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: 14. The Light of the World
John 8:12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
If John was writing his Gospel as a college dissertation today he would probably get 2 out of 10 for style. I say this because we come on to this amazing declaration by Jesus which comes in this form, first here and then in 9:5 but what gets worse, the miracle emphasising this is wrapped round that latter verse but there have already been numerous references to Jesus being light. How much better today, we might think, if it was all neatly packed together in one bundle, but the Bible is not like that, it brings it out bit by bit as it occurred in the various circumstances, so let's check out these ‘light' references.
We saw the first references in the Prologue: “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (Jn 1:4,5) i.e. the source of all life was in Jesus and he himself was like a light that shone gloriously in this dark, sin-tainted world, and he was not recognized or understood. But then came, speaking of John the Baptist, “He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” (Jn1:7-9) John's job was to point out the life that brings light to every human being.
Then we saw in what we called John's Recap, John summarizing Jesus ministry as follows: “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.” (Jn 3:19-21) This light – Jesus – reveals hearts. Those who are open to God allow his light to shine in and transform. Those who prefer evil shy away.
We have seen previously that the background to this part of John was the Feast of Tabernacles and now Jesus has come to the temple courts to teach (8:2). The fact that they bring a woman to him here (8:3-12) suggests he was teaching in the Court of the Women. On the first day of the Feast there was a ceremony called the Illumination of the Temple in which four great candelabra were set up and lit at dusk, producing such a great illumination that light was spread far and wide.
Whether those lights continued throughout the Feast and afterwards is uncertain, but even if not, the candelabra were probably still there and so Jesus possibly stands alongside them (being early morning the light would now be out) and makes this claim which might be interpreted as him saying, “Well, you've seen the great light that has been here but I am a light that lights up the entire world. If 8:1-12 was indeed part of the original writing, he is speaking straight after the dismissing of the charges against the woman caught in adultery and it is like he is also saying, “I am the light that shows up the imperfections of every man and woman but I have come to dispel their darkness with my light.
After ongoing discussion and argument Jesus leaves the temple precincts (8:59) and as he goes he comes across a man who had been blind from birth (9:1). Rather than get into a debate with his disciples about the cause of this man's blindness, he simply heals him (9:2,3,6,7) but not before he has declared, “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (9:4,5) Perhaps we can simply suggest he is saying, “We must do the Father's works while we still have the opportunity. There will come a time where the light of the world will appear to be snuffed out (temporarily at least) and it will be dark and these works will be halted, but while I am still here in person, I will shed light into the lives of all who come to me.”
The fact of this man having been blind from birth makes the picture even more vivid. It is like Jesus is showing through this miracle that he comes to bring light and therefore revelation to all those who have been spiritually blind since birth – as we all were. He alone opens our eyes so that we can see; that is part of his work and that of the Holy Spirit.
After a lot of discussions, arguments and provocations by the Jews and specifically the Pharisees who were against Jesus, he declares, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” (Jn 9:39) I like the Message Version's rendering of this: “ Jesus then said, “I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretence of seeing will be exposed as blind.” Those who have been spiritually blind will be enabled to see the truth when they come to Jesus but those religious people who thought they were the ones with the truth, will be revealed as actually being spiritually blind. This is what this light actually does – provide sight for those who recognise their blindness and reveal the true state of those who are self-sufficient and think they see it all – but don't.
Later on, in further light references, Jesus declares, “Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light.” (Jn 12:36) and “I have come into the world as a light , so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” (Jn 12:46) The wonder is that we can become light bringers when we come to him and when we do come to him his light shines in and through us so that darkness (sin) not longer has a place in us. The word ‘light' appears 24 times in John's Gospel and again it is all about transformation, us being changed from living in darkness to become and living in light. How wonderful.
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Meditating on Great Themes in John: 15. The Identity of Jesus
John 8:13,14 The Pharisees challenged him, "Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid." Jesus answered, "Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going.
There are, I conclude, two major overriding themes that come through in John that we have seen so far. We have focused on one – the transforming power of Jesus – but have not really covered the other, which in some ways is more important – the identity of Jesus. We did comment briefly in an earlier study about the number of times the word ‘testify' comes up in John. It is a word used about giving evidence about a person, to identify them and what they have done, a word used in connection with court cases where there is serious work being done to establish the truth.
Jesus has just said, in the temple precincts, “I am the light of the world.” (Jn 8:12) This upsets the contentious Pharisees who basically say, you can't be a witness in your own defence, your testimony is not valid. The Law required two witnesses (Deut 17:6) and of course Jesus knew this. Earlier he had said, “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid.” (Jn 5:31) That's all right, he went on to say, “There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is valid,“ (Jn 5:32) and then he refers to John the Baptist: “You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth.” (5:33)
But he doesn't rely on that (v.34,35) and goes on, “I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me.” (Jn 5:36,37) i.e. his works testify to who he is and indeed back at his baptism the voice of the Father had also testified to who he was (Mt 3:17)
Now to back that up, as the conversation in chapter 8 proceeds, Jesus declares, “In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two men is valid. I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.” (8:17,18) Again he makes it very clear that God is his witness.
A little later in the conversation they demand, “Who are you?” (v.25) and Jesus replies, “Just what I have been claiming all along, ” and adds “But he who sent me is reliable, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.” (v.26) and then John adds, “They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father.” (v.27) Jesus adds, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” (v.28,29)
This is one of those three occasions that Jesus refers to himself being lifted up (see Jn 3:14, 8:28 and 12:32,34) He is, I believe, also ‘lifted up' three times – to death on the Cross, in the resurrection, and in the ascension. All three have something vital to say about him – the Cross is where our sins were carried, his resurrection affirms who he is, and his ascension is the way to him being seated at the Father's right hand where he now reigns. These three testify to who he is.
