Introduction to the Person of the Son
John 1 – 2
John 1 – 2
John 1 – 2. These two chapters form the introduction to the Gospel of John. They introduce us to the Person of Christ. We are given a number of essential truths concerning His Person, a dispensational outline relating to Himself as the center of God’s purposes, and finally the sentence of judgment on failed Judaism in light of His coming. In the first chapter we get seven names or titles that introduce us to the Lord Jesus and describe Him from eternity to eternity: the Word (v.1), the Light (v.7), the Lamb of God (v.29), the Son of God (v.34), the Christ (v.41), the King of Israel (v.49), and the Son of Man (v.51). John’s Gospel begins with the infinitude of Christ’s Person and ends with the infinitude of His works.
- Preface: Essential Truths concerning the Person of the Son (1:1-18)
- The Record of John as to The Superiority of Christ (1:19-28)
- The 1st Day: The Leading Features of Christianity (1:29-42)
- The 2nd Day: The Restoration of Israel through a Remnant (1:43-51)
- The 3rd Day: The Blessing of the Earth in the Millennium (2:1-12)
- Judgment of the Jews’ Temple & Presentation of the True Temple (2:13-22)
God’s sovereignty in John 1. One of the most hotly debated topics since the time of the Protestant Reformation is the subject of free-will in salvation. Is mans’ will free to choose God? Or is man totally helpless until God picks him up in grace? The scriptural answer for this question is repeated over and over in the pages of the New Testament. Man is totally depraved, but God is gracious to him. Man would never choose God unless God gave him a new life (quickening). But man’s helplessness does not set aside his responsibility. The scripture affirms both man’s responsibly to believe, and God’s sovereignty in spite of man’s condition. Here in the first chapter of John we have the sovereign work of God highlighted:
- Man’s state of moral darkness (vv.4-10)
- Christ, the True Light, having come into the world is rejected (vv.10-11)
- God must sovereignly cause the new birth that there might be some to receive Christ (vv.11-13)
Preface: Essential Truths concerning the Person of the Son (1:1-18)
Seven essential truths concerning the Person of the Son are outlined in these first eighteen verses.
- His Eternal Being (v.1a)
- His Distinct Personality (v.1b)
- His Proper Deity (v.1c)
- His Eternal Personality (v.2)
- His Glory as Creator (v.3)
- His Glory as the Source of Life and Light (v.4)
- His Humanity (v.14)
The Person of the Son: with Regard to God (vv.1-2)
John 1:1. In the first verse we are presented with the first three profound truths concerning the Person of the Son: His Eternal Being (v.1a), His Distinct Personality (v.1b), and His Proper Deity (v.1c). All three of these truths are eternal… they are true now, they were true “in the beginning”, and they will always be true. There are three beginnings in scripture. The beginning in John 1:1 is the beginning of anything that had a beginning; the furthest point in past eternity. The beginning in Gen. 1:1 is the beginning of creation. The beginning in 1 John 1:1 is the beginning of Christianity, and it corresponds with John 1:14. This beginning is the earliest point in a past eternity. Note: Ephesians 3:21 takes us the farthest into a future eternity!
¶ In the beginning was the Word, v.1a Point #1: His Eternal Being. In the first verse we are introduced to the Person of Christ as “the Word” or Logos. Words are a means of communication, the expression of thought. The Son was “the Logos” because He, as a divine Person, is the full communication of all that God is to man (see notes on the Word and Words of God). We have the Word functioning in v.18. The Lord Jesus is also called the “express image” (Heb. 1:3) and the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). Of the three Persons of the Trinity, the Son is always the agent by which God communicates. “In the beginning was” tells us that before the beginning of anything that had a beginning, the Word existed.
1b and the Word was with God, v.1b Point #2: His Distinct Personality. Even in a past eternity, the Word was “with God”, as a distinct Person in the Godhead. The term “God” includes the Father and the Holy Ghost. You cannot be identical to the person you are with. The term “with” denotes distinction as well as companionship. The Son is distinct from the Father and the Holy Spirit, but He was “with” them, enjoying communion with one another. Later, the Lord Jesus could say “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30), which is an expression of their oneness in divine essence; they are “one thing” as each Person is God. He does not say “I and my Father are one Person”. No, the Persons of the Trinity are distinct.
1c and the Word was God. v.1c Point #3: His Proper Deity. While He remained a distinct Person, He was every bit as much God as the other Persons of the Trinity. The deity of Christ has come under attack many times over the centuries. It is perhaps the central theme of the Gospel of John; that Jesus is the Son of God, which means that He is God (John 10:30). This was the truth that the Jews particularly hated (John 5:17-18). Jehovah’s witnesses translate this verse; “the Word was a god”. This false translation denies the Trinity by claiming multiple gods. Scripture always maintains that there are three divine Persons, but only one God.
