Series Theme: Great Themes in John's Gospel
This Page: Studies that highlight the big themes about Jesus in John's Gospel
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Meditating on Great Themes in John: 1. The Incredible Word
John 1:1,14 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Reading through John's Gospel recently I have been grabbed afresh over how it seems John writes in big blocks, each block revealing something incredible about Jesus Christ. John doesn't try to copy the style of the Synoptic Gospels and produce a history of what happened; they have done that already. John has thought over many years of the wonders of what he saw in those three incredible years with Jesus and he has seen things and remembers things the others hadn't bothered with. Now he writes and every chapter or section seems to light up a whole new area of understanding. Yes, there are overlaps with the Synoptics because he is writing about the same things, but his emphasis is on the wonder of Jesus, not merely the acts of Jesus.
These first fourteen verses of chapter one, so often called the Prologue in John are staggeringly incredible. Have you ever been to a Christian event where they have on the back part of the stage a painter who paints large brush strokes throughout the event until suddenly at the end you see the picture and it is amazing. I find these first fourteen verses to be like that. Massive brush strokes.
Brush stroke number one, a word, The Word. He takes a concept used by the Greeks of that day and the Greek word is the Logos. There was a different Greek word for the spoken word; this ‘word' in the Greek means the Thought, the Reason, the Meaning, the power or force of life, the cause behind everything. John takes this brushstroke and paints in others around it to define it – in the beginning (when it was) – with God (where it was) – was God (who or what it was). Everything about this word, this expression, is of God; it is God expressing Himself.
He goes on in verse 2 - with God in the beginning (one with but distinct). Then in verse 3 more brush strokes – Through him all things were made (he was the agent of Creation) - without him nothing was made that has been made (he was essential to Creation). This word is God and yet distinct within God. This word was there at the beginning of all things, being the agent that brought all things into being.
But then verse 4 – In him was life (life, energy, movement, all came from him). Then another brush stroke – and that life was the light of men (this is life which brings meaning.) Then verse 5 more brush strokes - The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it (the meaning came and revealed itself but those there did not understand it.)
So far there have been philosophical concepts, tantalizing in their suggestions but then suddenly there comes a down-to-earth change: “There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John.” (v.6) Suddenly there is something simple and clear, almost off to the side of the picture perhaps, the figure of a man, not part of this word but beside it. So what is he doing, this man? “He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.” (v.7) He is part of the picture to speak about this word, this life bringing light, so that people would understand and respond to the word, this light. But be quite clear as you look on this picture being formed, “He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.” (v.8) He is distinct from this word, this life-bringing light He isn't this light; he just comes to tell about this light to get people ready to receive and appreciate this light.
So now we might be wondering about this light, so John adds more brush strokes: “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world .” (v.9) This light that is coming is real light, a light that affects every single human being so they will never be the same again. This light wasn't yet in the world and so the world was in darkness, unseeing, uncomprehending, and wondering, but it was coming. And so this light came. But then we realise there is a personal pronoun used about this light, and it has been there from the earliest verses – ‘he' – and this says that this word, this idea, this force, this light, is not some theoretical idea but a person: “ He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.” (v.10)
This person who had been involved in the very Creation was now in the world he had had a hand in creating, but his creation did not realise who he was: “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (v.11) This word comes as a human being but the other humans did not realise who he was, and yet eventually (the story will show) there were those who did respond to him and so, “who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (v.12) Wow!
Where did that come from. Suddenly there was a brush stroke on this picture that brought focus and the focus was the point of his coming – to create children of God! But how? “children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.” (v.13) This was all going to be a work of God. This is all about God coming to earth to create children for Himself! How incredible. But how did He do it? How was this Word, this light going to do that? “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (v.14) Oh my goodness! The Word, the meaning, the reason the power, the force that was God which had existed from before anything material came into being, this word appeared on the earth in human form, revealing the glory of the One who has always been, coming as a distinct expression of the Godhead, full of the wonderful love and goodness of God and utterly real THIS is who this Gospel is going to reveal.
Imagine the start of a film. You are in outer space. Wherever you look around you all you can see are stars, millions upon millions upon millions of them. And then the camera focuses on one gleam of light and dashes towards it but then as it nears it, it bypasses it and goes on to a tiny planet and homes in on it. As the camera dives through the clouds, land becomes visible and as it nears the land features become clear and soon buildings and people and then it homes in and stops in front of one single human being. We have arrived with John. Now who is this incredible one person who has had such incredible things said about him? What are we going to see through the eyes of this aged saint who had been there all those years back and witnessed the wonder of it all? Read on!
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Meditating on Great Themes in John: 2. Revealing the Lamb
John 1:29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
Moving away from the prologue John the writer picks up the thread of John the Baptist that was there in verses 5 to 8 of the Prologue but before he moves fully into John's testimony he gives us a summary in verses 15 to 18, first of how John proclaimed Jesus (v.15) and then in his own words how Jesus has brought grace and blessing to us (v.16). The Law had come through Moses but Jesus brought grace and truth (v.17). That's the third time he has mentioned grace and the second time he has mentioned truth in just a few verses. Another way of putting that? All of God's goodness and reality. Finally, Jesus is the only one to have seen God and now he's at his Father's right hand (v.18) There is enough in those few verses for a few meditations but we are simply seeking the big themes here so we will move on.
Verses 19 to 35 show us John the Baptist's testimony. First of all it is negative – he is NOT the expected one. Some think John the writer is including this in this way to counter those who had created a cult of following John as the Messiah. John the writer's aim here is to steer us through John's testimony to Jesus. John had spoken about the coming one who was already there (v.26,27), but suddenly we get the first of a number of testimonies or declarations about Jesus that fill the remainder of this first chapter. He sees Jesus coming the first time and declares, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (v.29) He links this statement with all he has said before about the coming one – this is he, this Lamb of God (v.30).
He then testifies how he saw the Spirit come down on Jesus (v.32) and explains how God had warned him to watch for this to happen, for this would be the sign that this was the one he had been speaking about (v.33). But now he has seen this and he makes this amazing testimony, “I testify that this is the Son of God.” (v.34) Whether he fully understands what this means in reality or not we don't know but he testifies in this way.
But then the next day John sees Jesus passing by and again heralds him, “Look, the Lamb of God!” (v.36) and with that John fades out of the picture for the time being at least. But consider what John has said about Jesus:
He, John, is not the Messiah.