Peter, preaching under the anointing of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, declared, “listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:22) In other words the miraculous signs (the miracles) that the Father enabled him to perform accredit who Jesus is. When he was preaching to the gentiles in the house of Cornelius he preached, “You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached-- how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. "We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem .” (Acts 10:37-39) It was the same message – the works of God testify to who Jesus is.
The word ‘testify' is found 12 times in John's Gospel and 3 times in his first letter. John is a witness and wants to shout it from the rooftops. In his final teaching to the apostles before going to the Cross, he taught them, “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” (Jn 15:26,27) Today there are three witnesses to Jesus, the Son of God – the Holy Spirit, the Bible and Christians. All we have to do is point people back to the Gospels and say, “This is the one who calls you to follow him and allow him to be Lord of your life.” The records are quite clear and show very clearly just who Jesus is.
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Meditating on Great Themes in John: 16. Gate & Shepherd
John 10:7,9,11 Therefore Jesus said again, "I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep….. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture….I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
We said in the previous study that we discern two major themes running through John's Gospel – the transforming power of Jesus and the identity of Jesus. These verses above speak more to the second theme but reveal how the first one comes about. What is intriguing about them is that, unlike so much else that we have seen where there are links with many earlier verses, the thoughts about a door and the good shepherd appear to come from nowhere, with no earlier links. So why does John introduce them here or, perhaps, in the chronological flow of history, why does Jesus say these things now?
Well, what has just gone before? The blind man has just been healed and there has been much discussion about Jesus' authority to heal like this, and Jesus has spoken about being the light of the world who reveals the blindness of the Pharisees. The picture Jesus has just been painting by word and deed has been of the one who comes to open the eyes of the blind to let them see and enter God's kingdom. Now in the Old Testament, the Jews were familiar with the concept of a doorway or gateway into heaven. The patriarch who would give them their name Jacob (to become Israel ) had a dream and we see, “He was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” (Gen 28:17). We just referred to people ‘entering the kingdom of God ' which in Jewish eyes was virtually tantamount to being given entry to heaven, so Jesus applies the idea of a gate to himself: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep.” (v.7) The implication is, “I am the doorway to heaven”
But he links this idea with sheep and refers to Israel as sheep, which was a very familiar concept for them in Psalms and in the prophetic books (use a concordance to look up the many references). Jeremiah introduced the concept of lost sheep (Jer 50:6) and Ezekiel also added to it (Ezek 34:4) and Jesus himself referred to the “lost sheep of Israel ” (Mt 10:6), the ones to whom the apostles should go to be brought into God's fold. The imagery here is unmistakable: “I am the way for the lost sheep of Israel to return to their Lord. in heaven.”
We need to retrace our steps and see the earlier verses in this chapter: Remember we just said he had called the Pharisees blind and now he says, “I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.” (v.1) The sheep pen appears at first sight to be the land of Israel , God's covenant people, but Jesus when he speaks about the kingdom of God means the covenant people who obey and respond to their Lord so He can exercise His rule in and through them. The sheep fold might, therefore, be better associated with the ideas of the kingdom of God or place where God's rule is experienced. But there is only one way in to this ‘fold' and this implies Jesus is God's appointed ‘gate' and anyone who tries to gatecrash (an interesting word!) the sheepfold has obviously tried to appear to get in some other way but they are not there to benefit the sheep but to steal them, and take them off somewhere else (lead them into error). Strong condemnation!
So now he extends the analogy and says the only person to get in through the gate is the shepherd: “The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep.” (v.2) he then says something intriguing: “The watchman opens the gate for him.” (v.3a) The ‘watchman' must be angelic beings or the work of the Holy Spirit. (In Ezekiel's ‘wheels within wheels' prophecy in Ezek 1, the rims of the wheels were full of eyes. In John's vision of the throne room of heaven in Rev 4, the four living creatures are covered with eyes. Whatever the meaning we have a picture of ones who see all things – watchmen if you like.)
What then follows is a picture of intimacy between shepherd and sheep: “the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.” (v.3,4) The sheep recognize his voice, he knows them individually and calls them each by name, he leads them out in the world and they follow him In fact, “they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice.” (v.5) The work of the Pharisees and all the other religious groups is doomed to failure because the sheep – those of God's real people – deep down know His voice and no other voice will comfort and make them secure.
Now it makes sense when Jesus says, “All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.” (v.8) Of course the sheep wouldn't follow anyone else because there is only one voice that will touch something deep within them and bring them peace and comfort. Anyone who came before Jesus in that four hundred year period of silence between Nehemiah/Ezra and the Gospels was just a pretender and so it was no surprise that the people collectively did not follow them. There is a complexity in these verses of chapter 10, a mixing together of the analogies of the door (or gate) and the shepherd. For the moment, we've noted the emphasis on the door or gate: “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.” (v.9) The entry into God's kingdom comes through Jesus alone; accept no substitutes. We will go on to consider more the picture of the shepherd in the next study.
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Meditating on Great Themes in John: 17. Gate & Shepherd (2)
John 10:7,9,11 Therefore Jesus said again, "I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep….. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture….I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
We said in the previous study that t here is a complexity in these verses of chapter 10, a mixing together of the analogies of the door (or gate) and the shepherd. Initially the greater emphasis is on the door or gate and we concluded with: “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.” At the beginning of this chapter Jesus had started this idea with, “I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep,” (Jn 10:1,2)
He had then spoken about being the one who enters the fold and leads the sheep out (v.3), and goes ahead of them and they follow him because they know his voice (v.4) but will not follow a stranger (v.5). Up until that point most of that had been about a figure who is surely the shepherd. Then he had twice declared he was the gate (v.7,9). In verse 8 he reiterated what he had said earlier that those who came masquerading as him previously had been thieves and robbers. Now in verse 10 he expands on the warning, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” Three times in these verses he has warned about thieves, robbers and now murderers.
