ “overthrew the tables of the money-changers” (Matthew 21:12); John also tells us that Christ “overthrew the tables” (John 2:15).

Fifth, Matthew mentions that Christ “cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple” (Matthew 21:12); John declares He “drove them all out of the temple” (John 2:15). Note, in the Greek it is the same word here translated “drove” as is rendered “cast out” in Matthew!

Sixth, Matthew declares Christ said, “My house shall be called a house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves” (Matthew 21:13); John records that the Lord said, “Make not my Father’s house a house of merchandise” (John 2:16). We have no doubt that the Lord made both of these statements in the same connection, but John records the one which expressly affirmed His Divine Sonship. In each case Christ declared the temple was God’s.

Seventh, Matthew records how Christ spent the night in Bethany, and next morning He returned to Jerusalem, and was in the temple teaching, when the chief priests and elders of the people came to Him and said, “By what authority doest thou these things?” (Matthew 21:23). John also records that after Christ had cleansed the temple, the Jews said to Him, “What sign showest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?” (John 2:18).

If, then, our conclusion be correct, that this cleansing of the Temple occurred at the close of our Lord’s ministry, the question returns upon us, Why has the Holy Spirit taken this incident out of its chronological setting and placed it by the side of our Lord’s miracle where He changed the water into wine? We believe the answer to this question is not far to seek. We suggest that there was a double reason for placing this incident in juxtaposition with the Cana marriage-feast scene. First, it furnished added proof of the abject failure of Judaism; second, it completed the prophetic picture of Christ in the Millennium which John 2 supplies. We shall enlarge upon each of these points below.

In the previous chapters we have pointed out how that in the opening portion of John’s Gospel two things are noticed repeatedly—the setting aside of Judaism, and the turning away from it to Christ. This was emphasized at some length in our last chapter, where we showed that the giving out of the wine at the Cana marriage-feast, and the presence of the six waterpots of stone standing there empty, symbolized the spiritual condition of Israel at that time—they had lost the joy of their espousals and were devoid of spiritual life.

In the passage which is now before us, an even darker picture still is presented to view. Here all figures and symbols are dropped, and the miserable state of Judaism is made known in pointed and plain terms. Up to this stage, Israel’s miserable condition spiritually, had been expressed by negatives; the Messiah was there in their midst, but, said His forerunner to the Jerusalem embassy, Him “ye know not” (John 1:26); so, again, in the first part of chapter 2, “They have no wine” (John 2:3). But here, in the second half of John 2, the positive evil which existed is fully exposed—the temple was profaned.

“And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem” (John 2:13). Here is the first key to that which follows. The “Lord’s passover” (Ex. 12:11) had degenerated into “the passover of the Jews.” But this is not the particular point upon which we would now dwell. What we would call attention to, particularly, is the time-mark given here. Two things are linked together; the passover and the cleansing of the temple. Now the reader will recall at once, that one of the express requirements of God in connection with the observance of the passover was, that all leaven must be rigidly excluded from the houses of His people. The passover was a busy time for every Jewish family: each home was subject to a rigorous examination, lest ceremonial defilement, in the form of leaven, should be found therein. “No leaven in your houses” was the requirement of the Law.

Now the center of Israel’s ceremonial purity was the temple, the Father’s House. Israel gloried in the temple, for it was one of the chief things which marked them off from all other nations, as the favored people of God. What other race of people could speak of Jehovah dwelling in their midst? And now Jehovah Himself was there, incarnate. And what a sight met His eye! The House of prayer had become a house of merchandise; the holy place of worship was now “a den of thieves.” Behold here the light shining in the darkness and exposing the real nature of things. No doubt the custodians of the temple would have stood ready to excuse this reproach upon God’s honor. They would have argued that these money changers and cattle dealers, in the temple courts, were there as a convenience to those who came to the temple to worship. But Christ lays bare their real motive. “Den of thieves” tells us that the love of money, covetousness, lay at the bottom of it all.

And what is “covetousness?” What is the Divine symbol for it? Let us turn the light of Scripture on these questions. Notice carefully what is said in 1 Corinthians 5:6–8. Writing to the Corinthian believers, the Holy Spirit through the apostle Paul says, “Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” To what was he referring here under the figure of “leaven?” Mark what follows: “I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters” (vv. 9, 10). Leaven, then, here refers (among other things) to covetousness, extortion and idolatry. Now go back again to John 2. The feast of the passover was at hand, when all leaven must be removed from Israel’s dwellings. And there in the temple, were the cattle dealers and moneychangers, actuated by covetousness and practicing extortion. What horrible desecration was this! Leaven in the temple of God!

But let us turn on the light of one more passage. In Colossians 3:5 we read, “covetousness, which is idolatry.” Ah, does not this reveal the emptiness of Israel’s boast! The nation prided itself upon its monotheism—they worshipped not the many gods of the heathen. The Jews boasted that they were free from idolatry. Yet idolatry—“covetousness”—was the very thing the Son of God found in His Father’s House. Note again, the force of 1 Corinthians 5:10, covetousness, extortion, and idolatry are the three things there mentioned under the symbol of “leaven.” Here, then, is the first reason why the Holy Spirit has placed this incident just where He has in this Gospel. It furnishes a striking climax to what has gone before. Put together these three things, and see what a glaring picture they give us of Judaism: first, a blinded priesthood (John 1:19–26); second, a joyless nation (no “wine,” John 2:3); third, a desecrated temple. (John 2:16).

We turn now to consider

II. The Practical Lessons

1. We see here the holy zeal of Christ for the Father’s house. “Worshippers coming from remote parts of the Holy Land, found it a convenience to be able to purchase on the spot the animals used in sacrifice. Traders were not slow to supply this demand, and vying with one another they crept nearer and nearer to the sacred precincts, until some, under pretense of driving in an animal for sacrifice, made a sale within the outer court. This court had an area of about 14 acres, and was separated from the inner court by a wall breast high, and bearing intimations which forbade the encroachment of Gentiles on pain of death. Round this outer court ran marble colonnades, richly ornamented and supported by four rows of pillars, and roofed with cedar, affording ample shade to the traders.

“There were not only cattle-dealers and sellers of doves, but also money-changers; for every Jew had to pay to the Temple treasury an annual tax of half a shekel, and this tax could be paid only in sacred currency. No foreign coin, with its emblem of submission to an alien king, was allowed to pollute the Temple. Thus there came to be need of money-changers, not only for the Jew who had come up to the feast from a remote part of the empire, but even for the inhabitants of Palestine, as the Roman coinage had displaced the shekel in ordinary use.

“Cattle-dealers and money-changers have always been notorious for making more than their own out of their bargains, and facts enough are on record to justify our Lord calling this particular market ‘a den of thieves.’ The poor were shamefully cheated, and the worship of God was hindered and impoverished instead of being facilitated and enriched. The worshipper who came to the temple seeking quiet and fellowship with God had to push his way through the touts of the dealers, and have his devotional temper dissipated by the wrangling and shouting of a cattle market. Yet although many must have lamented this, no one had been bold enough to rebuke and abolish the glaring profanation” (Dr. Dods). But the Lord Jesus Christ could not suffer His Father’s house to be reproached thus. Zeal for God consumes Him and without hesitation He cleanses the temple of those who defiled it.

2. “And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables” (John 2:15). How this brings out the Deity of Christ! First, He identifies Himself with the temple, terming it “My Father’s house,” and thus affirming His Divine Sonship. This was something which none other had dreamed of doing. Neither Moses, Solomon nor Ezra, ever termed the tabernacle or the temple his “Father’s house.” Christ alone could do this. Again; mark the result of His interference. One man, single handed, takes a whip and the whole crowd flees in fear before Him. Ah, this was no mere man. It was the terror of God that had fallen upon them.

3. This incident brings before us a side of Christ’s character which is almost universally ignored today. We think of the Lord Jesus as the gentle and compassionate One. And such He was, and still is. But this is not all He is. God is Light as well as Love. God is inflexibly righteous as well as infinitely gracious. God is holy as well as merciful. And we do well to remind ourselves of this. Scripture declares “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,” as all who defy Him will yet discover. Scripture speaks of “the wrath of the lamb,” and our lesson furnishes us with a solemn illustration of this. The unresisting money-changers and cattle-dealers, fleeing in terror before His flashing eye and upraised hand, give warning of what shall happen when the wicked stand before the throne of His judgment.

4. This incident rebukes the present-day desecration of the house of prayer. If the holy anger of the Lord Jesus was stirred when He beheld the profanation of that House which was to be a “house of prayer,” if the idolatrous commercialization of it caused Him to cleanse it in such a drastic manner, how must He now regard many of the edifices which have been consecrated to His name! How tragically does history repeat itself. The things which are now done in so many church-houses—the ice cream suppers, the bazaars, the moving picture shows and other forms of entertainment—what are these but idolatrous commercialization of these “houses of prayer.” No wonder that such places are devoid of spirituality and strangers to the power of God. The Lord will not tolerate an unholy mixture of worldly things with spiritual.

5. One of the questions we drew up at the close of the last chapter was, “Why did not Christ drive out the ‘doves’?” The answer to this is found in Isaiah 52:13, where God through His prophet, declared of the Messiah then to come, “Behold, my servant shall deal prudently.” The “prudence” of Christ was strikingly evidenced by His mode of procedure on this occasion of the cleansing of the temple. The attentive reader will observe that He distinguished, carefully, between the different objects of His displeasure. The oxen and sheep He drove out, and these were in no danger of being lost by this treatment. The money of the changers He threw on the ground, and this could be easily picked up again and carried away. The doves He simply ordered to be taken away: had He done more with them, they might have flown away, and been lost to their owners. Thus, the perfect One combined wisdom with zeal. How differently would Moses or Elijah have acted under similar circumstances. But even in His anger Christ deals in prudence. Christ rebuked all, yet none were really injured, and nothing was lost. O that we may learn of Him Who has left us such a perfect example.

6. “Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign showest thou unto us seeing that thou doest these things?” (John 2:18). This demand for a “sign” evidenced their blindness, and gave proof of what the Baptist had said—“There standeth one among you whom ye know not” (John 1:26). To have given them a sign, would only have been to confirm them in their unbelief. Men who could desecrate God’s house as they had, men who were utterly devoid of any sense of what was due Jehovah, were judicially blinded, and Christ treats them accordingly: “Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (verse 19). He spoke in language which was quite unintelligible to them. “Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But He spake of the temple of his body” (John 2:20, 21). But why should the Lord express Himself in such ambiguous terms? Because, as He Himself said on another occasion, “Therefore speak I to them in parables: because seeing they see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand” (Matthew 13:13). Yet, in reality, our Lords’ reply to these Jews was much to the point. In raising Himself from the dead He would furnish the final proof that He was God manifest in flesh, and if God, then the One Who possessed the unequivocal right to cleanse the defiled temple which bore His name. It is very significant to compare these words of Christ here with what we find in Matthew 21:24–27, spoken, we doubt not, on the same occasion. When challenged as to His authority, Matthew tells us He appealed to the witness of His forerunner, which was primarily designed for the Jews after the flesh. But John mentions our Lord’s appeal to His own resurrection, because this demonstrated His Deity, and has an evidential value for the whole household of faith.

7. Another of the questions asked at the close of the previous chapter was “Did the Lord’s own disciples believe in the promise of His resurrection?” The answer is, No, they did not. The evidence for this is conclusive. The death of the Savior shattered their hopes. Instead of remaining in Jerusalem till the third day, eagerly awaiting His resurrection they retired to their homes. When Mary Magdalene went to tell His disciples that she had seen the risen Christ, they “believed not” (Mark 16:11). When the two disciples returned from Emmaus and reported unto the others how the Savior had appeared unto them and had walked with them, we are told, “neither believed they them” (Mark 16:13). The testimony of these eyewitnesses seemed to them as idle tales (Luke 24:11). But how is this to be explained? How can we account for the persistent unbelief of these disciples? Ah, is not the answer to be found in the Lord’s teaching in the Parable of the Sower? Does He not there warn us, that the great Enemy of souls comes and catches away the “seed” sown! And this is what had taken place with these disciples. They had heard the Savior say He would raise up the temple of His body in three days, but instead of treasuring up this precious promise in their hearts, and being comforted by it, they had, through their unbelief, allowed the Devil to snatch it away. Their unbelief, we say, for in verse 22 we are told, “When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered he had said this unto them; and they believed the Scriptures, and the word which Jesus had said.” It was not until after He had risen that they “remembered” and “believed” the word which Jesus had said. And what was it that enabled them to “remember” it then? Ah, do we not recall what Christ had said to them on the eve of His crucifixion, “But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26). What a striking and beautiful illustration of this is given us here in John 2:22!

8. “Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all” (John 2:23, 24). What a word is this! How it evidences human depravity! Fallen man is a creature that God will not trust. In Eden Adam showed that man after the flesh is not to be trusted. The Law had proved him still unworthy of the confidence of God. And now this same character is stamped upon him by the Lord Jesus Himself. As another has said, “Man’s affections may be stirred, man’s intelligence informed, man’s conscience convicted; but still God cannot trust him.” (J. E. B.). Man in the flesh is condemned. Only a new creation avails before God. Man must be “born again.”

9. “Jesus did not commit himself unto them” (verse 24). The Lord’s example here is a warning for us. We do well to remember that all is not gold that glitters. It is not wise to trust in appearances of friendliness on short acquaintance. The discreet man will be kind to all, but intimate with few. The late Bishop Ryle has some practical counsels to offer on this point. Among other things he said, “Learn not to place yourself rashly in the power of others. Study to develop a wise and a happy moderation between universal suspiciousness and that of making yourself the sport and prey of every pretender and hypocrite.”

10. “Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all, and needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man” (John 2:24, 25). Here we are shown the Savior’s perfect knowledge of the human heart. These men could not impose upon the Son of God. He knew that they were only “stony ground” hearers, and therefore, not to be depended upon. They were only intellectually convinced. Our Lord clearly discerned this. He knew that their profession was not from the heart. And reading thus their hearts He manifested His omniscience. The force of what is said in these closing words of John 2 will be made more evident if we compare them with 1 Kings 8:39: “Hear thou in heaven thy dwelling-place, and forgive whose heart thou knowest; (for thou, even thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of all men.)”

It only remains for us to point out how that there is a series of most striking contrasts between the two incidents recorded in the first and second parts of this chapter—the making of water into wine at the Cana marriage-feast, and the cleansing of the Temple. 1. In the one we have a festive gathering; in the other a scene of Divine judgment. 2. To the former the Lord Jesus was invited; in the later He took the initiative Himself. 3. In the former case He employed human instruments; in the latter He acted all alone. 4. In the former He supplied the wine; in the latter He emptied the temple. 5. In the former, His fact of making the wine was commended; in the cleansing of the temple, He was challenged. 6. In the former Christ pointed forward to His death (John 2:4); in the latter He pointed forward to His resurrection (John 2:19, 21). 7. In the former He “manifested forth his glory” (John 2:11); in the latter He manifested His “zeal” for His Father’s House (John 2:17).

Let the student prayerfully study and meditate upon the following questions in preparation for the next lesson, when we shall give an exposition of the first portion of John 3.

1.   Why is Nicodemus referred to in this connection? verse 1.

2.   Why are we told he came to Jesus “by night?” verse 2.

3.   Was Nicodemus’ conclusion justifiable? verse 2.

4.   Why cannot a man “see” the kingdom of God except he be “born again?” verse 3.

5.   What did Nicodemus’ ignorance demonstrate? verse 4.

6.   What does “born of water” mean? verse 5.

7.   In what other ways is the blowing of the Wind analogous with the activities of the Holy Spirit in regeneration? verse 8.[1]

 

 

[1] Pink, A. W. (1923–1945). Exposition of the Gospel of John (pp. 90–102). Swengel, PA: Bible Truth Depot. (Public Domain)

Chapter Seven

Christ Cleansing the Temple

John 2:12–25

Contents

1.   I. The Typical Meaning

2.   II. The Practical Lessons

“After this he went down to Capernaum, he, and his mother, and his brethren, and his disciples: and they continued there not many days” (John 2:12). This verse comes in as a parenthesis between the two incidents of the Cana marriage-feast and the cleansing the temple. Like everything else in this chapter, it may be studied from a twofold viewpoint, namely, its immediate application and its remote. In both of these applications the reference to Capernaum is the key, and Capernaum stands for two things—Divine favor and Divine judgment; see Matthew 11:23.

Taking the immediate application first, this verse tells us that for a short season Israel occupied the position of being in God’s peculiar favor. The mother of Jesus (as we saw in our last chapter) stands for the nation of Israel, and particularly for Israel’s privileges—for she was the one most honored among women. “His brethren” represents the nation of Israel in unbelief; proof of this is found in John 7:5. “His disciples” were the little remnant in Israel who did believe in Him, see John 2:11. With these, the Lord Jesus went down to Capernaum; but they “continued there not many days.” Not for long was Israel to enjoy these special favors of God. Soon Christ would leave them.

But this twelfth verse also has a prophetic significance. Its double application being suggested by the twofold meaning of Capernaum. Capernaum, which was exalted to heaven, was to be brought down to hell. Hence the force of “He went down to Capernaum.” So it was with the nation of Israel. They had been marvelously favored of God, and they should be as severely punished. They should go down into the place of punishment—for this is what Capernaum speaks of. And this is exactly where the Jews have been all though this Christian dispensation. And how blessed to note that as the mother, brethren, and disciples of Christ (who represented, respectively, the nation of Israel privileged, but unbelieving, and the little remnant who did believe) went down to Capernaum—the place of Divine judgment—that the Lord Jesus went with them. So it has been throughout this Christian dispensation. The Jews have suffered severely, under the chastisements of God, but the Lord had been with them in their dispersion—otherwise they, had been utterly consumed long, long ago. The statement they continued there not many days” is also in perfect keeping with its prophetic significance and application. Only two “days” shall Israel abide in that place of which Capernaum speaks; on the third “day” they shall be delivered—see Hosea 6:2.

Let us now give a brief and simple Analysis of the passage which is to be before us: the Cleansing of the Temple:—

1.   The Time of the Cleansing, verse 13.

2.   The Need of the Cleansing, verse 14.

3.   The Method of Cleansing, verses 15, 16.

4.   The Cause of the Cleansing, verse 17.

5.   The Jews’ demand for a Sign and Christ’s reply, verses 18–22.

6.   Christ’s miracles in Jerusalem and the unsatisfactory result, verses 23, 24.

7.   Christ’s knowledge of the human heart, verse 25.

We shall study this passage in a manner similar to that followed in our exposition of the first half of John 2, considering first, the typical meaning of the cleansing of the Temple; and, second, its practical suggestions.

I. The Typical Meaning

The first of the questions which we placed at the end of the last chapter, and which we asked our readers to meditate on in preparation for this, was, “Why is the cleansing of the temple referred to just here?” The careful student will have noticed that in each of the other Gospels, the cleansing of the temple is placed right at the close of our Lord’s public ministry, as one of the last things He did before His apprehension. But here, the Holy Spirit has placed Christ’s cleansing of the temple almost at the beginning of His public ministry. This has led the majority of the commentators to conclude that these were two totally different occasions and incidents, separated by a space of three years. In support of this conclusion some plausible arguments are advanced, but we are not at all sure of their validity. Personally, we are strongly inclined to believe that what is recorded in Matthew 21:12, 13 is the same incident as is before us here in John 2, and that the Holy Spirit has ignored the chronological order (as is so often the case in the Gospels) for His own good reasons. What these reasons may be we shall suggest below. Before advancing them, let us first state why we regard the cleansing of the temple here in John 2 as being identical with that which is described in Matthew 21:12, 13, and the parallel passages in Mark and Luke.

The points of likeness between the two are so striking that unless there is irrefutable evidence that they are separate incidents, it seems to us the most natural and the most obvious thing to regard them as one and the same. We call attention to seven points of resemblance.

First, Matthew places the cleansing of the temple at the beginning of the Passover week, and John tells us that “the Jews” Passover was at hand (Matthew 2:12).

Second, Matthew mentions those that “sold and bought” being in the temple (Matthew 21:12); John says the Lord found in the temple “those that sold oxen,” etc. (John 2:14).

Third, Matthew refers to the presence of those that “sold doves” (Matthew 21:12); John also speaks of the “doves” (John 2:16).

Fourth, Matthew tells us that Christ “overthrew the tables of the money-changers” (Matthew 21:12); John also tells us that Christ “overthrew the tables” (John 2:15).

Fifth, Matthew mentions that Christ “cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple” (Matthew 21:12); John declares He “drove them all out of the temple” (John 2:15). Note, in the Greek it is the same word here translated “drove” as is rendered “cast out” in Matthew!

Sixth, Matthew declares Christ said, “My house shall be called a house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves” (Matthew 21:13); John records that the Lord said, “Make not my Father’s house a house of merchandise” (John 2:16). We have no doubt that the Lord made both of these statements in the same connection, but John records the one which expressly affirmed His Divine Sonship. In each case Christ declared the temple was God’s.

Seventh, Matthew records how Christ spent the night in Bethany, and next morning He returned to Jerusalem, and was in the temple teaching, when the chief priests and elders of the people came to Him and said, “By what authority doest thou these things?” (Matthew 21:23). John also records that after Christ had cleansed the temple, the Jews said to Him, “What sign showest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?” (John 2:18).

If, then, our conclusion be correct, that this cleansing of the Temple occurred at the close of our Lord’s ministry, the question returns upon us, Why has the Holy Spirit taken this incident out of its chronological setting and placed it by the side of our Lord’s miracle where He changed the water into wine? We believe the answer to this question is not far to seek. We suggest that there was a double reason for placing this incident in juxtaposition with the Cana marriage-feast scene. First, it furnished added proof of the abject failure of Judaism; second, it completed the prophetic picture of Christ in the Millennium which John 2 supplies. We shall enlarge upon each of these points below.

In the previous chapters we have pointed out how that in the opening portion of John’s Gospel two things are noticed repeatedly—the setting aside of Judaism, and the turning away from it to Christ. This was emphasized at some length in our last chapter, where we showed that the giving out of the wine at the Cana marriage-feast, and the presence of the six waterpots of stone standing there empty, symbolized the spiritual condition of Israel at that time—they had lost the joy of their espousals and were devoid of spiritual life.

