A Bible Lesson on John 11:1-44

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

This is a lesson on another of the signs John records that point us to who Jesus is and bring us to faith in Him.  It brings us to believe on, trust in, rely upon, cleave to, abandon ourselves to Him.  In Chapter 9 Jesus brought sight to the beggar blind from birth.  That was a public demonstration that Jesus is indeed the light of the world.  It is because of Him that the beggar could see and it is because of Him that we can see truly.  In this passage we’re looking at a public demonstration that Jesus is life itself.  Recall the first few verses of John and John’s purpose statement given in Chapter 20.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

2 He was in the beginning with God.

3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Verse 4 says that Jesus is life and light.  The story of the man born blind in Chapter 9 is a graphic demonstration that he is light.  This text is graphic demonstration that He is life.

John 20:30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;

31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

The miracles in Chapters 9 and 11 are “signs.”  They are important because they point to something.  They point to who Jesus is, and in that we know who He is, we are brought to belief in Him.

This passage is not far in time from Passion Week, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months.  One of the points that Ryle makes about the account is that what happens here leaves without excuse those in Jerusalem who will soon hear that Jesus is raised from the dead.  They only have to walk out to Bethany to see evidence of the resurrection power of Christ.

John 11:1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.

Bethany was 2 miles from Jerusalem, and it seems that Jesus probably stayed with these folks when visiting Jerusalem.  These were good friends.  At the moment Jesus is on the other side of the Jordan river out in the boondocks, at the place where John the Baptist ministered.  It is at least a day’s journey from Jerusalem (and no more than 4 away).  In John 10:39-42 we can read that the officials in Jerusalem had tried to seize and kill Jesus, and that He and the disciples had retired across the Jordan to minister.

2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill.

3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”

So the sisters sent word to Jesus.  Ryle said, “This is an example of what all Christians should do in trouble.”  The message is a most beautiful little thing.  It is humble, respectful, and full of confidence in Jesus.  The sisters demand nothing, but take the situation to Christ and trust His good intentions and power.  Jesus loved Lazarus.  He loves us as well.  We know nothing remarkable about this man.  But he’s loved of the Lord and that’s what matters.

4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

We’d often rather not hear this.  Jesus knows that Lazarus is either already dead or soon will be.  We’d like for Him to intervene right now and see that the pain and grief connected with the death of His friend is avoided.  But that’s not what Jesus does, and in fact He says here that the real issue in the situation is that God be glorified.  Ultimately, death will not reign and ultimately Jesus will be glorified through the situation.  We’d like a guarantee that we’ll never face hardship, but that’s not in the deal.

“The Son of God will be glorified through it.”  In some hearts there will come belief and praise to God.  And the raising of Lazarus is the straw that breaks the camel’s back and drives the Jewish officials to see that Jesus is killed.  The real glorification of Jesus refers to the crucifixion and resurrection.  See John 12:16-19.

5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.

6 So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Jesus is not indifferent to the real pain and suffering that His friends are enduring, but for their sakes, ours, and that of the Father, He stays put for 2 more days.  It’s not the way we would have written the script, but we are frail human beings.  God is God.  Ryle quoting Poole said, “We must not judge of Christ’s love to us by His mere external dispensations of providence, nor judge that He doth not love us because He doth not presently come in to our help at our time, and in such ways and methods as we think reasonable.”

7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”

8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?”

The disciples are not anxious to return.  In their minds, friendship is friendship, but this is serious danger that’s being discussed here.  Jesus, as always, knows the timing is ordained by the Father, and the Father is in control of when and how He’s going to die.  It’s not quite time for His death and He’s not in any way reluctant to return to Bethany.

9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world.

10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”

It’s still time for Him to be traveling and ministering.  So He does so.

11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.”

Literally, this is “I am going there to ‘unsleep him’.”

12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.”

The disciples think that Jesus has just told them that the crisis point of Lazarus’s sickness has passed and that he’s now resting quietly.  They’re relieved.  He’s going to get better without any real necessity of return to Jerusalem.

13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep.

14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died,

15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

Again, we must not think that Jesus is indifferent to the suffering of His friends in Bethany.  But the bigger purpose (that will be served for them and the rest of us as well) dictates that Jesus not be there to prevent the death of Lazarus, or even come onto the scene soon after his death.

16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

There is an admirable loyalty in Thomas.  He may think that what Jesus is about to do is unnecessary and even foolish, but he’s ready to go with him and die with Him if he must.

17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.

This fixes the length of the journey as from 1 to 4 days.  If it’s on the short end of the range, Lazarus died just after the messenger was sent.  If it’s on the long end, he died just before Jesus and disciples started out for Bethany.

The importance of the four days is that the guy is really dead.  The Jews believed that one’s spirit hovered near the corpse for 3 days, hoping for resuscitation.  But after that, it left.  The physical reality that Martha refers to is that decomposition was well under way by this time.  The Jews didn’t embalm and this is hot country.

18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off,

19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother.

The Jewish practice of the time was to get the body into a tomb and then mourn most intensely for 3 days, intensely for another 4 days, and to continue morning for 30 days.  Folks have come by to join in the mourning.

20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house.

21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.

22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”

Is Martha complaining here that Jesus didn’t come sooner?  It’s impossible to know without hearing the tone of voice used, but she does show the funny human mix of real faith and human frailty.  On one hand, she knows that Jesus could have healed Lazarus.  But then again, she loses sight of the fact that Jesus certainly didn’t have to be there in person to heal.  He had demonstrated otherwise for the centurion’s servant.  She loses sight of the fact that this whole situation surely hasn’t caught Jesus by surprise.  On the other hand, she testifies that death or no, God will give Jesus whatever He asks.

At this point Martha’s understands Jesus to be a special intermediary to God.  Likely she thinks of Him as a prophet, perhaps like Moses, one to whom the people took their problems, knowing that he would approach God for them.  She does NOT, at this point understand what John told us in the prologue.  She doesn’t understand that Jesus is life itself, God in the flesh.

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

This may initially sound like polite funeral parlor talk, words expressing sympathy and offering long term hope.  At least that’s how Martha hears what Jesus is saying.  She hears “resurrection” as something for the last day.  But that’s not what Jesus meant.  He is, as we see Him doing again and again in John, drawing faith out of His people by degrees.  We don’t get the whole picture at once in perfectly plain terms.  That wouldn’t be good for us.  Rather, He gives us exercise in grace.  Martha’s expectation regarding a resurrection is at this point a vague and future kind of thing.  He’s going to show her (as Ryle put it) that “He’s not simply some human teacher about resurrection, but is instead the Divine author of all resurrection.”  Jesus says “I AM”!

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,

26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

Jesus says that Martha’s hope is much more immediate than she dared to dream.  She has correctly professed a belief in a resurrection.  Jesus says that He’s the source of that resurrection.  He’s the “I AM.”  The person that believes in, trusts in, cleaves to Jesus will have eternal life in spite of physical death.  The person who believes in, relies upon, cleaves to Jesus in this physical life will not face eternal, spiritual death.

27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

“I believe” says Martha.  The sense of it is really “I have believed and do believe.”  Martha makes the good confession.  She gets it straight!  At this point for this moment, Martha seems to understand exactly who Jesus is.  He’s Messiah.  He’s the Son of God.  He’s the promised Redeemer.  She probably doesn’t comprehend the implications of Christ being the resurrection and life, but note that she has nothing more to say regarding Lazarus.  It’s as if she says to herself “If this truly is the Son of God, He can be trusted with the situation.”

28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.”

29 And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him.

30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him.

31 When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there.

It sounds as if Martha comes in and whispers to Mary, who tries to go out without raising much of a ruckus.  The well-intentioned visitors go to comfort Mary.

32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Mary’s first words to Jesus are the same as Martha’s.

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.

This is compassion for Mary, but it’s more than that.  It’s a deep indignation at the work of Satan and the consequences of the fall.  God is grieved that His creation has been subjected to pain, sorrow, futility through the work of the evil one and man’s choice to rebel.

34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”

35 Jesus wept.

This is not the word for the extravagant public mourning, but rather a picture of someone being choked up with genuine emotion.

36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

Note that there was no doubt in even these antagonists’ minds about the reality of the miracles that Jesus had been doing.  They knew that these were not just some kind of slight-of-hand.  So they set about attacking His motives.  Here they are accusing Him of really being indifferent to the plight of a friend.

38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.

Once again, there is considerable indignation at the consequences of the fall here.  The purposeful blindness of the people is now also probably part of what Jesus is reacting to.

39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.”

The God of the Universe is going to raise the dead, and He has humans roll the stone away.  He’ll give us a part to play in His work.

Martha is a real person.  The Bible is always real and honest in the way it portrays people.  She has just made her magnificent confession of who Jesus is.  Now she’s afraid of Him not being able to come through in the clutch.  What a mess if He opens the grave and doesn’t come through for her regarding Lazarus!  Better that He not get into the situation!  How human she is.

40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

That invitation is to Martha and all of us.  Jesus invites us to believe in, rely upon, cleave to, trust in Himself.  As we do that, God will be glorified.  The form it takes is up to Him, but the promise stands that He will be glorified.

41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.

42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”

43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.”

Prayer is communion with God.  For Jesus that was a constant reality.  The out-loud expression here is just as part of the sign that He is providing for us.  It is not needed in order to establish contact with the Father!

44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Jesus has given us a visual aid.  He’s shown us a sign that indeed, just as John said in the prologue, in Him is life.  The sign has the same effect that all of the others do in John.  Tender hearts are drawn to Jesus.  The others refuse to accept the revelation and end up choosing judgment for themselves.  In fact, the sign seems to galvanize opposition to Jesus and make His execution necessary in the minds of the Jewish officials.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on John 10:1-18

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

This is a lesson on the first part of the 10th Chapter of John.  This is a wonderful passage describing the person and work of Jesus.  It can also be somewhat frustrating if one is reading it expecting to see a single story told in linear fashion, or a tightly constructed description made in a step-by-step style.  It’s not those things, but rather a series of related word pictures, having to do with the general theme of shepherding.  Those pictures tell us a number of things about Christ, not necessarily in the order one would use when giving a seminary lecture on His person and work.

It is helpful when looking at Chapter 10 of John to get the context right, both in terms of the immediate circumstances and also the Old Testament revelation.  In terms of immediate circumstances, Chapter 10 follows Chapter 9 with no apparent break in time or location.  Jesus has healed the man born blind.  That man has courageously maintained that it was Christ who made him whole, despite the browbeating of the religious officials.  They have tossed him out for not recanting his testimony regarding Jesus, but Jesus has hunted him down, revealed Himself to him, and figuratively taken him in.  In response to the miracle and his dealings with the man, the Pharisees have become more antagonistic toward Jesus.  Those are the immediate circumstances.