A word about these robbers and thieves. The Jewish historian Josephus, in his ‘Antiquities of the Jews' wrote of this time, “Now at this time there were ten thousand other disorders in Judea, which were like tumults, because a great number put themselves in a warlike posture, either out of hopes to gain to themselves or out of enmity for the Jews.” Chapter 10 of Book 18 of those ‘Antiquities' is worth a read, listing various men who sought to lead insurrections. All of these would-be ‘saviours', Jesus said, are thieves and robbers who do not come from God. These men come to destroy but by contrast Jesus goes on, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (Jn 10:10)
Having outlined something of the behaviour (access and speech) of a genuine shepherd and not a robber (as a well as possibly as an aside saying he is the Gate), he now declares, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” and maybe the emphasis being on his sacrificial role.
However his identification with “the good shepherd” could not have been missed by the Jews because throughout the Old Testament the picture was conveyed of God being the shepherd of Israel . There is David's famous psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”. (Psa 23:1) There was also, “You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.” (Psa 77:20) and “Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock.” (Psa 80:10) It was a common and well-known idea.
Ezekiel also had a long passage about God being their shepherd: “ For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.” (Ezek 34:11-16) I have emphasised the ten things He had said He would do as their shepherd.
In verses 14 & 15 Jesus reiterates this: “ I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me-- just as the Father knows me and I know the Father--and I lay down my life for the sheep,” but parallels the ‘knowing' of and by his sheep with the way he knows and is known by the Father. It is a picture of intimacy. But again he has declared his sacrificial role, willing to give up his life for the sheep.
In the intervening verses he declares, “The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” (Jn 10:12,13) He compares himself now, not with the thieves and robbers he previously spoke about, but with those who might appear to look after Israel as ‘hired hands. The contrast he is surely making is that he is not hired but is in fact the owner of the sheep. This strengthens even more his claim to divinity in this picture in the light of all the Old Testament said about God's sheep.
Later at the Feast of Dedication (v.22), Jesus is there in the temple area again (v.23) and the Jews again demand that he tell them who he was (v.24). He speaks again of the miracles he did but said, “but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.” (v.26) It is as if he picks up the previous analogy and wants to push it on. He says various things about his sheep (v.28):
This incites increased hostility so Jesus asks, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” (v.32) to which they reply, “We are not stoning you for any of these, but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” (v.33) The gloves are off. The previous teaching may have been with oblique references but now Jesus is quite specific.
To summarise: Jesus claims to be both the way into God's kingdom (the sheepfold) and the one who looks after his sheep, even to the extent of laying down his life for them. That latter point surely points to the Cross. Hallelujah!
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Meditating on Great Themes in John: 18. Resurrection and the Life
John 11:25,26 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.
We said earlier in this series that one of the great overriding themes in John is the transforming power of Jesus Christ. Very briefly we mentioned that in reference to Jesus speaking about his own resurrection (Jn 2:19,21) when he said, “ Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." But the temple he had spoken of was his body.” The whole subject of his resurrection power is now presented to us head on in his words and deeds in respect of Lazarus.
The start of the story seems strange at first sight. Lazarus is ill and his sisters send for Jesus (Jn 11:1-3) but when Jesus receives the message he purposely stays where he is for another two days (v.4-6). Eventually he tells the disciples they are going back to Judea to ‘wake him up' actually meaning to revive him from death (v.11,13).
By the time they get to Bethany Lazarus has been dead and buried four days (v.17). When she hears Jesus is coming, Martha goes out to meet him and when she greets him it seems a greeting with faith in it: “Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” (v.21,22) Jesus reassures her, “Your brother will rise again.” (v.23) to which she replies, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” (v.24) She simply states what good Jewish teaching taught, that we will all rise on the last day to face the Lord. If her previous greeting had been one of faith it seems she dare not quite go as far as to say, “Yes, you can bring him back now.”
It is in this context that Jesus then made the next of his ‘I Am' statements: “ I am the resurrection and the life . He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (v.25,26) After this he presses here, “Do you believe this?” (v.26b) to which she replies, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” (v.27) Excellent!
To cut a long story short, Jesus then goes on and with a word of command raises Lazarus from the dead. And so we have word and action together. What do they mean? Well very obviously we see that Jesus doesn't only have the power to change water into wine, a little bread into much bread, heal from a distance and heal the long-term sick, he can even raise people from the dead, people who have been well and truly dead for at least four days. This is power and authority beyond anything ever seen in a human being before or since.
So what did Jesus actually mean by the words, “I am the resurrection and the life.”? (v.25) Well we must take his own explanatory words. First, “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies,” i.e. if we believe in Jesus even though we pass through death we will live. There is no time element in this and so it seems to imply that we will go on living even as we apparently pass through death. On the other side we will be alive. We don't have to wait for some end time resurrection. This seems confirmed by what he then says, “and whoever lives and believes in me will never die,” (v.26) saying the same thing but in different words.
It thus seems that Jesus means, I am the cause and the means for you to have eternal life and never die. Yes, there will be an end time resurrection when all come before the Lord, but before that believers will be resurrected in the sense that they will rise up the other side of death and continue living in heaven. Eternal life is conveyed at the moment of new birth. Jesus had previously said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” (Jn 5:25) Life comes with his word just as it did with Lazarus. When we are born again, he speaks the word and we receive eternal life at that moment, a life source (his Spirit) that ensures that even though our body will one day cease operating our soul and spirit will continue living in eternity.