In the passage which is now before us, an even darker picture still is presented to view. Here all figures and symbols are dropped, and the miserable state of Judaism is made known in pointed and plain terms. Up to this stage, Israel’s miserable condition spiritually, had been expressed by negatives; the Messiah was there in their midst, but, said His forerunner to the Jerusalem embassy, Him “ye know not” (John 1:26); so, again, in the first part of chapter 2, “They have no wine” (John 2:3). But here, in the second half of John 2, the positive evil which existed is fully exposed—the temple was profaned.

“And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem” (John 2:13). Here is the first key to that which follows. The “Lord’s passover” (Ex. 12:11) had degenerated into “the passover of the Jews.” But this is not the particular point upon which we would now dwell. What we would call attention to, particularly, is the time-mark given here. Two things are linked together; the passover and the cleansing of the temple. Now the reader will recall at once, that one of the express requirements of God in connection with the observance of the passover was, that all leaven must be rigidly excluded from the houses of His people. The passover was a busy time for every Jewish family: each home was subject to a rigorous examination, lest ceremonial defilement, in the form of leaven, should be found therein. “No leaven in your houses” was the requirement of the Law.

Now the center of Israel’s ceremonial purity was the temple, the Father’s House. Israel gloried in the temple, for it was one of the chief things which marked them off from all other nations, as the favored people of God. What other race of people could speak of Jehovah dwelling in their midst? And now Jehovah Himself was there, incarnate. And what a sight met His eye! The House of prayer had become a house of merchandise; the holy place of worship was now “a den of thieves.” Behold here the light shining in the darkness and exposing the real nature of things. No doubt the custodians of the temple would have stood ready to excuse this reproach upon God’s honor. They would have argued that these money changers and cattle dealers, in the temple courts, were there as a convenience to those who came to the temple to worship. But Christ lays bare their real motive. “Den of thieves” tells us that the love of money, covetousness, lay at the bottom of it all.

And what is “covetousness?” What is the Divine symbol for it? Let us turn the light of Scripture on these questions. Notice carefully what is said in 1 Corinthians 5:6–8. Writing to the Corinthian believers, the Holy Spirit through the apostle Paul says, “Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” To what was he referring here under the figure of “leaven?” Mark what follows: “I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters” (vv. 9, 10). Leaven, then, here refers (among other things) to covetousness, extortion and idolatry. Now go back again to John 2. The feast of the passover was at hand, when all leaven must be removed from Israel’s dwellings. And there in the temple, were the cattle dealers and moneychangers, actuated by covetousness and practicing extortion. What horrible desecration was this! Leaven in the temple of God!

But let us turn on the light of one more passage. In Colossians 3:5 we read, “covetousness, which is idolatry.” Ah, does not this reveal the emptiness of Israel’s boast! The nation prided itself upon its monotheism—they worshipped not the many gods of the heathen. The Jews boasted that they were free from idolatry. Yet idolatry—“covetousness”—was the very thing the Son of God found in His Father’s House. Note again, the force of 1 Corinthians 5:10, covetousness, extortion, and idolatry are the three things there mentioned under the symbol of “leaven.” Here, then, is the first reason why the Holy Spirit has placed this incident just where He has in this Gospel. It furnishes a striking climax to what has gone before. Put together these three things, and see what a glaring picture they give us of Judaism: first, a blinded priesthood (John 1:19–26); second, a joyless nation (no “wine,” John 2:3); third, a desecrated temple. (John 2:16).

We turn now to consider

II. The Practical Lessons

1. We see here the holy zeal of Christ for the Father’s house. “Worshippers coming from remote parts of the Holy Land, found it a convenience to be able to purchase on the spot the animals used in sacrifice. Traders were not slow to supply this demand, and vying with one another they crept nearer and nearer to the sacred precincts, until some, under pretense of driving in an animal for sacrifice, made a sale within the outer court. This court had an area of about 14 acres, and was separated from the inner court by a wall breast high, and bearing intimations which forbade the encroachment of Gentiles on pain of death. Round this outer court ran marble colonnades, richly ornamented and supported by four rows of pillars, and roofed with cedar, affording ample shade to the traders.

“There were not only cattle-dealers and sellers of doves, but also money-changers; for every Jew had to pay to the Temple treasury an annual tax of half a shekel, and this tax could be paid only in sacred currency. No foreign coin, with its emblem of submission to an alien king, was allowed to pollute the Temple. Thus there came to be need of money-changers, not only for the Jew who had come up to the feast from a remote part of the empire, but even for the inhabitants of Palestine, as the Roman coinage had displaced the shekel in ordinary use.

“Cattle-dealers and money-changers have always been notorious for making more than their own out of their bargains, and facts enough are on record to justify our Lord calling this particular market ‘a den of thieves.’ The poor were shamefully cheated, and the worship of God was hindered and impoverished instead of being facilitated and enriched. The worshipper who came to the temple seeking quiet and fellowship with God had to push his way through the touts of the dealers, and have his devotional temper dissipated by the wrangling and shouting of a cattle market. Yet although many must have lamented this, no one had been bold enough to rebuke and abolish the glaring profanation” (Dr. Dods). But the Lord Jesus Christ could not suffer His Father’s house to be reproached thus. Zeal for God consumes Him and without hesitation He cleanses the temple of those who defiled it.

2. “And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables” (John 2:15). How this brings out the Deity of Christ! First, He identifies Himself with the temple, terming it “My Father’s house,” and thus affirming His Divine Sonship. This was something which none other had dreamed of doing. Neither Moses, Solomon nor Ezra, ever termed the tabernacle or the temple his “Father’s house.” Christ alone could do this. Again; mark the result of His interference. One man, single handed, takes a whip and the whole crowd flees in fear before Him. Ah, this was no mere man. It was the terror of God that had fallen upon them.

3. This incident brings before us a side of Christ’s character which is almost universally ignored today. We think of the Lord Jesus as the gentle and compassionate One. And such He was, and still is. But this is not all He is. God is Light as well as Love. God is inflexibly righteous as well as infinitely gracious. God is holy as well as merciful. And we do well to remind ourselves of this. Scripture declares “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,” as all who defy Him will yet discover. Scripture speaks of “the wrath of the lamb,” and our lesson furnishes us with a solemn illustration of this. The unresisting money-changers and cattle-dealers, fleeing in terror before His flashing eye and upraised hand, give warning of what shall happen when the wicked stand before the throne of His judgment.

4. This incident rebukes the present-day desecration of the house of prayer. If the holy anger of the Lord Jesus was stirred when He beheld the profanation of that House which was to be a “house of prayer,” if the idolatrous commercialization of it caused Him to cleanse it in such a drastic manner, how must He now regard many of the edifices which have been consecrated to His name! How tragically does history repeat itself. The things which are now done in so many church-houses—the ice cream suppers, the bazaars, the moving picture shows and other forms of entertainment—what are these but idolatrous commercialization of these “houses of prayer.” No wonder that such places are devoid of spirituality and strangers to the power of God. The Lord will not tolerate an unholy mixture of worldly things with spiritual.

5. One of the questions we drew up at the close of the last chapter was, “Why did not Christ drive out the ‘doves’?” The answer to this is found in Isaiah 52:13, where God through His prophet, declared of the Messiah then to come, “Behold, my servant shall deal prudently.” The “prudence” of Christ was strikingly evidenced by His mode of procedure on this occasion of the cleansing of the temple. The attentive reader will observe that He distinguished, carefully, between the different objects of His displeasure. The oxen and sheep He drove out, and these were in no danger of being lost by this treatment. The money of the changers He threw on the ground, and this could be easily picked up again and carried away. The doves He simply ordered to be taken away: had He done more with them, they might have flown away, and been lost to their owners. Thus, the perfect One combined wisdom with zeal. How differently would Moses or Elijah have acted under similar circumstances. But even in His anger Christ deals in prudence. Christ rebuked all, yet none were really injured, and nothing was lost. O that we may learn of Him Who has left us such a perfect example.

6. “Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign showest thou unto us seeing that thou doest these things?” (John 2:18). This demand for a “sign” evidenced their blindness, and gave proof of what the Baptist had said—“There standeth one among you whom ye know not” (John 1:26). To have given them a sign, would only have been to confirm them in their unbelief. Men who could desecrate God’s house as they had, men who were utterly devoid of any sense of what was due Jehovah, were judicially blinded, and Christ treats them accordingly: “Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (verse 19). He spoke in language which was quite unintelligible to them. “Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But He spake of the temple of his body” (John 2:20, 21). But why should the Lord express Himself in such ambiguous terms? Because, as He Himself said on another occasion, “Therefore speak I to them in parables: because seeing they see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand” (Matthew 13:13). Yet, in reality, our Lords’ reply to these Jews was much to the point. In raising Himself from the dead He would furnish the final proof that He was God manifest in flesh, and if God, then the One Who possessed the unequivocal right to cleanse the defiled temple which bore His name. It is very significant to compare these words of Christ here with what we find in Matthew 21:24–27, spoken, we doubt not, on the same occasion. When challenged as to His authority, Matthew tells us He appealed to the witness of His forerunner, which was primarily designed for the Jews after the flesh. But John mentions our Lord’s appeal to His own resurrection, because this demonstrated His Deity, and has an evidential value for the whole household of faith.

7. Another of the questions asked at the close of the previous chapter was “Did the Lord’s own disciples believe in the promise of His resurrection?” The answer is, No, they did not. The evidence for this is conclusive. The death of the Savior shattered their hopes. Instead of remaining in Jerusalem till the third day, eagerly awaiting His resurrection they retired to their homes. When Mary Magdalene went to tell His disciples that she had seen the risen Christ, they “believed not” (Mark 16:11). When the two disciples returned from Emmaus and reported unto the others how the Savior had appeared unto them and had walked with them, we are told, “neither believed they them” (Mark 16:13). The testimony of these eyewitnesses seemed to them as idle tales (Luke 24:11). But how is this to be explained? How can we account for the persistent unbelief of these disciples? Ah, is not the answer to be found in the Lord’s teaching in the Parable of the Sower? Does He not there warn us, that the great Enemy of souls comes and catches away the “seed” sown! And this is what had taken place with these disciples. They had heard the Savior say He would raise up the temple of His body in three days, but instead of treasuring up this precious promise in their hearts, and being comforted by it, they had, through their unbelief, allowed the Devil to snatch it away. Their unbelief, we say, for in verse 22 we are told, “When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered he had said this unto them; and they believed the Scriptures, and the word which Jesus had said.” It was not until after He had risen that they “remembered” and “believed” the word which Jesus had said. And what was it that enabled them to “remember” it then? Ah, do we not recall what Christ had said to them on the eve of His crucifixion, “But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26). What a striking and beautiful illustration of this is given us here in John 2:22!

8. “Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all” (John 2:23, 24). What a word is this! How it evidences human depravity! Fallen man is a creature that God will not trust. In Eden Adam showed that man after the flesh is not to be trusted. The Law had proved him still unworthy of the confidence of God. And now this same character is stamped upon him by the Lord Jesus Himself. As another has said, “Man’s affections may be stirred, man’s intelligence informed, man’s conscience convicted; but still God cannot trust him.” (J. E. B.). Man in the flesh is condemned. Only a new creation avails before God. Man must be “born again.”

9. “Jesus did not commit himself unto them” (verse 24). The Lord’s example here is a warning for us. We do well to remember that all is not gold that glitters. It is not wise to trust in appearances of friendliness on short acquaintance. The discreet man will be kind to all, but intimate with few. The late Bishop Ryle has some practical counsels to offer on this point. Among other things he said, “Learn not to place yourself rashly in the power of others. Study to develop a wise and a happy moderation between universal suspiciousness and that of making yourself the sport and prey of every pretender and hypocrite.”

10. “Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all, and needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man” (John 2:24, 25). Here we are shown the Savior’s perfect knowledge of the human heart. These men could not impose upon the Son of God. He knew that they were only “stony ground” hearers, and therefore, not to be depended upon. They were only intellectually convinced. Our Lord clearly discerned this. He knew that their profession was not from the heart. And reading thus their hearts He manifested His omniscience. The force of what is said in these closing words of John 2 will be made more evident if we compare them with 1 Kings 8:39: “Hear thou in heaven thy dwelling-place, and forgive whose heart thou knowest; (for thou, even thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of all men.)”

It only remains for us to point out how that there is a series of most striking contrasts between the two incidents recorded in the first and second parts of this chapter—the making of water into wine at the Cana marriage-feast, and the cleansing of the Temple. 1. In the one we have a festive gathering; in the other a scene of Divine judgment. 2. To the former the Lord Jesus was invited; in the later He took the initiative Himself. 3. In the former case He employed human instruments; in the latter He acted all alone. 4. In the former He supplied the wine; in the latter He emptied the temple. 5. In the former, His fact of making the wine was commended; in the cleansing of the temple, He was challenged. 6. In the former Christ pointed forward to His death (John 2:4); in the latter He pointed forward to His resurrection (John 2:19, 21). 7. In the former He “manifested forth his glory” (John 2:11); in the latter He manifested His “zeal” for His Father’s House (John 2:17).

Let the student prayerfully study and meditate upon the following questions in preparation for the next lesson, when we shall give an exposition of the first portion of John 3.

1.   Why is Nicodemus referred to in this connection? verse 1.

2.   Why are we told he came to Jesus “by night?” verse 2.

3.   Was Nicodemus’ conclusion justifiable? verse 2.

4.   Why cannot a man “see” the kingdom of God except he be “born again?” verse 3.

5.   What did Nicodemus’ ignorance demonstrate? verse 4.

6.   What does “born of water” mean? verse 5.

7.   In what other ways is the blowing of the Wind analogous with the activities of the Holy Spirit in regeneration? verse 8.[1]

 

 

[1] Pink, A. W. (1923–1945). Exposition of the Gospel of John (pp. 90–102). Swengel, PA: Bible Truth Depot. (Public Domain)

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Exposition of John Chapter 6 - Christ's First Miracle - John 2:1-11

Chapter Six

Christ’s First Miracle

John 2:1–11

Contents

1.   I. The Typical Significance

2.   II. The Prophetic Application

3.   III. The Practical Teaching

First of all we will give a brief and simple Analysis of the passage before us:—

1.   The Occasion of the Miracle: a marriage in Cana, verse 1.

2.   The Presence there of the Mother of Jesus, verse 1.

3.   The Savior and His Disciples Invited, verse 2.

4.   Mary’s Interference and Christ’s Rebuke, verses 3, 4.

5.   Mary’s Submission, verse 5.

6.   The Miracle Itself, verses 6–8.

7.   The Effects of the Miracle, verses 9–11.

We propose to expound the passage before us from a threefold viewpoint: first, its typical significance, second, its prophetic application, third, its practical teaching. It is as though the Holy Spirit had here combined three pictures into one. We might illustrate it by the method used in printing a picture in colors. There is first the picture itself in its black-edged outline; then, on top of this, is filled in the first coloring—red, or yellow, as the case may be; finally, the last color—blue or brown—may be added to the others, and the composite and variegated picture is complete. To use the terms of the illustration, it is our purpose to examine, separately, the different tints and shadings in the Divine picture which is presented to our view in the first half of John 2.

I. The Typical Significance

It is to be carefully noted that this second chapter of John opens with the word “and,” which indicates that its contents are closely connected with what has gone before. One of the things that is made prominent in John 1 (following the Introduction, which runs to the end of verse 18) is the failure of Judaism, and the turning away from it to Christ. The failure of Judaism (seen in the ignorance of the Sanhedrin) is made plain by the sending of priests and Levites from Jerusalem to enquire of John who he was (John 1:19). This is made still more evident by the pathetic statement of the Baptist, “There standeth one among you, whom ye know not” (John 1:26). All this is but an amplication of that tragic word found in John 1:11—“He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” So blind were the religious leaders of Israel, that they neither knew the Christ of God stood in their midst, nor recognized His forerunner to whom the Old Testament Scriptures bore explicit witness.

Judaism was but a dead husk, the heart and life of it were gone. Only one thing remained, and that was the setting of it aside, and the bringing in “of a better hope.” Accordingly, we read in Galatians 4:4, “But when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth his Son.” Yes, the fullness of God’s time had come. The hour was ripe for Christ to be manifested. The need of Him had been fully demonstrated. Judaism must be set aside. A typical picture of this was before us in John 1. The Baptist wound up the Old Testament system (“The law and the prophets were until John”—Luke 16:16), and in John 1:35–37 we are shown two (the number of competent testimony) of His disciples leaving John, and following the Lord Jesus.

The same principle is illustrated again in the chapter now before us. A marriage-feast is presented to our view, and the central thing about it is that the wine had given out. The figure is not difficult to interpret: “Wine” in Scripture is the emblem of joy, as the following passage will show: “And wine that maketh glad the heart of man” (Ps. 104:15); “And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man?” (Judg. 9:13). How striking, then, is what we have here in John 2! How accurate the picture. Judaism still existed as a religious system, but it ministered no comfort to the heart. It had degenerated into a cold, mechanical routine, utterly destitute of joy in God. Israel had lost the joy of their espousals.

“And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews” (verse 6). What a portrayal of Judaism was this! Six is the number of man, for it was on the sixth day man was made, and of the Superman it is written, “Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred threescore six” (Rev. 13:18). Yes, there were six waterpots standing there, not seven, the perfect number. All that was left of Judaism was of the flesh; God was not in it. As we read later on in this Gospel, the “feasts of the Lord” (Lev. 23:2) were now only “the feast of the Jews” (John 2:13, etc.).

Observe, too, that these six waterpots were of “stone,” not silver which speaks of redemption, nor of gold which tells of Divine glory. As we read in Isaiah 1:22, “Thy silver is become dross,” and again in Lamentations 4:1, “How is the gold become dim?” Profoundly significant, then, were these waterpots of “stone.” And what is the more noticeable, they were empty. Again, we say, what a vivid portrayal have we here of Israel’s condition at that time! No wonder the wine had given out! To supply that Christ was needed. Therefore, our chapter at once directs attention to Him as the One who alone can provide that which speaks of joy in God. Thus does John 2 give us another representation of the failure of Judaism, and the turning away from it to the Savior. Hence, it opens with the word “and,” as denoting the continuation of the same subject which had been brought out in the previous chapter.

In striking accord with what we have just suggested above, is the further fact, that in this scene of the Cana-marriage feast, the mother of Jesus occupies such a prominent position. It is to be noted that she is not here called by her personal name—as she is in Acts 1:14—but is referred to as “the mother of Jesus.” (John 2:1). She is, therefore, to be viewed as a representative character. In this chapter Mary occupies the same position as the Baptist did in John 1. She stands for the nation of Israel. Inasmuch as through her the long promised “seed” had come, Mary is to be regarded here as gathering up into her person the entire Abrahamic stock.

What, then, does the Holy Spirit record here of Mary? Were her actions on this occasion in keeping with the representative character she filled? They certainly were. The record is exceedingly brief, but what is said is enough to confirm our line of interpretation. The mother of Jesus exhibited a woeful lack of spiritual discernment. It seems as if she presumed so far as to dictate to the Lord. Apparently she ventured to order the Savior, and tell Him what to do. No otherwise can we account for the reply that He made to her on this occasion—“Woman, what have I to do with thee?” It was a pointed rebuke, and as such His words admonished her for her failure to render Him the respect and reverence which, as the Lord of Glory, were His due.

We believe that this unwonted interference of Mary was prompted by the same carnal motive as actuated His unbelieving “brethren” (i.e. other sons of Mary and Joseph) on a later occasion. In John 7:2–5 we read, “Now the Jews feast of tabernacles was at hand. His brethren therefore said unto him, Depart hence, and go into Judea, that thy disciples also may see the works that thou doest. For there is no man that doeth anything in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou do these things, show thyself to the world. For neither did his brethren believe in him.”

Mary wanted the Savior to openly display His power and glory, and, accordingly, she was a true representative of the Jewish nation. Israel had no thought and had no heart for a suffering Messiah; what they desired was One who would immediately set up His kingdom here on earth. Thus, in Mary’s ignorance (at that time) of the real character of Christ’s mission, in her untimely longing for Him to openly display His power and glory, and in Christ’s word of rebuke to her, “What have I to do with thee?” we have added evidence of the typical significance of this scene at the Cana marriage-feast—the setting aside of Israel after the flesh.

II. The Prophetic Application

What is recorded here in the first part of John 2 looks beyond the conditions that obtained in Israel at that time. The miracle which Christ performed at Cana possessed a prophetic significance. Like so much that is found in Scripture, the passage before us needs to be studied from a twofold viewpoint: its immediate and its remote applications. Above, we have sought to bring out what we believe to be the direct significance of this incident, in its typical and representative suggestiveness. Now we would turn for a moment to contemplate its more distant and prophetic application.

“And the third day:” so our chapter opens. The Holy Spirit presents to our view a third day scene. The third day is the day of resurrection. It was on the third day that the earth emerged from its watery grave, as it was on the third day the barren earth was clothed with vegetable life (Gen. 1:9, 11). There is an important scripture in Hosea 6:2 which should be placed side by side with John 2:1: “After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight.” For almost two thousand years (two Days with God—see 2 Peter 3:8) Israel has been without a king, without a priest, without a home. But the second “Day” is almost ended, and when the third dawns, their renaissance shall come.

This second chapter of John presents us with a prophetic foreshadowing of the future. It gives us a typical picture of Christ—the Third Day, following the two days (the two thousand years) of Israel’s dispersion. Then will Israel invite Jesus to come to them: for, not until they say “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord” will He return to the earth. Then will the Lord be married to the new Israel, see Isa. 54; Hosea 2, etc. Then will Christ turn the water into wine—fill Israel’s hearts with joy. Then will Israel say to the Gentiles (their servants), “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do.” Then will Israel render unqualified obedience to Jehovah, for He will write His law in their hearts (Jer. 31:33). Then will Christ “manifest His glory” (John 2:11)—cf. Matthew 25:31; and thus will the best wine be reserved for Israel until the last.

Having touched, somewhat briefly, upon the typical and prophetic significance of this miracle, we turn now to consider,

III. The Practical Teaching

“And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage” (verses 1, 2). Christ here sanctifies the marriage relationship. Marriage was ordained by God in Eden and in our lesson, the Savior, for all time, set His stamp of approval upon it. To be present at this marriage was almost Christ’s first public appearance after His ministry commenced. By gracing this festive gathering, our Lord distinguished and glorified this sacred institution. Observe that Christ was invited to be there. Christ’s presence is essential to a happy marriage. The marriage where there is no place for our Lord and Savior cannot be blest of God: “Whatsoever ye do … do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).