In terms of the Biblical/Old Testament context, we need to have clearly in mind that from the beginning God Himself had been understood to be the primary Shepherd of Israel.  The elders and officials of the people were spoken of as under-shepherds, working for the great Shepherd.  Most importantly, the Messiah had been long described as the coming true Shepherd.  There are passages like these:

Psalm 80:1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock!  You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth.

Psalm 23:1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.  He leads me beside still waters.

3 He restores my soul.  He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Isaiah 40:10  Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.

11 He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.

Jeremiah 23:1 “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord.

2 Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the Lord.

3 Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply.

4 I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord.

 5 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

6 In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

And probably most importantly, there is the whole of Chapter 34 of Ezekiel, some excerpts of which are:

Ezekiel 34:8 As I live, declares the Lord God, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep,

9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord:

 10 Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.

11 “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.

12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.

13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country.

14 I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel.

15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God.

16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.

And:

Ezekiel 34:23  And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.

24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken.

25 “I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild beasts from the land, so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods.

26 And I will make them and the places all around my hill a blessing, and I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing.

27 And the trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase, and they shall be secure in their land. And they shall know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke, and deliver them from the hand of those who enslaved them.

28 They shall no more be a prey to the nations, nor shall the beasts of the land devour them. They shall dwell securely, and none shall make them afraid.

29 And I will provide for them renowned plantations so that they shall no more be consumed with hunger in the land, and no longer suffer the reproach of the nations.

30 And they shall know that I am the Lord their God with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Lord God.

31 And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Lord God.”

So when Jesus begins to speak to the mixed audience of followers and antagonists in Jerusalem about being the Shepherd, He is making a clear claim to be Messiah (the fulfillment of the Davidic promise) and to be One who will replace the current religious officials who have failed as under-shepherds to God.  Their bad treatment of the man He has healed is standing as evidence of their unworthiness to serve.

John 10:1  “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.

2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.

3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.

This first figure is a picture of the propriety of the ministry of Jesus the Shepherd and His relation to His sheep.  He, as the real Shepherd comes in the door.  Those who aren’t come in by illegitimate means.  These sheep pens were apparently walled-in enclosures big enough to hold more than one flock.  Sheep (apparently) grow to know and follow the voice of their shepherd.  It was no problem to separate flocks from a communal pen.  A given shepherd needed only to call and his own sheep would beat it for the gate, leaving the others behind.  It’s not accidental that the man born blind has heard the voice of the true Shepherd and been willing to be tossed out by the Pharisees on His account.  He’s following the One who owns him.  J.C. Ryle dwells on this truth that real disciples know the voice of the Shepherd.  Where voices other than that of the one true Shepherd succeed in leading folks away from the Gospel, the truth about Jesus, Ryle says simply that they are not His sheep.

Note here the tenderness/affection that is present in the shepherd calling the sheep by name, individually, and in the fact that a shepherd leads, rather than drives as one would drive a herd of cattle.

4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.

5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”

The man born blind of Chapter 9 is a case in point here.  The Jewish religious leaders have proven themselves to be strangers by their antagonism towards God’s Son.  And the fellow has not followed them, but rather Jesus.  Jesus is clearly saying that God’s sheep are His.  If He is not God incarnate, that is blasphemy.  The Old Testament is clear that Israel is God’s flock, not some human’s.

6 This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

As is usually the case in John, these folks don’t understand, not because of an intellectual lack, but because they don’t want to understand and take the implied reproof.  So Jesus continues and in doing so, switches figures somewhat.

7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.

Commentators have tried to say “shepherd=gate/door since a shepherd might lie down in the entrance to sleep at night.”  But more fundamentally, it means what it says, and Jesus is now temporarily switching figures.  Jesus pictures Himself as the one who is in charge of coming and going in relation to God’s flock.  That is a clear claim to exclusive authority.  It’s relevant that many people sort of like the picture of Jesus as a gentle and compassionate shepherd, but this switch is not so palatable.  But the fact is that He is also the one and only way to the Father, He’s the only way into God’s flock, and He makes no bones about it at all.

He now jumps back, to again contrast His work with that of the Jewish religious leaders and false Messiahs of the time.

8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.

Apparently the word rendered “robber” has a connotation that would allow it to cover the idea of one of the Jewish military/political rebel/banditos of the time, who often had pretensions of being the Messiah.

9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.

Jesus is declaring that His work (evident, e.g., in the healing of the man born blind) is to bring life.  His ministry is to provide salvation, to deal with our most fundamental lack.  To provide real life, life that is eternal both in the sense that it never ends and in the sense that it is God’s life.  It is eternal in quality.  There is this beautiful pastoral picture of the flock not being constricted or cramped, but having great freedom to follow its protecting Shepherd out into a wide pasture.

That is in contrast to the work of His antagonists.

10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

Satan, the enemy of our souls comes only to kill and destroy.  The Pharisees, who were unwittingly about the work of the devil, had just proved that they had no heart for the well-being of the man born blind.  They were concerned only for their place and their program.  In contrast, Jesus comes to freely give life, abundant life, life as it was meant to be from the beginning.

11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

The life that Jesus gives us comes at great price, at the price of His own life.  The phrase translated “lays down his life” seems intended to carry not only the idea of being willing to die at some point, but in fact dedicating one’s whole existence to the purpose of providing for the sheep.  That kind of heart is not in the Pharisees.  It’s not in many of those today that supposedly function as under-shepherds of Christ.  Instead, the position is often only a means of getting paid, something to be walked away from if the going gets too tough or the money dries up.

12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.

There’s a difference between Christ (and those who truly serve Him) and the hireling/false shepherd.  Sheep in the open country are safe only to the extent that they stick with the shepherd.  Christ owns and loves the sheep and is the protection for the sheep.  That’s His nature.  A pretender will turn tail and run when danger arises.  That’s the nature of the pretender.

13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

The pretender runs because of who he is.  He has no real concern for the sheep and no real stake in anything but his own well-being.  So there should be no surprise when he cuts and runs.  On the other side of this, we all know of wonderful Godly men that have endured terrible trouble for the sake of the Gospel and the flock of God.  That is evidence of the work of Christ in them.

14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,

I AM.  Here is another clear claim to 1) the name of God and 2) the flock of God.  Jesus is making it plain that God’s flock is His because He and the Father are one.  He’s mincing no words.

15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.

Jesus is likening real relationship of the believer to Him to the essential unity of the Godhead, to His relationship to the Father.  Again, if it isn’t true, it’s blasphemy and terrible heresy to the Jewish ear.

16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

And finally, if this whole thing wasn’t offensive enough to the Jewish mind of the time, Jesus is now suggesting that the flock of God is bigger than just the Jewish nation.  He has called some out of the pen of the Jewish nation (including the man born blind).  He will call others from other nations as well.  Not only will those in current religious authority in Israel lose their spots, but the Gentiles are going to be invited in!!!  That is you and me!.

17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.

18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

One of the things that John makes sure we know, is that Jesus didn’t die by accident or because He was caught off guard by the authorities.  We are to know that they would have had no power over Him except that He voluntarily laid down His life.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on John 9

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

John 9 is one of the most attractive narratives in Scripture.  It is a story about a strong, attractive, humble personality coming to Christ.  It is also loaded with symbolic significance as Jesus reveals Himself as the light of the world.  In John 8:12, Jesus has made that claim for Himself.  John said that about Him in the prologue (see John 1:9).  Here he proves and illustrates that claim.

This is one of the signs of Jesus, one that has its full effect of bringing one to faith and causing others to choose darkness.  It is in line with John’s purpose statement in writing, given in John 20:30.  The purpose of these miraculous signs is that people will come to believe in, cleave to, trust in, rely upon Jesus.

John 9:1  As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth.

This “from birth” is important on a couple of levels.  Symbolically, our condition is blindness from birth/by nature.  And it makes the sign especially startling.  Even with the physical apparatus to see, the guy would have no idea of what things ought to look like!

2  And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

3  Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.

This was a favorite point of speculation/argument among the rabbis.  What is the origin of suffering?   The majority opinion of the day was that suffering came in response to specific sinful acts.  Some rabbis even held that it was possible for babies to sin inside the womb and that the sin of a mother could harm a child within her womb.  The disciples are probably inquiring here as to who’s to blame in the case of this pitiful beggar.

Jesus refutes the notion that all suffering is the direct result of specific sinful acts.  I don’t know that He’s really saying that the man was in advance caused to be blind for the purpose of God’s glory at this point, but He certainly is saying that God can be glorified through suffering and that the result, if not the cause of the man’s blindness will be the work of God being seen in his life.

4  We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.

Jesus says “work the works”  This is a matter-of-fact, everyday-activity kind of statement.  What Jesus does here on a physical level and we understand as a startling miracle, He is always doing on an eternal level.  And the import/magnitude of it is far greater.

“Night is coming” is an allusion, to the crucifixion.  This is the third year of the ministry of Jesus.  He is acutely aware of the urgency of completing the Father’s mission for Himself, and the looming cross.

5  As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

Jesus says this again, because He’s about to give a visual aid on this point.  He says, in effect, “Here comes an illustration to help you grasp this point.”

6  Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud

7  and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.

Notice how little ink John spends describing the miracle, compared to the ink spent on showing its consequences in the lives of men.  The importance of the miracle is in what it shows about Jesus and the effect that it has on drawing them to faith or confirming them in their self-chosen darkness.  It is not in having an unusual story to tell.

Jesus spit on the ground.  This is perhaps not so wild in the context of the time as it sounds to us.  Spit was felt to have medicinal value, and the notion of making a poultice out of it and dirt was not unheard of.

Jesus “anointed” the man’s eyes.  Christ, the anointed one anoints the eyes and the man (and we with him) see!

Notice that the man went.  He was told to go, and he didn’t question Jesus wanting to know why, but obeyed.  In line with that humility, he was healed.

8  The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?”

9  Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.”

People aren’t sure if they recognize the man.  That’s no real surprise.  On top of the fact that they know it’s not possible for one born blind to be walking around seeing, there is the virtual certainty that he’s carrying himself quite differently than before.  Instead of moving about tentatively, he can see!  He’s probably walking with a spring in his step!

The man was a beggar.  So are the rest of us.  The man insisted.  This guy has some real spunk.