The Messiah is coming and He will baptize people in the power of the Spirit
He heralds Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world
He testifies to seeing the Holy Spirit come down on Jesus
He declares him to be the Son of God
And a second time he heralds him as the Lamb of God.
John the writer has painted that amazing picture of the Word who was God who had now come to earth but has now turned up the magnification, so to speak, to show how this man, the Word, first came into the public eye through the ministry of John the Baptist. He moves from Greek philosophical concepts to Hebrew historical language – Messiah – Lamb of God. He doesn't explain these concepts, he simply introduces them via the means of the narrative of what happened. Jesus has said and done nothing yet but be baptized and heralded by John. We know nothing of him so far beyond what the two Johns have said; first the writer John through his lofty language of the Prologue, and then through the Baptist as part of his ministry of revealing him.
Within what John the Baptist says of him, the twofold work of Jesus is merely hinted at. He will take away our sin and he will baptize us in the Holy Spirit. They are mentioned in that order and indeed the reference to being baptized in the Spirit is sandwiched, so to speak between two declarations about Jesus being the Lamb of God. The truth is, of course, that we are only saved and can have a conversion experience because Jesus has died for us, and then we receive the Holy Spirit to empower us and enable us to have transformed lives,, but all the way through life we still have to rely upon the finished work of Christ on the Cross.
The picture of the sacrificial lamb comes, of course, from the Passover (see Ex 12) where the blood of a perfect lamb was shed so that the destroying angel would pass-over the homes of the Israelites and they would be saved when he saw the blood and passed them by. The apostle Paul understood this when he wrote, “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” (1 Cor 5:7) Likewise the apostle Peter: “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Pet 1:18,19)
The pinnacle of this comes in Revelation before the throne of God: “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne…. He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb….. And they sang a new song: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Rev 5:6-9) There is no question that the Lamb is Jesus and in the chapters that follow it is ‘the Lamb' who is mentioned again and again as the one who undoes the seals on the end time scroll.
So, from the great description of Jesus as the word, the light bringing life, John quickly moves us to the key reason for the coming of Jesus, the Son of God, to give his life as a sacrifice for sin, to take the punishment due to us. It is there from the word go in this first chapter – he is God, he has come in the form of a man and he has come to offer his life as a sacrifice for sin to win us back. Hallelujah!
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Meditating on Great Themes in John: 3. The People Interactor
John 1:35-38 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, "Look, the Lamb of God!" When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, "What do you want?"
This first chapter of John comes over to me like a New Year's Eve celebration at midnight, heralding in the New Year. First of all there is this tremendous spectacular about ‘the Word', a coming life that brings light, who comes from heaven now in human form. Massive concepts lighting the sky. Then it goes dark again for a moment until two searchlight beams burst out to reveal the Word in flesh but as a Lamb ready to be sacrificed. Two powerful beams. And then it goes dark again but now come a series of flash-light bulbs going off, revelations about this Word made flesh, revelations out of the mouths of humans. The search lights revealing the lamb had come from the mouth of a prophet sent by God; these flashlights going off come from the mouths of ordinary human beings, and they come as the Word starts to interact with them, and such is the interaction that they each make their brilliant contribution to the revelation.
John has just said for the second time, “Look, here's the Lamb” and this second time we find, “ two of his disciples…. saw Jesus passing by….heard him… they followed Jesus..” (Jn 1:35-37) There is a hunger in these two men. They have been with John but the hunger continues so when the Lamb is pointed out, they followed him. Their following is obvious and so, “Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, "What do you want?” (v.38a) They rely, “Rabbi" (which means Teacher), "where are you staying?” (v.38b) The Lamb is obviously also a teacher. Has John told them that or is it obvious? He gives them a simple invitation: “Come," he replied, "and you will see.” (v.39) “So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour.” (v.39) It was about 4pm and so they go and spend the rest of the day with him. So far, so good.
But watch what happened: “Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, "We have found the Messiah" (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.” (v.40-42) We don't know what was said in that relatively short time but somehow Andrew has been convinced that all of Johns words were true – this is the anointed one, the anticipated one, the Messiah. The light bulb flashes and so here in this very first chapter yet another description is given of Jesus. We have seen the Word, the life, the light, the coming one, the Lamb of God and now, the Messiah. Familiarity perhaps dulls our reception of these incredible revelations.
So Simon comes with his brother to see this one and “Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas" (which, when translated, is Peter)” (v.42) Comment is often made on the name meanings, Simon meaning small stone, Peter meaning rock. This small stone is going to become a rock, something larger, more observable, reliable, steady and dependable. Jesus reveals himself as one who looks at us and sees our potential. Jesus sees and knows.
The story moves on: “The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee . Finding Philip, he said to him, "Follow me.” (v.43) Jesus is obviously staying in this place for a while and so the next day he goes out looking for Philip. Now we don't know if Philip had been the other disciple with Andrew or just another one who was around to see John the Baptist. Not only have we seen Jesus the one who calls men to follow him, but now we see him as the one who goes looking for men (and women).
Now Philip's response is similar to Andrew's: “Philip found Nathanael and told him, "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote--Jesus of Nazareth , the son of Joseph.” (v.45) Another light bulb flashes. This is the prophesied one, the one Moses spoke about, the one we've been waiting for (another way of saying, the Messiah).
Nathaniel is skeptical about the description but comes to see for himself. “When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, "Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” (v.47) As he approaches Jesus takes the initiative with a description of Nathanael. It could be taken as bantering skepticism. Nathanael has just been skeptical about Jesus, he challenges the truth, he needs to know the truth. Jesus sees into Nathanael and immediately knows this. We might paraphrase Jesus' words as, “Aha, here is one of God's people for whom the truth is important!”
Nathanael answers a little defensively, “How do you know me?” (v.48a). Jesus gives an interesting reply, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” (v.48b) Now we don't know quite what that means but somehow it is, for Nathanael, like God has seen him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” (v.49). Another light bulb flashes. Whether he had been in a closed courtyard where no one could have seen him and whether he had been praying and questioning, we don't know, but Jesus ‘word of knowledge' speaks volumes to him!