In the Synoptics there are references to “inheriting” eternal life. We inherit it the moment we come to Christ and are ‘born again' (Jn 3:3) or ‘converted' (Acts 15:3) and we will realise it in reality as we pass through the experience of death and find ourselves alive with Him on the other side of that experience. We will not have to wait but it will be there as a steady, continuous flow of life of the soul. “ Today you will be with me in paradise,” Jesus told the thief on the cross. (Lk 23:43)
The fact of the resurrection being applied to us, is the first part of Jesus claim but he also added , “and the life.” There is a life to be lived out both here now and on into eternity. For the moment we live it through a material body but in the same way that Jesus' resurrected body seem to have different characteristics, so will our ‘spiritual body', as the apostle Paul put it: “ it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (1 Cor 15:44) As theologian-author Tom Wright puts it, ‘ That is what Paul means by the 'spiritual body', not a body made out of non-physical spirit, but a physical body animated by the spirit, a spirit-driven body if you like, still what we would call physical but differently animated. And the point about this body is that, whereas the present flesh and blood are corruptible, doomed to decay and die, the new body will be incorruptible.'
It is in this ‘body' that we will live in eternity. It is an experience of which we are told little in the Bible only that it is real and that it is with God and that it is good. That is the life that Jesus gives us having ‘raised' us from ‘death'. This is our destiny. We will go on to consider ‘the life' more in a later study.
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Meditating on Great Themes in John: 19. The Tide of Acceptance
John 12:9-11 Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him.
A sub-title for this study might be, ‘The Battle for Belief'. When we come to chapters 11 and 12, with the raising of Lazarus the battle for belief that has been going on throughout the book seems to come to a climax. This battle for belief is rather like the tide that goes in an out. In this study we will note the incoming tide and then in the next one the outgoing tide. The incoming tide is belief, the outgoing tide is rejection. We have earlier commented that one of the main overriding themes of John is the identity of Jesus. This theme of belief in him is rather like a sub-theme to that, how people responded to the revelation of who he was. (That we will see very clearly in the next study after this one).
John hinted at this tide early on in the Prologue when he wrote, “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (Jn 1:5) and then, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (Jn 1:10-12) There it is simply laid out – three things people did not do in respect of belief, but nevertheless there were some who obviously did believe and came to be children of God. As we go through John we will see the signs of this tidal movement. So, let's look at the incoming signs.
“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.” (Jn 2:11) In chapter 1 we saw individual responses of the early disciples to meeting Jesus (see Jn 1:41,45,49). Having seen this miracle their faith is bolstered. Yet things were said and done that even they struggled with : “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.” (Jn 2:22) i.e. at the time they did not understand what he was saying.
Nevertheless the things he did swayed the general people: “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)
When he left Jerusalem and returned to Galilee via Samaria, after the encounter with the Samaritan woman we find, “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. They said to the woman, "We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” (Jn 4:39-42)
He leaves there and goes to Cana in Galilee where, you remember, he healed the official's son from a distance and we read, “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.” (Jn 4:53) After the feeding of the five thousand we find, “After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, "Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world." Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” (Jn 6:14,15) But the tide can change so quickly. Before the end of the chapter we read, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” (Jn 6:66)
The conflict of belief versus unbelief becomes clearer in the following chapters: “Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp. Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days. Here he stayed and many people came to him. They said, "Though John never performed a miraculous sign, all that John said about this man was true." And in that place many believed in Jesus.” (Jn 10:39-42) When the opposition rose, Jesus stepped away and allowed there to be opportunities for belief to grow in others.
We see the peak of his approval on what we call Palm Sunday, “The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, "Hosanna!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Jn 12:12-13) and a little later John explains why this peak of popularity: “Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him.” (Jn 12:17,18)
There is still a growing opposition in some quarters that we will examine in the following study, but the battle for belief still raged: “Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue.” (Jn 12:42) John likes that word ‘believed' for it occurs 19 times in this Gospel. The identity of Jesus is a key theme but how people responded to it is equally important in terms of volume of the reports in John.
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Meditating on Great Themes in John: 20. The Tide of Acceptance (2)
John 3:19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”
We spoke about a ‘The Battle for Belief', and said it is rather like the tide that goes in an out. Now that was true of the ordinary people, it seems, but it also seems that there was a constant undercurrent that flowed against the incoming tide, an undercurrent that was there in the religious people of the day, which is tragic when you think about it; they should have been the people to appreciate Jesus first, but when you accept second best and the best turns up, that is a challenge.
We noted this tide early on in the Prologue when John wrote, “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (Jn 1:5) and then, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. That was John's overall summary of what happened in the long-term and our verse at the top which comes in what we called John's Recap reiterates that and explains it. Where people are established in sin they will reject Jesus. You may find that difficult to believe but I once spoke with someone for five hours about Jesus and at the end of it they said, “I understand all that you are saying, and I can see it, but I like this life of sin and I want to hold on to it.” And with that they got up and left. People often reject Jesus because they want to hang on to the life they have, as wrong as it may be.
The thing that upset the religious Jews the most was whenever he referred to himself in divine terms, uniting himself with God, for example, “I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I am!" At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds” (Jn 8:58,59).