2 “He” was in the beginning with God. v.2 Point #4: His Eternal Personality. This next point is important. Not only is the Son’s Person eternal and distinct, but the distinction is eternal! The Son never became the Word, He always was the Word. Some who deny the eternal Sonship of Christ claim that there were three Persons in the Godhead, but their individual identities were not eternal; i.e. they teach that any of the three Persons could have become the Son, or the Father, etc. This is blasphemy! The Word always was the Word, period. In the time of the Apostle John, the Gnostics taught that Jesus was an “emanation” from God; a visible ‘shining out’ which began at a certain point in time. That would make Him less than God. The scripture is clear, the Word “was (or, existed) in the beginning (eternally) with God”. He was always with God, and had eternal intra-communion with the Trinity. This has profound significance…
The Profound Significance of Eternal Communion. One of the great distinguishing features of Christianity is that, while maintaining the oneness of God, it embraces the truth of eternal love. There is an intra-communion between the persons of the Godhead, characterized by love (John 3:35; 14:31; 2 Cor. 13:14; Prov. 8:30). In monadic religions (belief in one god and one person) like Islam, they believe Allah has only ever been one person. One person cannot express love to his or herself! Love is only expressed in relationship to other persons. Therefore, in monadic religions, love is not an expressed reality until the moment of creation, because there are no persons to love. But blessed be God, the scriptures declare that God is love, and has been loving from a past eternity!
The Person of the Son: with Regard to Creation (v.3)
3 All things received being through him, and without him not one thing received being which has received being. v.3 Point #5: The Creatorial Power. He is exclusive of all created things, and all created things are dependent on Him. Not only is He not derived from something (v.2), but all things are derived from Him (v.3)! There are no exceptions, “not one thing received being” from some other source than the Person of the Word. “He is before all things, and by Him all things consist (are held together).” see Col. 1:16, 17.
The Person of the Son: with Regard to Man (vv.4-5)
¶ 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. v.4 Point #6: The Son as Life and Light. In His Person, He is the source of physical and spiritual life. He is life for those who believe (vv.12-13), but He is the light of all men, because His lifestyle exposed man’s true state.
Life in the Son. There is a verse (John 5:26) that says the Father has given the Son to have life in Himself. From this verse in John 1 we can see that the Son always had life in Himself from a past eternity as the Eternal Word. In John 5 it is speaking of the Son as a dependent man, receiving all things from the hand of His Father, and in that sense it was given to Him. As the one who intrinsically had life in Himself, death could not hold Him! He arose from among the dead “…having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it” (Acts 2:24). It is a boundless, springing life; and it can never be held down. When a person believes on the Son, he obtains the Son’s life, and has it forever in a derivative way; for “he that hath the Son hath life” (1 John 5:12).
5 And the light appears in darkness, and the darkness apprehended it not. v.5 In this verse we see the lengths to which God wants to reveal Himself to man, and man’s total lack of capacity to lay hold of God or His things. The light “appeared in the darkness” when the Son came into the world as a man; i.e. the incarnation. The humanity of Christ is not the subject here as it is in v.14, but rather the moral effect of light coming into the place of darkness. The word often improperly translated “comprehended” should really be “apprehended” because the thought in the verse goes beyond man’s ability to wrap his mind around the subject of God. In a sense, this verse summarizes the entire history of Christ on this earth, from the cradle to the cross.
Darkness is really the moral condition of fallen man. Like physical darkness, spiritual darkness is the absence or ignorance of light (v.10). When the greatest spiritual Light came into this world, it didn’t make an impression on the darkness. But unlike physical darkness which can be expelled by physical light, spiritual darkness includes hatred or rejection of the light (v.11). The darkness actually militated against the light! Spiritual darkness is both passively incognizant of the light, and actively resistant to the light.
The Light. God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all; but He dwells in unapproachable light, Whom no man has seen, nor can see. “The Light” is different. The Light is (#1) the knowledge of God’s character revealed in the Person of the Son (2 Cor. 4:6). but also, (#2) that which exposes man’s true condition (John 3:20-21, Eph. 5:13). In John 1 we have a progression concerning the Light:
- In coming into the world (incarnation), the “Word” expressed God’s character to man, shining “in the darkness” (v.5). Was that enough to cause the darkness to apprehend? No… the darkness apprehended it not.
- Then He sent a man (John) to point to the Light (v.7). Was that enough? No… they killed John the Baptist.
- Then He came to His own (v.11) for 3 ½ years of public ministry. Was that enough to make the darkness respond? No… they nailed Him to a cross.
We might expect that this would be the end. If God had “only thought of Himself” He would have “gathered unto him his spirit and his breath, all flesh would expire together, and man would return to the dust” (Job 34:14-15). But He did not only think of Himself. Instead He did the unthinkable; He “so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son”. He left all environmental variables alone, and instead acted in His sovereign goodness to impart the new birth.
- In sovereign grace, God steps in, and by the new birth (v.13) gives man a capacity to apprehend the light, to receive the Son of God, and to believe on His name.
John’s Testimony of the Light (vv.6-8)
¶ 6 There was a man sent from God, his name John. 7 He came for witness, that he might witness concerning the light, that all might believe through him. 8 “He” was not the light, but that he might witness concerning the light. vv.6-8 God, who is also love, knew man’s condition and was active in His goodness to draw attention to the Light. Hence there was a man sent from Him. John came to point to the Light. He did not glorify himself, but pointed forward to Jesus that all might “believe through Him”. He wants faith! John the Baptist was “not the light”, in fact we are told in John 5:35 that John was the “burning and shining lamp”. The Word was “the Light” concerning Whom John came to bear witness. The question might arise, Why would you need a runner to point out the shining of the mid-day sun? Wouldn’t it be obvious to everyone that the Light was here? Answer: because of the darkness. Man has no moral faculty to recognize the Light, but the sending of John shows the lengths to which God went to reach man. God took three steps in grace toward man:
- The Light appears in darkness, referring to the incarnation (v.5)
- God sends a witness to point to the Light, referring to the career of John the Baptist (v.7)
- He came to His own, referring to the 3 ½ years of Christ’s public ministry (v.11)
The Rejection and Reception of the True Light (vv.9-13)
9 The true light was that which, coming into the world, lightens every man. v.9 There are many false lights (eastern religions, etc.) but the Lord was the true light. When He came into the world, He lightened every man by exposing man’s true moral condition. He did this by living a perfect life to the glory of God. The word “lighten” is not used here in the sense of spiritual enlightenment, but rather like a flashlight shining on a dirty surface. Light in scripture is a symbol for the character of God displayed toward man. There are two aspects of light: (1) exposing man’s true moral condition, and (2) revealing the character of God to man. Here the emphasis is on His exposing man’s true moral condition.