“And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine” (John 2:3). Mary’s words seem to indicate two things: first, she ignored His Deity. Was she not aware that He was more than man? Did she not know that He was God manifest in the flesh? and, therefore, omniscient. He knew that they had no wine. Second, it appears as though Mary was seeking to exert her parental authority, by suggesting to Him what He ought to do under the circumstances.

“Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee?” (John 2:4). This is an elliptical expression, and in the Greek literally read, “What to Me and thee?” We take it that the force of this question of our Lord’s was, What is there common to Me and thee—cf Matthew 8:29 for a similar grammatical construction. It was not that the Savior resented Mary’s inviting His aid, but a plain intimation that she must allow Him to act in His own way. 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.

Many of our readers, no doubt, have wondered why Christ here addressed His mother as “Woman.” Scholars tell us that at the time our Lord used this word it would not sound harsh or rough. It was a designation commonly used for addressing females of all classes and relationships, and was sometimes employed with great reverence and affection. Proof of this is seen in the fact that while on the Cross itself Christ addressed Mary as “Woman,” saying, “Behold thy son” (John 19:26 and see also John 20:13, 15).

But we believe our Lord chose this word with Divine discrimination, and for at least two reasons. First, because He was here calling attention to the fact that He was more than man, that He was none less than the Son of God. To have addressed her as “mother” would have called attention to human relationships; but calling her “woman” showed that God was speaking to her. We may add that it is significant that the two times Christ addressed His mother as “woman” are both recorded in the Gospel of John which sets forth His Deity.

Again, the employment of this term “woman” denotes Christ’s omniscience. With prophetic foresight He anticipated the horrible idolatry which was to ascribe Divine honors to her. He knew that in the centuries which were to follow, men would entitle her the Queen of angels and the Mother of God. Hence, He refused to use a term which would in any wise countenance the monstrous system of Mariolatry. Christ would here teach us that Mary was only a woman—“Blessed among women” (Luke 1:28) but not “blessed above women.”

“Mine hour is not yet come” (John 2:4) became the most solemn watchword of His life, marking the stages by which He drew nigh to His death. Seven references are made in this Gospel to that awful “hour.” The first is in our present passage in John 2:4. The second is found in John 7:30—“Then they sought to take him: but no man laid hands on him, because his hour was not yet come.” The third time is found in John 8:20—“And no man laid hands on him; for his hour was not yet come.” The fourth is in John 12:23—“And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified.” The fifth is in John 12:27—“Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.” The sixth is in John 16:32—“Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.” The seventh is in John 17:1—“These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy son, that thy son also may glorify thee.” This “hour” was the hour of His humiliation. It was the “hour” of His suffering. But why should Christ refer to this “hour” when Mary was seeking to dictate to Him? Ah, surely the answer is not far to seek. That awful “hour” to which he looked forward, was the time when He would be subject to man’s will, for then He would be delivered up into the hands of sinners. But until then, He was not to be ordered by man; instead, He was about His Father’s business, seeking only to do His will.

“His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do” (John 2:5). This is very beautiful. Mary meekly accepted the Lord’s rebuke, recognized His rights to act as He pleased, and left the matter entirely in His hands. There is an important and much neglected lesson here for each of us. How prone we are to dictate to God! How often we are disposed to tell Him what to do! This is only another evidence of that detestable self-will which still operates in the believer, unless Divine grace subdues it. Our plain duty is to commit our way unto the Lord and then leave Him to supply our need in His own good time and manner.

We turn now to consider the miracle which Christ performed here at Cana. And first, a few words upon the occasion of it. The Lord Jesus recognized in this request of Mary’s a call from His Father. He discerned in this simple act of furnishing the wedding-guests with wine a very different thing from what His mother saw. The performing of this miracle marked an important crisis in the Savior’s career. His act of turning the water into wine would alter the whole course of His life. Hitherto He had lived in quiet seclusion in Nazareth, but from this time on He would become a public and marked character. From henceforth He would scarcely have leisure to eat, and His opportunity for retired communion with the Father would be only when others slept. If He performed this miracle, and manifested forth His glory, He would become the gazing stock of every eye, and the common talk of every tongue. He would be followed about from place to place, thronged and jostled by vulgar crowds. This would provoke the jealousy of religious leaders, and He would be spied upon and regarded as a public menace. Later, this would eventuate in His being seized as a notorious criminal, falsely accused, and sentenced to be crucified. All of this stood out before Him as He was requested to supply the needed wine. But He did not shrink. He had come to do the will of God, no matter what the cost. May we not say it reverently, that as He stood there by Mary’s side and listened to her words, that the Cross challenged Him. Certainly it was here anticipated, and hence His solemn reference to His “hour” yet to come.

In the second place, the manner in which the miracle was performed is deserving of our closest attention. “And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare” (John 2:6–8). 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.

This was Christ’s first miracle, and in it He shows us that God is pleased to use human instrumentality in performing the wonders of His grace. The miracle consisted in the supplying of wine and, as previously pointed out, wine symbolizes joy in God. Learn then, that the Lord is pleased to employ human agents in bringing joy to the hearts of men. And what was the element Christ used on this occasion in producing the wine? It was water. Now “water” is one of the symbols of the written Word (see Ephesians 5:26). And how may we His servants, today, bring the wine of joy unto human hearts? By ministering the Word (see Ephesians 5:26). And how may we His servants, today, “servants” Christ’s command to fill those six empty waterpots of stone with water, might have seemed meaningless, if not foolish; but their obedience made them fellow-workers in the miracle! And to the wise of this world, who put their trust in legislation, and social amelioration, it seems useless to go forth unto the wicked with nothing more in our hands than a Book written almost two thousand years ago. Nevertheless, it has pleased God “by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe”—foolish, that is, in the estimate of the worldly wise. Here then is blessed instruction for the servants of God today. Let us go forth with the Water of life, implicitly obeying the commands of our Lord, and He will use us to bring the wine of Divine joy to many a sad heart.

In the third place, consider the teaching of this miracle. In it we have a striking picture of the regeneration of a sinner. First, we see the condition of the natural man before he is born again: he is like an empty waterpot of stone-cold, lifeless, useless. Second, we see the worthlessness of man’s religion to help the sinner. Those waterpots were set apart “after the manner of the purifying of the Jews”—they were designed for ceremonial purgation; but their valuelessness was shown by their emptiness. Third, at the command of Christ they were filled with water, and water is one of the emblems of the written Word: it is the Word which God uses in quickening dead souls into newness of life. Observe, too, these waterpots were filled “up to the brim”—God always gives good measure; with no niggardly hand does He minister. Fourth, the water produced wine, “good wine” (verse 10): symbol of the Divine joy which fills the soul of the one who has been “born of water.” Fifth, we read “This beginning of miracles did Jesus.” That is precisely what the new birth is—a “miracle.” And not only so, it is always the “beginning of miracles” for the one newly born: regeneration is ever the initial work of grace. Sixth, observe “this beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth His glory.” It is thus, in the regeneration of dead sinners, that the “glory” of our Savior and Lord is “manifested.” Seventh, observe, “And His disciples believed on him.” A dead man cannot believe. But the first movement of the newly born soul is to turn to Christ. Not that we argue an interval of time between the two, but as cause stands to effect so the work of regeneration precedes the act of believing in Christ—cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:13: first, “sanctification of the Spirit,” which is the new birth, then “belief of the truth.”

But is there not even a deeper meaning to this beginning of Christ’s miracles? Is it not profoundly significant that in this first miracle which our Savior performed, the “wine,” which is the symbol of His shed blood, should be so prominent! The marriage-feast was the occasion of joy and merriment; and does not God give us here something more than a hint that in order for His people to be joyous, the precious blood of His Son must be first poured forth! Ah, that is the foundation of every blessing we enjoy, the ground of all our happiness. Hence did Christ begin His supernatural works of mercy by producing that which spoke of His sacrificial death.

“When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom” (John 2:9). This parenthetical statement is most blessed. It illustrates an important principle. It was the servants—not the “disciples,” nor yet Mary—who were nearest to the Lord on this occasion, and who possessed the knowedge of His mind. What puzzled the “ruler of the feast” was no secret to these “servants.” How different are God’s ways from ours! The Lord of glory was here as “Servant.” In marvelous grace He came “not to be ministered unto, but to minister:” therefore, are those who are humble in service, and those engaged in the humblest service, nearest to Him. This is their reward for turning their backs upon the honors and emoluments of the world. As we read in Amos 3:7—“Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto (Ah, unto whom?) his servants the prophets.” It is like what we read in Psalm 103:7—“He made known his ways unto Moses;” and who was Moses? Let Scripture answer: “Now the man Moses was very meek above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3)! Yes, “the meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way” (Ps. 25:9).

Those who determine to occupy the position of authority (as Mary did here) are not taken into the Lord’s secrets. Those who wish to be in a place like the “ruler of the feast,” know not His thoughts. But those who humble themselves to take the servant position, who place themselves at Christ’s disposal, are the ones who share His counsels. And in the day to come, when He will provide the true wine of the kingdom, those who have served Him during the time of His absence, shall then be under Him the dispensers of joy. Has he not promised, “If any man serve me, him will my Father honor?”

“And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now” (John 2:10). This illustrates the ways of men and the ways of God. 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. Fellow believer, for us, the best wine is yet to be: “The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day” (Prov. 4:18).

One more observation on this passage and we must close. What a message is there here for the unsaved! The natural man has a “wine” of his own. There is a carnal happiness enjoyed which is produced by “the pleasures of sin”—the merriment which this world affords. But how fleeting this is! How unsatisfying! Sooner or later this “wine,” which is pressed from “the vine of the earth” (Rev. 14:18), gives out. The poor sinner may be surrounded by gay companions, he may be comfortably circumstanced financially and socially, yet the time comes when he discovers he has “no wine.” Happy the one who is conscious of this. The discovery of our own wretchedness is often the turning point. It prepares us to look to that One who is ready “to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” (Isa. 61:3). Unbelieving friend, there is only One who can furnish the true “wine,” the “good” wine, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. He can satisfy the longing of the soul. He can quench the thirst of the heart. He can put a song into thy mouth which not even the angels can sing, even the song of Redemption. What then must you do? What price must you pay? Ah, dear friend, listen to the glad tidings of grace: “Repent ye, and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1:15).

And now, we give a number of questions to prepare the interested student for the lesson to follow. Study, then, and prayerfully meditate on the following questions:—

1.   Why is the cleansing of the temple referred to just here?—Note its place in the other Gospels.

2.   Why did not Christ drive out “the doves?” verse 16.

3.   What was indicated by the Jews’ demand for a “sign?” verse 18.

4.   Why did Christ point them forward to His resurrection? verses 18–21.

5.   Did the Lord’s own disciples believe in the promise of His resurrection? If not, why? verse 22.

6.   What solemn warning does verse 23 point?

7.   What does verse 25 prove concerning Christ?[1]

 

 

[1] Pink, A. W. (1923–1945). Exposition of the Gospel of John (pp. 77–89). Swengel, PA: Bible Truth Depot. (Public Domain)

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Exposition of John Chapter 5 - Christ and His First Disciples - John 1:35-51

Chapter Five

Christ and His First Disciples

John 1:35–51

We first submit a brief Analysis of the passage which is to be before us. We would divide it as follows:—

1.   John points to Christ as God’s Lamb, John 1:35, 36.

2.   The effect of this on two of his disciples, John 1:37.

3.   Christ’s searching question, the disciples’ reply and communion with Christ, John 1:38, 39.

4.   The effect of this on Andrew, John 1:40–42.

5.   Christ finds and calls on Philip to follow Him, John 1:43, 44.

6.   The effect of this on Philip, John 1:45, 46.

7.   The meeting between Christ and Nathanael, John 1:47–51.

The central truth of the passage we are about to study is, How the first of Christ’s disciples were brought into saving contact with Him. It may be that some of our readers have experienced a difficulty when studying these closing verses of John 1 as they have compared their contents with what is found in Mark 1:16–20: “Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men. And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him. And when he had gone a little farther thence, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets. And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him” (cf. Matthew 4:18–22; Luke 5:1–11). Many have wondered how to harmonize John 1:35–42 with Mark 1:16–20. But there is nothing to harmonize, because there is no contradiction between them. The truth is, that Mark and John are not writing on the same subject. Mark treats of something which happened at a later date than that of which John writes. John tells us of the conversion of these disciples, whereas Mark (as also Matthew and Luke) deals with their call to service—a service which concerned the lost sheep of the house of Israel. That John omits the call to service (which each of the other three evangelists record) brings out, again, the special character of his Gospel, for he treats not of dispensational but of spiritual relationships, and therefore was it reserved for him to describe the conversion of these first disciples of Christ.

It is deeply interesting and instructive to mark attentively the manner in which these first disciples found the Savior. They did not all come to Him in the same way, for God does not confine Himself to any particular method—He is sovereign in this, as in everything. It had been well if this had been kept in mind, for then had many a doubt been dispelled and many an heartache removed. How many there are who have listened to the testimony of some striking conversion, and have reproached themselves and made themselves miserable because their experience was a different one. How many churches there are which have their annual two weeks “protracted” meetings, and then conduct themselves as though there were no other souls that needed salvation during the remaining fifty weeks of the year! How many there are who imagine no sinner can be saved except at a “mourner’s bench!” But all of these are so many ways of limiting God, that is, holding limited conceptions of God.

Of the four cases of conversion described in our passage (we say four, for the two mentioned in verse 35 are linked together) no two were alike! The first two heard a preacher proclaiming Christ as “the lamb of God,” and, in consequence, promptly sought out the Savior for themselves. Simon Peter, the next one, was “brought” to Christ by his brother, who had followed and found the Savior on the previous day. Philip, the third one, seemed to have no believer to help him, perhaps no fellow creature who cared for his soul; and of him we read, “Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me” (John 1:43). While the last, Nathanael, was sought out by his now converted brother Philip, and was warmly invited to come and see Christ for himself; and while making for Him, the Savior, apparently, advanced toward and met the seeking one. Putting the four together we may observe that the first found Christ as the result of a preacher’s message. The second and fourth found Christ as the result of the personal work of a believer. In the case of the third there was no human instrument employed by God. The fact that the first came to Christ as the result of the ministry of John the Baptist, seems to show that God puts the preaching of the Word as of first importance in the saving of sinners. The fact that God honored the personal efforts of two of these early converts, shows He is pleased to give a prominent place to personal work in His means of saving souls. The fact that Philip was saved apart from all human instrumentality, should teach us that God has not reached the end of His resources even though preachers should prove unfaithful to their calling, and even though individual believers are too apathetic to go forth bidding sinners to come to Christ.

It is also to be noted that not only did these first converts find the Savior in a variety of ways, but also that Christ Himself dealt differently with each one. For the two mentioned in verse 35 there was a searching question to test their motives in following Christ—“What seek ye?” For Simon Peter there was a striking declaration to convince him that Christ knew all about him, followed by a gracious promise to reassure his heart. For Philip there was nothing but a peremptory command—“Follow me. While for Nathanael there was a gracious word to disarm him of all prejudice and to assure his heart that the Savior stood ready to receive him. Thus did the Great Physician deal with each man according to his individual peculiarities and needs.

Finally, observe how this passage brings out the suitability of Christ for all kinds of men. It is blessed to behold here, how the Savior drew to Himself men of such widely different types and temperaments. There are some superficial sceptics who sneeringly declare that Christianity only attracts those or a particular type—the effeminate, the emotional, and the intellectually feeble. But such an objection is easily refuted by the facts of common observation. Christ has been worshipped and served by men and women of every variety of temperament and calling. Those who have delighted to own His name as The Name “which is above every name” have been drawn from every walk of life, as well as from every nation and tribe under the sun. Kings and queens, statesmen and soldiers, scientists and philosophers, poets and musicians, lawyers and physicians, farmers and fishermen have been among the number who have cried, “Worthy is the lamb.” And in the cases of these early converts we find this principle strikingly illustrated.

The unnamed disciple of verse 35 is, by common consent, regarded as John, the writer of this fourth Gospel. John was the disciple who leaned on the Master’s bosom, devoted and affectionate. He was “the disciple whom Jesus loved:” he was, apparently, the only one of the twelve who stood by the Cross as the Savior was dying. Andrew seems to have been a man with a calculating mind, what would be termed today, of a practical turn: no sooner had he come to Christ, than he goes at once and finds his brother Simon, tells him the good news that they had found the Messiah, and brought him to Jesus; and, he was the one to observe the lad with the five barley loaves and two small fishes, when the hungry multitude was to be fed (John 6:8, 9). Simon Peter was hot-headed, impulsive, full of zeal. Philip was skeptical and materialistic: he was the one to whom our Lord put the test question, “Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” to which Philip replied, “Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little” (John 6:5, 7); and again, Philip was the one who said to Christ, “Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us” (John 14:8). Nathanael, of whom least is known, was, evidently of a meditative and retiring disposition, whose life was lived in the back-ground, but of an open and frank nature, one “in who was no guile.” How radically different, then, were these men in type and temperament, yet each of them found in Christ that which met his need and satisfied his heart! We regard these first converts as representative and illustrative cases, so that it behooves us to study each separately and in detail.

“Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples” (John 1:35). This is the place to ask the question, What was the fruitage of John’s mission? What results accrued from his ministry? They were very similar to what may be expected to attend the labors of a servant of God, who is used of His Master, today. John had borne faithful witness to Christ: how had his ministry been received? In the first place, the religious leaders of his day rejected the testimony of God (Luke 7:30). In the second place, great crowds were attracted, and men of all sorts attended upon his ministry (Luke 3:7–15). In the third place, only a few were really affected by his message, and stood ready to receive the Messiah when He appeared. It has been much the same all through the ages. When God sends forth a man to take an active and prominent part in His service, the religious leaders look upon him with suspicion, and hold aloof in their fancied superiority. On the other hand, the vulgar, curious crowds, ever hungering for the novel and sensational, are attracted; but comparatively few are really touched in their consciences and hearts.

“Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples; and looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the lamb of God” (John 1:35, 36). Once more the Lord’s forerunner heralds Him as “the lamb of God” (cf. John 5:29). This teaches us that there are times when the servant of God needs to repeat the same message. It also informs us that the central and vital truth which God’s messenger must press, unceasingly, is the sacrificial work of Christ. Never forget, brother preacher, that your chief concern is to present your Master as “the lamb of God!” Notice, also, we are told, “John stood, and two of his disciples; and looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the lamb of God.” The words we have placed in italics call attention to a most important moral principle: if we would “look upon Jesus,” if we would “Behold the lamb,” we must stand still; that is, all fleshly activity must cease; we must come to the end of ourselves. This was the first truth which God taught Israel after they had been delivered from Egypt: as they were being pursued by the Egyptians, and came to the Red Sea, God’s servant cried, “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord” (Ex. 14:13).

“And the two disciples heard him speak” (John 1:37). These two men were John and Andrew. By calling they were fishermen. I hey had already attached themselves to John, and had not only been baptized but were eagerly awaiting the promised Messiah and Savior. At last the day arrived when their teacher, whom they trusted as God’s prophet, suddenly checked them in their walk, and no doubt with almost breathless interest, laid his hand upon them, and pointing to a passing Figure, cried, “Behold the lamb of God!” There, in actual bodily form, was the One for whom the ages had waited. There, within reach of their own eyes, was the Son of God, who was to offer Himself as a sacrifice for sin. There, right before them, was He of whom one of these very two men later wrote, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the word of Life” (1 John 1:1).

How often this experience has been duplicated—duplicated in principle, we mean. How many of us used to hear Christ spoken of while as yet we had no personal knowledge of Him! We sat under a preacher who magnified His excellencies, we heard men and women singing “Thou O Christ art all I want, more than all in Thee I find,” and we were impressed by the testimonies of God’s saints as they bore witness to that Friend who sticketh closer than a brother. As we listened, our hearts yearned for a similar experience, but as yet we had no personal acquaintance with Him. When one day, perhaps we were waiting on the ministry of one of God’s servants, or maybe we were alone in our room reading a portion of the Scriptures, or perhaps down on our knees crying to God to reveal His Son to us, or possibly, we were attending to the daily round of duty, when suddenly He who until then had been only a name, was revealed to us by God as a living reality. Then we could say with one of old, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee” (Job 42:5).

And what is the consequence of such an experience? Ah! now the soul has been awakened, it feels some action is demanded of it. Such an one can no longer sit and listen to descriptions of Christ—he must rise and seek Him on his own account. Individual acquaintance with this unique and Divine Person is now desired above everything. The one thus awakened now seeks the Lord with all his heart. Thus it was with these two disciples of John. As they heard their master say “Behold the lamb of God,” we read, “they followed Jesus” (verse 37).

“Then Jesus turned and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye?” (John 1:38). No sincere soul seeks or follows after Christ in vain. “Seek and ye shall find” is His own blessed promise. Accordingly, we find the Savior turning to and addressing these enquiring souls. “What seek ye?” He says to them. At first sight this question strikes us as strange. Some, perhaps, have regarded it as almost a rebuff; yet it cannot be that. Personally, we look upon these words of our Lord as designed to test the motive of these two men, and to help them understand their own purpose. There are a great variety of motives and influences which make people become the outward and professed followers of Christ. In the days of which our passage treats, many soon “followed” Christ because the crowd streamed after Him and carried them along with it. Many “followed” Him for what they could get—the loaves and fishes, or the curing of their ailments and the healing of their loved ones. For a time many “followed” Him, doubtless, because it was the popular and respectable thing to do. But a few “followed” because they felt their deep need of Him, and were attracted by the perfections of His Person.

So it was then, and so it is now. Christ desired to be followed intelligently or not at all—that is, He will not accept formal or superstitious worship. What He wants is the heart—the heart that seeks Him for Himself! Hence the heart-searching question was put to these two men, “What seek ye?” What, dear reader, would be your answer to such a question? What seekest thou? The true answer to this question reveals your spiritual state. Let no one suppose he is not seeking anything. Such were an impossibility. Every heart has its object. If your heart is not set upon Christ Himself, it is set upon something which is not Christ. “What seek ye?” Is it gold, fame, ease and comfort, pleasure, or—what? On what is your heart set? Is it an increased knowledge of Christ, a more intimate acquaintance with Him, a closer walk with Him? Can you say, in measure at least, “As the heart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God” (Ps. 42:1)!

It is beautiful to notice the reply made by these two earnest souls. “Master,” they said, “Where dwellest thou?” (John 1:38). It seems strange that their answer to the Lord’s query has puzzled so many who have pondered it. Most of the commentators have quite missed the point of these words and failed to see any direct connection between the question put by the Savior and the reply He received. “Where dwellest thou?” Let us emphasize each word separately.