A little while later, two chapters on, we find the same thing: “I and the Father are one." Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, "I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?" "We are not stoning you for any of these," replied the Jews, "but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” (Jn 10:30-33)
But this ‘undertow' or ‘undercurrent' first came to light when Jesus went and cleansed the temple in chapter 2. After he had done that we find, “Then the Jews demanded of him, "What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” (Jn 2:18) which is a fairly natural question to ask in the light of what he had just done, but it was a seed of rejection rather than of acceptance as their future behaviour revealed. Chapters 3 and 4 are chapters of acceptance but they are to do with one man, Nicodemus and then one woman, the Samaritan, and her neighbours. When we come to chapter 5 we are back in Jerusalem and although Jesus heals a long-term invalid, the religious Jews were upset about it because it was the Sabbath, a day when no work was supposed to be done (Jn 5:9,10).
It was shortly after this we see the first of the Jews' objection to Jesus' references to his divinity: “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.” (Jn 5:17,18)
In chapter 6 we saw the feeding of the five thousand then Jesus walking on water and then his teaching on being the bread of life. It is within this that the Jews get upset again: “At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven." 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'?” (Jn 6:41,42) After he later speaks of them needing to eat his flesh we find, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him .” (Jn 6:66) Now this appears rejection more from lack of understanding that anything else and this is rejection by ordinary people rather than the religious Jews of Jerusalem.
As they approach the Feast of Tabernacles John notes, “For even his own brothers did not believe in him .” (Jn 7:5). The crowd in Jerusalem reveal the split opinions about him: “Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, "He is a good man." Others replied, "No, he deceives the people." But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the Jews.” (Jn 7:12,13) but it was when he started teaching in the temple precincts that it really warms up: “Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, "Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, but I know him because I am from him and he sent me." At this they tried to seize him , but no one laid a hand on him, because his time had not yet come.” (Jn 7:28-30)
Again the opposition, although muted, is because of his claims to divinity. It continues, “On hearing his words, some of the people said, "Surely this man is the Prophet." Others said, "He is the Christ." Still others asked, "How can the Christ come from Galilee ? Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David's family and from Bethlehem , the town where David lived?" Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. Some wanted to seize him , but no one laid a hand on him.” (Jn 7:40-43) There is clear division and those against want to take it to the next level.
The next attack on Jesus comes from the Pharisees and we find , “You do not know me or my Father," Jesus replied. "If you knew me, you would know my Father also." He spoke these words while teaching in the temple area near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him , because his time had not yet come.” (Jn 8:19,20) and the hostility is because of his claims to divinity, yet again. We have already seen how this culminated in them wanting to stone him (Jn 8:58) The Jews' refusal to believe becomes even clearer in their cross-examining the blind man healed in chapter 9. Again we have seen their desire to stone him in 10:31-33 for claiming to be God.
It is the Lazarus incident that really brings it to a climax: “Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. "What are we accomplishing?" they asked. "Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation…… So from that day on they plotted to take his life . ” (Jn 11:47,48,53) In the closing stages of his public ministry, John records, “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him . This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:” (Jn 12:37,38)
To summarise: In Galilee he was completely accepted; it was only when he came south to Jerusalem that Jesus received opposition Mostly the ordinary people accepted him although they struggled at times with his teaching. The opposition came whenever he even hinted at his origins and it came from the religious authorities, and this gradually built until the tide was right out and the awful events of Good Friday came about.
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Meditating on Great Themes in John: 21. Way, Truth and Life
John 14:4-6 You know the way to the place where I am going." Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
We have called these ‘Great Themes' but the truth is that sometimes this ‘theme' is a single phrase and gets its significance from others like it. So in our verses here in chapter 14 we have Jesus declaring that he is “the way, the truth and the life”. If it is significant it is because it is one of the seven “I AM” sayings of Johns Gospel. We have not highlighted these before so perhaps we should do now. These are seven self-descriptions of Jesus introduced by "I am" (see 6:35, the bread of life, 8:12; the light of the world, 10:7,9, the gate, 10:11,14, the good shepherd, 11:25, the resurrection and the life, 14:6, the way, the truth and the life, 15:1,5 the vine.) The significance of the “I AM” element of these sayings is that “I AM” was the name that God gave Himself to Moses (see Ex 3:14) which forms the Hebrew name Yahweh which is always shown as LORD in capital letters throughout the Bible. It is taken by most that Jesus is in each of these making a subtle claim to divinity.
In context, Jesus has just said, “Where I am going, you cannot come. (13:33)….. Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later. (13:36) ….. You know the way to the place where I am going,” ( 14:4) to which Thomas replied, “Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (14:5) it is this which makes Jesus reply with this threefold saying. So what does it mean?
The WAY: The Jews knew the Old Testament often spoke of ‘the way', for example, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, " This is the way ; walk in it.” (Isa 30:21. Check also Gen 18:19, Deut 1:32, 5:33, 9:16, 13:5, Psa 1:1,6, Psa 5:8, Psa 18:30 etc. etc.) The ‘way' in each of these references indicates a specific way to live. We associate ‘way' with path or road and this ‘way' leads us into eternity with God.
When Jesus is saying, “I am the way,” he is saying I am the way to live as God designed us to live and I am the path that leads to heaven and to eternal life. The illustration has often been given of a man arriving in a city and asking the way to a specific destination. Various people give him directions but directions are always difficult to follow. Eventually one man he asks says, “I will come with you and show you.” He becomes the way. In the same way Jesus comes literally into our lives by the presence of his Holy Spirit to lead us and guide us and encourage and inspire us on towards the ultimate destination, living out the life in the God-designed way.
The TRUTH: Again the Jews knew about truth in their writings, for example, “Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth .” (Psa 86:11 See also 1 Kings 17:24, Psa 25:5, Psa 26:3, etc. etc.) but there is more to think about. What is the truth about existence? There is a living God who has designed and created all that we know. He energises it and communicates with it and interacts with it. This is the truth. Everything flows from that.