“Lighteth every man.” There is a great deal of confusion on this phrase. Armenians claim that this verse means that the Logos endows “every man that cometh into the world” with a “preparatory light”, so that man, if he chooses, can escape the darkness. This is an invention to support free-will doctrine, and it subtly declares that the first man is not totally lost, that he has this preparatory light in him. John 2:25 makes it clear that the Lord knew what was in man, and it wasn’t anything but darkness. A person is either in the light or in the dark (1 John 1:5, 6). Another Armenian doctrine is “prevenient grace” which states that God has provided to all men a grace that is sufficient for man to be able to exercise his moral free will towards God so as to accept God’s salvation. They further say that this grace is indispensable but not irresistible, and so man must choose to accept salvation. Again, according to this view, man is extensively depraved but not “totally depraved”. Both “preparatory light” and “prevenient grace” are false Armenian doctrines that deny the total depravity of man. The truth about this verse is that the expression “coming into the world” is attached to “the true light”, not to “every man”; meaning that the true light, upon entering into this world, lightened (or illuminated the condition of) every man. What proves this to be the proper reading of the verse is the expression “coming into the world”. Scripture uses the expression “came/come/coming into the world” nine times, and it always refers to Christ at the incarnation (John 1:9; 3:16; 9:39; 11:27; 12:46; 16:28; 18:37; 1 Tim. 1:15; Heb. 10:5). It could not be said of a mere man that he came into the world, because he did not exist before his conception.
10 He was in the world, and the world had its being through him, and the world knew him not. 11 He came to his own, and his own received him not; vv.10-11 When the True Light lightened every man, it exposed two characters:
- The ignorance of darkness (v.10). “The world knew him not” refers to the ignorance of darkness that characterized the Gentile world. The Creator stepped into His own creation, and He was utterly ignored by the world. When you are swinging over a deep canyon on a rope, you are intensely aware of the rope. Yet the world had its existence through Him, and yet treated Him like a nobody.
- The rejection of darkness (v.11). “He came to his own, and his own received him not” refers to the rejection of darkness that characterized the Jews. Kelly says he “came to His own things [as Messiah], and His own people received Him not.” See Kelly’s exposition of John (p.96). The darkness was not merely passive. Physical darkness is like spiritual darkness in that it is ignorant of the light (v.10). But spiritual darkness goes beyond physical darkness because it hates the light. Think of a darkness so powerful that it would try to extinguish the light.
12 but as many as received him, to them gave he the right to be children of God, to those that believe on his name; vv.12-13 These verses show that God can overcome the darkness! There were some who received Him (a remnant), but this does not prove there was something good in man. We see in v.13 that those who received Him had to be born again before they would receive Him! He gave them “the right” to take the position of children of God, as is proper in Christianity. Old Testament saints were children of God but they were scattered (John 11:52), and they didn’t have a known place and relationship. As Christians we are in the good of our relationship… we know where we stand.
13 who have been born, not of blood, nor of flesh’s will, nor of man’s will, but of God. v.13 Being “born of God” is more fully discussed in John 3. Those who received the Son “were born” – past tense – which indicates that new birth precedes receiving Christ. There are three negatives and one positive in this verse that totally rule out free-will doctrine. New birth is:
- “not of blood“ or, not by natural descent.
- “nor of the will of the flesh“ or, not through any effort of a person’s self-will.
- “nor of the will of man“ or, not through the efforts of another person, such as an evangelist.
- “but of God” – His sovereign grace working by the power of the Spirit (see Jam. 1:18).
New Birth. New birth refers to the sovereign action of God to impart spiritual life to a person where there was none before. Jesus taught on the subject of New Birth extensively in John 3. The Lord makes the following arguments:
- (vv.1-3) Man needs new birth in order to ever see (or perceive) the things of God. Without new birth man is totally helpless.
- (vv.4-6) The New Birth is caused by a sovereign action of the Spirit of God, using the Word of God.
- (vv.7-10) The subject of New Birth is not unique to Christianity, in fact Israel as a nation is in need of New Birth, and the prophets speak of the day when Israel will be born again!
- (vv.11-13) The Father and the Son desire believers to have something more than New Birth. New Birth is an earthly thing, but it is God’s desire to tell us of heavenly things; specifically Eternal Life. Eternal life is a higher and greater thing than New Birth!
- (vv.14-17) The cross is God’s provision for man’s salvation, and the required cost that we might have Eternal Life.
The expression “born anew” does not mean “a fresh start”. Nicodemus brought that up, contemplating entering into his mother’s womb to be born a second time. If that were possible, it would be another fallen human life, no different than the one he had. Rather, new birth is “new” in that it comes from a wholly new and different origin. It is life from God.