Where dwellest thou?” How pathetic and tragic! What a question to ask the Son of God! How it brought out His humiliation! There was no need to ask where Caiaphas or Pilate dwelt, for everybody knew. But who among men cared to know, or could have told these two men if asked, where Christ dwelt?

“Where dwellest thou?” This was no question of mere idle curiosity. It showed that they longed to be with Him. What they desired was fellowship, as would have been made more evident if the translators had rendered it “Where abidest thou?” for “abiding” ever has reference to communion.

“Where dwellest thou?” they asked, in answer to “What seek ye?” It was not a “what” but a “whom” that their hearts were set upon. It was not a blessing, but the Blesser Himself that their spirits sought.

Unspeakably blessed it is to listen to the Savior’s response to the request made by these two inquiring souls: “He saith unto them, Come and see” (John 1:39). Ah, He knew their desires. He had read their hearts. He discerned that they sought His presence, His person, His fellowship. And He never disappoints such longings. “Come” is His gracious invitation. “Come” was a word which assured them of His welcome. “Come” is what He still says to all who labor and are heavy laden.

“And see” or “look:” this was, we believe, a further word to test them. When Christ conducted these two men to His dwelling place, would a brief visit suffice them? No, indeed. Mark the remainder of the verse, “they came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day: for it was about the tenth hour.” So fully had He won their confidence, so completely had He attracted their hearts to Himself, that though this was the first day of meeting with the Savior, they abode with Him. Yes, they “abode” with Him. This is the word which uniformly speaks of spiritual fellowship. They abode with Him that day; for it was about the tenth hour; that is 4 P.M. We doubt not they remained with Him that night, but this is not expressly stated, and why? Ah, the Holy Spirit would not say they abode with Him “that night,” for there is no night in His presence! Notice, too, the name of the place where He dwelt is not given. They “abode with him,” where this is we are not told: He was but a stranger here, and those who follow Him must be strangers too. “They abode with him.” How blessed! His abiding place was theirs too. And so shall it be for all believers throughout eternity. Has He not said, “I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:3)? “One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messiah, which is, being interpreted, the Christ” (John 1:40, 41).

How this tells of the satisfaction which these two disciples had found in Christ! They wished to share with others their newborn joy! Andrew now sought out his brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Christ.” That it is here said “He first findeth his own brother,” implies that John (who ever seeks to hide himself, never once mentioning himself by name) did the same with his brother, James, a little later. This is the happy privilege of every young believer—to tell others of the Savior he has found. For this no college training is required, and no authority from any church need be sought. Not that we despise either of these, but all that is needed to tell a perishing sinner of the Savior is a heart acquaintance with Him yourself. It was not that Andrew went forth as a preacher, for that work he needed training, training by Christ Himself. But he set out to bear simple yet earnest witness of the Savior he had found. The one whom he sought was his own brother, and this illustrates the fact that our personal responsibility begins with those nearest to us. Witness should first be borne in our own family circle.

“And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, He said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona (or, perhaps better, ‘the son of John’): thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone” (John 1:42). Here we find the Lord giving Simon a blessed promise, the force of which must be sought in what he was by nature. By natural temperament Simon was fiery and impetuous, rash and unstable. What would such a man’s thoughts be, when he first heard Andrew? When he learned that Christ was here, and received invitation to go to Him, when he knew that the Master was seeking loyal and devoted servants, would he not say, That is all right for steady, reliable Andrew, but not for such as me? Would he not say, Why, I would be a stumblingblock to the cause of Christ: my impetuous temper and hasty tongue will only hinder, not help? If such thoughts passed through his mind, as we think most likely, then how these words of Christ which now fell on his ears must have reassured his heart: “When Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of John.” Thus the Lord showed that He was already thoroughly acquainted with Simon. But, He adds, “Thou shalt be called, A stone.” “Cephas” was Aramaic, and signifies “a rock.” “Petros” is the Greek and signifies “a stone.” Peter is the English form of both Cephas and Petros. How blessed, then, was this promise of our Lord! “Thou art Simon” (his natural name), vacillating and unstable. Yes, I know all about you, “But thou shalt be called Cephas” (his new name), “a rock,” fixed and stable. Christ, thus, promised to undertake for him. What a blessed fulfillment did this promise receive after the Savior’s resurrection!

We believe, though, there is a deeper meaning in this verse, and one which has a wider application, an application to all believers. In these verses which treat of the third “day,” we have that which belongs, strictly, to the Christian dispensation. Peter must be viewed as a representative character. Thus viewed, everything turns upon the meaning of the proper nouns here. Simon means “hearing.” Son of Jona is, correctly rendered we believe, in the R.V. “son of John,” and John signifies “God’s gift.” We become Christians by hearing God’s Word (Rom. 10:17), and this spiritual hearing is God’s gift, and every believer becomes a stone; comp. “Ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house” (1 Pet. 2:5).

“The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me” (John 1:43). How precious is this! What a lovely illustration of His own declaration “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). How it shows us the Good Shepherd going after this lone sheep of His! What we read of here is equally true of every case of genuine conversion. Whether the Lord uses a human instrument or not, it is Christ Himself who seeks out and finds each one who, subsequently, becomes His follower. Our seeking of Him is only the reflex action of His first seeking us, just as we love Him because He first loved us.

“Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:44, 45). Here, again, we see the effect that Christ’s revelation of Himself has upon the newly born soul. The young believer partakes of the spirit of the One in whom he has believed. The compassion of the Savior for the lost now fills his heart. There is a going out of his affections toward the perishing. He cannot remain silent or indifferent. He must tell others of the Savior he has found, or rather, of the Savior who has found him.

“And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). The one who seeks to win souls must expect to be met with objections. Many a sinner is hiding behind queries and quibbles. How then shall we meet them. Learn from Philip. All that he said to Nathanael in reply to his question, was, “Come and see.” He invited his brother to come and put Christ to the test for himself. This is the wise way: do not be turned aside by the objections of the one to whom you are speaking, but continue to press upon him the claims of Christ, and then trust God to bless His own Word, in His own good time.

“Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed in whom is no guile” (John 1:47). Nathanael was honest and open. His question to Philip was no mere evasion, or hypocritical quibble; rather was it the voicing of a genuine difficulty. This must not be forgotten in our dealings with different souls. We must not conclude that all questions put to us are asked in a carping spirit. There are some people, many Perhaps, who have real difficulties. What they need is light, and in order to obtain this they need to come to Christ. So in every case we cannot err if we present Christ and His claims upon each soul we meet. Nathanael was an “Israelite, indeed, in whom was no guile.” We take it, he illustrates in his person one of the qualifications for becoming a good-ground hearer of the Word, namely, to receive that Word into “an honest and good heart.”

“Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee” (John 1:48). How this incident evidences the Deity of Christ! It displayed His omniscience. Christ saw Nathanael, and read his heart, before he came to Him. And, dear reader, He sees and reads each of us, too. Nothing can be hid from His all-seeing eye. No guise of hypocrisy can deceive Him.

“Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the king of Israel” (John 1:49). This was sure evidence that a Divine work had been wrought in Nathanael’s soul. The eyes of his understanding were opened to behold the Divine glory of the Savior. And promptly does he confess Him as “the Son of God.” 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 (John 1:34); Second, Nathanael (John 1:49); Third, Peter (John 6:69); Fourth, the Lord Himself (John 10:36); Fifth, Martha (John 11:27); Sixth, Thomas (John 20:28); Seventh, the writer of this Gospel (John 20:31).

“Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these. And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see the heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man” (John 1:50, 51). Nathanael had been deeply impressed by what he had just witnessed, namely, this manifestation of Christ’s omniscience. But, says the Lord, he should yet see greater things. Yea, the time should come when he should behold an open heaven, and the earth directly connected with it. He should see that to which in the far past, the dream and vision of Jacob had pointed: that which should be the antitype of the ladder which linked earth to heaven, was Christ Himself, and Nathanael with all believers, will see “the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”

It only remains for us to point out that here in the last half of John 1 we have three very remarkable typical pictures, treating of three distinct Dispensations. The first is found in John 1:19–28. The second begins at John 1:29—“The next day”—and ends at John 1:34. The third begins at John 1:35—“Again the next day”—and ends at John 1:42.

I.    In John 1:19–28 we have a typical picture of the Old Testament Dispensation.

1.   Note the mention of the “priests and Levites” (verse 19), as representing the whole Levitical economy.

2.   Note that “Jerusalem” is referred to here in this section (verse 19), but in none of the others.

3.   Note how Israel’s spiritual state during Old Testament times is here pictured by the ignorance and lack of discernment of the Jews (verse 19).

4.   Note the reference here to “Elijah,” and “that Prophet” who was to be like unto Moses (verse 21).

5.   Note that John is here seen in the wilderness (verse 23), symbolical of Israel’s spiritual barrenness up to the time of Christ’s appearing.

6.   Note how accurately John’s words, “there standeth one among you, whom ye know not” (verse 26), depicted Israel’s blindness to the presence of Jehovah in their midst all through the Old Testament era.

7.   Note that John bears witness to One who was to come “after” him (verse 27): such was the witness borne to Christ during Old Testament times.

II.   In John 1:29–34 we have a typical picture of the Messianic Dispensation (embracing the period of Christ’s public ministry on earth) intimated here by the words “The next day” (verse 29).

1.   Note “John seeth Jesus coming unto him” (verse 29): this gives the historic beginning of that dispensation, for “the law and the prophets were until John” (Luke 16:16).

2.   John proclaims Christ as “the lamb of God” (verse 29): it was to offer Himself in sacrifice that He had come here.

3.   “After me” (verse 30); that is, after John the Baptist, who rely resented in his own person the terminal of the Old Testament dispensation.

4.   “And I knew him not” (verse 31): this represents the ignorance of the Jews when Christ appeared.

5.   “He shall be made manifest to Israel” (verse 31): cf. Matthew 15:24, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

6.   “The Spirit … abode upon him” (verse 32), and upon no others during that dispensation.

7.   “This is the Son of God” (verse 34): it was as such Israel rejected Him.

III.  In John 1:35–43 we have a typical picture of the Christian Dispensation, intimated by “Again the next day” (verse 35);

1.   “The next day after, John stood” (verse 35): the end of John’s activities were now reached: cf. verse 39 “the tenth hour”—the full measure of Israel’s responsibility (cf, the ten commandments) was now reached.

2.   There is here a turning away from Judaism, represented by John, and a following of the Lord Jesus (verses 35–37): note Jesus “walked”—this was in contrast from John “stood.”

3.   It is as “the Lamb of God” Christians first know Christ (verse 36).

4.   “They followed Jesus” (verse 37): this is what the Christian walk is,—“He has left us an example that we should follow his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21).

5.   Believers now abide with Christ (verse 39): that is, they enjoy communion with Him, meanwhile hidden from the world.

6.   Christianity is to be propagated by the personal efforts of individual believers (verses 40, 41).

7. Unto Simon Christ said, “Thou shalt be called a stone” (verse 42): it is as “living stones” that believers of this dispensation are “built up a spiritual house” (1 Pet. 2:5), which is “a habitation of God through the Spirit” (Eph. 2:22).

The following questions are given to be studied so as to prepare the reader for our next chapter on John 2:1–11:—

1.   “And the third day” (John 2:1)—after what? And why mention which “day?”

2.   Why is a marriage scene introduced at this point?

3.   Why is the “mother” of Jesus so prominent?

4.   What is signified by the two statements made by the Lord to His mother in John 2:4?

5.   What is the typical significance of the “six waterpots of stone” (John 2:6)?

6.   Of what is “wine” (John 2:10), the emblem?

7.   What are the central lessons to be learned from this first miracle of Christ?[1]

 

 

[1] Pink, A. W. (1923–1945). Exposition of the Gospel of John (pp. 62–76). Swengel, PA: Bible Truth Depot. (Public Domain)

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Exposition of John Chapter 4 - Christ's Forerunner - John 1:19-34

Chapter Four

Christ’s Forerunner

John 1:19–34

Following our usual custom, we begin by submitting an Analysis of the passage which is to be before us. In it we have:—

1.   The Jews’ inquiry of John, and his answers, John 1:19–26,

(1)  “Who art thou?” Not the Christ: 19, 20.

(2)  “Art thou Elijah?” No: 21.

(3)  “Art thou that prophet?” No: 21.

(4)  “What sayest thou of thyself?” A “voice:” 22, 23.

(5)  “Why baptizeth thou?” To prepare the way for Christ: 24–26.

2.   John’s witness concerning Christ: John 1:27.

3.   Location of the Conference, John 1:28.

4.   John proclaims Christ as God’s “Lamb,” John 1:29.

5.   The purpose of John’s baptism, John 1:30–31.

6.   John tells of the Spirit descending on Christ at His baptism, and foretells that Christ shall baptize with the Spirit, John 1:32, 33.

7.   John owns Christ’s Deity, John 1:34.

Even a hurried reading of these verses will make it evident that the personage which stands out most conspicuously in them is John the Baptist. Moreover, we do not have to study this passage very closely to discover that, the person and the witness of the Lord’s forerunner are brought before us here in a manner entirely different from what we find in the first three Gospels. No hint is given that his raiment was “of camel’s hair,” that he had “a leathern girdle about his loins,” or that “his meat was locusts and wild honey.” Nothing is recorded of his stern Call to Repentance, nor is anything said of his announcement that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” These things were foreign to the design of the Holy Spirit in this fourth Gospel. Again; instead of referring to the Lord Jesus as the One “whose fan is in his hand,” and of the One who “will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into his garner, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12), he points to Him as “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.” And this is most significant and blessed to those who have been divinely taught to rightly divide the Word of Truth.

Without doubt John the Baptist is, in several respects, one of the most remarkable characters that is brought before us in the Bible. He was the subject of Old Testament prophecy (Isa. 40); his birth was due to the direct and miraculous intervention of God (Luke 1:7, 13); he was “filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15); he was a man sent from God” (John 1:6); he was sent to prepare the way of the Lord (Matthew 3:3). Of him the Lord said, “Among them that are born of women there has not risen a greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11); the reference being to his positional “greatness,” as the forerunner of the Messiah: to him was accorded the high honor of baptizing the Lord Jesus. That Christ was referring to the positional “greatness” of John is clear from His next words, “notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” To have a place in the kingdom of heaven will be a more exalted position than to be heralding the King outside of it, as John was. This, we take it is the key to that word in John 14:28, where we find the Lord Jesus saying, “My Father is greater than I”—greater not in His person, but in His position; for, at the time the Savior uttered those words He was in the place of subjection, as God’s “Servant.”

Our passage opens by telling of a deputation of priests and Levites being sent from Jerusalem to enquire of John as to who he was: “And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?” (John 1:19). Nothing like this is found in the other Gospels, but it is in striking accord with the character and scope of the fourth Gospel, which deals with spiritual rather than dispensational relationships. The incident before us brings out the spiritual ignorance of the religious leaders among the Jews. In fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, the Lord’s forerunner had appeared in the wilderness, but, lacking in spiritual discernment, the leaders in Jerusalem knew not who he was. Accordingly, their messengers came and enquired of John, “Who art thou?” Multitudes of people were flocking to this strange preacher in the wilderness, and many had been baptized by him. A great stir had been made, so much so that “men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were Christ, or not” (Luke 3:15), and the religious leaders in Jerusalem were compelled to take note of it; therefore, did they send a deputation to wait upon John, to find out who he really was, and to enquire into his credentials.

“And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ” (John 1:20). These words give plain intimation of the Spirit in which the priests and Levites must have approached John, as also of the design of “the Jews” who had sent them. To them the Baptist was an interloper. He was outside the religious systems of that day. He had not been trained in the schools of the Rabbins, he had held no position of honor in the temple ministrations, and he was not identified with either the Pharisees, the Sadducees, or the Herodians. From whence then had he received his authority? Who had commissioned him to go forth bidding men to “Repent.” By what right did he baptize people? One can imagine the tone in which they said to John, “Who art thou?” No doubt they expected to intimidate him. This seems clear from the fact that we are here told, “and he confessed, and denied not.” He boldly stood his ground. Neither the dignity of those who had sent this embassy to John, nor their threatening frowns, moved him at all. “He confessed, and denied not.” May like courage be found in us when we are challenged with an “Who art thou?”

“But confessed, I am not the Christ.” Having taken the firm stand he had, did Satan now tempt him to go to the other extreme? Failing to intimidate him, did the enemy now seek to make him boastfully exaggerate? Christ had not then been openly manifested: John was the one before the public eye, as we read in Mark 1:5, “And there went out unto him all the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan” (Mark 1:5). Now that the multitudes were flocking to him, and many had become his disciples (cf. John 1:35), why not announce that he was the Messiah himself! But he instantly banished such wicked and presumptuous thoughts, if such were presented by Satan to his mind, as most likely they were, or, why tell us that he “confessed I am not the Christ?” May God deliver us from the evil spirit of boasting, and keep us from ever claiming to be anything more than what we really are—sinners saved by grace.

“And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elijah? And he saith, I am not” (John 1:21). Why should they have asked John if he were Elijah? The answer is, Because there was a general expectation among the Jews at that time that Elijah would again appear on earth. That this was so, is dear from a number of passages in the Gospels. For instance, when the Lord asked His disciples, “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” they answered, “Some say that thou art John the Baptist (who had been slain in the interval), some Elijah, and others Jeremiah, or one of the prophets” (Matthew 16:13, 14). Again; as the Lord Jesus and His disciples came down from the Mount of Transfiguration, He said unto them, “Tell the vision to no man until the Son of man be raised from the dead.” Then, we read, “His disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elijah must first come?” (Matthew 17:9, 10). The expectation of the Jews had a scriptural foundation, for the last verses of the Old Testament say, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (Mal. 4:5, 6). This prophecy has reference to the return to earth of Elijah, to perform a ministry just before the second advent of Christ, similar in character to that of John the Baptist before the first public appearing of Christ.

When asked, “Art thou Elijah?” John replied, emphatically, “I am not.” John had much in common with the Tishbite, and his work was very similar in character to the yet future work of Elijah; nevertheless, he was not Elijah himself. He went before Christ “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17), bemuse he came “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Next, John’s interrogators asked him, “Art thou that prophet?” (John 1:21). What “prophet?” we may well enquire. And the answer is, The “prophet” predicted through Moses. The prediction is recorded in Deuteronomy 18:15, 18: “The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken … I will raise them up a prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.” This was one of the many Messianic prophecies given in the Old Testament times, which received its fulfillment in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Art thou that prophet?” John was asked; and, again, he answered, “No.”

“Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?” (John 1:22). Searching questions were these—“Who art thou?”; “what sayest thou of thyself?” John might have answered, and answered truthfully, “I am the son of Zacharias the priest. I am one who has been filled with the Holy Spirit from my birth.” Or, he might have replied, “I am the most remarkable character ever raised up by God and sent unto Israel.” “What sayest thou of thyself?” Ah! that was indeed a searching question, and both writer and reader may well learn a lesson from John’s reply, and seek grace to emulate his lovely modesty—a lesson much needed in these days of Laodicean boasting.

“He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Isaiah” (John 1:23). Here was John’s answer. “What sayest thou of thyself?” “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness,” he said. Becoming humility was this. Humility is of great price in the sight of God, and has had a prominent place in the men whom He has used. Paul, the greatest of the apostles, confessed himself “less than the least of all saints” (Eph. 3:8). And John here confesses much the same thing, when he referred to himself as “the voice of one crying in the wilderness.” Reader, what reply would you make to such a query—“What sayest thou of thyself?” Surely you would not answer, “I am an eminent saint of God: I am living on a very exalted plane of spirituality: I am one who has been much used of God.” Such self-exaltation would show you had learned little from Him who was “meek and lowly in heart,” and would evidence a spirit far from that which should cause us to own that, after all, we are only “unprofitable servants” (Luke 17:10).

When John referred to himself as “the voice,” he employed the very term which the Holy Spirit had used of him seven hundred years previously, when speaking through Isaiah the prophet—“The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isa. 40:3). And we cannot but believe this appellation was selected with Divine discrimination. In a former chapter, when commenting upon the titles of the Lord Jesus, found in John 1:7—“The light”—we called attention to the fact that Christ referred to His forerunner (in evident contrast from Himself as “the light”) as “the lamp that burneth and shineth” (John 5:35, R.V.). And so here, we are satisfied that another contrast is pointed. Christ is “the Word;” John was but “the voice.” What, then, are the thoughts suggested by this figurative title?

In the first place, the word exists (in the mind) before the voice articulates it. Such was the relation between Christ and His forerunner. It is true that John was the first to appear before the public eye; yet, as the “Word,” Christ had existed from all eternity. Second, the voice is simply the vehicle or medium by which the word is expressed or made known. Such was John. The object of his mission and the purpose of his ministry was to bear witness to “the Word.” Again, the voice is simply heard but not seen. John was not seeking to display himself. His work was to get men to listen to his God-given message in order that they might behold “the Lamb.” May the Lord today make more of His servants John-like; just “voices,” heard but not seen! Finally, we may add, that the word endures after the voice is silent. The voice of John has long since been stilled by death, but “the Word” abideth forever. Appropriately, then, was the one who introduced the Messiah to Israel, termed the “voice.” What wonderful depths there are in the Scriptures! How much is contained in a single word! And how this calls for prolonged meditation and humble prayer!

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness.” What a position for the Messiah’s forerunner to occupy! Surely his place was in Jerusalem. Why then did not John cry in the temple? Why, because Jehovah was no more there in the temple. Judaism was but a hollow shell: outward form there was, but no life within. It was to a nation of legalists, Pharisee ridden, who neither manifested Abraham’s faith nor produced his works, that John came. God would not own the self-righteous formalism of the Jews. Therefore, the one “sent of God” appeared outside the religious systems and circles of that day. But why did John preach “in the wilderness?” Because the “wilderness” symbolized the spiritual barrenness of the Jewish nation. John could only mourn over that which was not of God, and everything about him was in keeping with this: his food was that which he found in the wilderness, and his prophet’s garment testified to the failure that was evident on every hand.

“And they which were sent were of the Pharisees. And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?” (John 1:24, 25). This final question put to John by the embassy from Jerusalem confirms what we have said upon verse 20. The religious leaders among the Jews were disputing John’s right to preach, and challenging his authority to baptize. He had received no commission from the Sanhedrin, hence “why baptizest thou?” John does not appear to have answered the last question directly, instead, he turns to them and speaks of Christ.