The Word, the light bringing life, the coming one, the Messiah, the teacher, the prophesied one, and now the Son of God. Revelation after revelation! But we have been remiss for we did not pick up the earlier descriptions. In verse 14 Jesus was described as “ the glory of the One and Only,” and the footnote says, “or the only begotten”. That is repeated in verse 18 and in verse 34 John the Baptist made that incredibly clear declaration, “I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.” So again and again John the writer is leaving us with no room to doubt what he believes. This Jesus is the eternal word, the life that brings light, the Lamb of God who saves people from their sins, the Son of God who has come to reveal his Father in heaven. Flash, bang, crash, more flashes, the light of revelation comes again and again in this first chapter. If not a firework display, surely a kaleidoscope. How wonderful!
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Meditating on Great Themes in John: 4. The Life Transformer
John 2:11 This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee . He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.
So far, John has given us light-bulb revelations, knowledge of Jesus that comes in quick bursts through the mouths of others. Suddenly that all changes. As we move into chapter 2 John recounts an incident, early in Jesus' ministry, that he calls the first of Jesus' miraculous signs. John is big on signs; he sees the miracles of Jesus as signs that reveal him for what he is. We find the phrase ‘miraculous signs' appear in 2:1, 2:23, 3:2, 4:48, 6:2, 6:26, 7:31, 9:16, 11:47, 12:37 and 20:30, i.e. 11 times! The words ‘miraculous sign' appear in 2:18, 4:54, 6:14 , 6:30, 10:41 and 12:18 i.e. another 6 times. So seventeen times John refers to Jesus' miraculous activities as signs pointing to himself. We will also see later the number of times John uses the word ‘testify'. The two things go together as ways things point to Jesus to reveal who he is.
So here we find Jesus and his first followers a few days later at a wedding in Cana back in Galilee . They are there because Jesus' mother is a guest and so Jesus has been included and he simply brings along his few followers. It's an ordinary wedding but soon things go wrong: the wine runs out. Some Christians are a little sensitive about drinking alcohol but whether this was full blown wine or watered down wine, the fact is that wine was the drink to have at a celebration because it tasted good and it lightened people up. Don't forget that latter part. Yes the apostle Paul did teach, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” (Eph 5:18) The thrust of his teaching was don't lose self control.
So the wine runs out which would be both a cause of shame to those organizing the wedding celebrations and a dampener on the remainder of the party. To cut the story short for emphasis, Jesus gets large jars filled with water and then turns that water into what turns out to be very good quality wine. Now we sometimes so focus on the nuts and bolts of a story that we miss the big picture, the things being revealed in the wider sense.
First, this is a miracle, of that there can be no doubt. If Jesus had leant on a neighbour or nearby friend who had a large source of top quality wine, the logistics of ferrying it all in without anyone knowing would have made that impossible. Similarly if this story got out afterwards and it had not been true, the servants would have said so. Likewise there is no possibility that the person running the celebration would have held back a secret store of top quality wine because a) that would have reflected badly on him when the news of no more wine leaked out, and b) the practice was to use the best wine first and then bring out the poorer quality wine when every had had too much to drink (v.10) and were less discerning!
Second, this is about transformation. At the heart of it is water being transformed into wine, the ordinary being transformed into the special. Water simply slakes thirst, wine blesses the palate and releases the heart: “wine makes life merry.” (Eccles 10:19) There is no doubt about it that alcohol in small measure lifts the spirits (sorry for the pun!). Yes, in excess it causes unpleasantness, but winegrowing was a particular characteristic of the Promised Land. Remember the spies came back bringing bunches of grapes from Canaan (see Num 13:23). It had already got Lot to act without knowledge there for drinking too much of the produce! (see Gen 19:32-35)
But this is a major issue in this particular incident. Jesus isn't simply helping out, he is revealing his purpose in life to bring life transformation, from the humdrum to the boosted joyfulness. Do you remember when the Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost the effect on the disciples was to have some to accuse them of being drunk (Acts 2:13). Joy is a normal response to being filled with the Holy Spirit.
When Luke was recording the early events of Jesus' ministry, he used the incident of Jesus reading the scroll in the synagogue: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” (Lk 4:18,19 quoting Isa 61) That also is all about life transformation. Luke's record had been around many years so John didn't need to repeat it. Instead he conveys the same thing but through the first of the acts of Jesus, the miraculous signs.
Jesus in his teaching conveyed this, speaking indirectly of what he was doing as ‘new wine': “Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Mt 9:17) The message is clear, Jesus came to bring an effervescent life to replace the gloom and darkness of the sin-laden life. As Jesus' ministry developed and crowds were healed, joy must have been the primary characteristic of what was going on. That is what Jesus had come to bring and John conveys it through this miracle.
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Meditating on Great Themes in John: 5. The Temple Rebuilder ?
John 2:19-22 Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." The Jews replied, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?" But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.
This is not so much a great theme as an insight and recognition of the symbolic language that Jesus sometimes used to speak a truth but not in a way that many would understand. John has given us the multifaceted chapter 1 and then turned to a miraculous sign to show us that he is a life transformer and now he relates an incident that happened at the Feast of the Passover in Jerusalem and we may wonder what was the link or what was the train of thought that was going through John's mind as he possibly dictated this Gospel to one of his younger disciples.
So what happened? Our problem, I suggest is that we so focus on the drama of this incident that we fail to take note of the key significant thing that comes out of it, that is in fact the link to what has just gone before. So the drama. Jesus arrives in the temple and is horrified to see that it is a veritable market place: “In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.” (v.14,15)
Now we should note that this happens in the first year of his three year ministry in John, whereas it appears in the last weeks of his ministry in the Synoptic Gospels. It is logical to suggest that it did in fact happen twice. It is the start of his ministry and because he would have been to Jerusalem many times as he grew up, and had attended Passover celebrations there many times no doubt, he would have known what was going on. Sacrifices were required in the temple and the authorities had made it easy for people to buy them there rather than have to bring them any distance from home. It also made money for the Temple authorities. Jesus wouldn't have acted previously because his ministry has a clear beginning (with baptism and temptation and anointing) and so this is the first time he has been there since that. It is unlikely that he would not have acted until the last weeks only, because the cause of his indignation was clearly there the whole time of those three years.