Quickening vs. New Birth. New birth and quickening mean essentially the same thing; God imparts divine life where there was none before. However, quickening is always juxtaposed with spiritual death, and new birth is juxtaposed with the corruption of the old nature. Man in his natural state is so dark that he needs a new nature with new desires.
New Birth and Salvation. New Birth is not synonymous with Salvation! Many Christians today are not clear on this distinction. They do not see the difference between new birth and salvation or they believe that new birth occurs at the same time as salvation. Not seeing the difference leads to the belief that a person is born again by choosing to believe the Gospel. On the contrary, John 1:13 teaches that new birth is a sovereign action of God, uncalled for and perhaps even unwanted by the sinner. To teach that man in the flesh has the faculty to choose God is to hold that the flesh is not all bad. Some believe the flesh is completely bad except for some small part that is capable of calling out to God. It sounds close to the truth, but it is really a denial of the utter ruin of the flesh, which the Bible teaches:
- The flesh will never produce fruit for God (Romans 8:7-8).
- The flesh cannot improve itself (John 3:6).
- The flesh cannot “invite” new birth (John 1:13).
- The flesh has been categorically condemned by God (Romans 8:3).
The denial of man’s lost condition (i.e. that his fallen nature is predisposed to sin) leads to the assertion that man has a free-will, that he is a free moral agent. This is fundamentally opposed to the scriptural truth of God’s sovereign election, and to the truth of new birth. Ultimately free-will doctrine gives man some credit for his own salvation, rather than attribute it all to the grace of God.
New birth is the moral prerequisite to salvation. Without a new life, man cannot believe God. Faith is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8), not inherent to the fallen human nature. Faith is required for justification (Rom. 5:1). A believer in the New Testament is not saved until they have believed the gospel of the grace of God. Believing the gospel is required before the sealing of the Spirit can occur (Eph. 1:13). Sometimes days, months, or even years can pass between the time when someone is quickened and when they are sealed. A person who has been quickened but not sealed could hardly be called “saved”, because they do not have peace with God, nor do they enjoy deliverance from sin. We get a clear example of this in Acts 10. Those in the house of Cornelius feared God, indicating that they were born again, but they knew nothing of Jesus. Peter preached to them the gospel of the grace of God, and “While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word” (Acts 10:44). The new nature in these ones responded to the truth of gospel, and without any kind of sinner’s prayer, they were sealed with the Holy Spirit.
Laying hold of the distinction between new birth and salvation is very important because it sheds light on the work of God in the salvation of lost souls. We find the truth of it all through scripture;
|John 3:5, 15||“Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”||“That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”|
|John 1:12-13||“Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”||“as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, to them that believe on his name.”|
|1 Pet. 1:2||“Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit,”||“unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.”|
|2 Thess. 2:13||“God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit“||“and belief of the truth.”|
The Word, The Light, The Life. Not only has the Son (1) perfectly expressed the heart of God to man as the Word, (2) illuminated the true condition of the fallen race as the Light, but He has also (3) worked in man to give him a capacity to receive Him as the Life.
¶ 14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we have contemplated his glory, a glory as of an only-begotten with a father), full of grace and truth; v.14 Point #7: His humanity (v.14). All the essential attributes of God are found in the Person of the Son in deity (vv.1-4). But now he brings it down into humanity, so the moral greatness of it all can be seen by men. The incarnation is one of the greatest events in time. The Son of God took manhood into His Person, forming a permanent union between His divine nature and His human nature. He became a man, spirit-soul-body, but did not give up anything He had as God. Read more… He “dwelt among us”, visiting the human race in person, which is far different than the pre-incarnate appearances (theophanies) of the Son. Matt. 11:27 tells us that the Son’s identity is inscrutable to the human mind, only the Father can understand it. An infinite Being took on a finite form to reveal the infinite! However, when He took on manhood, He did so perfectly, and as man is a dependent order, the Son therefore made a decision to remain in the dependent place forever! John, speaking on behalf of the apostles, could say “we contemplated (or ‘looked thoughtfully at for a long time’) his glory”. They didn’t analyze or scrutinize His Person, but rather meditated on His glory. What was that glory? It was the sonship glory of the Lord Jesus; that personal glory that He always had on account of His intra-Trinitarian identity and relationship to the Father. When He became flesh He emptied Himself (Phil. 2:7), that is, He veiled His personal glory such that it could not be seen by the human eye. However, by watching Him and contemplating Him, that glory could be observed by those who had faith. Two great things shown out of that glory: (1) grace, or love toward sinners, and (2) truth, the true relation of all things as they really are with God. The truth is “in Jesus” (Eph. 4:20-21). God is love and God is light, but those two characters were manifested to us by the Word made flesh as “grace and truth”.
Sonship glory. The glory that that Lord Jesus displayed was of “an only begotten with a father”, that is, a human father with a human only-begotten son. It speaks of a father’s unhindered joy, undivided affection, and complete approval of his only son, and the son’s intelligence of his father’s delight. But in the case of “the Word” it went far beyond the human illustration. As a man on earth Jesus was the full delight of the Father, and He walked in the enjoyment of that attention and affection in perfect communion. It wasn’t so merely what Jesus did, but the way He held Himself. That “glory” was unmistakable to those with the eyes of faith. They were distinctly aware that Jesus was not alone. His life was one of unbroken communion with His Father (except, of course, during the abandonment of Calvary).