10  So they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?”

11  He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.”

Notice what he calls Jesus at this point.  His understanding of who Jesus is pretty rudimentary.

12  They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

Remember that Jesus sent the guy off to Siloam to wash.  He hasn’t seen Jesus, nor does he have any reason to know His whereabouts.

Now begins the a series of interrogations of the man and his family by the Pharisees.

13  They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind.

14  Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.

The rub here is going to be the Sabbath rules that the Pharisees had invented to interpret the 4th Commandment in their effort to spell everything out so that a man could try to establish his own righteousness by keeping the law perfectly.  They believed that making mud on the Sabbath and healing were both work.  (Some even went so far as to hold that one could only spit on the Sabbath if the spittle hit a rock.  If it hit the dirt, then one was working.)  Jesus hasn’t violated the intent of the commandment, only the Pharisees’ interpretation/amplification of it.

15  So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.”

The beggar hasn’t got the full ramifications of the whole thing sorted out yet, but he’s sticking to the reality of his experience/encounter with Jesus.  Ryle observed that the proper question was “whether, in fact, he had been cured, and not in what way”  The proper issue is the fact, not the mode.

16  Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them.

The Pharisees are all over the map at this point.  They are all confused, but at least some recognize its reality and the fact that what has happened is good.  Note that some use the word “signs” and see such as inconsistent with the work of anyone but God.

There are things that make this sign particularly worrisome for them.  This is completely unprecedented.  There is nothing comparable in the Old Testament record, and yet there are the Messianic passages of Isaiah that promise that Messiah will bring sight to the blind.  See Isaiah 29:18, Isaiah 35:5, and Isaiah 42:7.

17  So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”

Notice what the beggar has now called Jesus.  He’s making progress.  A prophet is pretty much at the top of the list of holy people (as far as he could see), certainly above a Rabbi or Pharisee.

Now we get the interrogation of the parents.

18  The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight

The powers that be call in the man’s parents to browbeat them.

19  and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?”

The first 2 of these questions are sensible.  The last one clearly is not.  How in the world are they supposed to know how it is that their son can now see?  They give the officials a browbeaten, groveling, deferential reply.

20  His parents answered, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind.

21  But how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.”

22  (His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.)

23  Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

Now begins the second interrogation of the man healed.

24  So for the second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.”

The Pharisees say “Give glory to God.”  They are clearly not saying “Well, bless God. Praise Jesus.  Thank Him for healing you!”  The Old Testament instance of the use of this phrase is in Joshua 7:19 where Joshua is telling Achan to come clean about his sin of taking the things devoted to God and the disaster that the sin caused.  The meaning is “Fess up!”

25  He answered, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

The beggar bravely sticks to what he knows has happened to him.  He doesn’t understand all the details, BUT HE KNOWS THAT HE SEES!  All their theory doesn’t change that.

26  They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

Again these are not sensible questions.  They are instead simply meant to browbeat.

27  He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?”

The man is losing patience.

28  And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses.

The inquisitors are reduced to frothing at the mouth, and the irony is, of course, that they are NOT acting as true disciples of Moses.

29  We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.”

This verse contains an interesting irony.  Indeed they don’t know where He’s from.  They don’t recognize He’s from God.  Yet in John 7:27 they’ve ruled out the possibility He’s the Messiah on the grounds that they do think they know where He’s from.

9:30  The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.

31  We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.

9:32  Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind.

9:33  If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

Through the heat and pressure the beggar is coming to see spiritually as well as physically.

34  They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out.

As the beggar is moving toward Jesus/light and seeing ever more clearly, the Pharisees have gone to the point of ignoring the wonderful work of God and essentially saying “A pox on you!  You deserved your blindness!”

Jesus hunts the beggar down and brings him to faith in Himself.

35  Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

36  He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?”

This is strongly reminiscent of the woman at the well in chapter 4.  This guy is by now ready to trust in, rely on, believe in, cleave to the Savior.

37  Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.”

38  He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

This is the proper response to the revelation of Jesus to us.

39  Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”

As always in John, the judgment is one that people choose for themselves.  It is an implied judgment, that people given light either move towards it or away from it and thereby condemn themselves.  See again John 3:19-21.  That’s what has been illustrated so graphically here in this account.  The beggar, exhibiting substantial humility has moved progressively towards

Jesus (see verses 12, 25 and 36).  The Pharisees have moved away from Jesus (see verses 16, 24 and 29).

40  Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?”

41  Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.

Human pride and refusal to admit our wrong is at the heart of our guilt.  The Pharisees denied their blindness.  So do we.  The result of denying our wrong/blindness is to plunge deeper and deeper into ignorance with self-confident wrong statements.

 

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on John 8:31-59

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

John 8:31  So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,

Jesus says, “If you abide in my word …”  This is not a condition of discipleship to be checked off a list, it is a description of in what discipleship consists, and it is a continuing matter.

Tasker said, “True discipleship … means abiding in His word, i.e. welcoming it, being at home with it, and living with it so continuously that it becomes part of the believer’s life, a permanent stimulus and influence in every fresh advance in goodness and holiness.  Christ’s word is indistinguishable from Christ Himself.  He is the Word.  To abide in His word is therefore to abide in Him, to always be within earshot of His voice …”

Bruce said, “… discipleship is something continuous; it is a way of life … The teacher’s instruction becomes the disciple’s rule for faith and practice.”

32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

This must be one of the most often quoted and misused verse in all of the Bible.  Politicians try to appropriate this, philosophers try to appropriate this.  But it is not a political, educational or philosophical statement. It is a statement about faith in, reliance upon, trust in the person of Jesus.  It’s Jesus who is the Truth.  Look down at verse 36.  It’s the Son who sets free.  And it’s not political freedom or freedom to exercise one’s unbridled will that is promised.  It’s not even firstly freedom from ignorance, but rather freedom from sin, death, and hell.

33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”

These fellows don’t even see that they are in bondage.  Sure they are under the thumb of Rome, sure their forefathers had been slaves in Egypt and Babylon, but the Jew was proud of being free in conscience, never bowed in his insistence upon his Jewish religion and national identity.   But that wasn’t what Jesus was talking about, and their pride only blinded them to the real situation as regards their souls.

J.C. Ryle said, “The power of self-deception in unconverted man is infinite.  These Jews were not more unreasonable than many now-a-days, who say, ‘We are not dead in sin; we have grace, we have faith, we are regenerate, we have the Spirit,’ while their lives plainly show that they are totally mistaken.”

34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.

Whether we realize it or not, when we continue in sin, we are slaves to it.

Tasker wrote, “Whoever habitually asserts his own will, priding himself on his own independence, following his own inclinations, and primarily concerned with pleasing himself–whoever, in a word, is living a self-centered life– is a slave.  Such a person is confined within the limits of his own self-interest.”

35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.

We have no power to liberate ourselves.  A slave cannot emancipate himself.  A slave cannot have the status of a son nor live as a son.  Help must come from outside.

36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

An adult son in a free household has authority.  Jesus, Son of God, at one with the Father, from the Father, has authority.  He has authority to set us free from bondage to sin, and we will be free indeed.  True liberty is liberty not to do whatever we please, but to do what we ought.

Ryle said, “Wherein does the liberty of true Christians consist?  Of what is their freedom made up?-They are freed from the guilt and consequences of sin by the blood of Christ. Justified, pardoned, forgiven, they can look forward boldly to the day of judgment, and cry “Who shall lay anything to our charge?  Who is he that condemneth?”-They are freed from the power of sin by the grace of Christ’s Spirit.  Sin has no longer dominion over them.  Renewed, converted, sanctified, they mortify and tread down sin, and are no longer led captive by it.  Liberty, like this, is the portion of all true Christians in the day that they flee to Christ by faith, and commit their souls to Him.  That day they become free men.  Liberty, like this, is their portion for evermore.  Death cannot stop it.  The grave cannot even hold their bodies for more than a little season.  Those whom Christ makes free are free to all eternity.”

37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you.

38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”

“speak” and “do” are both in continuous tenses.  Jesus is talking about persistent practice.  He says, “I continually speak, you continually do.”  Jesus speaks of “what I have seen.”  Jesus has unclouded vision.  They are blind and see nothing.  Their hearing is from their father, and verse 47 says plainly that they do not hear God.

39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing what Abraham did,

40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did.

The basic principle here about sonship is that a son does things in accord with the nature of his father.  A son behaves like his father.  And the kinship that matters is not physical kinship, but rather, moral kinship.  Want to be a son of Abraham?  Then act like he would act.  Physical descent alone is nothing.

41 You are doing what your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.”

Jesus says, “You are doing what your father did.”  There is a family resemblance.  They say, “We were not born of sexual immorality.”  This may be meant as an insult to Jesus, a slur about his parentage.  Or it may simply be a denial that they have strayed from God’s revelation.  In the Old Testament, apostasy was often described as fornication and thus linked with illegitimate offspring.

42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me.

Ryle wrote, “… If words mean anything, no man is really a child of God who does not love Jesus Christ. … the reality of sonship to God, and all its blessings, no one possesses who does not love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.”

Calvin said, “Christ’s argument is this: whoever is a child of God will acknowledge His first-born Son; but you hate me, and therefore you have no reason to boast that you are God’s children.”

F.F. Bruce said, “Jesus insists on using terms like ‘father’ and ‘children’ in an ethical sense: the children are those who reproduce the father’s qualities.”  The point is again that family affection would bind real sons of God to the one Son, but they hate Him.

Jesus repeats what He has said again and again.  He is no independent agent but rather was sent from and is one with the Father, the I AM.

43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.

Jesus says, “you cannot bear to hear”  “cannot” is a moral inability.  You are so hard that you are incapable of hearing the message.  You are purposely deaf.  This is not a failure of intellect, but of will and spirit.

44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.

It’s not “despite the fact I tell the truth,” but rather “because I tell the truth.”  These folks are again “sons” of the devil in an ethical or moral sense.  They have chosen the side of lies and murder, and in light of their ethical lineage, it is only to be expected that they would not believe Him.

46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?

Godet said, “The perfect holiness of Christ is proved in this passage … by the assurance with which Jesus lays this questions before them.”  His conscience is absolutely perfect and absolutely clear as He speaks.  Morris wrote, “We are often so interested in the fact that they found no charge to lay that we overlook the fact that the really striking thing is the making of the challenge … It betokens a clear and serene conscience.  Only one who was in the closest and most intimate communion with the Father could have spoken such words.  It is impossible to envisage any other figure in history making such a claim.”