It is probable that he did it at the start of his ministry because he is now moving under his Father's authority and it is probable that the temple remained ‘cleansed' for the next year or so and then gradually reverted back to the market approach by the time of his final Passover, when his cleansing of it would now act as a good means of provocation to stir the authorities against him to bring about the events of Good Friday.
What is interesting here is the response of the authorities. They want to know his authority. They don't so much deny it is wrong but want to know who he thinks he is. So, “the Jews demanded of him, "What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” (v.18) It is at this point that Jesus comes out with this enigmatic statement: “Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” (v.19) Now three things must follow logically from this: First, he is a deluded maniac who is just talking rubbish and can be ignored as such. Second, if he means recreating the physical temple in three days, he is claiming divinity, because only God could perform such a miracle. They have just asked for a miraculous sign to verify his authority and if he did that, that would certainly be a miraculous sign. Third, he obviously means something else but what that is they don't know. Certainly references so far to a temple always made you think of the physical building.
John adds the insight of the years: “But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.” (v.21,22) They subsequently realise that he was speaking about his own resurrection. So how does that link with what John has told us in the first half of chapter two?
There we saw Jesus the life transformer, as he transformed water into wine. Here we see Jesus the life bringer, and that is in respect of human beings. He doesn't only transform things and situations, he has the ability to transform human beings. If he can transform a dead body and bring it back to life, then he can transform anybody. More specifically, in the spiritual realm, he can take spiritually dead people and bring them to spiritual life and that is exactly what happens, of course, when someone is born again. Ah, there is the link to chapter three!
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Meditating on Great Themes in John: 6. The New Birth Bringer
John 3:3 In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again
The object of these particular meditations we have said is to catch the big themes that come through in John's Gospel. In chapter 1 we had a quick glimpse of Jesus changing Simon's name to Peter, an indication of the change that was going to come to his life. In the first half of chapter 2 we saw Jesus change water into wine, a picture of what he has come to do with each of our lives. In the second half of chapter 2 we saw him speaking of his capability of bringing life to even a dead body, thus bringing us hope for eternity and hope that our spiritually dead lives can be brought alive by Jesus.
An now we come to Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus. Here we will not focus on who Nicodemus was or even why he came at night time to speak with Jesus. In this context all we want to note is the area of thinking that Jesus led him into – which is more about new life, more about being transformed.
The conversation again starts with reference to the ‘miraculous signs' that Jesus is performing (v.2). Jesus' response is challenging: “ I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (v.3) Now why does he say that? He says it, I suggest, because he sees into Nicodemus and sees a longing and a frustration. The fact that Nicodemus has risked coming to Jesus says he is a seeker. Yes, he wants to know but even more, he wants to experience. It like he was saying, “Jesus, you have obviously got it all worked out. You are a teacher but unlike any of our other teachers, you operate with God's power. What is that all about?”
Jesus' response infers, “Well yes, these miracles are clearly signs of God on the move, God ruling, God's kingdom in operation, but if you want to operate in this realm you need to start life all over again on a completely different basis.”
“Hold on,” says Nicodemus, “how can that happen? The picture language you are using says I need to start life all over again. How can that possibly be?”. Well, says Jesus, you need the work of both water and the Spirit. (v.5). Many have speculated on that double suggestion because it is not spelt out. Yes, it is a mystery, like where the wind blows (v.8) but water in the Bible, apart from being a source of life, is usually associated with getting washed, and the Spirit is associated with power. So Jesus' indirect references suggest this ‘new birth' comes with a washing away the old and being renewed or rather brought to life from death by the Spirit.
That's incredible, suggests Nicodemus, how can that come about? These are spiritual things discerned by spiritual people, people who have encountered heaven, is what Jesus implies and turns the conversation towards himself: “I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?” (v.11,12) In other words, look, you are struggling when I try to convey these things in human terms, how will you do if I try to convey the secrets of heaven?
The answer, of course, in the light of what went before, is that you won't, you've got to be born again first. It will only be when the Spirit enters your life and empowers you that you will plug into God's wavelength and He will be able to teach you these things. But that still leaves Nicodemus and any other seeker feeling helpless. So what help is there to bring all this about?
It will be, says Jesus, when I am lifted up (v.14). Do you remember how Moses had a bronze snake that was lifted up on a pole so anyone who came and looked on it was healed from their snake bites? Well that is how it's going to be with me. When I am lifted up – first on the Cross, then by resurrection, and then in the ascension – then you will have something to focus your belief on, and when you believe I am who I am, then my Father will grant you eternal life. It is that simple.
Wow! There is the personal life transformation spelled out. The name changing gave an indication of what was coming. The wine showed the power that was available to bring the change, the talk of resurrection pushed it to include spiritually died lives, and now the talk of new birth pushes it to its conclusion. It will come as a work of cleansing from the past, and power for the future, and it will bring a total life transformation. It all comes about when we are confronted with and come to believe in the thrice ‘raised up' Son of God. When we see him as he is, and see ourselves as we are, we fall on our knees before him in surrender and in worship and he puts his own Spirit in us and we are reborn. Transformation! Hallelujah! He does in us what we cannot do ourselves. How wonderful!
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Meditating on Great Themes in John: 7. John's Recap: Picking up the Threads
John 3:31,32 The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony.
The back half of chapter 3 is very much a recap section; it is as if the aged John, being a good teacher, knows that you should go back over the ground again and again to make sure your pupils or disciples have taken it in. The verses that follow the account with Nicodemus, so well known, appear to be Jesus speaking but may be John's comment: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16) How we take these for granted but from this new perspective they again reveal Jesus as the one and only Son of God and as the object of our faith and the bringer of eternal life. Twice previously we have seen Jesus proclaimed as the Son of God (1:34,49) and three times Jesus speaking of himself as that prophetic ‘Son of man' (1:51,3:13,14).
These verses accentuate the fact of Jesus being the object of our faith: “everyone who believes in him may have eternal life,” (3:15) and “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,” (3:16) and “Whoever believes in him is not condemned,” (3:18) and “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” (3:36) Previously we've seen Jesus as the Word, the light-bringing-life, the coming one, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the life transformer and it is now as if John is saying, “I've said all this so that you know who you are to believe in: HE is the object of your faith, HE is the means of you being forgiven, cleansed and inheriting eternal life.”