When Jesus says he is the truth, he is saying that he is ultimate reality and everything finds its meaning in him. He is behind everything and “without him nothing was made that has been made,” (Jn 1:3) and indeed, he is “sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Heb 1:3) Without Jesus, nothing is. That is how significant this is. Truth is fact, reality, what is real. Jesus claims to be only what God could claim to be, ‘the ground of all being'.
The LIFE: Again the Jews knew all about ‘life' from the very beginning: “the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Gen 2:7) Life comes from God and life energises everything else. (Also check out Psa 21:4, Psa 39:5, Psa 133:3 etc. etc.) Whenever we speak about a living creature (or even a plant) it gets its life from God. “For with you is the fountain of life.” (Psa 36:9) But now life is a way to be lived in accordance with how God has designed us. John says of Jesus, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” (Jn 1:4) Most of the time now when scripture refers to the life that Jesus brings it refers to ‘eternal life'.
Listen to some of the phrases from Jn 5:22-29 from the Message version: “ The Son gives life to anyone he chooses…. Anyone here who believes what I am saying right now and aligns himself with the Father….. has at this very moment the real, lasting life …..This person has taken a giant step from the world of the dead to the world of the living… … dead men and women will hear the voice of the Son of God and, hearing, will come alive.” Before we come to Christ we are spiritually dead (which is why we are insensitive to God and He seems a million miles away) but when He draws us and we come and surrender, He imparts real life – His own presence, the Holy Spirit – and this life becomes one with our soul and we have eternal life which takes the soul on (as we saw when we considered resurrection) Jesus is life and Jesus leads us in the life God has designed for us. Hallelujah!
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Meditating on Great Themes in John: 22. Love is
John 14:31 the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.
We have commented that sometimes these ‘themes' run all the way through John and at other times they are simply a short burst of light in one place. Well, the word ‘love' appears 27 times, I think it is, in John and the word ‘loved' another 21 times. Having reached chapter 14 in our studies I found I was arrested by this short but strange verse above which links love and obedience. In the verses just before this one Jesus has spoken about his ‘going away' (14:28,29) and then says, “I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me.” (Jn 14:30) That in itself is a strange verse because it says although Satan is coming to do something soon, he has no hold on Jesus. The implication has to be, in hindsight, that this refers to the coming time when Jesus will be arrested, tried and condemned and put to death on a cross. Satan may provoke all this but the implication is clear that Jesus is allowing this to happen and, we know, that is so that the will of God planned before the foundation of the world can be worked through and salvation brought through the Cross.
So, implies Jesus, through observing all that I am about to go through the world must learn of my love for my Father that will I will go through the Cross before it is exactly what my Father wants, it is exactly His will. My love for him must be seen through my obedience of Him.
Now love, in John's Gospel, is seen in two ways: first in God's love for us, but then it is seen in us, for Him, by our obedience. To receive His love we have to be obedient to His calling and His directions and that obedience reveals His love now in us, reflecting back to Him. Well we said above that the words ‘love' and ‘loved' appear nearly fifty times all together in John so we haven't enough space to cover them all, so let's just pick out a few to consider.
Our starting place must be to see His love for us in that classic verse, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” (Jn 3:16) Later in his first letter John will write, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 4:10) This is the way round it is. God first loves us and that melts us so that we can come to love Him.
As the end approaches we find, “It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. (or to the uttermost)” (Jn 13:1) One commentator's version puts it, “although he had always loved his own people in the world, decided to show them what his love was like in a way which went to the ultimate limit.” Now we may take that to refer to going to the Cross but what he then did immediately after this verse should also be taken into account. He strips down and as a servant washes their feet and then proceeds to eat the Passover Supper with them and explain many things of the kingdom that are found nowhere else.
This is Jesus sharing his life with them and revealing the sort of people they are going to have to become to follow him. This is the love of the Godhead opened up and revealed – the Son is given from heaven, he enters into intimate relationship with his followers, reveals his servant heart, and literally lays down his life so that we might be saved and be able to come into that same close relationship with the Father.
It is with this in mind that he instructs his disciples: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit--fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.” (Jn 15:9-17)
Watch his teaching:
1. Love is revealed in the way Father loves the Son and the Son loves us.
2. We are to live in the light of this love at all times.
3. Proof of that is obeying God in all things at all times – but that brings joy.
4. Jesus love in us is a sacrificial love that puts others first.
5. This love takes us from being servants to friends of Jesus, chosen by him to come into a deep relationship out of which fruit flows.
6. As we live like this the Father will give us whatever we ask as we live in His will.
7. His will? To love one another!
Love starts with the Father, is seen in the Son and is expressed towards us. As we encounter it and allow it to melt us, so we are transformed and express it. Being the sinful beings that we are though, it isn't something we only do naturally, it is something we have to actively put on (see Paul in Col 3:14). We may not feel (emotion) loving all the time and so it is simply an act of the will to be obedient to the Father's leading and teaching. Love and obedience are inseparable as John shows in his first letter again and again.
Love is shown as the essential character of God (God IS Love – 1 Jn 4:8,16) revealed in His sending His Son (Jn 3:16) and in Jesus laying down his life for us (Jn 13:1). As we receive his love and receive him into our lives so this love becomes a basic feature of our lives and behaviour and as such is seen in our obedience of him. Amen!
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Meditating on Great Themes in John: 23. The Holy Spirit
John 14:15-17 "If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever-- the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.
When you compare the Gospels, Mark has the fewest references to the Holy Spirit (6) then Matthew (12), then John (16) and then Luke (17). However so many of those are to do with Jesus' or John's birth and Jesus' temptation. When you take those away, the picture changes: Mk – 5, Mt – 8, Lk – 10, Jn – 16. Something else that is interesting is that when you look at the Synoptics, none of the titles of the Holy Spirit are descriptive but when you come to chapters 14-16 of John all the titles are descriptive. John brings a new clarity to the person and work of the Holy Spirit.