47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

He and the Father deal in the truth and are completely righteous.  These folks and Satan deal in lies and murder as reflections of who they are.  Jesus would give us eternal life.  The devil would kill every son and daughter of Adam eternally.

Jesus’s very nature is truth.  To reject or oppose truth is to reveal a nature consistent with the devil’s, and an allegiance with falsehood.  He who belongs to God hears God.  The antagonists don’t hear, therefore they don’t belong.

48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?”

The Pharisees fill the air with blue smoke.  They are wrought up, losing the “argument,” and resort to name-calling.  Jesus replies in a calm, measured way.

49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me.

50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge.

The reply is that 1) the fact that Jesus honors the Father shows the charge to be incorrect, and 2) this whole thing is ultimately not a matter of opinions, that of Jesus against that of the Pharisees.  Rather it is God who judges; it is His judgment that matters.

51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”

To “never see death” is to never face real and eternal death.  As is constant in John, these hearers will attempt to interpret the statement of Jesus on a different level than was intended.

52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’

53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?”

54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’

“Who do you make yourself out to be?”  Are you greater than the patriarchs?  The implicit assertions are that, of course, Jesus’s promise cannot be true and that, of course, the patriarchs would side with them in this dispute.  They are wrong on both counts.  It doesn’t even seem to occur to them that just possibly Jesus understood exactly what He was saying.  Jesus doesn’t duel with them over who has the approval of the patriarchs.  Instead, He says again that it is the approval and testimony of HIS Father, who sent the patriarchs that matters.  They claim this God as their Father too, but that can’t be.

55 But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word.

He is not really their God at all.  Jesus says, “… you have not known him. I know him.”  Jesus could say this not only because He was with the Father from before time, but because He was perfectly obedient to the Father, perfectly in line with the will of the Father.  Knowing God is always tied up with loving obedience to Him.

56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”

Abraham and the patriarchs were with the Father on the issue of the coming Messiah.  Calling them as witnesses wasn’t going to work for the Pharisees.

57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”

58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”

59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

This is, obviously, the climax of this whole narrative.  In terms that are completely unmistakable to these folks, Jesus appropriates God’s personal name, the I AM, for Himself.  They immediately see what He’s said for what it is, judge it to be blasphemy, and try to summarily execute Him.

“Jesus hid Himself” is really better rendered “Jesus was hidden.”  It is not that He cleverly escaped trouble, but that the Father hid Him from them.

Ryle commented, “It is a wise remark of Pascal, that our Lord’s enemies, by their incessant cavilling and interruption, both here and elsewhere, have supplied us unintentionally with a strong proof of the truth of His teaching.  If our Lord’s doctrines had only been delivered privately to a prejudiced audience of kind and loving disciples, they would not come down to us with the same weight that they do now.  But they were often proclaimed in the midst of bitter enemies, learned Scribes and Pharisees, who were ready to detect any flaw or defect in His reasoning.  That the enemies of Christ could never answer or silence Him, is a strong evidence that His doctrine was God’s own truth.  It was from heaven, and not from men.”

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on John 8:12-30

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Again, the setting of John 7-8 is Jerusalem at the Feast of Tabernacles.  Jesus encounters sharp opposition and makes claims for Himself that are consistent with who John told us He is in Chapter 1, but that must have been startling to His hearers.  Here in John 8, it’s the middle of the feast and Jesus has begun teaching.

John 8:12  Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Jesus says again “I AM.”  John told us in Chapter 1 that Jesus is the light.  To hear all of what the 1st hearers heard, we need to know that not only is the “I AM” use of the personal name of God, but we also need to know a bit about how tabernacles was celebrated.  On the first night of the feast there was a ritual lighting of 4 huge candlesticks at the temple in the court of the women.  It was the celebration of “the Illumination of the Temple.”  The top of these candelabra had to be reached with ladders and wicks floated in golden bowls of oil.  When lit, all Jerusalem reflected the light that burned there, and Jesus is speaking where this took place.  He is clearly saying that He is superior to lights that light only the temple and God’s city Jerusalem.  He’s claiming to be God incarnate and the fulfillment of the ritual that they have been celebrating.  The Rabbis sometimes used the word “light” to refer to the Messiah (God’s light).  In all of this Jesus is making no small claims.

 

Psalm 27:1 The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

Isaiah 60:19 The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light; but the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.

Micah 7:7  But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.

8 Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.

 

Jesus is the light.  To have light is to have Jesus and there is no light apart from Him.  Jesus says “whoever follows me.”  It is “whoever gives himself to Me body and soul.”  The construction implies a continual following of Jesus, not some casual interest.  And the “will have the light of life” is also continual.  Jesus is talking of ongoing relationship.  Too, Jesus is the light of the world.  This is not some narrow thing peculiar to only Israel, but applies to everyone everywhere.

John 8:13 So the Pharisees said to him, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.”

The Pharisees clearly don’t want to allow anything like what Jesus has just claimed.  So they make a technical challenge to it.  They implicitly refer to the Old Testament principle that two witnesses were required to establish something legally.  They contend that they therefore don’t need to pay attention to Jesus’s claim.  The ESV says “not true,” but it would be better rendered “not valid.”  They are ignoring the substance of what was said and making a technical challenge.

Morris wrote quoting Wright wrote, “‘There are types of so-called religious apologetic, which, distrusting the intrinsic claims of religion itself, seek to put in its place ‘external evidences’ and ‘institutional safeguards.’  How can light convince us that it is light except by what it does for us?  We do not demonstrate that light is light by treatises, or by analyses of its constituent rays.  It is only light to us when it illumines and quickens us. … Anyone can to his own satisfaction, confute the claim which Beauty makes, by saying, I do not see it; or the claim inherent in Goodness, by saying, I do not hear it; or the self-evidencing nature of Truth, by saying, I do not know it. But man does not create Goodness, or Truth, or Beauty; and to say that he cannot see them is to condemn himself, not them.’ So with Light.”

14 Jesus answered, “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going.

15 You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one.

Jesus replies that He is qualified to speak on this matter while His attackers are not.  They don’t see reality for what it is.  Their blind earth-bound mentality fails to see Him for who He is.  In their foolishness, they judge Him guilty of blasphemy.  He didn’t come to condemn anyone, but nevertheless, their wrong blind judgment of Him boomerangs and condemns themselves.  The judgment of Jesus is so different from the kind of thing the Pharisees are doing that it shouldn’t be called by the same name.

16 Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me.

17 In your Law it is written that the testimony of two men is true.

18 I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.”

Jesus says that even if it were His word alone, it would be sufficient, but if they want to get technical and count to two, there is implicit in His words the testimony of the Father.  What He says, He doesn’t say alone, but in complete harmony with the Father.  In verse 17, the testimony of two men suffices.  If that is true, how much more the testimony of the Father and the Son?!

The verbs in verse 18 are in the continuous tense.  Jesus continues to bear witness about Himself and the Father continues to bear witness about Him.

19 They said to him therefore, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”

They confirm exactly what Jesus charged in verse 15, that they have only an earthbound human perspective on this.  They really aren’t qualified to judge or even serve as witnesses in this matter.  So they ask this purposely obtuse question, ignoring the obvious in Jesus’s claim that He’s talking about God in heaven.  He tells them that it is possible to know the Father only as we know Him, Jesus.  The Pharisees, who pride themselves on their knowledge of God, in that they know the Scriptures, in their failure to see Jesus for who He is, in fact don’t really know God at all.

20 These words he spoke in the treasury, as he taught in the temple; but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.

Jesus is in charge.  This is not some out-of-control series of accidents, and it’s not yet time for Him to suffer and die for us.

21 So he said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.”

If we never get past our human stubbornness and blindness to see things as they really are, we will indeed die in our sin.  Jesus is going to the Father, and on their current path, these folks are headed for destruction.  “sin” here is singular.  The reference is almost surely to the ultimate sin of failing to see Jesus for who He is, God’s own Son, very God of very God.

22 So the Jews said, “Will he kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?”

23 He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.

“Our deaths will differ,” says Jesus, “but that’s not all that separates us.”  The origins and basic concerns of these folks differ from His.  Jesus is from above and is concerned with the will of God.  These Pharisees are from below and are not concerned with the will of God.  These people know neither where Jesus is from nor where He is going.  Their frame of reference is temporal and earthbound.  His is eternal.

24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”

Literally it is “if you do not believe that I AM.”  (“the one I claim to be” of the NIV isn’t there.  Neither is “he” in the KJV or this ESV.)  There is one way of escape for fallen humans.  That is to cast ourselves on the mercy of Jesus, the I AM.  These guys are in the process of throwing away their opportunity, and dying without hope.  They will die in their sins (plural), the inevitable fruit of the fundamental sin of unbelief.

25 So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning.

“You!  Who are you to be saying such things?”  It’s pretty hard to believe that by now the Pharisees still don’t know what Jesus is claiming.  That they may not believe what He’s claiming and would demand another explanation, is another matter.  And their disbelief brings with it an inevitable and terrible implied judgment.

26 I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.”

27 They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father.

28 So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.

In the cross it is evident to all, friend and foe, that Jesus was completely submitted to the will of the Father, that He is in complete harmony with the Father.  And the cross is the final definitive answer to the question the Pharisees asked in verse 25, “Who are you, anyway?”  See the cross and it is evident who He is.

29 And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.”

30 As he was saying these things, many believed in him.

 

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on John 7:37-52

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

The setting of this passage is the Feast of Tabernacles in September or October of the final year of Jesus’s earthly ministry.  The place is Jerusalem.  This is one of the 3 great feasts of the Jewish year, and all devout Jews were to make the trip to Jerusalem and celebrate the feast in the holy city.

Tabernacles had by this time grown to have two kinds of meanings to the Jews.  For one, it was a time of remembering how their ancestors had lived in tents and had seen the provision of God after the Exodus from Egypt.  It had also become a kind of Thanksgiving type of harvest festival, where the people recognized God’s provision (particularly of rain in its due season) and prayed for His blessing in the next year’s growing season.  Praying for rain was an important part of what went on at Tabernacles.  In fact, rain during Tabernacles was looked on as a sign or promise of a good crop the following year.

It is also important to know that the prophet Zechariah, speaking of the reign of the Messiah in Chapter 14, says that living water will flow out from Jerusalem (verse 8) and that all peoples will come to Jerusalem to worship God and celebrate the feast of Tabernacles (verse 16).