Only-begotten. An expression that confers the thought of uniqueness. It essentially means “one and only”. It conveys the special place that the Son has occupied in the Father’s heart from a past eternity. The expression “only begotten Son” (v.18) shows that Sonship was our Lord’s unique identity. This term has been used to deny the Eternal Sonship as if He had a beginning in time, but in fact it strengthens that truth! Nothing conveys uniqueness like the term “Only-Begotten”. In what sense is He unique? We do not need to speculate, the scripture says; “the only begotten Son of God”. It is in His eternal (without reference to time), ontological (has to do with His very existence), intra-Trinitarian (has to do with His relationships in the Godhead) identity as the Son of God that He is the Only-Begotten.
15 (John bears witness of him, and he has cried, saying, This was he of whom I said, He that comes after me is preferred before me, for he was before me;) v.15 John’s witness of the Lord shows that He was an eternal being. How is it possible for one who is younger than John by six months (“he that comes after me”) to have existed before John (“he was” – in a state of being – “before me”)? The only possibility is that Jesus is the Eternal Son, born as a man in time! John’s point is that the Lord Jesus is far greater (“preferred before me”) due to His eternal deity. John’s role as forerunner did not diminish the glory of the Son.
16 for of his fulness we all have received, and grace upon grace. v.16 The Son wants to bring us into the same fellowship that He enjoys. He is full (v.14) and now he shares with us (v.16). We might have only received a little bit, but each taste awakens a desire for more, and his overabounding grace (a continual, growing supply) will constantly rise up to that thirst.
17 For the law was given by Moses: grace and truth subsists through Jesus Christ. v.17 The law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. But it has no power to deliver man, or give a full revelation of God. In Jesus Christ we have both things the law couldn’t provide. W. Kelly said: “Grace is the activity of Divine love in the midst of evil, and truth is the revelation of all things as they really are.” Love and Light are God’s essential characters, but they come to us as Grace and Truth.
18 No one has seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, “he” hath declared him. v.18 God is a spirit (John 4:24) and He is invisible (Col. 1:15), this is why no one had seen Him in His essential Being at any time. God is not “the truth”, but he is the reality itself, the “I AM”. He is light and love. Christ is “the truth” objectively because He is the expression of God. This verse shows that the Son alone is the revealer of God; here we have the Son functioning as the Word (v.1). God can only be seen by looking at the Son, who is the perfect manifestation of God’s heart. It is not merely what Jesus said about the Father when He was here on earth, but in His walk and character He demonstrated the Father to man. Note: while this verse is a testimony to the Son’s omnipresence, it is more than that. He never left the bosom (place of affection) of the Father. His eternal state of abiding in the bosom of the Father was uninterrupted by the incarnation. He never left the bosom of the Father. That is why the three hours of darkness are not mentioned in John’s Gospel. The Lord is viewed as the eternal Son of the Father. Beholding the Son is like viewing a live video-feed directly into the affections of God the Father! And notice, the Son has not declared God merely as Jehovah, Almighty, or Most High. Those are other dispensational names of God. But He revealed God as Father, in His intra-Trinitarian identity and relation to the Son! Without the Son having revealed the Father, we could never have eternal life (see John 17:3). This is one reason why Old Testament saints did not have eternal life, because the Son hadn’t come yet.
Two parts to the manifestation of God to quickened man. The revelation of God to man would be incomplete without the incarnation. Man had to witness the Son, and see Him walking with the Father to really understand God’s heart of love (grace) and to understand things as God sees them (truth). The two parts are:
- He had to come. The Word, who was with God and who was God, was made flesh.
- He had to walk. Jesus, seen on earth, had the glory of an only-begotten Son with a Father.
Even Old testament saints (who were quickened) could not really know who God is (even with the prophetic scriptures) because they could not see the Incarnate Word, and they could not contemplate His Sonship glory (John 14:9). But the Son having come in flesh and having walked here below, three great things have been manifested:
- The relationship between the Father and Son; i.e. eternal life has been manifested (v.14b)
- The disposition of God’s heart; i.e. we can know God’s heart is for us in love (v.14c)
- God has been fully declared; i.e. Jesus has declared the Father’s name (v.18)
The Record of John as to The Superiority of Christ (1:19-28)
vv.19-28 We can see from these verses that God took care to rouse a general expectancy of the Messiah in the minds of His people, and to send them the fullest witness. John accomplished his mission, to point out the true light. It forms a background for the “1st day” in vv.29-42. The whole idea of the Kingdom of Heaven being offered to Israel is not found in this gospel. In Matthew, we read that “John came preaching, The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”. But here in John, the rejection of the Messiah is assumed from the very first chapter. When Christ is rejected in His official capacity as the King of Israel, He retreats into His eternal identity as the Son of God (Matt. 11:17). John argues from this deeper standpoint; therefore the kingdom is not his focus.
A dispensational outline. Beginning with v.19, we enter into a dispensational outline that further reveals the glories of the Son of God:
- vv.19-28 God rouses a general expectancy of the Messiah
- vv.29-42 The 1st Day: The Leading Features of Christianity
- vv.43-51 The 2nd Day: The Calling of the Jewish Remnant
- ch.2:1-12 The 3rd Day: The Time of Blessing in the Millennium
John Questioned by Priests and Levites about His Identity (vv.19-23)
¶ 19 And this is the witness of John, when the Jews sent from Jerusalem priests and Levites that they might ask him, Thou, who art thou? v.19 The first ones to question John are the priests and Levites. They are curious as to his identity, as they had likely been sent by the chief priests. It was prophesied that one day, a Priest would stand up “with Urim and with Thummim” (Ezra 2:63) who could answer questions that were humanly impossible. They were worried that John (from a priestly lineage) might displace their position. When the Lord came onto the scene, they turned their attention to Him, because He posed a greater threat than John.