But then John picks up a thread from the Prologue where we read, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood (or overcome) it.” (1:4,5) Now he adds, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (3:19-21) Jesus' life so stood out that it was like the light, say, of a lighthouse, that drew men to him. His love, his grace, his goodness, his power to transform lives and bring healing, this had people flocking to him, but the truth also was that those who hadn't come to the end of themselves and preferred to stick with the evil of their own self-centred, godless lives shied away from him, rejected him and even plotted against him. His life did that; it either attracted you or repelled you, and that all depended on the sort of person you were.
So that was one thread from the Prologue but there was another that John now picks up: “There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.” (1:6,7) Of course after the Prologue we saw John's ministry pointing to Jesus and John the writer reverts to that again now to emphasise John's testimony. Jesus had also been baptizing people with his disciples (3:22) and John was still baptizing not far off (3:23) and his disciples came to him pointing out that Jesus was also baptizing (3:25,26).
John's response was, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, `I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.” (3:27,28) Now this has an echo of Jesus' words to Nicodemus: “I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven--the Son of Man. ” (3:12,13). John said, I can only speak what heaven gives me; Jesus says, I have come from heaven. This will be something that is repeated again and again in John's Gospel. It doesn't appear in the Synoptics but John remembered it and realised how significant it was.
Previously John had denied that he was the Coming One (1:20,21) and we suggested that the writer was including this to counter the cult of John-followers that was around later in that century. Now John says, “The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.” (3:29,30) He can't make the implication any clearer: Jesus is the bridegroom and I am merely his friend. He's the all-important one at the wedding!
He speaks again of their origins: “The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful.” (3:31-33) Jesus has come from heaven and so is above all others. I, says the Baptist, am from the earth. He speaks from what he knows of heaven but people don't understand that but I do and I accept what he says is the truth. Wow! Strong testimony!
The chapter concludes with, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him..” (3:36) Jesus is THE object of our faith and he is the one who enables us to receive eternal life.
So John has picked up the following threads:
That Jesus is the focal point for all belief
His life stands out like a beacon drawing the hungry and thirsty to him
John the Baptist testified to him
Jesus has come from heaven and brings a heavenly perspective
Believing in him brings eternal life.
These threads or themes are repeated more than once and will come up again in the chapters to come.
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Meditating on Great Themes in John: 8. The Water Dispenser
John 4:10 Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."
Remember our goals here, to pick up on the big themes, the big ideas, the big concepts, the big pictures that John brings to us. Thus when we look back over the previous chapters we see such concepts as life and transformation coming through again and again. Jesus brings ‘life' and that life transforms situations, people and circumstances. Simon being changed to Peter, water being changed into wine, talk of resurrecting a dead body, new birth, talk of starting life all over again – life and transformation.
And so we come to Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman, in the midst of which we are going to find ourselves wrestling with the idea of living water. That is the big idea that is here. But what we start to note is that these ‘big idea' come disguised in the midst of circumstances or in the midst of talking. Simon became Peter in the midst of talking. Water into wine came about because of circumstances, a crisis at a wedding. Talk of resurrection came about out of the circumstances of a temple upheaval followed by the talk about it. Talk of new birth came in the middle of a discussion.
We point this out because so often in Bible Study we focus on the details and miss the big things. Thus when we come to this incident there are things we could consider in the details but the big picture comes in a few words in the middle of it all.
The story starts in Judea but because of controversy Jesus decides to return to Galilee (see 4:1-3) To do that he has to pass through Samaria (v.4) He pauses outside a town, a place of some historical interest (v.5,6) and because he is tired he pauses up at a well and sends the disciples into town for provisions (v.6,8) These are the background details to this incident.
The incident itself involves a Samaritan woman who comes to draw water and Jesus asks her to give him water (v.7). This surprises her because Jews and Samaritans historically disliked each other and had as little to do with each other as possible (v.9) It is in this context that Jesus drops his bomb: “Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (v.10).
Now I think most of us, when we come to this story, revel in the details of it and the way Jesus goes on to open up this women by asking about her husband, and in so doing we skirt around the difficulty of understanding around the concept of “living water”. Just what does that mean? How can water live?
Consider the basic concept of life – movement. If something is alive, there is movement If a person is alive blood is pumping around the body and brain waves are detectable in the brain. There is movement. Living water is moving water as against still water, the water of a stream as against that of a pond. For drinking purposes the Jews preferred running water, living water.
But there is something else about this living water that we might not have noticed if Jesus hadn't said it. Water slakes thirst but an hour later you are probably thirsty again, especially in a hot climate: “Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.” (v.13,14) Whatever it is that Jesus is referring to, it will bring a satisfaction that nothing else can bring. He explains how it will be so: “Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (v.14b) i.e. when you receive this water it will start to become a continuous flow of life, a life source that will never end.
The criteria, quite obviously, to receive this living water is to be thirsty, but as this is not material water, if we can call it that, it must be spiritual water, and therefore we are talking about a spiritual thirst. Rarely do we see people who are truly hungry or thirsty for spiritual things but when we do they are obvious. I know a man, the only man in the church I belong to, who is showing real signs of spiritual hunger; he really yearns for whatever God has got and it is wonderful to behold. It is a sign that he is going to encounter the Lord in a new way and move on into a new dimension of experience with the Lord. (How many of us opt for sitting back, self-satisfied, content and complacent with what we've got and so, subsequently, have little? Pray that the Lord will stir a spiritual hunger and thirst in you).
This idea and promise is found in various places in the Bible. Near the end, “To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.” (Rev 21:6) Isaiah had said, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” (Isa 12:3) Salvation will quench a thirst. The psalmist had also expressed it, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” (Psa 42:1,2) Isaiah brought further revelation from the Lord, “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.” (Isa 44;3) This living water that satisfies will be the Holy Spirit. Zechariah had also prophesied, “On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem , to cleanse them from sin and impurity.” (Zech 13:1) This living water will also cleanse and purify. Jeremiah chastised the people, “because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water.” (Jer 17:13) Yes, it was familiar concept and the Lord Himself is the source of this water.
Now this concept takes us on a stage from what has gone before, because before it was simply Jesus speaking about transformation possibilities but now the possibility comes in response to our hunger and our seeking and is something we receive, and therein there is a responsibility conveyed. Instead of just speaking about this generally, it is like Jesus is offering this, holding it out for whoever will come.