There was an elaborate water ritual carried out once each day during the 7 days of the feast.  There was a procession to the fountain of Gihon/pool of Siloam, where a priest filled a golden pitcher with water.  The choir would sing Isaiah 12:3With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”  The procession then went to the temple through the water gate, singing Psalms 113-118.  See in particular 114:8 that refers to God providing water from the rock in the wilderness.  (See Exodus 17:6.)  The procession then circled the altar of holocausts in front of the temple waving bunches of myrtle and willow twigs singing Psalm 118:25Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success!” and Isaiah 12:3.  (On the last day of the feast, they circled the altar 7 times.)  Each day, after circling the altar, the priest with the golden pitcher went up a ramp to the altar and poured the water into a silver funnel, from whence it flowed onto the ground.

With this background, and quite likely at the very moment of the climax of this ceremony, we have verse 37.

Joh 7:37  On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.

38  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'”

Jesus has just said that He’s the fulfillment of all of this ceremony!  He’s said that He’s the Messiah, the One that’s going to provide the salvation that they’ve been calling on God to provide.  He’s just said that just as the rain enables physical life, He’s the Giver of spiritual life.  He’s claiming that this whole ceremony is about Him!

Jesus is speaking here in public in much the same way that he spoke privately to the Samaritan woman in John 4 much earlier in His earthly ministry.

Jesus says that streams of living water will flow from within him who believes.  Again, the promise of Zechariah was that in the time of the coming of the Messiah, living water would flow out from Jerusalem.  Ezekiel 47:1 also sees a river of water flowing from under the threshold of the temple to water the waterless region between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.  Isaiah 58:11 likens the man who is guided by God to a spring whose waters never fail.  Jesus is not quoting a single Old Testament verse here in verse 38, but drawing on all of these Old Testament foreshadowings of His work through the Holy Spirit.

39  Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

God’s word and the Spirit are inseparable.  There is only one whole intended in the phrase “Spirit and Truth” used by Jesus in John 4.  The Scriptures (Old Testament and New) use water to symbolize 1) the Holy Spirit, 2) eternal life, 3) God’s wisdom/truth and 4) God’s blessing and refreshment.  Again here, we’re being told that it is the whole package that Jesus is about to provide for us.  That provision is not complete as Jesus speaks here, because Jesus has not suffered, died and risen again on the behalf of us sinners!  The full glory of His salvation has not yet been revealed at this point.

40  When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet.”

41  Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee?

Here is the inevitable division that comes with the revelation of Jesus.  It is seen time and time again in John.  We see it time and time again in our lives in the 21st century.  When faced with the truth about who Jesus is, some embrace the light they have been given.  Others reject the light they’ve been given and plunge further and further into darkness.

42  Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?”

The irony is, of course, that these people think they know where Jesus is from, namely Galilee.  They are in fact clueless, and fail to recognize that in fact He is from God and satisfies the prophecy they’re referring to, having been born in Bethlehem.

43  So there was a division among the people over him.

44  Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.

Time and time again, John shows us that Jesus is in command of when, where, and how He will lay down His life.  The hostility of His antagonists is intense, but it’s not yet time for Him to die for us and they are really powerless to deal with Him at this point.

45  The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?”

46  The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!”

This picture could be amusing if it wasn’t so tragic.  We have here the rabid chief priests and Pharisees (who themselves haven’t gone and seen Jesus) frothing at the mouth.  Their underlings come back in a childlike awe of Jesus.  There’s something very genuine and innocent in the reaction of these lackeys.  Notice just how irate the chief priests and Pharisees are.

47  The Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived?

If they were rational, the fact that the guards had failed to carry out their assignment would have been occasion to chew them out.  But instead, they’re so wound up in this thing, that they are reduced to arguing with their lackeys as if they were children.

48  Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him?

The correct answer to this question is, “Yes!”  The evidence that Nicodemus has come to faith by this time.

49  But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.”

This is ironic on 2 accounts.  First, they are wrong about no one believing on Jesus.  Second, they profess to be worried about the keeping of the law while they are in the process of ignoring it by condemning Jesus not only wrongly, but without a proper hearing.  Nicodemus rubs their noses in both of these.

50  Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them,

51  “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?”

Once again, here is an opportunity for the leaders to admit their wrong and move toward the light.  Instead, they again reject it and instead move further into darkness.

52  They replied, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”

They are angry and wrong.  Jonah came from Galilee.  More importantly, they’re putting God in a box, claiming He hasn’t the right to raise up a prophet from wherever He chooses.

 

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on John 6:10-14, 26-27, 35-40, 47-51

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

This lesson concerns John’s account of the feeding of the 5000 and its aftermath.  We’ll dwell primarily on the aftermath, Jesus’s discourse on the “bread of life,” but note enough points of the setting to put the discourse into perspective.

The first 9 verses of John 6 let us know that there’s a mob following Jesus because of the healings he was doing.  It’s Passover time and Jesus uses 5 barley loaves (the food of the poor) and 2 (probably sardine-size) dried or pickled fish to feed 5000 men plus.  Outside of the resurrection, this is the only of Jesus’s miracles recorded in all 4 Gospels.

John 6:10  Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number.

11  Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.

12  And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.”

13  So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten.

God gives in abundance, but there is no place for waste.

14  When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”

15  Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

Note verse 14 and the word sign.  Remember how John uses this word.  It denotes a demonstration of God’s miraculous power that points to who Jesus is.  At this point, the sign has not completed its job.  The people absolutely do not know who He is, and even think Him to be some kind of earthly king.  BUT, the sign does provide the platform for Jesus to explain.

In verses 16-24 of John 6, Jesus walks on water and he and disciples get to Capernaum.  Crowds follow.  Psalm 107 may very well be a prophecy of the feeding and the lake scenes.  Verses 25-33   give an interchange with the people.  Jesus presses the people into deciding either for or against Him.

John 6:25  When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”

The crowd asks the question on one level and Jesus answers it on another.  He tells them who He is and where He came from.  Again and again in the Gospel of John, we see Jesus cutting through the irrelevant and mundane chit chat of earthbound man to that which is truly important.  Indeed, how did He get here?!

26  Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.

27  Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”

As always, man wants to think he works for and earns eternal life.  But the food that endures to eternal life is GIVEN by the Son of Man.  The “seal” is one of approval and authorization.

28  Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”

“How do we get God’s approval? What things do we need to do?” the crowd asks.

29  Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

This is the work (singular) of God.  There is one thing.  And the phrase has double meaning: 1) what God wants done and 2) what God does in us.  The point is not to check many things off of a list, but to believe (to rely upon, trust in, adhere to, cleave to) the One He has sent.

30  So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform?

“SO”!  They understood that He was talking about Himself.  “Prove yourself,” they say.  “What sign?” they ask?!  They’ve just seen the loaves and the fishes.  Apparently that wasn’t enough!  Except that God mercifully works in us and produces faith, NOTHING EVER IS ENOUGH!

31  Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'”

The Jews quote Psalm 78:24.

Psalm 78:24  and he rained down on them manna to eat and gave them the grain of heaven.

Why does manna come up naturally here?  Because it’s Passover.  After the Exodus, the Jews ate manna in the wilderness.  The popular expectation was that Messiah would set up rule at Passover time and that manna would again begin to fall.  There is a clear parallel between the giving of manna and what Jesus has done in the wilderness.  But in the minds of the people, one meal in the wilderness wasn’t in the same class as what “Moses” had done.  Jesus had given them very ordinary barley bread once, while “Moses” had provided heavenly bread for 40 years.

32  Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.

33  For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

Jesus corrects them on 2 accounts.  1st, it was God, not Moses, who was (and is) at work.  Second, the true bread from heaven wasn’t manna, but is instead Jesus.

Bread is the most fundamental food, the sustainer of life, the satisfier of hunger.  Jesus is doing here something very much like what He did with the woman at the well.  Here the subject is not water and living/real water, but bread/manna and true bread.  Manna fed the Israelites for 40 years.  He will be the food of the entire world for eternity.

34  They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

“give us this bread”  Like the woman at the well who said “give me this living water so that I won’t have to come back and draw” these folks continue to not understand.  They’re still thinking in terms of physical bread.  But Jesus doesn’t leave them in their misunderstanding.  He presses them until they understand His claim.

35  Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

“I myself am the bread of life.”  Think how that sounds to a serious Jew!  It’s especially stunning because it contains one of the “I AM” statements.  That is, “I AM” is the meaning of the personal name of the one true and living God.  There are 7 such I AM’s in John: the bread of life, the light of the world, the gate, the good shepherd, the resurrection and life, the way, truth and life,  and  the vine.  This is a clear claim to divinity.

36  But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.

These folks HAVE expressed that they know He has miraculous powers.  But they are not believing in Him in the Biblical sense of relying on, trusting in, adhering to Him.  They haven’t cast their fortunes with Him.

37  All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.

38  For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.

39  And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.

40  For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Jesus is working in harmony with the Father, giving eternal life to those that God calls and who respond.  Notice the holy balance in the plain meaning here.  The Father sovereignly gives ones to Jesus.  People in free will look to Jesus.  Both election and free will are here.

Eternal life is eternal in at least the senses that 1) it is everlasting, 2) it is abundant in quality and 3) it belongs to God.

Jesus says, “I will raise him up,” making another clear claim to that which belongs to God alone.

41  So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”

The Jews are annoyed and begin to grumble/murmur.  This should remind us that the Israelites in the wilderness grumbled after the 1st Passover.  It indicated their ungratefulness for God’s provision and their unwillingness to rely upon God.  The same is happening here.

42  They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”

There is real irony here.  On one level they sort of know Jesus’s origins.  On the more important level, however, they are clueless.

43  Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves.

Jesus addresses their ungrateful, disbelieving hearts.  They are not going to get to the Truth by haggling among themselves, complaining, debating and splitting hairs.  They personally have a part in their salvation and they must begin to exercise it.  When we are griped and complaining, humility must come before we’ll give up our discontent.  That was true in the Old Testament as here.

Deuteronomy 8:3  And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

44  No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

Jesus clearly teaches here that even our response to God is somehow at His initiative.  we don’t have it in us to humble ourselves, except that God do His work.  He must, draw/pull/tug us toward Himself.  Barclay points out that the word translated “draws” almost always indicates drawing against some pressure.  There is in the human heart the predisposition to resist.

45  It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me—

To hear God is to come to Jesus.  If there is no reliance on Jesus, there is no hearing from God.

Jesus brings the conversation back around to Himself as the bread of life and the relation of His work to that of Moses and the provision of manna.

46  not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.

47  Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.

He who believes (trusts, relies, adheres, cleaves to Christ) has life.

48  I am the bread of life.

49  Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.