20 And he acknowledged and denied not, and acknowledged, I am not the Christ. v.20 There was no vagueness in John’s reply. The ultimate temptation would be to claim that title which did not belong to John. He clearly and definitely states that he was not the Anointed One. In order to be a “burning and a shining lamp” (John 5:35) John’s testimony had to be crystal clear.
21a And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he says, I am not. v.21a There might be difficulty in understanding the next answer. When asked, “Art thou Elijah?” John says, “I am not.” How is this denial from John to be reconciled with what the Lord says in Matt. 17:11-12, that “this [John] is Elijah”? The key is in Matt. 11:14. “And if ye will receive it… this is Elijah which was [literally “is”] to come.” Such a word needed “ears to hear”. Recall that the Lord’s first coming was one of shame and rejection, but His second coming will be in power and glory. The Jews naturally cared only for the latter, because they didn’t have faith. In the same way, Elijah of the Old Testament came again to those of faith in the person of John the Baptist, who testified in humiliation, etc. But Elijah will come yet again to the apostate nation in a manner in keeping with the time of the end. So in that sense, Elijah was not come. This is also the reason that John said he was not Elias, and never applied Malachi 4:5-6 to himself. In the wonderful dualism of prophecy, had the mystery not been unfolded, John would have been the apocalyptic Elijah. This was never to be, but we can see the beautiful symmetry between the circumstances before and after the Church period.
21b Art thou the prophet? And he answered, No. v.21b The next question was with reference to Deut. 18:15,18, where Moses speaks of “the prophet” that the Lord had promised to raise up among the children of Israel. That prophet was Christ (Acts 3:22), and once again John answers in the negative.
22 They said therefore to him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to those who sent us. What sayest thou of thyself? v.22 They had listed off all the possible “threats” to their false priesthood: the Christ, apocalyptic Elijah, and the Prophet. Before going back to their masters, they needed some answer. “Them that sent us” might refer to Caiaphas and Annas, the chief priests. John’s answer was addressed to their consciences.
23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the path of the Lord,” [Isa. 40:3] as said Esaias the prophet. v.23 How wonderful that the only words John had to “say of himself” were words of scripture. He had a word from the Lord to be where he was, and to be doing what he was doing. He stayed focused on the point, which was not himself. He was “crying in the wilderness”… the wilderness representing the apostate nation of Israel. “Make straight the way of the Lord”… a call to make this transition smooth; “turn from your evil way, clean the inside of the cup as well as you have cleaned the outside, because the Lord is coming, and you are in His path!” This wasn’t the answer they were looking for.
John Questioned by the Pharisees as to His Authority to Baptize (vv.24-28)
24 And they were sent from among the Pharisees. 25 And they asked him and said to him, Why baptisest thou then, if thou art not the Christ, nor Elias, nor the prophet? vv.24-25 The Pharisees, on the other hand, were concerned with authority. “Why are you baptizing if you are no one of importance?” John’s practice of baptizing was causing a stir among the people, that a great change was about to occur. John’s answer is not in defense of the authority by which he baptized, but of the greatness of the One who would follow after him. “Christ” is the Greek word for “Messiah” (v.41).
26 John answered them saying, I baptise with water. In the midst of you stands, whom ye do not know, v.26 True to his mission, John points to the true Light. John claims that Christ already “stands in the midst” of the Pharisees. The Lord was already there, on earth, but He had not yet come forward. Christ was One “whom ye know not”; because John could see that while the Light had appeared in darkness, the darkness had not apprehended it.
27 he who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to unloose. v.27 The expression “is preferred before me” found in the Authorized Version was mistakenly copied from v.15. John’s point here is that the greatness of Christ was such that John was not even worthy to be called His servant! A servant would untie another’s sandal. The Pharisees’ original question about authority did not require an answer. The very fact that the Pharisees were questioning John was proof that he had authority! Therefore, John doesn’t answer that question. Again, like with the priests, John’s answer to the Pharisees not only exalted Christ, but it also spoke to their conscience.
28 These things took place in Bethany, across the Jordan, where John was baptising. v.28 This location “Bethany, across the Jordan” was in the province of Perea. It is not the same town where Mary lived, because that was in the province of Judea. If you turn to John 10:40-42, you see the fruit of John’s labors in this region. However, “beyond Jordan” has a further significance. John took a place of separation from Jerusalem because he could see that the Jewish dispensation was closing.
The 1st Day: The Leading Features of Christianity (1:29-42)
Christ, the new Gathering Center. In this section we see the transition from Judaism to Christianity in that Christ becomes the new gathering center, for the Church, for the remnant of Israel (Psa. 50:5), and for the Gentile nations. God would no longer gather to Jerusalem, as He did in the Old Testament. The object of the Father’s heart having been revealed, God now insists that Christ be the life focus for all who desire to obey His Word.
A practical application. We have already mentioned that these three days have a dispensational meaning to them. But there is also a helpful practical application for these three days to the life of each individual believer. I got this application from Gordon Hayhoe. In a practical sense, the 1st day is salvation. It represents that time when we come to know the Lord as our Savior, as the Lamb of God, and we are sealed with the Spirit. The 2nd day is discipleship. It represents that time when we learn to follow Jesus, and learn that we were foreknown and predestinated. The 3rd day is heaven. It represents that time when we we are in heaven, and enjoy the marriage of the Lamb!