In John the Spirit is mentioned three times in connection with John the Baptist, (Jn 1:32,33), three times in connection with Nicodemus and the new birth (Jn 3:5-8), then one reference in Jn 3:34, one in 6:53, and two in 7:39 and no others before chapters 14 to 16. What we do find though, is a number of references to ‘spirit' (3 in Mt, 2 in Mk, 4 in Lk). In John the word ‘spirit' is used 7 times (all of this excludes ‘evil spirits') John appears that much more aware of the spirit-dimension to life and to the ministry of Jesus. So let's see what he says in chapters 14 to 16 – 2 references in ch.14, 1 in ch.15 and 2 in ch.16. Not a lot, but significant.
Chapter 14: Our starting verses again, “If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever-- the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (v.15-17) The key to receiving the Holy Spirit is obedience. In Acts the apostle Peter testified, “We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit , whom God has given to those who obey him .” (Acts 5:32) He is given when we respond to him and surrender our lives in repentance and confession and are born again. As Jesus said, “he lives with you and will be in you.” (v.17) Moreover note that he is called a ‘Counselor' (older versions have ‘Comforter' meaning a helper, a supporter and an encourager. He does all these things in and through us. But he was also called “the Spirit of truth ”. Now God is also known as the God of truth (see Psa 31:5) and Jesus has also recently said “I am… the truth.” (Jn 14:6). Truth is a key characteristic of the Godhead.
Also in chapter 14 we find, “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (Jn 14:25,26) Here again he is called the Counselor and whereas the previous verse just identified him as the one who was coming to them, now he mentions part of his work – to teach and to remind. It may be this latter work that is the cause for the very existence of John's Gospel. We have commented before that elderly people seem to be able to remember the distant past very clearly but the recent past very badly. Well that may have been true of John but it may also be the working of the Spirit to enable him to remember specific things the other Gospels had not brought out.
Chapter 15: “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.” (Jn 15:26) A third time he is called a Counselor, a second time he is called the Spirit of truth. This time his work will be testifying to Jesus. He will come to us and convince us of the truth about Jesus, and so we will testify also: “And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” (Jn 15:27) That was their unique calling; ours, like the blind man of Jn 9, is to tell what we know has happened to us and relate it to Jesus, and the Spirit will give us the words (Lk 12:12)
Chapter 16: “Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.” (Jn 16:7-11) A fourth time he is called the Counselor. The message version puts verses 8 to 11 very well: “ When he comes, he'll expose the error of the godless world's view of sin, righteousness, and judgment: He'll show them that
their refusal to believe in me is their basic sin;
that righteousness comes from above, where I am with the Father, out of their sight and control;
that judgment takes place as the ruler of this godless world is brought to trial and convicted.”
This is his work of convicting or convincing us of the truth: there is sin as opposed to righteousness and sin will be judged by God and Satan will be dealt with.
Also in chapter 16: “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.” (Jn 16:13-15) A third time he is called the Spirit of truth. He will lead us in the truth, warn us about the future, and generally share Jesus' heart with us. He is after all ‘the Spirit of Jesus' (Acts 16:7, Rom 8:9, Gal 4:6, Phil 1:19, 1 Pet 1:11)
Thus we find in John this designation of the Holy Spirit, that he is the Counselor (the helper, supporter, encourager), the Spirit of truth who comes to teach and remind about who and what Jesus is as revealed in the New Testament, and to show us the meaning of our sin and failure, and the possibilities of righteousness in Christ, and he does all that from within us where he dwells today. Hallelujah! Thank the Lord that John brings this clarification and understanding.
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Meditating on Great Themes in John: 24. The True Vine
John 15:1,5 I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener…. I am the vine; you are the branches
The previous chapter has concluded with, “ the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me. "Come now; let us leave.” (Jn 14:31) This we noted two meditations back, but now it comes through even more clearly. Obedience, he has just said, will be the revealing characteristic of my love for my Father, so why does he move into talking about himself as ‘the true vine'? The answer doesn't come until verse 5 onwards but we need to consider the first four verses first. To say he is the ‘true' vine suggests that there are false vines.
So what is a vine but a plant common to Israel and vine and vineyard occur quite often in prophetic picture language, for example, “The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the house of Israel .” (Isa 5:7) where Israel are an unfruitful vineyard. But they are also spoken of as a vine: “I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine?” (Jer 2:21) Also, “ Israel was a spreading vine,” (Hos 10:1) which goes on to speak of their failures. Now when we stop to think of Israel 's role in the world, that sheds light (sorry for the pun). They were to be a light to the Gentiles (Isa 42:6 & 49:6), to reveal God to the world as His people – but so often they failed. Therefore, when Jesus says, “I am the true vine”, he is saying, I am the true representative of the Father, I truly reveal Him to the world. ( “He is the image of the invisible God”. Col 1:15)
But then he goes on to talk about branches of the vine, concluding, “I am the vine; you are the branches .” (v.5) i.e. his followers grow out of him. He is the true representative of the people of God and all would-be followers of God grow out of him. But he also adds that, “my Father is the gardener,” and he describes Him as this because of what the Father does: “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (v.2) The Father expects the branches of the vine to produce fruit and it they don't He will cut them off, which is what the apostle Paul suggests in Romans 11 has happened to Israel ; they have been cut off from the life flow of the vine that is God.