50  This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.

51  I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Jesus makes a contrast between the supernatural bread that nevertheless sustained only physical life temporarily and Himself, the bread of life who sustains life eternally.  A person may eat of Him and not die.

Tasker said, “Christian faith, in other words, is faith in Christ crucified.  True nourishment, which brings eternal life. is possible only for those who accept His sacrifice, who are incorporated by faith into His body, who are crucified with Him that they may live with Him, and who abide in Him because He abides in them — truths which are sacramentally set forth every time Christians partake of broken bread and outpoured wine at the Lord’s supper.”

In the rest of the chapter, Jesus amplifies in such graphic language that His hearers are forced to decide about Him one way or the other.  The sign of feeding the multitude has its full effect.  Some believe in the Biblical sense.  But most choose to turn away, and in the process, bring God’s implied judgment upon themselves.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on John 5:1-30

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This is a lesson on one of the miracles of Jesus recorded in John.  It is the third of 8 carefully selected miracles that John records (Matthew records 20, Mark 19 and Luke 20).  It is the second healing recorded in John.  It’s worth reading what John has to say about the first two miracles.  John 2:1-11 records the changing of water into wine at Cana.  In verse 11 Johns says

John 2:11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

For John, miracles are signs leading people to trust in, rely upon, cleave to, believe in, cast themselves upon Jesus.

John 4:46-54 records the healing of the official’s son at Cana.  John says about the healing

John 4:53 The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household.

54 This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.

These first 2 miracles John records were both miracles that Jesus did at someone’s request and helped bring those people to faith.  The healing at the pool in John 5 is different in character from the first one in terms of producing immediate faith.  But it forms the foundation for important revelation concerning Jesus given in the discourse that follows in verses 16-30.

The facts of the healing at the pool are the story of a dull, unappreciative clod receiving unmerited grace from Jesus.

John 5:1 After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

There was a feast of the Jews.  Which feast?  Guesses include Pentecost and the Feast of Trumpets (New Year).

2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades.

3 In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.

5 One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.

We need to be sure we understand the magnitude of this.  38 years means that this guy has atrophied limbs and nerves that don’t work right any more.  If a modern doctor could somehow magically remove the “cause” of these problems, the effects on the man’s body would remain.

6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?”

This is no rhetorical question.  “Do you want to be healed?”  We humans would often prefer to wallow in self-pity than have a difficulty genuinely straightened out.  If this guy is healed now, what happens to his begging income?  What’s he going to do with himself?  Has he completely lost hope?  Jesus gives him an invitation to wake up and see that help is right at hand.

7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.”

This is a dense, crotchety, self-pitying reply.  “It’s no fair, the others get into the pool before me.”  The guy is completely oblivious to Who it is that speaks to him and what He offers.

8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.”

This is a command healing from the Son of God.

9 And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.  Now that day was the Sabbath.

The man picks up his mat, the crude rough bedding of the poor, and walks.  The healing is instantaneous and based on nothing except the mercy and power of God.  There’s no faith here on the part of the man.  This is not done in response to his reliance on Christ.

Note the key issue raised here: it was the Sabbath.

10 So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.”

These folks are purposely blind.  Only God could have done what was done here.  It is not rational to insist that this is contrary to His wishes expressed in the Old Testament law.  What’s been violated here is not the law of God, but the rabbinical interpretation of that law.  What’s been violated is absolutely not God’s intent for the Sabbath.  God doesn’t break His own laws.  That would be a moral impossibility.

11 But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’ ”

This is an intimidated, cowed response.  Compare the courageous unafraid response of the blind man of Chapter 9!

12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?”

Here is the central question for all of humanity.  Who is Jesus?  John correctly sees this as the central matter for this man and for all of us.  This account frames the question as clearly as it could be framed.

13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place.

The man who was healed has no clue.  There is no faith in Christ in evidence here at all.

14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.”

What does Jesus mean by “Sin no more”?  It’s not completely clear here what is being referred to.  Is it “don’t continue to fail to believe, to fail to recognize who I am?”  Was something he did partially responsible for his situation?  All we know about the man here is his dullness to the One who has healed him and who now speaks to him.  What is clear is that Christ’s warning is about the eternal ramifications of what he does from this point on.

15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him.

The guy identifies Jesus without any understanding of who He really is.  This report to the Jewish officials is not so much malicious as it is simply dull.

In verses 16-30, the blindness of the invalid and the Jewish officials provides the basis for a discourse revealing more clearly who Jesus is.

16 And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath.

17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”

This is a direct and unmistakable claim to divinity in the Jewish culture, and the Jewish officials understood it for what it was.  Jesus says “My” Father.  No Jew would say this.  This address is far too intimate.  A Jew praying might say “Our Father,” but never “My Father.”

Then there is what Jesus has to say about working.  The basis of the Sabbath law is, of course, the commandment.

Exodus 20:9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work,

10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.

11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.  …

The LORD rested on the 7th day.  The rabbis held that God wasn’t completely inactive on the 7th, and indeed if He were, all would cease to exist.  They pointed out that people are born and die on the Sabbath, and in both God had to be active, giving life in the first place and dispensing judgment to the dead in the second.  Jesus said “My Father works, I work.”  Jesus was claiming a prerogative belonging only to God.  Listen how Jesus follows up on this in verses 18-30.

18 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

The Jewish officials react violently.  They understood Jesus’s claim perfectly.  Calling God His own Father was different from addressing Him as “our” Father.

19 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.

Jesus declares that He is no rebel, but rather is in perfect harmony with His Father’s purposes and working.  He says it is a moral impossibility for Him to act independently of the Father.  Whatever the Father does the Son does likewise.  Jesus is about to point out two things that they know that only God does, that He does.  What are these 2 things?  Exactly the things that the rabbis realized that God continues to do on the Sabbath.  In verses 20-25 and then again in 26-30 Jesus says that He 1) gives life and 2) judges.  First, in verses 20-25 He speaks of doing these things in the present.  Then in 26-30 He speaks of doing them at the end of time.

20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel.

Greater works than “these” refers to what?  Is it the immediate case of the healing of the invalid?

21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.

Jesus gives life.  The official’s son in John 4:46-54 was at the point of death, and Jesus told him “Your son will live” and Jesus says plainly that it is He, the Son, who does this.  A there is

22 The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son,

Jesus says that He is judge!  And what is the fundamental nature of this judgment?  It is an implied judgment.

23 that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.

24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.

In Jesus, a choice has been laid before all people.  We judge ourselves in how react to that choice.  This is exactly what was said to Nicodemus in John 3:16-21.

Verses 26-30 of this chapter repeat these 2 fundamental points, in relation to the end times.  Jesus gives life and He judges.

26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.

He gives life.

27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.

He judges.

28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice

29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.

The Jew was clear that resurrection belongs only to God.  This, Jesus says, belongs to Him as the Son.  But there is no conflict, as He acts in complete harmony with the Father.  And His final judgment is ratification of judgment humans make on themselves in this life.  They believe and live accordingly and have life, or they do not.  To not decide for Christ is to bring the horrible inevitable implied judgment.

30 “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on John 4:4-30, 39-42

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This is a lesson on the account of Jesus and the woman at the well.

John 4:4 And he had to pass through Samaria.

Jesus “had to” exactly in the sense that it was God’s plan/intention that He was to go through Samaria and bring light to the woman and this town.

5 So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.

6 Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.

The Assyrians conquered Israel in 727 BC.  They did a partial deportation of the people of the northern kingdom, carrying in in their place some pagan peoples.  As a result, the people living in the north were a mongrel people, who had mixed pagan practices with the Jewish faith.  A very clouded version of the Judaism had developed.  The Samaritans had at one point (in the 2nd century BC) taken sides with the Syrians against Judah.  There were really bad feelings between the Jews and the Samaritans.  2 Kings 17:24-41 is worth reading in this regard.

2 Kings 17:41 So these nations feared the Lord and also served their carved images. Their children did likewise, and their children’s children—as their fathers did, so they do to this day.

7 There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”

Jesus speaks to not only a Samaritan, but a woman, and one of bad morals.  Jesus is concerned not only with moral Jewish male leaders like Nicodemus, but with immoral, Samaritan female peasants.  Tasker said that this story makes it clear that “… the people of God is to consist of all, whatever their race, their religious background or their moral standing may be, who acknowledge Jesus as the Savior of the world, who have received from Him the life-giving Spirit, and who worship God in Spirit and in truth.”

Jesus says, “Will you give me a drink?”  On one level, this is a really startling question.  It was probably the belief at this time that even touching something belonging to a Samaritan woman made one ceremonially unclean.  A written regulation to that effect can be traced to 65 AD.  On another level, this is a very carefully chosen opening of a conversation.  Instead of her giving Jesus a drink, Jesus is going to give her real water.

8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.)

9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)

The woman is, in a word, shocked, for Jews do not use vessels in common with Samaritans!

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

This is an absolutely key verse.  It puts clearly what 2 things Jesus is looking for in this woman (and in us).  He is concerned that 1) she recognize who He is, and 2) that she ask Him for what He has.

Jesus says “If you knew the ‘gift.'”  This word means “free/bountiful gift.”

What does Jesus mean by “living water”/spring water/running water in opposition to the water drawn from this cistern?  There are several inseparable and related meanings.  First is the Holy Spirit.  John 7:38-39 tells us this.  Second is eternal life, as indicated in verse 14.  Third is Jesus’s revelation/teaching/truth.  The Old Testament is full of the use of the metaphor that God’s wisdom that grants life is like water.  In Proverbs 13:14, 18:4 wisdom is likened to a bubbling brook, in Isaiah 55:1 listening to God brings life.  Fourth is blessing and refreshment.  Jeremiah 17:13 and Zechariah 14:8 both speak of living water flowing from God.  Jesus is purposely drawing on all these strains of meaning.  They are, in fact, inseparable.

11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?

The woman thinks that Jesus is talking about physical water.  She thinks “You are offering me running water/spring water.  Where are you going to get it?”

12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.”

This typical (for the Gospel of John) misunderstanding is an opportunity for Jesus to give clarification and light.  She asks this question and the construction implies the answer “no.”  But it is ironic that totally unaware here, the woman identifies Jesus.  Indeed, He is greater than Jacob.

13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,

14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Jesus contrasts the well’s physical and temporary water with His permanent and satisfying water.  In verse 14, the water that Jesus gives is likened to a clear, clean spring–superior to a stagnant cistern in verse 12.

The phrase “welling up” is literally “leaping up.”  It is usually used in regard to quick movement by living beings.  What Jesus has to give will be and give God’s life.