“John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not” (John 1:26). John continued to stand his ground: he would not deny that he baptized with water, or more correctly, in water, but he sought to get them occupied with something of greater importance than a symbolical rite. There is much to be learned from John’s answer here. These men were raising questions about baptism, while as yet they were utter strangers to Christ Himself—how like many today! Of what use was it to discuss with these Pharisee—commissioned “priests and Levites” the “why” of baptism, when they were yet in their sins? Well would it be for the Lord’s servants and those engaged in personal work for Christ, to carefully heed what is before us here. People are willing to argue about side issues, while the vital and central Issue remains undecided! And only too often the Christian worker follows them into “By-path meadow.” What is needed is for us to ignore all irrelevant quibbles, and press upon the lost the claims of Christ and their need of accepting Him as their Lord and Savior.

“There standeth one among you, whom ye know not.” How this exposed Israel’s2 condition! How this revealed their spiritual ignorance! And how tragically true, in principle, is this today. Even in this so-called Christian land, while many have heard about Christ, yet in how many circles, yes, and in religious circles too, we may say, “there standeth one among you, whom ye know not!” O the spiritual blindness of the natural man. Christ, by His Spirit, stands in the midst of many a congregation, unseen and unknown.

“He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose” (John 1:27). What a noble testimony was this! How these words of John bring out the Divine glory of the One he heralded! Remember who he was. No ordinary man was John the Baptist. The subject of Old Testament prophecy, the son of a priest, born as the result of the direct intervention of God’s power, filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb, engaged in a ministry which drew great multitudes unto him, and yet he looked up to Christ as standing on a plane infinitely higher than the one he occupied, as a Being from another world, as One before whom he was not worthy to stoop down and unloose His shoes. He could find no expression strong enough to define the difference which separated him from the One who was “preferred before” him. Again we say, How these words of John bring out the Divine glory of the One he heralded!

“These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing” (John 1:28). There is, of course, some good reason why the Holy Spirit has been pleased to tell us where this conference took place, whether we are able to discover it or not. Doubtless, the key to its significance is found in the meaning of the proper nouns here recorded. Unfortunately, there is some variation in the spelling of “Bethabara” in the Greek manuscripts; but with Gesenius, the renowned Hebrew scholar, we are firmly inclined to believe this place is identical with “Bethbarah” mentioned in Judges 7:24, and which signifies “House of Passage,” which was so named to memorialize the crossing of the Jordan in the days of Joshua. It was here, then, (apparently) at a place whose name signified “house of passage,” beyond Jordan, the symbol of death, that John was baptizing as the forerunner of Christ. The meaning of this should not be hard to find. The significance of these names correspond closely with the religious position that John himself occupied, and with the character of his mission. Separated as he was from Judaism, those who responded to his call to repent, and were baptized of him confessing their sins, passed out of the apostate Jewish system, and took their place with the little remnant who were “prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17). Well, then, was the place where John was baptizing named “Bethbarah”—House of Passage.

“The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold, the lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). “Behold the lamb of God:” the connection in which these words are found should be carefully noted. It was the day following the meeting between John and the Jerusalem delegation, a meeting which evidently occurred in the presence of others also, for John continues “this is he of whom I said, after me cometh a man which is preferred before me,” which is a word for word reference to what he had said to those who had interrogated him on the previous day—see verse 27; when he had also declared to those priests and Levites “which were sent of the Pharisees” (verse 24), “there standeth one among you, whom ye know not.”

“Behold the lamb of God.” The force of this Call was deeply significant when viewed in the light of its setting. The Pharisees were looking for a “prophet,” and they desired a “king” who should deliver them from the Roman yoke, but they had no yearnings for a Savior-priest. The questions asked of John betrayed the hearts of those who put them. They appeared to be in doubt as to whether or not the Baptist was the long promised Messiah, so they asked him, “Art thou Elijah? Art thou that prophet?” But, be it noted, no enquiry was made as to whether he was the one who should deliver them “from the wrath to come!” One would have naturally expected these priests and Levites to have asked about the sacrifice, but no; apparently they had no sense of sin! It was under these circumstances that the forerunner of Christ announced Him as “the lamb of God,” not as “the word of God,” not as “the Christ of God,” but as THE LAMB. It was the Spirit of God presenting the Lord Jesus to Israel in the very office and character in which they stood in deepest need of Him. They would have welcomed Him on the throne, but they must first accept Him on the altar. And is it any different today? Christ as an Elijah—a Social Reformer—will be tolerated; and Christ as a Prophet, as a Teacher of ethics, will receive respect. But what the world needs first and foremost is the Christ of the Cross, where the Lamb of God offered Himself as a sacrifice for sin.

“Behold the lamb of God.” There before John stood the One whom all the sacrifices of Old Testament times had foreshadowed. It is exceedingly striking to observe the progressive order followed by God in the teaching of Scripture concerning “the lamb.” First, in Genesis 4, we have the Lamb typified in the firstlings of the flock slain by Abel in sacrifice. Second, we have the Lamb prophesied in Genesis 22:8 where Abraham said to Isaac, “God will provide himself a lamb.” Third, in Exodus 12, we have the Lamb slain and its blood applied. Fourth, in Isaiah 53:7, we have the Lamb personified: here for the first time we learn that the Lamb would be a Man. Fifth, in John 1:29, we have the Lamb identified, learning who He was. Sixth, in Revelation 5, we have the Lamb magnified by the hosts of heaven. Seventh, in the last chapter of the Bible we have the Lamb glorified, seated upon the eternal throne of God, Revelation 22:1. Once more; mark the orderly development in the scope of the sacrifices. In Genesis 4 sacrifice is offered for the individual—Abel. In Exodus 12 the sacrifice avails for the whole household. In Leviticus 16, on the annual Day of Atonement, the sacrifice was efficacious for the entire nation. But here in John 1:29 it is “Behold the lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world”—Gentiles are embraced as well as Jews!

“Behold the lamb of God.” What are the thoughts suggested by this title? It points to His moral perfections, His sinlessness, for He was the “lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet. 1:19). It tells of His gentleness, His voluntary offering Himself to God on our behalf—He was “led” (not driven) as “a lamb to the slaughter” (Acts 8:32, R.V.). But, more especially, and particularly, this title of our Lord speaks of sacrifice—He was “the lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world,” and this could only be through death, for “without shedding of blood is no remission.” There was only one way by which sin could be taken away, and that was by death. “Sin” here signifies guilt (condemnation) as in Hebrews 9:26; and “the world” refers to the world of believers, for it is only those who are in Christ for whom there is now “no condemnation” (Rom. 8:1); it is the world of believers, as contrasted from “the world of the ungodly” (2 Pet. 2:5).

“This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me, for he was before me. And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water” (John 1:30, 31). Here for the third time John declares that Christ was “preferred before him”—(see verses 15, 27, 30). It affirmed His pre-existence: it was a witness to His eternality. Then John tells of the purpose of his baptism. It was to make Christ “manifest” to Israel. It was to prepare a people for Him. This people was prepared by them taking the place of sinners before God (Mark 1:5), and that is why John baptized in Jordan, the river of death; for, being baptized in Jordan, they acknowledged that death was their due. In this, John’s baptism differs from Christian baptism. In Christian baptism the believer does not confess that death is his due, but he shows forth the fact that he has already died, died to sin, died with Christ (Rom. 6:3, 4).

“And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him” (John 1:32). This has reference, of course, to the occasion when Christ Himself was baptized of John in the Jordan, when the Father testified to His pleasure, in the Son, and when the Spirit descended upon Him as a dove. It manifested the character of the One on whom He came. The “dove” is the bird of love and sorrow: apt symbol, then, of Christ. The love expressed the sorrow, and the sorrow told out the depths of His love. Thus did the heavenly Dove bear witness to Christ. When the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples on the Day of Pentecost, we read “there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them” (Acts 2:3). “Fire,” uniformly signifies Divine judgment. There was that in the disciples which needed to be judged—the evil nature still remained within them. But, there was nothing in the Holy One of God that needed judging; hence, did the Holy Spirit descend upon Him like a dove!

“And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33). The word “remaining” is rendered “abiding” in the R.V., and this is one of the characteristic words of the fourth Gospel. The other three Gospels all make mention of the Lord Jesus being anointed by the Holy Spirit, but John is the only one that says the Spirit “abode” upon Him. The Holy Spirit did not come upon Him, and then leave again, as with the prophets of old—He “abode” on Christ. This term has to do with the Divine side of things, and speaks of fellowship. We have the same word again in John 14:10, “Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? The words that I say unto you, I speak not from myself, but the Father abiding in me doeth his works” (R.V.). So, in John 15, where the Lord Jesus speaks of the fundamental requirement in spiritual fruit-bearing—fellowship with Himself—He says, “He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit” (John 15:5 R.V.). That Christ shall “baptize with (or ‘in’) the Holy Spirit” was another proof of His Godhood.

“And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God” (John 1:34). Here the witness of John the Baptist to the person of Christ terminates. It is to be noted that the forerunner bore a seven-fold witness to the excellency of the One he heralded. First, he testified to His pre-existence—“He was before me,” verse 15. Second, He testified to His Lordship, verse 23. Third, he testified to His immeasurable superiority—“I am not worthy to unloose” His “shoe’s latchet,” verse 27. Fourth, he testified to His sacrificial work—“Behold the lamb,” verse 29. Fifth, he testified to His moral perfections—“I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him,” verse 32. Sixth, he testified to His Divine right to baptize with the Holy Spirit, verse 33. Seventh, he testified to His Divine Sonship, verse 34.

The questions below concern the passage which we shall expound in the next chapter, namely, John 1:35–51, and to prepare our readers for it we ask them to give these questions their prayerful and careful study:—

1.   Why did Christ ask the two disciples of John, “What seek ye?” John 1:38.

2.   What is signified by their reply, “Where dwellest thou?” John 1:38.

3.   What important practical truth is incorporated in John 1:40, 41?

4.   What blessed truth is illustrated by “findeth” in John 1:43?

5.   What is meant by, “in whom is no guile?” John 1:47.

6.   What attribute of Christ does John 1:48 demonstrate?

7.   To what does Christ refer in John 1:51?[1]

 

 

2 “We must not, however, limit this picture to Israel, for it is equally applicable and pertinent to sinners of the Gentiles too. Israel in the flesh was only a sample of fallen man as such. What we have here is a pointed and solemn delineation of human depravity … its normal application is to the whole of Adam’s fallen race. Let every reader see here a portrait of what he or she is by nature. The picture is not a flattering one we know. No, it is drawn by one who searches the innermost recesses of the human heart, and is presented here to humble us.” (A.W.P.). And so all through.

[1] Pink, A. W. (1923–1945). Exposition of the Gospel of John (pp. 49–61). Swengel, PA: Bible Truth Depot. (Public Domain)

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Exposition of John Chapter 3 - Christ: The Word Incarnate John 1:14-18

Chapter Three

Christ: the Word Incarnate

John 1:14–18

We first submit a brief Analysis of the passage which is to be before us—John 1:14–18. We have here:—

1.   Christ’s Incarnation—“The word became flesh”: John 1:14.

2.   Christ’s Earthly sojourn—“And tabernacled among us:” John 1:14.

3.   Christ’s Essential Glory—“As of the only Begotten:” John 1:14.

4.   Christ’s Supreme excellency—“Preferred before:” John 1:15.

5.   Christ’s Divine sufficiency—“His fullness:” John 1:16.

6.   Christ’s Moral perfections—“Grace and truth:” John 1:17.

7.   Christ’s Wondrous revelation—Made known “the Father:” John 1:18.

“And the word was made (became) flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The Infinite became finite. The Invisible became tangible. The Transcendent became imminent. That which was far off drew nigh. That which was beyond the reach of the human mind became that which could be beholden within the realm of human life. Here we are permitted to see through a veil that, which unveiled, would have blinded us. “The word became flesh:” He became what He was not previously. He did not cease to be God, but He became Man.

“And the word became flesh.” The plain meaning of these words is, that our Divine Savior took upon Him human nature. He became a real Man, yet a sinless, perfect Man. As Man He was “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners” (Heb. 7:26). This union of the two natures in the Person of Christ is one of the mysteries of our faith—“Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16). It needs to be carefully stated. “The word” was His Divine title; “became flesh” speaks of His holy humanity. He was, and is, the God-man, yet the Divine and human in Him were never confounded. His Deity, though veiled, was never laid aside; His humanity, though sinless, was a real humanity; for as incarnate, He “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). As “the word” then, He is the Son of God; as “flesh,” the Son of man.

This union of the two natures in the Person of Christ was necessary in order to fit Him for the office of Mediator. Three great ends were accomplished by God becoming incarnate, by the Word being made flesh. First, it was now possible for Him to die. Second, He can now be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. Third, He has left us an example, that we should follow His steps.

This duality of nature was plainly intimated in Old Testament prediction. Prophecy sometimes represented the coming Messiah as human, sometimes as Divine. He was to be the woman’s “seed” (Gen. 3:15); a “prophet” like unto Moses (see Deuteronomy 18:18); a lineal descendant of David (see 2 Samuel 7:12); Jehovah’s “Servant” (Isa. 42:1); a “Man of sorrows” (Isa. 53:3). Yet, on the other hand, He was to be “the Branch of the Lord, beautiful and glorious” (Isa. 4:2); He was “the wonderful Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Father of the ages, the Prince of peace” (Isa. 9:6). As Jehovah He was to come suddenly to His temple (see Malachi 3:1). The One who was to be born in Bethlehem and be Ruler in Israel, was the One “whose goings forth had been from the days of eternity” (Mic. 5:2). How were those two different sets of prophecy to be harmonized? John 1:14 is the answer. The One born at Bethlehem was the Divine and eternal Word. The Incarnation does not mean that God dwelt in a man, but that God became Man. He became what He was not previously, though He never ceased to be all that He was before. The Babe of Bethlehem was Immanuel—God with us.

“And the word became flesh.” It is the design of John’s Gospel to bring this out in a special way. The miracles recorded therein illustrate and demonstrate this in a peculiar manner. For example: He turns the water into wine—but how? He, Himself, did nothing but speak the word. He gave His command to the servants and the transformation was wrought. Again; the nobleman’s son was sick. The father came to the Lord Jesus and besought Him to journey to his home and heal his boy. What was our Lord’s response? “Jesus said unto him, Go thy way, thy son liveth” (John 4:50), and the miracle was performed. Again; an impotent man was lying by the porch of Bethesda. He desired some one to put him into the pool, but while he was waiting another stepped in before him, and was healed. Then the Lord Jesus passed that way and saw him. What happened? “Jesus saith unto him, Rise,” etc. The word of power went forth, and the sufferer was made whole. Once more: consider the case of Lazarus, recorded only by John. In the raising of the daughter of Jairus, Christ took the damsel by the hand; when He restored to life the widow’s son of Nain, He touched the bier. But in bringing Lazarus from the dead He did nothing except speak the word, “Lazarus, come forth.” In all of these miracles we see the Word at work. The One who had become flesh and tabernacled among men was eternal and omnipotent—“the great God (the Word) and our Savior (became flesh) Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:13).

“And dwelt (tabernacled) among us.” He pitched His tent on earth for thirty-three years. There is here a latent reference to the tabernacle of Israel in the wilderness. That tabernacle had a typical significance: it forshadowed God the Son incarnate. Almost everything about the tabernacle adumbrated the Word made flesh. Many and varied are the correspondences between the type and the Anti-type. We notice a few of the more conspicuous.

1.   The “tabernacle” was a temporary appointment. In this it differed from the temple of Solomon, which was a permanent structure. The tabernacle was merely a tent, a temporary convenience, something that was suited to be moved about from place to place during the journeyings of the children of Israel. So it was when our blessed Lord tabernacled here among men. His stay was but a brief one—less than forty years; and, like the type, He abode not long in any one place, but was constantly on the move—unwearied in the activity of His love.

2.   The “tabernacle” was for use in the wilderness. After Israel settled in Canaan, the tabernacle was superseded by the temple. But during the time of their pilgrimage from Egypt to the promised land, the tabernacle was God’s appointed provision for them. The wilderness strikingly foreshadowed the conditions amid which the eternal Word tabernacled among men at His first advent. The wilderness home of the tabernacle unmistakably foreshadowed the manger-cradle, the Nazarite-carpenter’s bench, the “nowhere” for the Son of man to lay His head, the borrowed tomb for His sepulcher. A careful study of the chronology of the Pentateuch seems to indicate that Israel used the tabernacle in the wilderness rather less than thirty-five years!

3.   Outwardly the “tabernacle” was mean, humble, and unattractive in appearance. Altogether unlike the costly and magnificent temple of Solomon, there was nothing in the externals of the tabernacle to please the carnal eye. Nothing but plain boards and skins. So it was at the Incarnation. The Divine majesty of our Lord was hidden beneath a veil of flesh. He came, unattended by any imposing retinue of angels. To the unbelieving gaze of Israel He had no form nor comeliness; and when they beheld Him, their unanointed eyes saw in Him no beauty that they should desire Him.

4.   The “tabernacle” was God’s dwelling place. It was there, in the midst of Israel’s camp, He took up His abode. There, between the cherubim upon the mercy-seat He made His throne. In the holy of holies He manifested His presence by means of the Shekinah glory. And during the thirty-three years that the Word tabernacled among men, God had His dwelling place in Palestine. The holy of holies received its anti-typical fulfillment in the Person of the Holy One of God. Just as the Shekinah dwelt between the two cherubim, so on the mount of transfiguration the glory of the God-man flashed forth from between two men—Moses and Elijah. “We beheld his glory” is the language of the tabernacle type.

5.   The “tabernacle” was, therefore, the place where God met with men. It was termed “the tent of meeting.” If an Israelite desired to draw near unto Jehovah He had to come to the door of the tabernacle. When giving instructions to Moses concerning the making of the tabernacle and its furniture, God said, “And thou shalt put the mercy seat above upon the ark; and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give thee. And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee” (Ex. 25:21, 22). How perfect is this lovely type! Christ is the meeting place between God and men. No man cometh unto the Father but by Him (see John 14:16). There is but one Mediator between God and men—the Man Christ Jesus (see 1 Timothy 2:5). He is the One who spans the gulf between deity and humanity, because He is Himself both God and Man.

6.   The “tabernacle” was the center of Israel’s camp. In the immediate vicinity of the tabernacle dwelt the Levites, the priestly tribe: “But thou shalt appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of testimony, and over all the vessels thereof, and over all things that belong to it: and they shall minister unto it, and shall encamp round about the tabernacle” (Num. 1:50), and around the Levites were grouped the twelve tribes, three on either side—see Numbers 2. Again; we read, that when Israel’s camp was to be moved from one place to another, “Then the tabernacle of the congregation shall set forward with the camp of the Levites in the midst of the camp” (Num. 2:17). And, once more, “And Moses went out, and told the people the words of the Lord, and gathered the seventy men of the elders of the people, and set them round about the tabernacle. And the Lord came down in a cloud and spake unto him” (Num. 11:24, 25). How striking is this! The tabernacle was the great gathering center. As such it was a beautiful foreshadowing of the Lord Jesus. He is our great gathering-center. And His precious promise is, that “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).

7.   The “tabernacle” was the place where the Law was preserved. The first two tables of stone, on which Jehovah had inscribed the ten commandments were broken (see Exodus 32:19); but the second set were deposited in the ark in the tabernacle for safe keeping (see Deuteronomy 10:2–5). It was only there, within the holy of holies, the tablets of the Law were preserved intact. How this, again, speaks to us of Christ! He it was that said, “Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me; I delight to do thy will, O my God; yea, thy law is within my heart” (Ps. 40:7, 8). Throughout His perfect life He preserved in thought, word and deed, the Divine Decalogue, honoring and magnifying God’s Law.

8.   The “tabernacle” was the place where sacrifice was made. In its outer court stood the brazen altar, to which the animals were brought, and on which they were slain. There it was that blood was shed and atonement was made for sin. So it was with the Lord Jesus. He fulfilled in His own Person the typical significance of the brazen altar, as of every piece of the tabernacle furniture. The body in which He tabernacled on earth was nailed to the cruel Tree. The Cross was the altar upon which God’s Lamb was slain, where His precious blood was shed, and where complete atonement was made for sin.

9.   The “tabernacle” was the place where the priestly family was fed. “And the remainder thereof shall Aaron and his sons eat: with unleavened bread shall it be eaten in the holy place; in the court of the tabernacle of the congregation they shall eat it … The priest that offereth it for sin shall eat it: in the holy place shall it be eaten” (Lev. 6:16, 26). How deeply significant are these scriptures in their typical import! And how they speak to us of Christ as the Food of God’s priestly family today, that is, all believers (see 1 Peter 2:5). He is the Bread of Life. He is the One upon whom our souls delight to feed.

10. The “tabernacle” was the place of worship. To it the pious Israelite brought his offerings. To it he turned when he desired to worship Jehovah. From its door the Voice of the Lord was heard. Within its courts the priests ministered in their sacred service. And so it was with the Anti-type. It is “by him” we are to offer unto God a sacrifice of praise (see Hebrews 13:15). It is in Him, and by Him, alone, that we can worship the Father. It is through Him we have access to the throne of grace.

Thus we see how fully and how perfectly the tabernacle of old foreshadowed the Person of our blessed Lord, and why the Holy Spirit, when announcing the Incarnation, said, “And the word became flesh, and tabernacled among us.” Before passing on to the next clause of John 1:14, it should be pointed out that there is a series of striking contrasts between the wilderness tabernacle and Solomon’s temple in their respective foreshadowings of Christ.

(1) The tabernacle foreshadowed Christ in His first advent; the temple looks forward to Christ at His second advent.

(2) The tabernacle was first, historically; the temple was not built until long afterwards.

(3) The tabernacle was but a temporary erection; the temple was a permanent structure.

(4) The tabernacle was erected by Moses the prophet (which was the office Christ filled during His first advent); the temple was built by Solomon the king (which is the office Christ will fill at His second advent).

(5) The tabernacle was used in the wilderness—speaking of Christ’s humiliation; the temple was built in Jerusalem, the “city of the great King” (Matthew 5:35)—speaking of Christ’s future glorification.

(6) The numeral which figured most prominently in the tabernacle was five, which speaks of grace, and grace was what characterized the earthly ministry of Christ at His first advent; but the leading numeral in the temple was twelve which speaks of government, for Christ shall rule and reign as King of kings and Lord of lords.