Christ Made Known as the Lamb of God (vv.29-31)
¶ 29 On the morrow he sees Jesus coming to him, and says, Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. v.29 The 1st day in this interesting sequence of three days is called, “on the morrow”. John has perfect vision; he sees only Jesus. Jesus was “coming unto him“, taking His place with the faithful remnant in separation from the unbelieving nation. This “saying” was a revelation that John got from the Spirit of God. He calls Jesus by two titles that are both central in Christian worship: (1) the Lamb of God, v.29, v.36, and (2) the Son of God, v.34. The Lamb of God is the one who “taketh away the sin of the world”. He is the One who would forfeit His life as a sacrifice that sin might be put away from God’s sight. It takes us back to Exodus 12 where the Passover lamb’s blood sheltered the people of Israel from the judgment of God in Egypt. That is why John 19 is the closest crucifixion account to the Passover lamb: the Lord’s blood is mentioned, and the requirement of no broken bones is mentioned. Notice, it doesn’t say “SINS” but “SIN”. It is the totality of sin that is referenced. There is no justification from this verse to say Jesus died for the sins of the lost. The sin of the world hasn’t been taken away yet, but the foundation has been laid, the price has been paid, at the cross. The work of propitiation is in view. One day (in the eternal state) every last stain and effect of sin will be taken away from the universe… all on the basis of the sacrifice of Christ!
30 He it is of whom I said, A man comes after me who takes a place before me, because he “was” before me; v.30 John’s witness of the Lord shows that He was an eternal Being. How is it possible for one who is younger than John by six months (“a man that comes after me”) to have existed before John (“he was before me”)? The only possibility is that Jesus is the Eternal Son, born as a man in time! This is a similar thought to v.15. John’s point is that the Lord Jesus is far greater than himself. If we compare from v.15 we will note this difference; “is preferred before me” (v.15) vs. “takes a place before me” (v.30). In v.15 is was the Father’s view of the Son. As an eternal Person He is greater. But here in v.30, the Son’s personal greatness is emphasized, so He takes a place of superiority.
31 and I knew him not; but that he might be manifested to Israel, therefore have I come baptising with water. v.31 John’s previous lack of acquaintance with Jesus made his testimony so much the more emphatically of God. True, John was the cousin of Jesus, but his knowledge of Jesus was by divine revelation, not by some other avenue such as academic study, or family links. All John knew was that at some point the Christ would be manifested to the nation of Israel. Based on that knowledge, John came baptizing with water to prepare a faithful company for Christ’s coming.
Christ Sealed with the Spirit and Marked as the Baptizer (vv.32-33)
32 And John bore witness, saying, I beheld the Spirit descending as a dove from heaven, and it abode upon him. v.32 This is the same incident that is recorded in Matt. 3:16. As a man, Jesus received the fullness of the Holy Ghost. It says in John 6:27, “for him hath God the Father sealed.” The dove is a symbol of the spotless purity of Christ. He was the only man who could be sealed before the cross. If you recall the first mention of a dove is in Genesis. Noah sent out the raven and the dove. The raven remained abroad because there was plenty of dead flesh to feed on. The dove “found no place for the soul of her foot” and therefore returned to the ark. In a similar way, the Spirit of God could work in the Old Testament, and even come upon a person to empower mighty actions, but it could never take up permanent residence. For four-thousand years the Spirit found no place to rest this world. In this verse, the Dove finds a place to rest; on the spotless Son of God. After the cross, the blood of Christ makes believers clean so they can be sealed with the Spirit as well!
Jesus Sealed and Anointed, but not Baptized, with the Spirit. We read of Jesus “sealed with the Spirit” (John 6:27) and believers “sealed” as well. We read that “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power” (Acts 10:38) and we also read of believers “anointed” with the Spirit. However, there is an important difference. We are sealed in view of the work of Christ, but He was sealed as a witness of His own perfection. We are anointed for direction and discernment, but Jesus lacked neither, before the Spirit descended on Him. The term “baptized with the Spirit” is never applied to Jesus. He was baptized with water, but not with the Spirit. Why? The Baptism of the Spirit formed a new vessel of testimony here in this world (i.e. the Church). It would be inconceivable to speak of Christ as anything less than a perfect testimony before His water baptism.
33 And I knew him not; but he who sent me to baptise with water, “he” said to me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending and abiding on him, he it is who baptises with the Holy Spirit. v.33 Not only is Jesus sealed by the Father, but he is marked out as the One who Himself would baptize with the Holy Ghost. Again, John says “I knew him not; but…”. This “marking out” by the Holy Spirit was something previously revealed to John (see v.31). The Son received the Spirit twice: (1) first to seal Him, and (2) then to baptize believers on the day of Pentecost. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is something that would be done from heaven (John 7:39, John 15:26, Acts 2:33). It is what formed the link between Christ in heaven and the members on earth… “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13). Baptizing with fire is not mentioned here, but is in Matt. 3:11 and Luke 3:16.
Christ Marked Out as the Son of God (v.34)
34 And I have seen and borne witness that this is the Son of God. v.34 The Lord was sealed as a man on this earth, but this marked Him out as the Son of God. John gives his testimony to the truth of Christ’s Person; His everlasting relationship in the Godhead. This is the characteristic truth of Christianity; Jesus, a man who walked here on this earth, was the Eternal Son of God. The Lord refers to this witness in John 5:33.