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

The woman has come to the point (admittedly only in partial understanding) of asking Jesus for what He has.  The 2nd of Jesus purposes is fulfilled.

Jesus now begins to turn up the heat to help the woman see clearly who He is.  He uses moral probing to prod her to see.

16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”

Ryle said, “Let it be noted that the first draught of living water which our Lord gave to the Samaritan woman was conviction of sin.  That fact is a lesson for all who desire to benefit ignorant and careless sinners.  The first thing to be taught to such persons, when once we have got their attention, is their own sinfulness, and their consequent need of a Saviour.  No one values the physician until he feels his disease.”

17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’;

The woman answers with a half-truth.  After all, how is this Jewish passer-by going to know any different?  Jesus uses the reply to uncover her immorality.

18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”

At once, Jesus has demonstrated his deity, through his supernatural knowledge of her circumstances, and put His finger on the raw nerve of Her sin.

19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.

20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”

This is a (probably the) crucial point in this dialogue.  The woman has been given some light.  Will she turn and run?  She now recognizes the spiritual nature of Jesus’s talking.

Her reaction here may be something like “Oh, yeah.  Let’s talk spiritual things in general.  Let’s not get too personal.”  Or it may that she’s already genuinely undone and is thinking “He’s right, I’m miles from God.  This must be remedied.  I need to offer sacrifice, but where?  Here where we worship?  Or in Jerusalem?”  The Samaritans worshiped near Mt. Gerazim, apparently pointing back to Deuteronomy 27:4.

In verse 19 she calls Jesus a prophet.  She is impressed that Jesus knows her condition, but doesn’t yet see Jesus as anything beyond an Old Testament prophet.

21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.

Despite how it sounds in English, “woman” here is a courteous title.  The location of worship won’t be important, the nature will be.  You will worship “the Father.”  This is a distinctively Christian expression.  Neither Jews nor Samaritans talked of God in these terms.  But the prophets did foresee this.

Malachi 1:11 For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.

22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.

Jesus essentially says “For the time being, we Jews are right, and salvation is going to come through us.”

23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.

“But while for the time being we Jews are right about where God is to be worshiped, that whole question is about to be made obsolete.”  The issue is not going to be “where” but rather “how” one should worship.  True worship will be “in spirit and truth.”  The “will” or “must” in this verse is imperative.  This is not optional.

21st century Christians need to think carefully about what is being said here.  To begin, there is a contrast of worship “in spirit and truth” to “in the temple at Jerusalem.”  What is intended?  One thing that it is not, is a contrast of the internal with the external.  The New Testament is full of hymn singing, bread breaking, communion sharing, water baptisms, obedience, good works, etc., etc., etc.   This is not some kind of mystical Gnostic or Platonic statement.  This is not a statement that true worship is somehow in the inner recesses of the inner man.  It is the same contrast that Jesus talked to Nicodemus about in Chapter 3.  It is the contrast of the earthly versus the heavenly.  Jesus talked to Nicodemus about temporal earthly birth versus the beginning of eternal life from God.  Here Jesus is talking about the replacement of the temporal temple with worship made alive by God’s spirit.  To worship God in spirit is to worship Him in a way made alive by God.  After all, the only ones who can call God “Father” are those made alive by Him.  To worship God in spirit and truth implies that the whole earth is full of His Glory and His worship is not limited to some centralized location and particular times and seasons.  It is real, continual, and ever-present.

Further, we must be careful how we hear the word “and” in “spirit and truth.”  There are not 2 different thoughts involved, there is no separating the two notions.  Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6).  Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:14).  The Spirit is the “spirit of Truth” (John 14:17, 15:26).  Jesus reveals truth to men (John 18:37, 8:45) and Jesus sends the Spirit, the “spirit of Truth.”  SPIRIT AND TRUTH is one whole.  It is parallel to LIVING WATER used earlier in this passage.  They both carry the meaning of being made alive by God through his Spirit and under His divine revelation.  The point is that if we allow separation we get a wrong, mystical, notion that there is somehow spirituality outside of who God is or apart from our life in this physical world.

24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

God is greater than simply our physical existence.  He is not confined to things or to places.  They that worship Him must do so with humble, contrite, grateful and adoring spirits.  They must worship Him in complete reality.  They must worship Him at all times and in all places and in all circumstances.  True worship is intimacy with the one true and living God.

Verses 23 and 24 sum up to exactly what Jesus said to Nicodemus.  To be approved of God, our life must come from Him.  Only through the Spirit does God beget true worshipers.

25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.”

The Samaritans expected a teaching, law-giving Messiah, rather than the military Messiah the Jews were looking for.  But basically, the woman’s head is spinning by this time.  She may at this point be saying that this is all too deep for anyone to explain but the coming Messiah.  Or it may be that she does, in a tentative way, see Jesus for who He is—Messiah.  Remember verse 10.  She has asked, and now she either has seen or is about to see.

26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

With uncharacteristic plainness (perhaps because he’s in Samaria rather than Judea) Jesus says that He’s Messiah.  And this declaration also probably carries an implicit claim to divinity.  Literally the sentence is “I that speak to you, I am.”  Jesus is the great I AM.

27 Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?”

28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people,

She leaves her jar.  It’s useless for the kind of water she’s heard about.  She’s not interested in the water in Jacob’s well now that she’s tasted living water, and her first instinct is to share the wonderful grace that she has received.

29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”

“Come (and) see.”  Here’s authentic Christian testimony.  She’s no apologist, no arguer.  She doesn’t even have all the answers.  But she’s seen and she invites others in honest, simple terms to come and see.

30 They went out of the town and were coming to him.

Jump now to verse 39 and the completion of this episode.

39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.”

The end of the woman’s encounter with Jesus is not only her salvation, but that of others as well.  John’s stated purpose in writing (John 20:31) is that we would believe (rely on, trust in, cleave to).

40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days.

“asked” is in the continuous tense.  They kept on asking.

41 And many more believed because of his word.

There is here more complete revelation of truth and more belief.

42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

“We have heard for ourselves.”  This is 1st hand.  We must individually take God’s offer.  Second hand acquaintance or hearsay belief is not saving Faith.  Others lead us to friendship with Christ, but we must accept and enjoy that friendship ourselves.

These from the city call Jesus “the Savior of the world.”  This is a remarkably deep and accurate understanding of who Jesus is.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on John 3:1-18

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This passage is the account of Nicodemus coming to Jesus and learning that He is much more than a good teacher, rather is at the very center of God’s intentions for mankind.  Nicodemus is the classic picture of one with some cloudy knowledge of Jesus, ripe for salvation as he learns more accurately and clearly who Jesus is and what God has provided.  Jesus, as the last few verses of Chapter 2 indicate, wasn’t guessing when he sized up an individual or discerned that person’s spiritual state and motives.

John 3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.

“There was a man …”  What we know about Nicodemus comes from this passage and from John 7 and 19.  He urged the Sanhedrin to give Jesus a fair shake and after the crucifixion he went with Joseph of Arimathea to give Jesus’s body a proper burial.

Nicodemus was a Pharisee.  We usually think ill of these guys without really knowing much about them.  They were a minority party or sect of the Jewish people (about 6,000 only at this time!?) who were zealous for the keeping of the Old Testament law.  The history of the sect goes back 100-200 years before this time, and perhaps ultimately (at least in spirit, if not in name) to the time of Ezra.  They were a group called “God’s loyal ones” or “the separated ones.”  They opposed secularizing influences.  In this we cannot fault them.  What we must fault is their notion that by scrupulous obedience to the law and all of the hundreds of additions and interpretations they added to it, they could individually win God’s favor.  The fact is that not they, nor anyone else can present themselves to God approved by human behavior.  In our fallen state, we simply don’t have the ability to stand up to close scrutiny regarding God’s standards.

Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin or Jewish ruling council, the 70 member Jewish high court.  By Jewish standards of the time, this was an important guy.  He was also a guy with a responsibility to know what was going on in Israel.  Jesus had shown up in Jerusalem, cleansing the temple.  Word of His miraculous provision of wine at the wedding in Cana had no doubt reached town, and Jesus had been prophesying His death and resurrection.  Some have already begun to believe.  Nicodemus needs to know what’s going on, not only for himself, but more for the good of the nation, so he visits Jesus.

2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”

There has been much made of the fact that Nicodemus came at night.  Maybe he did come then for fear of the other Jews or out of reluctance to be seen with Jesus at this tentative stage of inquiry.  But that’s not said, and maybe it had nothing to do with it.  It could be that this was the only time that he could get a private word with Jesus.  It apparently was also common belief at the time that the best time of day to study the Scriptures was the evening.  If we wanted to look for symbolism in the picture, we could see Nicodemus coming out of the realm of darkness, untruth, and evil, into the light that John talks about in the prologue to the book.

He calls Jesus “Rabbi.”  This is an extremely polite thing for Nicodemus to say to Jesus.  He was almost certainly quite a bit Jesus’ elder, and older Rabbis didn’t typically address youngsters in such a way.  Nicodemus is here well-intentioned, but theologically inadequate.  It seems that he sees Jesus as one of many prophets/teachers in Jewish history.  He doesn’t yet see Him for the one and only Son of God that He is.

Nicodemus says “We know.”  Perhaps he speaks of the Pharisees who are coming to belief?  He speaks of “signs.”  Nicodemus is right on this account.  Miracles are often referred to in John in this way, emphasizing their purpose and effect, namely to point to Jesus as the Son of God.

In this verse Nicodemus is really just trying to get a conversation going.  He’s really asking “Who are you?” and “How do I gain favor with God?”

3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Jesus cuts through the peripheral issues and gets right to the heart of the situation.  Jesus says, “Indeed and in truth I tell you. Truly, truly.  Verily, verily.  Amen and amen.  I tell you the truth.”

“cannot” picks up on Nicodemus’s “can” in verse 2.  “see” means to experience/encounter/participate in.  “The kingdom of God” describes the sovereignty that God exercises, rather than a place or dominion.  It is more “reign” than “realm.”  That is, unless one is born again he or she cannot–absolutely cannot–experience God’s sovereignty.  He or she won’t have a part in God’s final kingly rule.

Jesus says “born again.”  The word “born” could also have been translated “begotten” (making it masculine rather than feminine in action).  The “again” could also have been translated “from above.”  There is a double meaning in the Greek.  This is “born again” or “begotten from above.”  Nicodemus hears “born again/for a second time.”  Jesus certainly means (secondarily, if not primarily) “begotten from above.”