(7) The tabernacle was unattractive in its externals—so when Christ was here before He was as “a root out of a dry ground;” but the temple was renowned for its outward magnificence—so Christ when He returns shall come in power and great glory.

And we beheld his glory.” “We beheld” refers, directly, to the first disciples, yet it is the blessed experience of all believers today. “But we all … beholding, as in a glass (mirror) the glory of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18). The term used in both of these verses seems to point a contrast. In John 12:41 we read, “These things said Isaiah, when he saw his glory, and spake of him,” the reference being to Isaiah 6. The Old Testament celebrities only had occasional and passing glimpses of God’s glory. But, in contrast from these who only “saw,” we—believers of this dispensation—“behold his glory.” But more particularly, there is a contrast here between the beholding and the non-beholding of God’s glory: the Shekinah glory abode in the holy of holies, and therefore, was hidden. But we, now, “behold” the Divine glory.

“We beheld his glory.” What is meant by this? Ah! who is competent to answer. Eternity itself will be too short to exhaustively explore this theme. The glories of our Lord are infinite, for in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. No subject ought to be dearer to the heart of a believer. Briefly defined, “We beheld his glory” signifies His supreme excellency, His personal perfections. For the purpose of general classification we may say the “glories” of our Savior are fourfold, each of which is capable of being subdivided indefinitely. First, there are His essential “glories,” as the Son of God; these are His Divine perfections, as for example, His Omnipotence. Second, there are His moral “glories,” and these are His human perfections, as for example, His meekness. Third, there are His official “glories,” and these are His mediatorial perfections, as for example, His priesthood. Fourth, there are His acquired “glories,” and these are the reward for what He has done. Probably the first three of these are spoken of in our text.

First, “We beheld his glory” refers to His essential “glory,” or Divine perfections. This is clear from the words which follow: “The glory as of the only begotten of the Father.” From the beginning to the end of His earthly life and ministry the Deity of the Lord Jesus was plainly evidenced. His supernatural birth, His personal excellencies, His matchless teaching, His wondrous miracles, His death and resurrection, all proclaimed Him as the Son of God. But it is to be noted that these words, “we beheld his glory,” follow immediately after the words “tabernacled” among men. We cannot but believe there is here a further reference to the tabernacle. In the tabernacle, in the holy of holies, Jehovah made His throne upon the mercy seat, and the evidence of His presence there was the Shekinah glory, frequently termed “the cloud.” When the tabernacle had been completed, and Jehovah took possession of it, we read, “then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Ex. 40:34). It was the same at the completion of Solomon’s temple: “The cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:10, 11). Here “the cloud” and “the glory” are clearly identified. The Shekinah glory, then, was the standing sign of God’s presence in the midst of Israel. Hence, after Israel’s apostasy, and when the Lord was turning away from them, we are told, “And the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city” (Ezek. 11:23). Therefore, when we read, “The Word … tabernacled among men, and we beheld his glory” it was the proof that none other than Jehovah was again in Israel’s midst. And it is a remarkable fact, to which we have never seen attention called, that at either extremity of the Word’s tabernacling among men the Shekinah glory was evidenced. Immediately following His birth we are told, “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid” (Luke 2:8, 9). And, at His departure from this world, we read “And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9)—not “clouds,” but “a cloud! We beheld his glory,” then, refers, first, to His Divine glory.

Second, there also seems to be a reference here to His official “glory,” which was exhibited upon the Holy Mount. In 2 Peter 1:16 we read, “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” The reference is to the Transfiguration, for the next verse goes on to say, “For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” It is the use of the word “glory” here which seems to link the transfiguration-scene with John 1:14. This is confirmed by the fact that on the Mount, “while he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them” (Matthew 17:5).

Third, there is also a clear reference in John 1:14 to the moral “glory” or perfections of the God-Man, for after saying “we beheld his glory,” John immediately adds (omitting the parenthesis) “full of grace and truth.” What marvelous grace we behold in that wondrous descent from heaven’s throne to Bethlehem’s manger! It had been an act of infinite condescension if the One who was the Object of angelic worship had deigned to come down to this earth and reign over it as King; but that He should appear in weakness, that He should voluntarily choose poverty, that He should become a helpless Babe—such grace is altogether beyond our ken; such matchless love passeth knowledge. O that we may never lose our sense of wonderment at the infinite condescension of God’s Son.

In His marvelous stoop we behold His glory. Greatness is never so glorious as when it takes the place of lowliness. Power is never so attractive as when it is placed at the disposal of others. Might is never so triumphant as when it sets aside its own prerogatives. Sovereignty is never so winsome as when it is seen in the place of service. And, may we not say it reverently, Deity had never appeared so glorious as when It hung upon a maiden’s breast! Yes, we behold His glory—the glory of an infinite condescension, the glory of a matchless grace, the glory of a fathomless love.

Concerning the acquired “glories” of our Lord we cannot now treat at length. These include the various rewards bestowed upon Him by the Father after the successful completion of the work which had been committed into His hands. It is of these acquired glories Isaiah speaks, when, after treating of the voluntary humiliation and death of the Savior, he gives us to hear the Father saying of Christ, “Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death” (Isa. 53:12). It is of these acquired glories the Holy Spirit speaks in Philippians 2, where after telling of our Lord’s obedience even unto the death of the Cross, He declares, “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name” (Phil. 2:9). And so we might continue. But how unspeakably blessed to know, that at the close of our great High Priest’s prayer, recorded in John 17, we find Him saying, “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me” (verse 24)!

Before we pass on to the next verse we would point out that there is an intimate connection between the one which has just been before us (see v. 14) and the opening verse of the chapter. Verse 14 is really an explanation and amplification of verse 1. There are three statements in each which exactly correspond, and the latter throw light on the former. First, “in the beginning was the word,” and that is something that transcends our comprehension; but “and the word became flesh” brings Him within reach of our sense. Second “and the word was with God,” and again we are unable to understand; but the Word “tabernacled among us,” and we may draw near and behold. Third, “and the word was God,” and again we are in the realm of the Infinite; but “full of grace and truth,” and here are two essential facts concerning God which come within the range of our vision. Thus by coupling together verses 1 and 14 (reading the verses in between as a parenthesis) we have a statement which is, probably, the most comprehensive in its sweep, the profoundest in its depths, and yet the simplest in its terms to be found between the covers of the Bible. Put these verses side by side:—

(1)  “In the beginning was the word:”

(a)  “And the word became flesh” tells of the beginning of His human life.

(2)  “And the word was with God”

(b) “And tabernacled among us” shows Him with men.

(3)  “And the word was God

(c)  “Full of grace and truth,” and this tells what God is.

“John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me” (John 1:15). Concerning the ministry and testimony of John the Baptist we shall have more to say in our next chapter, D.V., so upon this verse we offer only two very brief remarks. First, we find that here the Lord’s forerunner bears witness to Christ’s supreme excellency: “He that cometh after me is preferred before me,” he declares, which, in the Greek, signifies Christ had His being “before” John. Second, “For he was before me.” But, historically, John the Baptist was born into this world six months before the Savior was. When, then, the Baptist says Christ “was before” him, he is referring to His eternal existence, and, therefore, bears witness to His deity.

“And of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace” (John 1:16). The word “fullness” is still another term in this important passage which brings out the absolute Deity of the Savior. It is the same word which is found in Colossians 1:19 and 2:9—“For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell; … For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” The Greek preposition “ek” signifies “out of.” Out of the Divine fullness have all we (believers) “received.” What is it we have “received” from Christ? Ah, what is it we have not “received!” It is out of His inexhaustible “fullness” we have “received.” From Him we have “received” life (see John 10:28); peace (John 14:27); joy (John 15:11); God’s own Word (John 17:14); the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). There is laid up in Christ, as in a great storehouse, all that the believer needs both for time and for eternity.

“And grace for grace.” Bishop Ryle tells us the Greek preposition here may be translated two different ways, and suggests the following thoughts. First, we have received “grace upon grace,” that is, God’s favors heaped up, one upon another. Second, “grace for grace,” that is, new grace to supply old grace; grace sufficient to meet every recurring need.

“For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). A contrast is drawn between what was “given” by Moses, and what “came” by Jesus Christ; for “grace and truth” were not merely “given,” they “came by Jesus Christ,” came in all their fullness, came in their glorious perfections. The Law was “given” to Moses, for it was not his own; but “grace and truth” were not “given” to Christ, for these were His own essential perfections. On looking into this contrast we must bear in mind that the great point here is the manifestation of God: God as He was manifested through the Law, and God as He was made known by the Only Begotten Son.

Was not the Law “truth?” Yes, so far as it went. It announced what God righteously demanded of men, and therefore, what men ought to be according to God’s mind. It has often been said, the Law is a transcript of God’s mind. But how inadequate such a statement is! Did the Law reveal what God is? Did it display all His attributes? If it did, there would be nothing more to learn of God than what the Law made known.

Did the Law tell out the grace of God? No; indeed. The Law was holy, and the commandment holy, just, and good. It demanded obedience; it required the strictest doing and continuance of all things written in it. And the only alternative was death. Inflexible in its claims, it remitted no part of its penalty. He that despised it “died without mercy,” and, “every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward” (Heb. 10:28; see Hebrews 2:2). Such a Law could never justify a sinner. For this it was never given.

The inevitable effect of the Law when received by the unsaved is just that which was produced at Sinai, to whom it first came: “And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die” (Ex. 20:19). “Now therefore why should we die? for this great fire will consume us: if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, then we shall die” (Deut. 5:25). Why such terror? Because “they could not endure that which was commanded” (Heb. 12:20). This terror was the testimony which the Law extorts from every sinner, to whom it is brought home as God’s Law; it is “the ministration of condemnation, and of death” (2 Cor. 3:7, 9). It has a “glory,” indeed, but it is the glory of thunder and lightning, of fire, of blackness, and of darkness, and the sound of the trumpet, and of the voice of words, which only bring terror to the guilty conscience. But, blessed be God, there is “a glory that excelleth” (2 Cor. 3:10).

Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” The “glory that excelleth” is the glory of “the word that became flesh, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth.” The Law revealed God’s justice, but it did not make known His mercy; it testified to His righteousness, but it did not exhibit His grace. It was God’s “truth,” but not the full truth about God Himself. “By the law is the knowledge of sin;” we never read “by the law is the knowledge of God.” No; the “law entered that the offense might abound,” “sin by the commandment became exceeding sinful.” It made known the heinousness of sin; it condemned the sinner, but it did not fully reveal God. It exhibited His righteous hatred of sin and His holy determination to punish it: it exposed the guilt and corruption of the sinner, but for ought it could tell him, it left him to his doom. “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:3, 4).

“Grace and truth.” These are fitly and inseparably joined together. We cannot have the one without having the other. There are many who do not like salvation by grace, and there are those who would tolerate grace if they could have it without the truth. The Nazarenes could “wonder” at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth, but as soon as Christ pressed the truth upon them, they “were filled with wrath,” and sought to “cast him down headlong from the brow of the hill whereon their city was built” (Luke 4:29). Such, too, was the condition of those who sought Him for “the meat that perisheth.” They were willing to profit from His grace, but when He told them the truth some “murmured” at Him, others were “offended,” and “many of his disciples went back and walked no more with him” (John 6:66). And in our own day, there are many who admire the grace which came by Jesus Christ, and would consent to be saved by it, provided this could be without the intrusion of the truth. But this cannot be. Those who reject the truth, reject grace.

There is, in Romans 5:21, another sentence which is closely parallel, and really, an amplification of these words “grace and truth”—“Grace reigns through righteousness, unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.” The grace which saves sinners is no mere moral weakness such as is often to be found in human government. Nor is “the righteousness of God,” through which grace reigns, some mere semblance of justice. No; on the Cross Christ was “set forth a propitiation (a perfect satisfaction to the broken Law) through faith in his blood, to declare his (God’s) righteousness for the remission of sins” (Rom. 3:25). Grace does not ignore the Law, or set aside its requirements; nay verily, “it establishes the law” (Rom. 3:31): establishes it because inseparably linked with “truth;” establishes it because it reigns “through righteousness,” not at the expense of it; establishes it because grace tells of a Substitute who kept the Law for and endured the death penalty on behalf of all who receive Him as their Lord and Savior; and establishes it by bringing the redeemed to “delight” in the Law.

But was there no “grace and truth” before Jesus Christ came? Assuredly there was. God dealt according to “grace and truth” with our first parents immediately after their transgression—it was grace that sought them, and provided them with a covering; as it was truth that pronounced sentence upon them, and expelled them from the garden. God dealt according to “grace and truth” with Israel on the passover night in Egypt: it was grace that provided shelter for them beneath the blood; it was truth that righteously demanded the death of an innocent substitute in their stead. But “grace and truth” were never fully revealed till the Savior Himself appeared. By Him they “came:” in Him they were personified, magnified, glorified.

And now let us notice a few contrasts between Law and Grace:

1.   Law addresses men as members of the old creation; Grace makes men members of a new creation.

2.   Law manifested what was in Man-sin; Grace manifests what is in God-Love.

3.   Law demanded righteousness from men; Grace brings righteousness to men.

4.   Law sentences a living man to death; Grace brings a dead man to life.

5.   Law speaks of what men must do for God; Grace tells of what Christ has done for men.

6.   Law gives a knowledge of sin; Grace puts away sin.

7.   Law brought God out to men; Grace brings men in to God.

“No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (John 1:18). This verse terminates the Introduction to John’s Gospel, and summarizes the whole of the first eighteen verses of John 1. Christ has “declared”—told out, revealed, unveiled, displayed the Father; and the One who has done this is “the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father.” The “bosom of the Father” speaks of proximity to, personal intimacy with, and the enjoyment of the Father’s love. And, in becoming flesh, the Son did not leave this place of inseparable union. It is not the “Son which was,” but “which is in the bosom of the Father.” He retained the same intimacy with the Father, entirely unimpaired by the Incarnation. Nothing in the slightest degree detracted from His own personal glory, or from the nearness and oneness to the Father which He had enjoyed with Him from all eternity. How we ought, then, to honor, reverence, and worship the Lord Jesus!

But a further word on this verse is called for. A remarkable contrast is pointed. In the past, God, in the fullness of His glory, was unmanifested—“No man” had seen Him; but now, God is fully revealed—the Son has “declared” Him. Perhaps this contrast may be made clearer to our readers if we refer to two passages in the Old Testament and compare them with two passages in the New Testament.

In 1 Kings 8:12 we read, “Then spake Solomon, The Lord said that he would dwell in the thick darkness.” Again, “Clouds and darkness are round about him” (Ps. 97:2). These verses tell not what God is in Himself, but declare that under the Law He was not revealed. What could be known of a person who dwelt in “thick darkness!” But now turn to 1 Peter 2:9, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Ah, how blessed this is. Again, we read in 1 John 1:5, 7, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all … but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another.” And this, because the Father has been fully “declared” by our adorable Savior.

Once more: turn to Exodus 33:18—“And he said, I beseech thee, show me thy glory.” This was the earnest request of Moses. But was it granted? Read on, “And the Lord said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shall stand upon a rock: and it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of a rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away mine hind, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.” Character is not declared in a person’s “back parts” but in his face! That Moses saw not the face, but only the back parts of Jehovah, was in perfect accord with the dispensation of Law in which he lived. How profoundly thankful should we be that the dispensation of Law has passed, and that we live in the full light of the dispensation of Grace! How deeply grateful should we be, that we look not on the back parts of Jehovah “for God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). May grace be given us to magnify and adorn that superlative grace which has brought us out of darkness into marvelous light, because the God whom no man hath seen at any time has been fully “declared” by the Son.

We conclude, once more, by drawing up a number of questions on the passage which will be before us in the next chapter (John 1:19–34), so that the interested reader, who desires to “Search the Scriptures” may give them careful study in the interval.

1.   Why did the Jews ask John if he were Elijah, John 1:21?

2.   What “prophet” did they refer to in John 1:21?

3.   What are the thoughts suggested by “voice” in John 1:23?

4.   Why did John cry “in the wilderness” rather than in the temple, John 1:23?

5.   “Whom ye know not,” John 1:26—What did this prove?

6.   What are the thoughts suggested by the Savior’s title “The Lamb of God,” John 1:29?

7.   Why did the Holy Spirit descend on Christ as a “dove,” John 1:32?[1]

 

 

[1] Pink, A. W. (1923–1945). Exposition of the Gospel of John (pp. 32–48). Swengel, PA: Bible Truth Depot. (Public Domain)

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Exposition of John Chapter 2 - Christ, The Eternal Word John 1:1-13

Chapter Two

Christ, the Eternal Word

John 1:1–13

In the last chapter we stated, “Each book of the Bible has a prominent and dominant theme which is peculiar to itself. Just as each member in the human body has its own particular function, so, every book in the Bible has its own special purpose and mission. The theme of John’s Gospel is the Deity of the Savior. Here, as nowhere else in Scripture so fully, the Godhood of Christ is presented to our view. That which is outstanding in this fourth Gospel is the Divine Sonship of the Lord Jesus. In this book we are shown that the One who was heralded by the angels to the Bethlehem shepherds, who walked this earth for thirty-three years, who was crucified at Calvary, who rose in triumph from the grave, and who forty days later departed from these scenes, was none other than the Lord of glory. The evidence for this is overwhelming, the proofs almost without number, and the effect of contemplating them must be to bow our hearts in worship before ‘the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ’ (Titus 2:13).”

That John’s Gospel does present the Deity of the Savior is at once apparent from the opening words of the first chapter. The Holy Spirit has, as it were, placed the key right over the entrance, for the introductory verses of this fourth Gospel present the Lord Jesus Christ in Divine relationships and unveil His essential glories. Before we attempt an exposition of this profound passage we shall first submit an analysis of its contents. In these first thirteen verses of John 1 we have set forth:—

1.   The Relation of Christ to Time—“In the beginning,” therefore, Eternal: John 1:1.

2.   The Relation of Christ to the Godhead—“With God,” therefore, One of the Holy Trinity: John 1:1.

3.   The Relation of Christ to the Holy Trinity—“God was the Word”—the Revealer: John 1:1.

4.   The Relation of Christ to the Universe—“All things were made by him”—the Creator: John 1:3.

5.   The Relation of Christ to Men—Their “Light”: John 1:4, 5.

6.   The Relation of John the Baptist to Christ—“Witness” of His Deity: John 1:6–9.

7.   The Reception which Christ met here: John 1:10–13.

(a)  The world knew him not”: John 1:10.

(b) “His own (Israel) received him not”: John 1:11.

(c)  A company born of God “received him”: John 1:12, 13.

“In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:1–3). How entirely different is this from the opening verses of the other Gospels! John opens by immediately presenting Christ not as the Son of David, nor as the Son of man, but as the Son of God. John takes us back to the beginning, and shows that the Lord Jesus had no beginning. John goes behind creation and shows that the Savior was Himself the Creator. Every clause in these verses calls for our most careful and prayerful attention.

“In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.” Here we enter a realm which transcends the finite mind, and where speculation is profane. “In the beginning” is something we are unable to comprehend: it is one of those matchless sweeps of inspiration which rises above the level of human thought. “In the beginning was the word,” and we are equally unable to grasp the final meaning of this. A “word” is an expression: by words we articulate our speech. The Word of God, then, is Deity expressing itself in audible terms. And yet, when we have said this, how much there is that we leave unsaid! “And the word was with God,” and this intimates His separate personality, and shows His relation to the other Persons of the blessed Trinity. But how sadly incapacitated are we for meditating upon the relations which exist between the different Persons of the Godhead. “And God was the word.” Not only was Christ the Revealer of God, but He always was, and ever remains, none other than God Himself. Not only was our Savior the One through whom, and by whom, the Deity expressed itself in audible terms, but He was Himself co-equal with the Father and the Spirit. Let us now approach the Throne of grace and there seek the mercy and grace we so sorely need to help us as we turn now to take a closer look at these verses.

“Our God and Father, in the name of Thy dear Son, we pray Thee that Thy Holy Spirit may now take of the things of Christ and show them unto us: to the praise of the glory of Thy grace. Amen.”

In THE BEGINNING,” or, more literally, “in beginning,” for there is no article in the Greek. In what “beginning?” There are various “beginnings” referred to in the New Testament. There is the “beginning” of “the world” (Matthew 24:21); of “the gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mark 1:1); of “sorrows” (Mark 13:8); of “miracles” (or “signs”), (John 2:11), etc. But the “beginning” mentioned in John 1:1 clearly antedates all these “beginnings.” The “beginning” of John 1:1 precedes the making of the “all things” of John 1:3. It is then, the beginning of creation, the beginning of time. This earth of ours is old, how old we do not know, possibly millions of years. But “the word” was before all things. He was not only from the beginning, but He was “in the beginning.”

“In beginning:” the absence of the definite article is designed to carry us back to the most remote point that can be imagined. If then, He was before all creation, and He was, for “all things were made by him;” if He was “in the beginning,” then He was Himself without beginning, which is only the negative way of saying He was eternal. In perfect accord with this we find, that in His prayer recorded in John 17, He said, “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” As, then, the Word was “in the beginning,” and if in the beginning, eternal, and as none but God Himself is eternal, the absolute Deity of the Lord Jesus is conclusively established.

WAS the word.” There are two separate words in the Greek which, in this passage, are both rendered “was”: the one means to exist, the other to come into being. The latter word (egeneto) is used in John 1:3 which, literally rendered, reads, “all things through him came into being, and without him came into being not even one (thing) which has come into being;” and again we have this word “egeneto” in John 1:6 where we read, “there was (became to be) a man sent from God, whose name was John;” and again in John 1:14, “And the word was made (became) flesh.” But here in John 1:1 and John 1:2 it is “the word (ito) with God.” As the Word He did not come into being, or begin to be, but He was “with God” from all eternity. It is noteworthy that the Holy Spirit uses this word “ito,” which signifies that the Son personally subsisted, no less than four times in the first two verses of John 1. Unlike John the Baptist who “became (egeneto) a man,” the “word” was (ito), that is, existed with God before time began.

Was THE WORD.” The reference here is to the Second Person in the Holy Trinity, the Son of God. But why is the Lord Jesus Christ designated “the word?” What is the exact force and significance of this title? The first passage which occurs to our minds as throwing light on this question is the opening statement in the Epistle to the Hebrews: “God who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.” Here we learn that Christ is the final spokesman of God. Closely connected with this is the Savior’s title found in Revelation 1:8—“I am Alpha and Omega,” which intimates that He is God’s alphabet, the One who spells out Deity, the One who utters all God has to say. Even clearer, perhaps, is the testimony of John 1:18: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” The word “declared” means tell out, cf. Acts 15:14, and 21:19; it is translated “told” in Luke 24:35. Putting together these three passages we learn that Christ is the One who is the Spokesman of God, and One who spelled out the Deity, the One who has declared or told forth the Father.