The encouraging thing in this context is that it is being offered to a woman whose life is a wreck (see 4:16-18) and the implication is that this living water is available for anyone – but you have to acknowledge your state, you have to acknowledge your need; that is what hungering and thirsting is all about. Isaiah mixed a couple of word pictures to convey something about this: “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!” (Isa 55:1) Thirst is the primary requirement but don't think you can earn this gift; it comes free to those who realise they have nothing. Wow!
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Meditating on Great Themes in John: 9. The Man of Power
John 4:49,50 The royal official said, "Sir, come down before my child dies." Jesus replied, "You may go. Your son will live."
We are, remember looking for big themes in this Gospel of John. Apart from the theology that John has imparted in his writing, we have seen Jesus exercise power just once – turning water into wine. Now what is intriguing is that back in chapter 2 after that miracle we find Jesus going back to Jerusalem to the Passover where he overturns the tables in the Temple but in what follows we find John recording, “Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name.” (Jn 2:23)
Now we have already commented on John's references to ‘miraculous signs' but when we get to the end of the passage at the end of chapter 4 we are going to find, “This was the second miraculous sign that Jesus performed, having come from Judea to Galilee.” (4:54) Now a careless reading might result in someone saying, “Why only the second miraculous sign; surely he has already done more of them in Jerusalem ?” Our answer has to be yes, but perhaps the emphasis should be on the words, “having come from Judea to Galilee,” meaning this was the second sign up in Galilee . The first sign up there had been turning the water into wine, so what happened here and why was it so special and what does it say about Jesus that John wants to emphasise?
Before we go on to answer those questions we need to note something in passing. When we said, ‘that John wants to emphasise', we are reminding ourselves that this particular Gospel is almost a series of cameos (short sketches making important points). Yes, he puts them in historical context but all we are seeing is the tip of the iceberg as far as the things Jesus did are concerned. Already just now we noted that summary verse about his activities in Jerusalem where he obviously did many things that John just didn't bother recording, and at the end of the Gospel he emphasises all this when he writes in his closing words, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (Jn 21:25)
So what is so special about the incident we're about to look at and why did John include it? From our previous study we move on and the Samaritan women has returned home and told her people about Jesus. They come out and meet him: “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, "He told me everything I ever did." So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers.” (Jn 4:39-41) First, some of them believe because of her testimony but when they meet him and he stays with them for two days, more of them believe in him.
After this he continues his journey to Galilee and there he is greeted warmly because a number of others had returned from the Passover at Jerusalem telling of what he had done there. (v.45) It is in this context that we find Jesus returning to Cana where the water into wine incident had occurred and there he is accosted by a desperate ‘royal official' (presumably from Herod's palace) who had come from Capernaum when he had heard Jesus had arrived back from Jerusalem (v.46,47).
The man is desperate for his son who is near to death (v.47) and he begs Jesus to come and heal him. Jesus is challenging but it is unclear whether he means the man or the people of Galilee generally when he says, “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders, you will never believe.” (v.48) Now whether he is simply stating the obvious about their unbelief or whether he is highlighting the words, ‘miraculous signs', or whether he is simply seeking to provoke the man to outright faith is not clear. The man persists: “The royal official said, "Sir, come down before my child dies.” (v.49)
It is what follows that makes this so remarkable. “Jesus replied, "You may go. Your son will live.” (v.50); it simply lacks drama. Now to make sure we understand the significance of this, John records, “The man took Jesus at his word and departed. While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, "The fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour." Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, "Your son will live." So he and all his household believed.” (v.50-53) In other words Jesus in Cana speaks the words and the son, some seventeen or eighteen miles away in Capernaum is healed. John identifies this as a miraculous sign (v.54) and so it clearly was.
It is one thing to somehow turn water into wine when you are in the same room, but to heal a dying boy many miles away by a simple word takes us onto a much higher plane where we are considering Jesus. So we have now seen the power to change material things, talk of the power of resurrection and the power to bring about a new birth, the power to bring living water as a new life source and now the power and authority to bring about an amazing healing at a distance by a simple words. Any questions?
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Meditating on Great Themes in John: 10. The Father's Son
John 5:16-18 So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. Jesus said to them, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working." For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
We have moved on through the various pointers to Jesus being the one who comes to transform circumstances and lives, concluding at the end of the previous chapter with the spectacular healing from a distance of a royal official's son, which John heralded as a miraculous sign. Now as we move on into chapter 5 we find yet another healing but John doesn't bother to herald this as a miraculous healing; he has another purpose for including it.
What happened? Jesus returned to Jerusalem (Jn 5:1) for another of the feasts (we aren't told which one, it is obviously not significant). He goes to a pool that apparently had healing powers where a number of sick people gathered and to cut a longer story short, he healed a man who was a long term invalid (Jn 5:2-9) Again this is a spectacular healing in that the man in question had been an invalid for thirty eight years, an indicator that society could do nothing for him.
But then we find that this healing was carried out on the Sabbath (v.9b) and after he was healed the man was left to carry his bed to whatever home he had. As he did this religious Jews (and this was Jerusalem !) challenged him for they saw it as doing work and that was forbidden on the Sabbath (v.10). The man simply replied that the man who had healed him told him to take his bed with him (v.11). When they question him who that was he doesn't know (v.12,13). Later Jesus sees him and the man was able to tell those who had challenged him who it was who had healed him on the Sabbath. (v.14,15)
There are question marks over this man for Jesus told him to stop sinning lest something worse happened to him (v.14) and the man is quick to get Jesus in trouble afterwards. Jesus must have known what he was like but went ahead and healed him nevertheless. Perhaps Jesus wanted the following discussion to occur by way of testimony.
So the Jews come after Jesus (v.16) and he takes this opportunity to speak about the relationship he has with God, his Father: “Jesus said to them, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” (Jn 5:17) Now John seizes on this comment to point out that the reason for opposing Jesus was greater than merely working on the Sabbath: “For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” (v.18) There is no question here; they see Jesus calling God his Father in a unique way, a way that suggests that he too is divine. In their eyes this is blasphemy, and of course it is –unless it is true!