But Jesus goes on to emphasise this important point about the vine and the branches: “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (v.4) He doesn't say what it is but it is clear that God expects us to bear fruit and that fruit comes as we commune with and share our lives with Jesus, and he with us. The apostle Paul expected that fruit to be imparting material and spiritual blessings to one another, especially as we see need (See Rom 15:27,28). He also speaks of the fruit of the Spirit (Rom 5:22,23) and of the fruit of light - goodness, righteousness and truth (Eph 5:19 & Phil 1:11), and the fruit seen in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God…. great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father ( Col 1:10-12). All of these are examples of the fruit that the Father looks for in our lives as we share in the life of Jesus imparted by his Holy Spirit. Where there is no fruit, there is a question of whether we are truly Christians and He separates us from the vine (or from the body to use a different analogy – see v.2,6) Where we do bear some fruit He trims or prunes (v.2) to we will be even more fruitful.
Now we started off by asking why, when he has just been speaking about his obedience being an indication of his love for the Father, does he go straight on to speak about being the true vine? This, we suggest, now starts becoming clearer. The picture of the vine is of Jesus, the source of all spiritual life out of whom we, all believers, grow, i.e. we are his branches. He has emphasised our need to bear fruit as his branches and we do that by abiding in him, or in sharing his life and it becomes clear that fruit comes with obedience: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love.” (v.9,10).
Do you see the link? 14:31 saw Jesus declaring, “ the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.” Love is revealed through obedience. He is the source of all life (being the vine) and so we must abide in him (as his branches) and when we are obedient to him we will produce fruit and reveal our love for Jesus and his Father. Abiding in him means abiding in his love and abiding in his love means doing what the Father wants and in so doing we both experience and reveal the Father's love. It is a vital picture – life flow from Jesus that produces obedience, that reveals love and multi-faceted fruit! Wow! If you haven't fully taken this in, please reread this whole meditation again for it is critical to your life with him.
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Meditating on Great Themes in John: 25. The Glory of Jesus
John 14:13,14 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
Of the four Gospels,. John has a unique perspective that has been formed by many years of reflecting on the wonder of those three marvellous years with Jesus and coming to see and pick up on things the others had not seen in those earlier days. The word ‘glory' appears 19 times in this gospel. Add nine times the use of ‘glorify' and we begin to see something significant. It will reach its climax in what we tend to call Jesus' high priestly prayer of John 17 but it appears as we've noted many times earlier on.
We see it first in John's prologue: “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.” (Jn 1:14) Glory here simply means splendour, thus “We have seen his splendour, the splendour of the one and only unique Son of God”. John reveals Jesus as one who stands out uniquely in this world.
It was after the miracle of water into wine that John commented, “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.” (Jn 2:11) i.e. through this miracle he started to reveal the wonder of who he was.
In an argument in Jerusalem, Jesus said, “I honour my Father and you dishonour me. I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge.” (Jn 8:49,50 The Father will be honoured when Jesus is glorified and He wants that to happen. That happened in the case of Lazarus being raised from the dead where, before they went to Bethany , Jesus had said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it.” (Jn 11:4) There would be those who would see this and hear of this and they would praise God because of it. They would also highly esteem Jesus and it was that which brought about the events of Palm Sunday.
In that last week in Jerusalem John explains, “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfil the word of Isaiah the prophet,” (Jn 12:37,38) and goes on to quote Isaiah and then comments, “Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus' glory and spoke about him .” (Jn 12:41) i.e. Isaiah foresaw the day of Jesus and his splendour being revealed and yet not being realised by so many.
Again and again it is clear that Jesus' intention was that the Father would be glorified, for example: “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father,” (Jn 14:13) and “This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (Jn 15:8) You remember we have said previously that Israel 's calling was to reveal the Father so that He will be glorified and people will turn to him. Also with Jesus' ministry and with us. Thus in his life and ministry, Jesus' primary task was to reveal the Father and His glory.
In the prayer of John 17 we first hear, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” (Jn 17:4,5) See the two elements in this: first, the past ministry on earth of Jesus which has glorified the Father and directed many to Him and, second, the request to be returned to heaven to receive the glory again that he had had before he left heaven. This accords with the apostle Paul's words about Jesus: “Christ Jesus, Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (Phil 2:6,7) Do you remember Jesus words about being the bread of life who had come down from heaven. John, uniquely among the gospels, reveals Jesus as the Son who has come down from heaven, having laid aside all his majesty, all his glory, to live in a single human body with no splendour except that which was revealed through his works.
A few sentences on in the prayer, he prays, “I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them.” (Jn 17:9,10) i.e. all these followers now bring glory to the Father. That was the followers he already had, but he also prays for future believers as well: “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (Jn 17:20-23) Our unity should bring glory to the Father. How tragic that the Church is so divided. Nevertheless, it should be the life of Jesus in us that still points the world to the Father. That is the intent of the Godhead.
He concludes, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” (Jn 17:24) His final desire is that we, his followers, will be with him in heaven so that we may see what he is really like. Be ready to have your mind blown away!
This is the culmination of these studies. We said earlier on that there were two big overriding themes – the person and identity of Jesus and the transforming power of his ministry. That is what it is all about and that so that men and women will be drawn to the Father through him and through his ministry – expressed today through us his followers and thus both he and his Father will be glorified, to have something of the spendour that they have in reality in heaven, revealed through their works through us, here on earth.
No wonder John wrote in the concluding chapters, “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (Jn 20:30,31) And believing, we may glorify Him while we can in these years we have on earth, until one day we come face to face with Him in heaven and behold the reality of the wonder of the Father and the Son. There we will have a new spiritual body that will be able to see this wonder and not be destroyed. There we will see him as He truly is, and we will worship. Hallelujah!