Christ, then, is the One who has made the incomprehensible God intelligible. The force of this title of His found in John 1:1, may be discovered by comparing it with that name which is given to the Holy Scriptures—“the Word of God.” What are the Scriptures? They are the Word of God. And what does that mean? This: the Scriptures reveal God’s mind, express His will, make known His perfections, and lay bare His heart. This is precisely what the Lord Jesus has done for the Father. But let us enter a little more into detail:—

(a) A “word” is a medium of manifestation. I have in my mind a thought, but others know not its nature. But the moment I clothe that thought in words it becomes cognizable. Words, then, make objective unseen thoughts. This is precisely what the Lord Jesus has done. As the Word, Christ has made manifest the invisible God.

(b) A “word” is a means of communication. By means of words I transmit information to others. By words I express myself, make known my will, and impart knowledge. So Christ, as the Word, is the Divine Transmitter, communicating to us the life and love of God.

(c) A “word” is a method of revelation. By his words a speaker exhibits both his intellectual caliber and his moral character. By our words we shall be justified, and by our words we shall be condemned. And Christ, as the Word, reveals the attributes and perfections of God. How fully has Christ revealed God! He displayed His power, He manifested His wisdom, He exhibited His holiness, He made known His grace, He unveiled His heart. In Christ, and nowhere else, is God fully and finally told out.

And the word was WITH GOD.” This preposition “with” seems to suggest two thoughts. First, the Word was in the presence of God. As we read, “Enoch walked with God,” that is, he lived in fellowship with God. There is a beautiful verse in Proverbs 8 which throws its light on the meaning of “with” in John 1:1, and reveals the blessed relation which obtained from all eternity between the Word and God. The passage begins at Proverbs 8:22 where “wisdom” is personified. It tells us of the happy fellowship which existed between the Word and God before ever the world was. In Proverbs 8:30 we read, “Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him.” In addition to the two thoughts just suggested, we may add that the Greek preposition “pros” here translated “with” is sometimes rendered “toward,” but most frequently “unto.” The Word was toward or unto God. One has significantly said, “The word rendered with denotes a perpetual tendency, as it were, of the Son to the Father, in unity of essence.”

That it is here said “the word was with God” tells of His separate personality: He was not “in” God, but “with” God. Now, mark here the marvelous accuracy of Scripture. It is not said, “the word was with the Father” as we might have expected, but “the word was with God.” The name “God” is common to the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, whereas “the Father” is the special title of the first Person only. Had it said “the word was with the Father,” the Holy Spirit had been excluded; but “with God” takes in the Word dwelling in eternal fellowship with both the Father and the Spirit. Observe, too, it does not say, And God was with God,” for while there is plurality of Persons in the Godhead, there is but “one God,” therefore the minute accuracy of “the WORD was with God.”

And the word WAS GOD,” or, more literally, “and God was the word.” Lest the figurative expression “the word” should convey to us an inadequate conception of the Divine glories of Christ, the Holy Spirit goes on to say, “and the word was with God,” which denoted His separate personality, and intimated His essential relation to the Godhead. And, as though that were not strong enough, the Holy Spirit expressly adds, “and God was the word.” Who could express God save Him who is God! The Word was not an emanation of God, but God Himself made manifest. Not only the revealer of God, but God Himself revealed. A more emphatic and unequivocal affirmation of the absolute Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ it is impossible to conceive.

“The same was in the beginning with God.” The “same,” that is, the Word; “was,” that is, subsisted, not began to be; “in the beginning,” that is, before time commenced; “with God,” that is, as a distinct Personality. That it is here repeated Christ was “with God,” seems to be intended as a repudiation of the early Gnostic heresy that Christ was only an idea or ideal IN the mind of God from eternity, duly made manifest in time—a horrible heresy which is being reechoed in our own day. It is not said that the Word was in God; He was, eternally, “with God.”

Before we pass on to the next verse, let us seek to make practical application of what has been before us, and at the same time answer the third of the seven questions asked at the close of the previous chapter; “How may I obtain a better, deeper, fuller knowledge of God Himself? By studying nature? By prayer? By studying Scripture? Or—how?” A more important question we cannot consider. What conception have you formed, dear reader, of the Being, Personality, and Character, of God? Before the Lord Jesus came to this earth, the world was without the knowledge of the true and living God. To say that God is revealed in nature is true, yet it is a statement which needs qualifying. Nature reveals the existence of God, but how little it tells of His character. Nature manifests His natural attributes—His power, His wisdom, His immutability, etc.; but what does nature say to us of His moral attributes—His justice, His holiness, His grace, His love? Nature, as such knows no mercy and shows no pity. If a blind saint unwittingly steps over the edge of a precipice he meets with the same fate as if a vile murderer had been hurled over it. If I break nature’s laws, no matter how sincere may be my subsequent repentance, there is no escaping the penalty. Nature conceals as well as reveals God. The ancients had “nature” before them, and what did they learn of God? Let that altar, which the Apostle Paul beheld in one of the chief centers of ancient learning and culture make answer—“to the Unknown God” is what he found inscribed thereon!

It is only in Christ that God is fully told out. Nature is no longer as it left the Creator’s hands: it is under the Curse, and how could that which is imperfect be a perfect medium for revealing God? But the Lord Jesus Christ is the Holy One. He was God, the Son, manifest in flesh. And so fully and so perfectly did He reveal God, He could say, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9). Here, then, is the answer to our question, and here is the practical value of what is before us in these opening verses of John’s Gospel. If the believer would enter into a better, deeper, fuller knowledge of God, he must prayerfully study the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ as revealed in the Scriptures! Let this be made our chief business, our great delight, to reverently scrutinize and meditate upon the excellencies of our Divine Savior as they are displayed upon the pages of Holy Writ, then, and only then, shall we “increase in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10). The “light of the knowledge of the glory of God” is seen only “in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).

“All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3). How this brings out, again, the absolute deity of Christ! Here creation is ascribed to Him, and none but God can create. Man, with all his boasting, is unable to bring into existence a single blade of grass. Observe, that the whole of creation is here ascribed to the Word—“all things were made by him.” This would not be true if He were Himself a creature, even though the first and the highest creature. But nothing is excepted—“all things were made by him.” Just as He was before all things, and therefore, eternal; so was He the Originator of all things, and therefore, omnipotent.

“In him was life; and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4). This follows logically from what has been said in the previous verse. If Christ created all things He must be the Fountain of life. He is the Life-Giver. We understand “life” to be used here in its widest sense. Creature life is found in God, for “in him we live and move and have our being”; spiritual life or eternal life, and resurrection life, are also found “in Him.” If it be objected that the Greek word for “life” here is “zoe,” and that zoe has exclusive reference to spiritual life, we answer, Not always: see Luke 12:15; Luke 16:25 (translated “life-time”), Acts 17:25, etc., where, in each case, “zoe” has reference to human (natural) life, as such. Thus, “zoe” includes within its scope all “life.”

And the Life was THE LIGHT of men.” What are we to understand by this? Notice two things: this statement in verse 4 follows immediately after the declaration that “all things were made” by Christ, so that it is creatures, as such, which are here in view; second, it is “men,” as men, not only believers, which are here referred to. The “life” here is one of the Divine titles of the Lord Jesus, hence, it is equivalent to saying, “God was the light of men.” It speaks of the relation which Christ sustains to men, all men—He is their “light.” This is confirmed by what we read in verse 9, “That was the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” In what sense, then, is Christ as “the life” the “light of men?” We answer, In that which renders men accountable creatures. Every rational man is morally enlightened. All rational men “show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness” (Rom. 2:15). It is this “light,” which lightens every man that cometh into the world, that constitutes them responsible human beings. The Greek word for “light” in John 1:4 is “phos,” and that it is not restricted to spiritual illumination is plainly evident from its usage in Matthew 6:23, “If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness,” and also see Luke 11:35; Acts 16:29, etc.

Let no reader infer from what has been said that we are among the number who believe the unscriptural theory that there is in every man a spark of Divine life, which needs only to be fanned, to become a flame. No, we expressly repudiate any such satanic lie. By nature, spiritually, he is “dead in trespasses and sins.” Yet, notwithstanding, the natural man is a responsible being before God, to Whom he shall give an account of himself; responsible, because the work of God’s law is written in his heart, his conscience also bearing witness, and this, we take it, is the “light” which is referred to in John 1:4, and the “lighteneth” in John 1:9.

“And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not” (John 1:5). This gives us still another of the Divine titles of Christ. In verse 1 He is spoken of as “the word.” In verse 3 as the Maker of all things. In verse 4 as “the life.” Now, in verse 5 as “the light.” With this should be compared 1 John 1:5 where we read “God is light.” The conclusion, then, is irresistible, the proof complete and final, that the Lord Jesus is none other than God, the second Person in the Holy Trinity.

The “Englishman’s Greek New Testament” renders the last clause of John 1:5 as follows—“and the light in the darkness appears, and the darkness it apprehended not.” This tells us of the effects of the Fall. Every man that comes into this world is lightened by his Creator, but the natural man disregards this light, he repels it, and in consequence, is plunged into darkness. Instead of the natural man “living up to the light he has” (which none ever did) he “loves darkness rather than light” (John 3:19). The unregenerate man, then, is like one that is blind—he is in the dark. Proof of this appears in the fact that “the Light in the darkness appears, and the darkness apprehended it not.” All other darkness yields to and fades away before light, but here “the darkness” is so impenetrable and hopeless, it neither apprehends nor comprehends. What a fearful and solemn indictment of fallen human nature! And how evident it is that nothing short of a miracle of saving grace can ever bring one “out of darkness into God’s marvelous light.”

“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John” (John 1:6). The change of subject here is most abrupt. From “the Word” who was God, the Holy Spirit now turns to speak of the forerunner of Christ. He is referred to as “a man,” to show us, by way of contrast, that the One to Whom he bore witness was more than Man. This man was “sent from God,” so is every man who bears faithful witness to the Person of Christ. The name of this man was “John” which, as etymologists tell us, signifies “the gift of God.”

“The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the light, that all through him might believe” (John 1:7). John came to bear witness of “the light.” Weigh well these words: they are solemn, pathetic, tragic. Perhaps their force will be the more evident if we ask a question: When the sun is shining in all its beauty, who are the ones that are unconscious of the fact? Who need to be told it is shining? The blind! How tragic, then, when we read that God sent John to “bear witness of the light.” How pathetic that there should be any need for this! How solemn the statement that men have to be told “the light” is now in their midst. What a revelation of man’s fallen condition. The Light shone in the darkness, but the darkness comprehended it not. Therefore, did God send John to bear witness of the Light. God would not allow His beloved Son to come here unrecognized and unheralded. As soon as He was born into this world, He sent the angels to the Bethlehem shepherds to proclaim Him, and just before His public ministry began, John appeared bidding Israel to receive Him.

“The same came for a witness.” This defines the character of the preacher’s office. He is a “witness,” and a witness is one who knows what he says and says what he knows. He deals not with speculations, he speaks not of his own opinions, but he testifies to what he knows to be the truth.

“To bear witness of the light.” This should ever be the aim of the preacher: to get his hearers to look away from himself to Another. He is not to testify of himself, nor about himself, but he is to “preach Christ” (1 Cor. 1:23). This is the message the Spirit of God will own, for Christ has said of Him, “He shall glorify me” (John 16:14).

“That all through him might believe.” “That” means “in order that.” “To bear witness” defines the character of the preacher’s office: to “bear witness of the light” makes known the preacher’s theme; that “all through him might believe” speaks of the design of his ministry. Men become believers through receiving the testimony of God’s witness. The “all” is the same as in John 6:45.

“He was not that light, but was sent to bear witness of that light” (John 1:8). No, John himself was not “that light,” for “light” like “life” is to be found only in God. Apart from God all is darkness, profound and unrelieved. Even the believer has no light in himself. What saith the Scriptures? “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye the light in the Lord” (Eph. 5:8). There is a statement found in John 5:35 which, as it stands in the A.V., conflicts with what is said here in John 1:8. In verse 35 when speaking of John, Christ said, “He was a burning and shining light,” but the Greek word used here is entirely different from that translated “light” in John 1:8, and in the R.V. it is correctly translated “He was the lamp that burneth and shineth.” This word used of John, correctly translated “lamp,” points a striking contrast between the forerunner and Christ as “the light.” A lamp has no inherent light of its own—it has to be supplied! A “lamp” has to be carried by another! A “lamp” soon burns out: in a few hours it ceases to shine.

“That was the true light, which lighteth every man which cometh into the world” (John 1:9). Bishop Ryle in his most excellent notes on John’s Gospel, has suggested that the adjective “true” has here at least a fourfold reference. First, Christ, is the “true light” as the Undeceiving Light. Satan himself, we read, “is transformed into an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14), but he appears as such only to deceive. But Christ is the true Light in contrast from all the false lights which are in the world. Second, as the “true light,” Christ is the Real Light. The real light in contrast from the dim and shaded light which was conveyed through the types and shadows of the Old Testament ritual. Third, as the “true light” Christ is the Underived Light: there are lesser lights which are borrowed and reflected, as the moon from the sun, but Christ’s “light” is His own essential and underived glory. Fourth, as the “true light,” Christ is the Supereminent Light, in contrast from all that is ordinary and common. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another of the stars; but all other lights pale before Him who is “the light.” The latter part of this ninth verse need not detain us now, having already received our consideration under the exposition of verse four. The light which “every man” has by nature is the light and reason and conscience.

“He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not” (John 1:10). “He was in the world” refers, we believe, to His incarnation and the thirty-three years during which He tabernacled among men. Then it is said “and the world was made by him.” This is to magnify the Divine glory of the One who had become incarnate, and to emphasize the tragedy of what follows, “and the world knew him not.”

“He was in the world.” Who was? None other than the One who had made it. And how was He received? The great Creator was about to appear: will not a thrill of glad expectancy run around the world? He is coming not to judge, but to save. He is to appear not as a haughty Despot, but as a Man “holy, harmless, undefiled;” not to be ministered unto, but to minister. Will not such an One receive a hearty welcome? Alas, “the world knew him not.” Full of their own schemes and pursuits, they thought nothing of Him. Unspeakably tragic is this, yet something even more pathetic follows.

“He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (John 1:11). How appropriate are the terms here used: note the nice distinction: “He was in the world” and, therefore, within the reach of inquiry. But to the seed of Abraham He “came,” knocking as it were, at their door for admission; but “they received him not.” The world is charged with ignorance, but Israel with unbelief, yea, with a positive refusal of Him. Instead of welcoming the Heavenly Visitant, they drove Him from their door, and even banished Him from the earth. Who would have supposed that a people whose believing ancestors had been eagerly awaiting the appearance of the Messiah for long ages past, would have rejected Him when He came among them! Yet so it was: and should any ask, How could these things be? we answer, This very thing was expressly foretold by their own prophet, that He should possess neither form nor comeliness in their eyes, and when they should see Him there would be no beauty that they should desire Him. Ah! would it have been any wonder if He had turned away from such ingrates in disgust! What blessed subjection to the Father’s will, and what wondrous love for sinners, that He remained on earth in order that He might later die the death of the Cross!

But if the world “knew him not,” and Israel “received him not,” was the purpose of God defeated? No, indeed, for that could not be. The counsel of the Lord “shall stand”: (Prov. 19:21). The marvelous condescension of the Son could not be in vain. So, we read, “but as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (verse 12). This tells us of the human side of salvation, what is required of sinners. Salvation comes to the sinner through “receiving” Christ, that is, by “believing on his name.” There is a slight distinction between these two things, though in substance they are one. Believing, respects Christ as He is exhibited by the Gospel testimony: it is the personal acceptance as truth of what God has said concerning His Son. Receiving, views Christ as presented to us as God’s Gift, presented to us for our acceptance. And “as many as,” no matter whether they be Jews or Gentiles, rich or poor, illiterate or learned, receive Christ as their own personal Savior, to them is given the power or right to become the sons (better “children”) of God.

But who receive Him thus? Not all by any means. Only a few. And is this left to chance? Far from it. As the following verse goes on to state, “which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). This explains to us why the few “receive” Christ. It is because they are born of God. Just as verse 12 gives us the human side, so verse 13 gives us the Divine. The Divine side is the new birth: and the taking place of the new birth is “not of blood,” that is to say, it is not a matter of heredity, for regeneration does not run in the veins; “nor of the will of the flesh,” the will of the natural man is opposed to God, and he has no will Godward until he has been born again; “nor of the will of man,” that is to say, the new birth is not brought about by the well-meant efforts of friends, nor by the persuasive powers of the preacher; “but of God.” The new birth is a Divine work. It is accomplished by the Holy Spirit applying the Word in living power to the heart. The reception Christ met during the days of His earthly ministry is the same still: the world “knows him not;” Israel “receives him not;” but a little company do receive him, and who these are Acts 13:48 tells us—“as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” And here we must stop.

Preparatory to our next chapter, we are anxious that the reader should study the following questions:

1.   In John 1:14 the word “dwelt” signifies “tabernacled.” The Word tabernacled among men. It points us back to the Tabernacle of Israel in the wilderness. In what respects did the Tabernacle of old typify and foreshadow Christ?

2.   “We beheld his glory” (John 1:14): what is meant by this? what “glory?” At least a threefold “glory.”

3.   In what sense was Christ “before” John the Baptist (John 1:15)?

4.   What is the meaning of John 1:16?

5.   Why are we told that the law was given by Moses, but that grace and truth came by Jesus Christ (John 1:17)?

6.   Was there any “grace and truth” before Jesus Christ came? If so, what is meant by them coming by Jesus Christ?

7.   How many contrasts can you draw between Law and Grace?[1]

 

 

[1] Pink, A. W. (1923–1945). Exposition of the Gospel of John (pp. 17–30). Swengel, PA: Bible Truth Depot. (Public Domain)

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Exposition of John Chapter 1 Introduction

Foreword

John’s is undoubtedly the general favorite of the four Gospels. There is more in it which relates directly to the Family of God, than in the others. It presents Christ to us as the Son of God, the Shepherd of His sheep, the Food of His people. It records much that is not found in the other three.

Preachers, Sunday school teachers, and many others of the Lord’s people, have long desired a complete work on the fourth Gospel: a work which takes it up verse by verse; a work which gives real help on difficult passages; a work which can be read and re-read with profit and delight. It has long been our desire to provide such a work, and we are now permitted to present it to the Christian public.

This is no hasty production. The author has already donated fifteen years of special study to John’s Gospel. He has taught this book to five different classes in the course of as many pastorates, besides lecturing on it frequently from the Bible Conference platform. He has diligently sought to do two things: obtain from God the meaning of the text, and how to apply its lessons most effectively to his hearers and readers.

This complete exposition comprises three volumes. It is not a dry commentary, nor a ponderous production silted only to seminary students. It avoids the technical, and aims at the practical. It is designed for those who crave spiritual food. It will appeal not to the intellectuals but to the spiritually minded.

At the close of each chapter will be found a list of questions which bear on the passage to be expounded in the chapter that follows. We hope that many readers will give them a careful and prayerful study before turning to note our answers. Our aim is not merely to give help on the understanding of God’s word, but to promote the personal study of it by others.

May the God of all grace deign to use these efforts to open up His Word and magnify His Son to the stimulation and edification of many of His dear people.

May, 1923 Arthur W. Pink

Chapter One

Introduction

It is our purpose to give (D. V.) a verse by verse exposition of the fourth Gospel in the course of this series of studies, but before turning to the opening verses of chapter 1 it will be necessary to consider John’s Gospel as a whole, with the endeavor of discovering its scope, its central theme, and its relation to the other three Gospels. We shall not waste the reader’s time by entering into a discussion as to who wrote this fourth Gospel, as to where John was when he wrote it, nor as to the probable date when it was written. These may be points of academical interest, but they provide no food for the soul, nor do they afford any help to an understanding of this section of the Bible, and these are the two chief things we desire to accomplish. Our aim is to open up the Scriptures in such a way that the reader will be able to enter into the meaning of what God has recorded for our learning in this part of His Holy Word, and to edify those who are members of the Household of Faith.

The four Gospels deal with the earthly life of the Savior, but each one presents Him in an entirely different character. Matthew portrays the Lord Jesus as the Son of David, the Heir of Israel’s throne, the King of the Jews; and everything in his Gospel contributes to this central theme. In Mark, Christ is seen as the Servant of Jehovah, the perfect Workman of God; and everything in this second Gospel brings out the characteristics of His service and the manner in which He served. Luke treats of the humanity of the Savior, and presents Him as the perfect Man, contrasting Him from the sinful sons of men. The fourth Gospel views Him as the Heavenly One come down to earth, the eternal Son of the Father made flesh and tabernacling among men, and from start to finish this is the one dominant truth which is steadily held in view.

As we turn to the fourth Gospel we come to entirely different ground from that which is traversed in the other three. It is true, the period of time covered by it is the same as in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, some of the incidents treated of by the “Synoptics” come before us here, and He who has occupied the central position in the narratives of the first three Evangelists is the same One that is made pre-eminent by John; but otherwise, everything is entirely new. The viewpoint of this fourth Gospel is more elevated than that of the others; its contents bring into view spiritual relationships rather than human ties; and, higher glories are revealed as touching the peerless Person of the Savior. In each of the first three Gospels Christ is viewed in human relationships, but not so in John. The purpose of this fourth Gospel is to show that the One who was born in a manger and afterward died on the Cross had higher glories than those of King, that He who humbled Himself to take the Servant place was, previously, “equal with God,” that the One who became the Son of Man was none other than, and ever remains, the Only Begotten of the Father.

Each book of the Bible has a prominent and dominant theme which is peculiar to itself. Just as each member in the human body has its own particular function, so every book in the Bible has its own special purpose and mission. The theme of John’s Gospel is the Deity of the Savior. Here, as nowhere else in Scripture so fully, the Godhood of Christ is presented to our view. That which is outstanding in this fourth Gospel is the Divine Sonship of the Lord Jesus. In this Book we are shown that the One who was heralded by the angels to the Bethlehem shepherds, who walked this earth for thirty-three years, who was crucified at Calvary who rose in triumph from the grave, and who forty days later departed from these scenes, was none other than the Lord of Glory. The evidence for this is overwhelming, the proofs almost without number, and the effect of contemplating them must be to bow our hearts in worship before “the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).