Now in case there is any question about this Jesus piles the teaching in: “Jesus gave them this answer: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.” (Jn 5:19-23) See his claims:
1. The Father and Son work in complete harmony.
2. The Father shows him everything He is doing and the Son joins in His work.
3. This work will involve even greater things than they have so far seen.
4. This will involve raising the dead.
5. This also involves judgment and the Son judges in the same way as God (the Father).
6. This also means that the Son will be honoured in the same was as God (the Father)
7. If you don't honour the Son it means you aren't honouring God (the Father)
When we see it like this there is no question about Jesus' claiming divinity – he is!!! Jesus continues to expand this (read v.24 to 31), reiterating these claims. But then, because he knows the Jews will start questioning the validity of his testimony, he goes on to speak about John the Baptist's testimony of him (v.31-35) but goes on to say that his very work testifies to having been sent by the Father (v.36) In the closing verses of this chapter he pushes the point even more.
The point of this miracle in Jerusalem is not to much to reveal a miraculous sign as to open a way for Jesus to proclaim there his relationship with the Father and thus reveal his divinity. This entire chapter is all about the Son of God, the divine Son of God.
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Meditating on Great Themes in John: 11. The Bread of Life
John 6:35 Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty
When we come to the feeding of the five thousand in the fist part of chapter 6, we could be rather blasé about it. We have heard Jesus talk about changing Simon into Peter, we have seen him change water into wine, we have heard him speak about resurrection possibilities, we have heard him speak about new birth transformation, we have heard him speak about being source of living water, we have seen him heal an official's son from a distance, we have seen him heal a long term invalid and now to find him feeding well over five thousand people with five loaves and two fish Jn 6:1-13), we may be tempted to think, oh, just another miraculous sign. Well, yes, it is heralded as a miraculous sign (v.14) but it is something much more and that will only become clear as we progress through the chapter.
But note in passing we have seen two instances of physical healing and now we have seen two instances of Jesus changing physical substances – first the water into wine and now expanding a small amount of food to be able to feed a large number of people. It is no wonder that the people started to identify Jesus was the coming prophet Moses spoke about (see Deut 18:15) and surely a man who could provide for them in such ways was worthy to be their king.
But that is not Jesus' plan and so he quietly leaves and, I suspect, goes off to pray leaving the disciples to pack up and start off across the Sea of Galilee in a boat. The trouble with miracles is that with pigeon-hole them, we put them in little boxes and fail to realise the bigger implications. I say this because John has shown us the one who is master over material things and over the state of our bodies and so neither we nor the disciples should be surprised when Jesus follows them across the lake – but without a boat! They were terrified when they see him walking across the water towards them (Jn 6:16-21). They had not realised that God can change water into wine, can expand bread, can impart life when there is only death and can bring healing to sick bodies and so essentially can do anything in His world – and that Jesus is His Son and so can do the same! It is interesting that John makes no comment about what the disciples felt the next morning but I guess they were looking at Jesus through new eyes. Perhaps it was beginning to sink in who it was who they had with them!
But John's attention is taken up with the crowd who had been fed and who now followed Jesus (Jn 6:22-25) When they question Jesus about how he got there, he ignores their question and challenges them over why they have come. This is an opportunity to teach the truth, based on what happened the previous day: “Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (v.26,27) You've come, he says because I fed you, but don't make getting physical food the central focus of your life, food that will keep you going for a limited time on this world (implied by what follows). Focus instead on getting spiritual food which is lasting and produces eternal life, which I alone can give you. Wow!
Now Jesus had just said work to get the right sort of food so they ask, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” (v.28) i.e. what does God want of us to be able to earn this sort of food. “Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (v.29) We are back there again. We've seen it before in this Gospel: believe in Jesus, that is all that is required of you.
The crowd respond rather obtusely, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do?” (v.30) Hold on, he did it yesterday evening! But they, like so many of us, don't like being challenged so they are responding with a challenge of their own: “Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: `He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” (v.31) i.e. we're Moses' followers and he did that miracle so what will you do if you are his prophet? Well, actually, he didn't, it was God who did, replies Jesus (v.32) but in saying it he adds a slight edge to it: “it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.” The true bread? Yes, “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (v.33) The bread of God is a person????
To this they reply, “Sir, from now on give us this bread.” (v.34) Do they know what they are asking, I wonder. It is then that Jesus makes this powerful response: “ I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” (v.35) What is he saying? I am the source of all life. Bread is often referred to as the staff of life, the essential food to enable us to live. I leave you to ponder more fully on that.
However in the verses that follow, note the number times when Jesus says he has come down from heaven (and the implication is, where he has existed from eternity before coming to earth): “I have come down from h eaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” (v.38) “They said, "Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, `I came down from heaven' ?” (v.42) “ here is the bread that comes down from heaven , which a man may eat and not die.” (v.50) “I am the living bread that came down from heaven .” (v.51) “This is the bread that came down from heaven .” (v.58) This teaching was not there in the Synoptic Gospels but John makes sure we see it again and again. This Jesus is the eternal Son who existed in heaven and who left heaven and came to earth, and he is the source of all life.
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Meditating on Great Themes in John: 12. The Lamb to be eaten
John 6:53,54 Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
We've just seen the feeding of the five thousand and the subsequent teaching by Jesus of him being the bread of life that has come down from heaven. Because of lack of space we did not go on to see how he extended that picture when he said, “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (Jn 6:51) We find a kind of morphing of bread into flesh in Jesus' teaching here and we must not rush by it because it combines two great pictures.
The bread coming down from heaven was not difficult. In the time of the Exodus in the wilderness, another ‘bread' called manna had come from heaven, provided by God for forty years to supplement the meat they would have had from their herds and flocks. The Jews were very mindful of this and had pointed Jesus to that time, but Jesus wants to take them on into realizing what they need to do with this ‘bread' that has come down from heaven that he is now speaking about. It (he) is not just for looking at. Bread is for eating. So he turns the picture from a picture of bread to focus next on his physical presence with them, and then with what they need to do with that physical presence.
Observe the transition. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” That seems simple - if you accept his claim that he has come from heaven. Probably in its simplest form some might have thought, ‘receive him and he is the means of receiving eternal life.' It's a bit like the more modern, “Ask Jesus into your heart and you will be saved.” We don't imagine a literal heart that a physical being forces itself into; that would be silly. In the same way we might challenge people to explain what “Ask Jesus into your heart” means, we might now ask in our explanation above, what does “receive him” mean?