4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

It is not clear what Nicodemus means by this.  It may be a defensive reply, intended to make Jesus’s statement seem absurd.  It may be that he is genuinely confused because of the Pharisaical thinking.  Or it may be that he understands Jesus completely in terms of the necessity of a radical change, but has no idea of the possibility of a radical change.  He may be saying “Jesus, I agree that to gain God’s approval a complete change of nature is required, but you might as well ask me to start physical life all over again!  It isn’t possible!”

It is worth considering what Nicodemus was really prepared to understand, based on his Old Testament knowledge.  The Old Testament had promised that there would be a time when God would 1) give men new hearts, exchanging ones of stone for ones of flesh, 2) pour out His Holy Spirit on mankind and 3) dwell with mankind.  The basic notion of God having to act on Israel’s behalf for them to know Him is not a huge leap from what Nicodemus should know.  And it’s relevant too that the Jews of the time regarded converts to Judaism as “reborn.”  The problem here is that Nicodemus is already IN the family, so to speak.  There’s no place else for him to go.  How does the metaphor apply to him, already a devout Jew?

5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

Jesus explains the situation in other terms.  He says, “Indeed and in all truth.  Truly, truly.  Verily, verily.  Amen and amen.   No one can enter.”  The “enter” here is no different in intent from the “see” in verse 3.

Jesus says, “born of water and the spirit.”  A variety things have been suggested as the intended meaning of this phrase.  I think that F.F. Bruce has it right when he says there is no difference between being born again (verse 3) and being born of water and the Spirit (verse 5), that spirit=water is one thing, something that God is going to do.  See Ezekiel 36:25-27.  But commentators have offered other interpretations like 1) water=natural birth, Spirit=eternal life, or 2) (Barclay suggests) water=cleansing, the Spirit=power and both are required to be part of God’s Kingdom, or 3) water may refer to baptism.  If this latter is the intention, Nicodemus could only be hearing John the Baptist’s baptism here (Christian baptism is yet to come).  John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance, and Jesus may be warning Nicodemus that John’s baptism is itself not enough to make one right with God, that there must also be the work of God’s Spirit.

6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

This is just a statement of fact.  It is not some kind of mystical or gnostic condemnation of physical life.  It is a statement that physical parents give us physical life.  Spiritual/eternal life must come from God.  The nature of those being born is determined by the source of their birth.  Even if it were possible for Nicodemus to enter a second time into his mother’s womb, it would avail nothing.  Hoskyns aptly said, “There is no evolution of flesh to Spirit.”

7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’

The first “you” is singular, meaning Nicodemus.  The second “you” is plural, referring to all.  Remember that Nicodemus said “we” in verse 2.  Jesus effectively says, “Nicodemus, what I’ve just been saying to you should be no surprise, it makes perfect sense.”

8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

This analogy is a perfect one in both the Hebrew and Greek languages.  The words for “spirit” and “wind” are the same in both languages.  In Greek, the word for both is “pneuma.”  In Hebrew, the word for both is “ruah.”  The Spirit breathes and you hear His voice.  The wind blows and you hear its sound.  Jesus is saying to Nicodemus that he (and we with him) really understand the workings of neither the physical world nor God’s sovereign work by his Spirit.  See Ecclesiastes 11:5.  But the fact that we don’t completely understand the working of the wind doesn’t change the reality of it!  It is the same with the work of God’s Spirit.  Simply because we don’t completely comprehend the gracious work of God’s Spirit gives us no place to dismiss the fact that when we see a change of heart and life, a genuine bowing to the King of the universe, that is the doing of the Spirit of God, not anything that we can do on our own.

In natural terms, man first had life when God breathed the breath of life into him.  See Genesis 2:7.  We have eternal life when God gives us His Holy Spirit.

9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”

Nicodemus’s first question, in verse 4, concerned man’s role.  Now his question concerns God’s.  How does God work to give us eternal life?”  Nicodemus came expecting perhaps to get some new insight on how to better conform to the law, wanting to know what he can do.  He’s found that what he can do is not the point.  Rather, it is that he must have a complete and radical transformation of what he is, and that it must be God that provides it.  But how?

10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?

“You, Nicodemus, are supposed to be the teacher!”  Nicodemus does have some Old Testament basis for understanding what Jesus is saying here.  But Nicodemus doesn’t understand.  It frequently happens in John’s Gospel that misunderstanding leads Jesus to explain something more fully and make Truth more completely known.

In the next few verses, before answering Nicodemus’s question from verse 9, Jesus makes a very clear statement of His divinity and authority.

11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony.

Jesus says again, “Indeed and in all truth.  Truly, truly.  Verily, verily.”  He says, “We speak of what we know.”  The “we” may be the “we “of majesty?  Jesus may be referring to the trinity?  Jesus may be referring to Himself and the disciples/church?  It might be a parody or rebuke of Nicodemus’s “we”?

“… what we know, and testify to what we have seen.”  This is legal language.  The idea here is one of having firsthand knowledge and giving legally reliable statements.  Jesus then says, “But still you people do not accept–it is your regular habit to not accept–our testimony.”

12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?

It is not clear exactly what is meant by “earthly things” versus “heavenly things.”  Possibilities are 1) what has already been discussed versus what is yet to be talked about, 2) things explainable in earthly analogies versus those that have none, or 3) things that can be spoken of/revealed in this life versus things that will only be revealed in heaven.  What is clear is that Jesus is saying that He has knowledge much beyond that of any mere mortal.

13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.

The “No one has” might be “No one has ever”  No one else has 1st hand knowledge of the things that Jesus is referring to.    It is “he who descended heaven” who is under discussion.  This is a direct claim to divinity.  Nicodemus in verse 2 admitted that God was with Jesus, that Jesus was sent from God in the sense that He had God’s approval.  Here Jesus makes it clear that He came from God in the sense that He has existed forever with the Father and is God and was sent as His emissary to earth.

Now Jesus gets ready to answer Nicodemus’s question posed in verse 9.  That is, “How does God work to give us His eternal life?”

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,

Jesus cites an Old Testament analogy or object lesson.  See Numbers 21:4-8.  Moses was to lift up a   pole with the bronze serpent on it, a sign before the people.  All who looked at it were healed.  In John 12:31-32 Jesus uses the same kind of terms to describe His crucifixion.  The Biblical meaning of the “lifting up” of Jesus is first His crucifixion and second His ascension into heaven (Acts 2:33, 5:31 and Philippians 2:9).  The “lifting up” is that which was done in the sovereign plan of God, once for all on the cross.

The points of analogy/similarity between the Old Testament type and the New Testament reality are striking.  It is God who provides the cure for our ills.  What is required for life is to simply accept it, to “look” or believe.  And it is “must be lifted up.”  It is the only possible source of our life.

15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

It is “whoever,” it is “every one.”  It is every one who “believes in Him.”  This is “cleaves to Him,” “trusts in Him,” “relies on Him,” it is “flees to Him and commits his soul entirely to Him.”  Such people are given “eternal life.”  This is “indestructible life,” “life without beginning or end,” “God’s life,”  “infinitely high quality life,”  “life in fellowship with God.”  See John 17:3.   Any conception of everlasting existence that doesn’t center on relationship with God is counterfeit.  Nicodemus, you asked how this can be.  It comes about by looking to the Son of God.

A natural question is then “Why is this available to us?”  Jesus anticipates this question.

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

It is because of God’s love, not our own efforts to somehow please God.  As Paul argues clearly in Romans, there is nothing that we can do to merit it.

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

D.L. Moody said, “Suppose I were to say, I will give this Bible to ‘whosoever …’  What have you got to do?  Why nothing but take it.  But a man comes forward and says, ‘I’d like that Bible very much.’ ‘Well, didn’t I say “whosoever”?’  ‘I’d like to have the Bible; but I’d like to give you something for it.  I don’t want to take it for nothing.’  ‘Well, I’m not here to sell Bibles: take it if you want it.’  ‘Well, I want it; but I’d like to give you something for it.  Let me give you a penny for it; though to be sure, it’s worth twenty or thirty dollars.'”  Well suppose I took the penny; the man takes up the Bible, and marches away home with it.  His wife says, ‘Where did you get that Bible?’ ‘Oh, I bought it.’  Mark the point; when he gives the penny it ceases to be a gift.  So with salvation.  If you were to pay ever so little, it would not be a gift.”

Luther called John 3:16 “the Bible in miniature.”

“God loved so loved the ‘world.'”  God loved the whole of humanity.  This is not just the elect, but the whole of the rebellious human race.  It is a distinctively Christian notion that God’s love should extend to all, beyond race or nationality or spiritual elite.  The Greek carries with it the idea of “loved supremely” or “to the highest possible degree.”  The Greek construction carries with it a stress on the result of loving.

That “He gave,” “that He “actually gave, that He “even gave” (Amplified).  The notion is that it is completely amazing that He gave!  He actually gave His one and only Son.  This emphasizes Jesus’s absolutely unique nature and position.  God gives us His Spirit and nature and we become Sons of God, but not in the same sense that Jesus is His Son.

Again, “believes in” is “trusts in, clings to, relies upon.”  The one who believes in “shall not perish.”  The alternative is DEATH.  This is not just one of many possible options, it is the only one!

17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

The Son of God didn’t come to bring judgment, but rather to save souls.

18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

“Whoever believes in him is not condemned.”  J.C. Ryle put it this way: “He is pardoned acquitted, justified, cleared from all guilt, delivered from the curse of a broken law, no longer counted a sinner, but reckoned perfectly righteous in the sight of God.”  Thanks be to the I AM!

Nevertheless, there is an implied judgment if people refuse the only provision possible for our salvation.  To look to Jesus is life.  To not do so is to choose destruction.  Our response to Jesus gives away our hearts.  If seeing Him brings us to our knees in worship, then there is the hope of heaven for us.  If we despise or ignore Him, the rightful Sovereign of the Universe, if we dodge the light, then we’ve revealed ourselves as unfit for His presence, and the love of God revealed in Him has become for us a judgment.  Again quoting Ryle: “The words before us … show in simple and unmistakable terms, that although man’s salvation is entirely of God, his ruin, if he is lost, will be entirely from himself.”  Luther’s comment was: “Henceforward, he who is condemned must not complain of Adam and his inborn sin.  The seed of the woman, promised by God to bruise the head of the serpent, is now come, and has atoned for sin and taken away condemnation.  But he must cry out against himself for not having accepted and believed in the Christ, the devil’s head-bruiser and sin-strangler.  If I do not believe the same, sin and condemnation must continue.”

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.