Here is a theme worthy of our most prayerful attention. If the Holy Spirit took such marked care to guard the perfections of our Lord’s humanity—seen for example, in the words of the angel to Mary “that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee,” “made in the likeness of sin’s flesh,” etc.—equally so has the Inspirer of the Scriptures seen to it that there is no uncertainty touching the Divine Sonship of our Savior. Just as the Old Testament prophets made known that the Coming One should be a Man, a perfect Man, so did Messianic prediction give plain intimation that He should be more than a man. Through Isaiah God foretold, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” Through Micah He declared, “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be Ruler in Israel; Whose goings forth have been from the days of eternity.” Through Zechariah He said, “Awake, O Sword, against my Shepherd, and against the man that is my Fellow, saith the Lord of Hosts: smite the Shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.” Through the Psalmist He announced, “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” And again, when looking forward to the second advent, “Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee (or, ‘brought thee forth’).” In these days of wide-spread departure from the faith, it cannot be insisted upon too strongly or too frequently that the Lord Jesus is none other than the Second Person of the blessed Trinity, co-eternal and co-equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

In keeping with the special theme of this fourth Gospel, it is here we have the full unveiling of Christ’s Divine glories. It is here that we behold Him dwelling with God before time began and before ever the creature was formed (1:1, 2). It is here that He is denominated “The only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14). It is here we read of John the Baptist bearing record “that this is the Son of God” (1:34). It is here that we read “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory” (2:11). It is here we are told that the Savior said “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (2:19). It is here we learn that “The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand” (3:35). It is in this Gospel we hear Christ saying, “For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will. For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: that all should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father” (5:21–23). It is here we find Him declaring, “Before Abraham was, I am” (8:58). It is here He affirmed “I and my Father are One” (10:30). It is here He testifies “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (14:9).

Before we take up John’s Gospel in detail, a few words should also be said concerning the scope of the fourth Gospel. It must be evident at once that this is quite different from the other three. There, Christ is seen in human relationships, and as connected with an earthly people; but here He is viewed in a Divine relationship, and as connected with a heavenly people. It is true the mystery of the “Body” is not unfolded here—that is found only in what the Apostle Paul wrote as he was moved by the Holy Spirit—rather is it the Family relationship which is here in view: the Son of God together with the sons of God. It is also true that the “heavenly calling,” as such, is not fully unfolded here, yet are there plain intimations of it, as a careful study of it makes apparent. In the first three Gospels Christ is seen connected with the Jews, proclaiming the Messianic kingdom, a proclamation which ceased, however, as soon as it became evident that the nation had rejected Him. But here in John’s Gospel His rejection is anticipated from the beginning, for in the very first chapter we are told, “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” The limitations which obtain in connection with much which is found in the first three Gospels does not, therefore, obtain in John’s. Again, in John’s Gospel the Savior is displayed as the Son of God, and as such He can be known only by believers. On this plane, then, the Jew has no priority. The Jew’s claim upon Christ was purely a fleshly one (arising from the fact that He was “the Son of David”), whereas believers are related to the Son of God by spiritual union.

As there may be some of our readers who have been influenced by ultra-dispensational teaching we deem it well to here call attention to other points which help to fix the true dispensational bearings and scope of this fourth Gospel. There are those who make no distinction between John’s Gospel and the Synoptics, and who insist that this fourth Gospel is entirely Jewish, and has nothing but a remote application to believers of the present dispensation. But this, we are assured, is a serious mistake. John’s Gospel, like his Epistles, concerns the family of God. In proof of this we request the reader to weigh carefully the following points:

First, in 1:11–13 we read, “He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name; which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

From these verses we may notice three things: first, the Jews as a nation rejected the Sent One of the Father, they “received him not;” second, a company did “receive him,” even those that “believed on his name”; third, this company are here designated “the sons of God,” who were “born … of God.” There is nothing which in any wise resembles this in the other Gospels. Here only, in the four Gospels, is the truth of the new birth brought before us. And it is by new birth we enter the family of God. As, then, the family of God reaches out beyond Jewish believers, and takes in all Gentile believers too, we submit that John’s Gospel cannot be restricted to the twelve-tribed people.

Second, after stating that the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, “and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father (which is a glory that none but believers behold!), full of grace and truth,” and after summarizing John the Baptist’s witness to the Person of Christ, the Holy Spirit through the Evangelist goes on to say, “and of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace. Surely this verse alone establishes the point of who it is that is here being addressed. The Jewish nation never received “of his fullness”—that can be predicated of believers only. The “all we” of verse 16 is the “as many as” received Him, to them gave He power to become “the sons of God” of verse 12.

Third, in the tenth chapter of John, we read that the Savior said, “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep” (vv. 14, 15). Immediately following this He went on to say, “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (v. 16). Who were these “other sheep?” Before we can answer this, we must ascertain who were the “sheep” referred to by Christ in the first fifteen verses of this chapter. As to who they were there can be only one answer: they were not the nation of Israel as such, for they had “received him not”; no, they were the little company who had “received him,” who had “believed on his name.” But Christ goes on to speak of a future company of believers, “other sheep I have (speaking as God who calleth those things which be not as though they were: Rom. 4:17), them also I must bring.” Clearly, the “other sheep” which had not been brought into the fold at the time the Savior then spake, were believers from among the Gentiles, and these, together with the Jewish believers, should be “one fold” (or, better “one flock”), which is the equivalent of one family, the family of God.

Fourth, in John 11:49–52 we read, “and one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation, and not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.” This was a remarkable prophecy, and contained far more in it than Caiaphas was aware. It made known the Divine purpose in the death of the Savior and revealed what was to be the outcome of the great Sacrifice. It looked out far beyond the bounds of Judaism, including within its range believing sinners from the Gentiles. The “children of God that were scattered abroad” were the elect found among all nations. That they were here termed “children of God” while viewed as still “scattered abroad,” gives us the Divine viewpoint, being parallel with “other sheep I have.” But what we desire to call special attention to is the declaration that these believers from among the Gentiles were to be “gathered together in one,” not into one “body” (for as previously said, the body does not fall within the scope of John’s writings), but one family, the family of God.

Fifth, in John 14:2, 3 we read that Christ said to His disciples, “In My Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself that where I am, there ye may be also.” How entirely different this is from anything that is to be found in the first three Gospels scarcely needs to be pointed out. In them, reference is invariably made to the coming of “the Son of man,” but here it is the rapture of the saints to heaven, and the taking of them to be where Christ now is that is expressly mentioned. And manifestly this can in no wise be limited to Jewish believers.

Sixth, without attempting to develop this point at any length it should be noticed that the relation which the Holy Spirit sustains to believers in this Gospel is entirely different from what is before us in the first three. Here only do we read of being “born of the Spirit” (3:5). Here only is He denominated their “Comforter” or Advocate (see John 14:16); and here only do we read of Him “abiding forever” with believers (see John 14:16).

Seventh, the High Priestly prayer of the Savior which is recorded in John 17, and found nowhere else in the Gospels, shows plainly that more than Jewish believers are here contemplated, and evidences the wider scope of this fourth Gospel. Here we find the Savior saying, “Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: as thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.” The “as many as thou hast given him” takes in the whole family of God. Again, in verse 20 the Lord Jesus says, “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word:” the “these” evidently refers to Jewish believers, while the “them also” looked forward to Gentile believers. Finally, His words in verse 22, “and the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one” shows, once more, that the whole family of God was here before Him.

In bringing this chapter to a close we want to prepare the reader for the second of the series. In the next chapter we shall (D.V.) take up the first section of the opening chapter, and it is our earnest desire that many of our readers will make these verses the subject of prayerful study and meditation. The Bible teacher who becomes a substitute for diligent study on the part of those who hear him is a hindrance and not a help. The business of the teacher is to turn people to the searching of the Scriptures for themselves, stimulating their interest in the Sacred Word, and instructing them how to go about it. With this end in view, it will be our aim to prepare a series of questions at the close of each chapter bearing on the passage to be expounded in the succeeding one, so that the reader may study it for himself. Below are seven questions on the passage for the portion we shall take up in the next lesson, and we earnestly urge our readers to study the first thirteen verses of John 1, and to concentrate upon the points raised by our questions.

1.   What “beginning” is referred to in John 1:1?

2.   How may I obtain a better, deeper, fuller knowledge of God Himself? By studying nature? By prayer? By studying Scripture? Or—how?

3.   Why is the Lord Jesus here termed “The Word?” What is the exact force and significance of this title?

4.   What is the meaning of John 1:4—“The Life was the Light of men?”

5.   The fact that the Savior is termed “the Light” in 1:7, teaches us what?

6.   What does John 1:12 teach concerning what a sinner must do to be saved?

7.   What is the exact meaning of each clause in 1:3?

Pray over and meditate much upon each of these questions, and above all “Search the Scriptures” to find God’s answers. Answers to these questions will be found in the next chapter, in the course of our exposition of John 1:1–13.[1]

 

 

[1] Pink, A. W. (1923–1945). Exposition of the Gospel of John (pp. 7–16). Swengel, PA: Bible Truth Depot. (Public Domain)

Foreword

John’s is undoubtedly the general favorite of the four Gospels. There is more in it which relates directly to the Family of God, than in the others. It presents Christ to us as the Son of God, the Shepherd of His sheep, the Food of His people. It records much that is not found in the other three.

Preachers, Sunday school teachers, and many others of the Lord’s people, have long desired a complete work on the fourth Gospel: a work which takes it up verse by verse; a work which gives real help on difficult passages; a work which can be read and re-read with profit and delight. It has long been our desire to provide such a work, and we are now permitted to present it to the Christian public.

This is no hasty production. The author has already donated fifteen years of special study to John’s Gospel. He has taught this book to five different classes in the course of as many pastorates, besides lecturing on it frequently from the Bible Conference platform. He has diligently sought to do two things: obtain from God the meaning of the text, and how to apply its lessons most effectively to his hearers and readers.

This complete exposition comprises three volumes. It is not a dry commentary, nor a ponderous production silted only to seminary students. It avoids the technical, and aims at the practical. It is designed for those who crave spiritual food. It will appeal not to the intellectuals but to the spiritually minded.

At the close of each chapter will be found a list of questions which bear on the passage to be expounded in the chapter that follows. We hope that many readers will give them a careful and prayerful study before turning to note our answers. Our aim is not merely to give help on the understanding of God’s word, but to promote the personal study of it by others.

May the God of all grace deign to use these efforts to open up His Word and magnify His Son to the stimulation and edification of many of His dear people.

May, 1923 Arthur W. Pink

Chapter One

Introduction

It is our purpose to give (D. V.) a verse by verse exposition of the fourth Gospel in the course of this series of studies, but before turning to the opening verses of chapter 1 it will be necessary to consider John’s Gospel as a whole, with the endeavor of discovering its scope, its central theme, and its relation to the other three Gospels. We shall not waste the reader’s time by entering into a discussion as to who wrote this fourth Gospel, as to where John was when he wrote it, nor as to the probable date when it was written. These may be points of academical interest, but they provide no food for the soul, nor do they afford any help to an understanding of this section of the Bible, and these are the two chief things we desire to accomplish. Our aim is to open up the Scriptures in such a way that the reader will be able to enter into the meaning of what God has recorded for our learning in this part of His Holy Word, and to edify those who are members of the Household of Faith.

The four Gospels deal with the earthly life of the Savior, but each one presents Him in an entirely different character. Matthew portrays the Lord Jesus as the Son of David, the Heir of Israel’s throne, the King of the Jews; and everything in his Gospel contributes to this central theme. In Mark, Christ is seen as the Servant of Jehovah, the perfect Workman of God; and everything in this second Gospel brings out the characteristics of His service and the manner in which He served. Luke treats of the humanity of the Savior, and presents Him as the perfect Man, contrasting Him from the sinful sons of men. The fourth Gospel views Him as the Heavenly One come down to earth, the eternal Son of the Father made flesh and tabernacling among men, and from start to finish this is the one dominant truth which is steadily held in view.

As we turn to the fourth Gospel we come to entirely different ground from that which is traversed in the other three. It is true, the period of time covered by it is the same as in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, some of the incidents treated of by the “Synoptics” come before us here, and He who has occupied the central position in the narratives of the first three Evangelists is the same One that is made pre-eminent by John; but otherwise, everything is entirely new. The viewpoint of this fourth Gospel is more elevated than that of the others; its contents bring into view spiritual relationships rather than human ties; and, higher glories are revealed as touching the peerless Person of the Savior. In each of the first three Gospels Christ is viewed in human relationships, but not so in John. The purpose of this fourth Gospel is to show that the One who was born in a manger and afterward died on the Cross had higher glories than those of King, that He who humbled Himself to take the Servant place was, previously, “equal with God,” that the One who became the Son of Man was none other than, and ever remains, the Only Begotten of the Father.

Each book of the Bible has a prominent and dominant theme which is peculiar to itself. Just as each member in the human body has its own particular function, so every book in the Bible has its own special purpose and mission. The theme of John’s Gospel is the Deity of the Savior. Here, as nowhere else in Scripture so fully, the Godhood of Christ is presented to our view. That which is outstanding in this fourth Gospel is the Divine Sonship of the Lord Jesus. In this Book we are shown that the One who was heralded by the angels to the Bethlehem shepherds, who walked this earth for thirty-three years, who was crucified at Calvary who rose in triumph from the grave, and who forty days later departed from these scenes, was none other than the Lord of Glory. The evidence for this is overwhelming, the proofs almost without number, and the effect of contemplating them must be to bow our hearts in worship before “the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).

Here is a theme worthy of our most prayerful attention. If the Holy Spirit took such marked care to guard the perfections of our Lord’s humanity—seen for example, in the words of the angel to Mary “that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee,” “made in the likeness of sin’s flesh,” etc.—equally so has the Inspirer of the Scriptures seen to it that there is no uncertainty touching the Divine Sonship of our Savior. Just as the Old Testament prophets made known that the Coming One should be a Man, a perfect Man, so did Messianic prediction give plain intimation that He should be more than a man. Through Isaiah God foretold, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” Through Micah He declared, “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be Ruler in Israel; Whose goings forth have been from the days of eternity.” Through Zechariah He said, “Awake, O Sword, against my Shepherd, and against the man that is my Fellow, saith the Lord of Hosts: smite the Shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.” Through the Psalmist He announced, “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” And again, when looking forward to the second advent, “Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee (or, ‘brought thee forth’).” In these days of wide-spread departure from the faith, it cannot be insisted upon too strongly or too frequently that the Lord Jesus is none other than the Second Person of the blessed Trinity, co-eternal and co-equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

In keeping with the special theme of this fourth Gospel, it is here we have the full unveiling of Christ’s Divine glories. It is here that we behold Him dwelling with God before time began and before ever the creature was formed (1:1, 2). It is here that He is denominated “The only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14). It is here we read of John the Baptist bearing record “that this is the Son of God” (1:34). It is here that we read “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory” (2:11). It is here we are told that the Savior said “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (2:19). It is here we learn that “The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand” (3:35). It is in this Gospel we hear Christ saying, “For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will. For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: that all should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father” (5:21–23). It is here we find Him declaring, “Before Abraham was, I am” (8:58). It is here He affirmed “I and my Father are One” (10:30). It is here He testifies “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (14:9).

Before we take up John’s Gospel in detail, a few words should also be said concerning the scope of the fourth Gospel. It must be evident at once that this is quite different from the other three. There, Christ is seen in human relationships, and as connected with an earthly people; but here He is viewed in a Divine relationship, and as connected with a heavenly people. It is true the mystery of the “Body” is not unfolded here—that is found only in what the Apostle Paul wrote as he was moved by the Holy Spirit—rather is it the Family relationship which is here in view: the Son of God together with the sons of God. It is also true that the “heavenly calling,” as such, is not fully unfolded here, yet are there plain intimations of it, as a careful study of it makes apparent. In the first three Gospels Christ is seen connected with the Jews, proclaiming the Messianic kingdom, a proclamation which ceased, however, as soon as it became evident that the nation had rejected Him. But here in John’s Gospel His rejection is anticipated from the beginning, for in the very first chapter we are told, “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” The limitations which obtain in connection with much which is found in the first three Gospels does not, therefore, obtain in John’s. Again, in John’s Gospel the Savior is displayed as the Son of God, and as such He can be known only by believers. On this plane, then, the Jew has no priority. The Jew’s claim upon Christ was purely a fleshly one (arising from the fact that He was “the Son of David”), whereas believers are related to the Son of God by spiritual union.

As there may be some of our readers who have been influenced by ultra-dispensational teaching we deem it well to here call attention to other points which help to fix the true dispensational bearings and scope of this fourth Gospel. There are those who make no distinction between John’s Gospel and the Synoptics, and who insist that this fourth Gospel is entirely Jewish, and has nothing but a remote application to believers of the present dispensation. But this, we are assured, is a serious mistake. John’s Gospel, like his Epistles, concerns the family of God. In proof of this we request the reader to weigh carefully the following points:

First, in 1:11–13 we read, “He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name; which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

From these verses we may notice three things: first, the Jews as a nation rejected the Sent One of the Father, they “received him not;” second, a company did “receive him,” even those that “believed on his name”; third, this company are here designated “the sons of God,” who were “born … of God.” There is nothing which in any wise resembles this in the other Gospels. Here only, in the four Gospels, is the truth of the new birth brought before us. And it is by new birth we enter the family of God. As, then, the family of God reaches out beyond Jewish believers, and takes in all Gentile believers too, we submit that John’s Gospel cannot be restricted to the twelve-tribed people.

Second, after stating that the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, “and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father (which is a glory that none but believers behold!), full of grace and truth,” and after summarizing John the Baptist’s witness to the Person of Christ, the Holy Spirit through the Evangelist goes on to say, “and of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace. Surely this verse alone establishes the point of who it is that is here being addressed. The Jewish nation never received “of his fullness”—that can be predicated of believers only. The “all we” of verse 16 is the “as many as” received Him, to them gave He power to become “the sons of God” of verse 12.

Third, in the tenth chapter of John, we read that the Savior said, “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep” (vv. 14, 15). Immediately following this He went on to say, “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (v. 16). Who were these “other sheep?” Before we can answer this, we must ascertain who were the “sheep” referred to by Christ in the first fifteen verses of this chapter. As to who they were there can be only one answer: they were not the nation of Israel as such, for they had “received him not”; no, they were the little company who had “received him,” who had “believed on his name.” But Christ goes on to speak of a future company of believers, “other sheep I have (speaking as God who calleth those things which be not as though they were: Rom. 4:17), them also I must bring.” Clearly, the “other sheep” which had not been brought into the fold at the time the Savior then spake, were believers from among the Gentiles, and these, together with the Jewish believers, should be “one fold” (or, better “one flock”), which is the equivalent of one family, the family of God.

Fourth, in John 11:49–52 we read, “and one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation, and not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.” This was a remarkable prophecy, and contained far more in it than Caiaphas was aware. It made known the Divine purpose in the death of the Savior and revealed what was to be the outcome of the great Sacrifice. It looked out far beyond the bounds of Judaism, including within its range believing sinners from the Gentiles. The “children of God that were scattered abroad” were the elect found among all nations. That they were here termed “children of God” while viewed as still “scattered abroad,” gives us the Divine viewpoint, being parallel with “other sheep I have.” But what we desire to call special attention to is the declaration that these believers from among the Gentiles were to be “gathered together in one,” not into one “body” (for as previously said, the body does not fall within the scope of John’s writings), but one family, the family of God.

Fifth, in John 14:2, 3 we read that Christ said to His disciples, “In My Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself that where I am, there ye may be also.” How entirely different this is from anything that is to be found in the first three Gospels scarcely needs to be pointed out. In them, reference is invariably made to the coming of “the Son of man,” but here it is the rapture of the saints to heaven, and the taking of them to be where Christ now is that is expressly mentioned. And manifestly this can in no wise be limited to Jewish believers.

Sixth, without attempting to develop this point at any length it should be noticed that the relation which the Holy Spirit sustains to believers in this Gospel is entirely different from what is before us in the first three. Here only do we read of being “born of the Spirit” (3:5). Here only is He denominated their “Comforter” or Advocate (see John 14:16); and here only do we read of Him “abiding forever” with believers (see John 14:16).

Seventh, the High Priestly prayer of the Savior which is recorded in John 17, and found nowhere else in the Gospels, shows plainly that more than Jewish believers are here contemplated, and evidences the wider scope of this fourth Gospel. Here we find the Savior saying, “Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: as thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.” The “as many as thou hast given him” takes in the whole family of God. Again, in verse 20 the Lord Jesus says, “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word:” the “these” evidently refers to Jewish believers, while the “them also” looked forward to Gentile believers. Finally, His words in verse 22, “and the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one” shows, once more, that the whole family of God was here before Him.

In bringing this chapter to a close we want to prepare the reader for the second of the series. In the next chapter we shall (D.V.) take up the first section of the opening chapter, and it is our earnest desire that many of our readers will make these verses the subject of prayerful study and meditation. The Bible teacher who becomes a substitute for diligent study on the part of those who hear him is a hindrance and not a help. The business of the teacher is to turn people to the searching of the Scriptures for themselves, stimulating their interest in the Sacred Word, and instructing them how to go about it. With this end in view, it will be our aim to prepare a series of questions at the close of each chapter bearing on the passage to be expounded in the succeeding one, so that the reader may study it for himself. Below are seven questions on the passage for the portion we shall take up in the next lesson, and we earnestly urge our readers to study the first thirteen verses of John 1, and to concentrate upon the points raised by our questions.

1.   What “beginning” is referred to in John 1:1?

2.   How may I obtain a better, deeper, fuller knowledge of God Himself? By studying nature? By prayer? By studying Scripture? Or—how?

3.   Why is the Lord Jesus here termed “The Word?” What is the exact force and significance of this title?

4.   What is the meaning of John 1:4—“The Life was the Light of men?”

5.   The fact that the Savior is termed “the Light” in 1:7, teaches us what?

6.   What does John 1:12 teach concerning what a sinner must do to be saved?

7.   What is the exact meaning of each clause in 1:3?

Pray over and meditate much upon each of these questions, and above all “Search the Scriptures” to find God’s answers. Answers to these questions will be found in the next chapter, in the course of our exposition of John 1:1–13.[1]

 

 

[1] Pink, A. W. (1923–1945). Exposition of the Gospel of John (pp. 7–16). Swengel, PA: Bible Truth Depot. (Public Domain)


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