Jesus gives the answer, “This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” Step 1 – understand that this bread that I am talking about is me, my very being, my very body, my very flesh. There is coming a time when I will surrender this body to save you all but, yes, it will be my flesh that will literally die. These words create confusion in the listeners: “Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (v.52)
Now back in chapter 2 when we considered Jesus' words about rebuilding a temple in three days we considered possibilities. The possibilities here are either a) he is talking about cannibalism which is just so far from anything else that Jesus taught it needs ruling out of court straight away, or b) he is using his flesh to convey a picture truth that needs thinking about. Jesus pushes them further with this picture: “Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.” (v.53-57) If this is not to be taken literally, what is it to say to us?
“unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man” The flesh of Jesus was his body, what they saw, heard and watched. Unless you take into your life all that you have seen and heard of Jesus you won't have real life. Flesh is what covers the bones, the skeleton and the organs. Flesh in this context, I would suggest, is the account of all that we have heard and know about Jesus. Eating it means taking in and accepting all these truths and absorbing them into our lives that we become changed. That's what food does.
“and drink his blood.” This was more difficult because this part of his ministry was still in the future. The body and blood speak of two parts of his ministry. The body was what did all the things recorded in the Gospels, that taught, that did miracles, that worked out the will of the Father as the kingdom of God . ‘The blood' refers to the giving of his life as a sacrifice on the Cross. Blood poured out was a sign of life departing. Jesus' life departed from the body as he took our sins on the Cross.
So, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day,” refers to us receiving (believing) and taking in (being changed by) the knowledge of his ministry for three years and then his death and resurrection for us. The result will be our receiving eternal life and a resurrection life.
What about, “For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.” ? Well if you put it as we have above, Jesus is saying, “for my works received by you will feed your faith, and my life poured out for you will be a real means of life being imparted to you when you are forgiven and cleansed.”
OK, but what about, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.” Perhaps it is like Jesus says, “if you receive my ministry and my death for you, you will become one with me.” He adds, “Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me,” i.e. this is all part of the plan of my Father so if you receive me and all my works and let them fully into your life and sustain and keep you, you will truly live and be incorporated into the living, dynamic plan of my Father, His kingdom.
He reiterates it from the original picture, “This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.” (v.58) This, that I have been speaking about, he says, is the ‘bread' that has now come down from heaven and is different from the manna you referred to because the people still died when they ate that, but if you eat of this ‘bread' you will live forever.
This bread is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29), “a lamb without blemish or defect….. chosen before the creation of the world .” (1 Pet 1:19,20), “Worthy ….to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!” (Rev 5:12) yet “slain from the creation of the world,” (Rev 13:8) and who is, “is Lord of lords and King of kings.” (Rev 17:14) THIS is what we have to take in, chew over, digest and be strengthened in. The bread sustains and feeds us; the Lamb provides the way for it to happen. Hallelujah!
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Meditating on Great Themes in John: 13. The Water Dispenser (2)
John 7:37-39 On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.
Back in chapter 4 we were presented by Jesus with the idea of living water – water that brings life, transforming water. We are about to see it again but this time in very significant circumstances that emphasise its importance even more.
Following his talk about his disciples needing to ‘eat him' a number drew back. Their depth of commitment was not enough to support their lack of understanding. Indeed unbelief was common even around Jesus because when we move into chapter 7 we find Jesus' brothers trying to encourage Jesus to go up to Jerusalem to the Feast of Tabernacles (Jn 7:2-4) and John concludes their comments with, “ For even his own brothers did not believe in him.” (v.5) So here we have this amazing state of affairs where Jesus performs incredible miracles and still, even some of those close to him don't believe. Yet he goes to the Feast quietly and then part way through the Feast starts teaching and causing opposition. He is now clearly in the public eye.
And so let's consider the Feast, one of the three big Feasts of Judaism (the others being Passover and Pentecost) when any Jewish male living within twenty miles was required to attend, and others further afield might go anyway. This Feast required everyone to construct and live in small booths (like tents or ‘tabernacles') to remind them of the time in Israel's history when they had wandered in tents in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land (see Lev 23:33-43 & Num 29:12-39). It was to be a period of great feasting and celebration. But it was also harvest thanksgiving (Lev 23:39,40) once the harvest had been gathered, a great time of thankfulness, therefore, for God's provision in the wilderness and in providing now.
Part of the ceremony each day required the worshippers to bring palm and willow cuttings to the Temple to form a kind of screen or roof while they marched around the great altar. At the same time a priest took a golden pitcher and went down to the Pool of Siloam and filled it with water which was carried up through the Water Gate while the people recited, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” (Isa 12:3) The water was carried up to the Temple and poured out on the altar as an offering accompanied by other chants from the psalms. This was a means of thanksgiving for God's provision of water which gave life to the land and enabled the harvest to come about, as well as historically remembering the water that had flowed from the rock during their time in the wilderness.
And so the Feast draws near an end and we find, almost certainly as the water pouring over the altar ritual was reaching its climax, “On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (v.37,38) Suddenly the big emphasis that is being acted out before them is focused on Jesus. It is as if he is saying, “This water will never completely slake your thirst but if you are spiritually thirsty then come to me and drink of what I have to give and you will be satisfied because, just as the Scriptures say, streams of living water will flow from within you.”
Some have suggested this refers to “You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail,” (Isa 58:11) and others, “A fountain will flow out of the LORD's house and will water the valley of acacias.” (Joel 3:18) There are no verses to specifically tie to these words of Jesus but the idea of water (life) flowing from God is certainly there in the Old Testament.
John provides his own commentary: “By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.” (v.39) In other words Jesus was referring to the Holy Spirit welling up within the believer when he comes to Christ and is born again, a fountain of life from within.
Now to pick up on the various things said above, we may summarise Jesus' challenge as follows:
1. In the same way as God provided miraculous water supply in the desert, so I provide for you a miraculous supply that does not rely on natural means.
2. In the same way as this feast (highlighted by the pouring out of water at the climax) reminds of God's provision both in the wilderness and as a means of bringing a harvest today, so my provision will keep you in the dry places and enable you to be fruitful.
3. This provision is conditional upon you believing in me (Jesus).
4. This provision is not one-off but a life-long supply.
5. This provision des not come by some outward activity or source, but from inside you, from my supply, from my Holy Spirit.
These are the things at the heart of this amazing challenge at this crucial time in Israel 's life. A big theme? Absolutely!