Christ becomes the Gathering Center [For Christians] (vv.35-39)
¶ 35 Again, on the morrow, there stood John and two of his disciples. v.35 Testimony. This verse continues with details still “on the morrow”; i.e. the first day in the sequence of three days. John begins with “two” disciples, representing adequate testimony. When this day is over, the two are with Jesus, and their number has been increased to an abundant “three”!
36 And, looking at Jesus as he walked, he says, Behold the Lamb of God. v.36 Worship. This utterance from John is not so much John’s official record (c.p. v.29) as it is his personal meditation on the Person of the Son. He uttered it aloud, and it was overheard. He marvels that this “walking” breathing human is the Lamb of God. In other words, in v.29 the work of Christ was the focus, but in v.36 the Person of Christ is the focus.
37 And the two disciples heard him speaking, and followed Jesus. v.37 Attraction. This is the primary way the truth about Jesus is shared in the Christian dispensation. John wasn’t speaking to these two disciples, but they heard the wonder and admiration in his voice and realized that Jesus deserved their full devotion. The great lesson here is that Jesus becomes the attractive center in the new dispensation (John 10:16, 12:32).
38 But Jesus having turned, and seeing them following, says to them, What seek ye? And “they” said to him, Rabbi (which, being interpreted, signifies Teacher), where abidest thou? v.38 Gathering. There is another time when the disciples are called to full-time service (Matt. 4:18). This is a prior interview, not based on their responsibility, but based on their attraction to the Person of Christ. “What seek ye?”… the Lord tests their hearts. Is it an attraction to the Person of Christ? or something else like the Priests and Pharisees? They refer to Him as Rabbi, or Teacher, a somewhat distant relationship. They do not yet recognize the fullest revelation of who He was, but they desire fellowship with Him. Attraction to the Person of Christ can make up the difference where there is a lack of intelligence.
39 He says to them, Come and see. They went therefore, and saw where he abode; and they abode with him that day. It was about the tenth hour. v.39 Fellowship. Christ accepts the place of being the center. He doesn’t put any restrictions on these two disciples; they were given free access to “abide” with Him. He tells them to “come and see“. Fellowship with the Person of the Son is something that needs to be experienced. No verbal description can substitute. Notice that the figurative representation of the Jewish remnant (Nathanael) is not invited to his abode (v.43). This is a privilege unique to Christianity. Although He doesn’t mention it, the dwelling place of Christ on earth would be the assembly (Matt. 18:20). It was “the tenth hour” or 10:00 AM, because John reckons time as the Romans. A reference to Gentile time might hint at the end of the Jewish dispensation. But furthermore, it indicates that the disciples spent a full day with the Lord! Fellowship with this Person never gets old!
The transfer of John’s disciples to the Lord is a classic example of the transition from Judaism to Christianity in John’s gospel. Christ – not Jerusalem – is the attractive center (Psa. 50:5). John begins the 1st day with two disciples (John 1:35), and ends the day with none. He hands the two off to Jesus, and the two get increased to three! John performed this transition seamlessly… except for one time when he had a moment of weakness in prison (Matt. 11). Even then, Jesus declares him to be the greatest of the prophets, nay more, the greatest born to women, because he selflessly handed over the fruits of his labor to Christ at His coming, and inaugurated the Christian dispensation. John was not interested in getting a following (John 3:30). And yet, so great was the new dispensation that the least in the kingdom would be greater than John!
A Great Gospel Outreach Results in New Disciples (vv.40-42)
40 Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two who heard this from John and followed him. v.40 Andrew was the quieter of the two brothers. It is the wisdom of God that the truth captured Andrew’s heart first, then Peter. If it were the other way around, the accusation could be made; “Oh, Andrew is simply following Peter”. But in reality, Andrew followed Jesus first! These verses describe the way Christian gospel outreach often works. The gospel first reaches those who are less flashy and prominent. Then God begins to work in families, and the gospel spreads. William Kelly said: “It has often been the case since, that the more forcible and distinguished man [Simon Peter] has been led to the Saviour by someone of very ordinary type [Andrew].”
41 He first finds his own brother Simon, and says to him, We have found the Messias (which being interpreted is Christ). v.41 The “first“ thing Andrew does is to find Simon. Often, the first desire of a new convert is to bring his or her family to know the Lord. Notice that it is the Person of Jesus that Andrew brings before Peter. Previously, they had address the Lord as “Rabbi” (or, Teacher) in v.41, but now their comprehension is advanced, and they call him “Messiah” (or, Christ)! The constant translation of Jewish titles (Rabbi, Messiah, etc.) into Greek shows that John was writing after the fall of Judaism, writing for the masses.
42 And he led him to Jesus. Jesus looking at him said, Thou art Simon, the son of Jonas; thou shalt be called Cephas (which interpreted is stone). v.42 Jesus immediately showed Simon that He knew his name and ancestry. This is a miracle in itself. Then Jesus gave him a new name. By renaming him, Jesus asserted His claim over Simon. As seen with Daniel and his three friends, great kings often asserted their ownership over servants by changing their names. The meaning of Cephas is “a stone“. At this time it was stated in a future tense (“thou shalt be called”) because it was still a prophecy. In Matt. 16:18 He gives Peter his new name officially because there we get the meaning and significance of his name. The name Jesus gave Simon marked him out as one who would later be “builded” into the assembly which the Lord had in view (Matt. 16:18, 1 Pet. 2:4-5), although Peter was clueless about it at this point.
The 2nd Day: The Restoration of Israel through a Remnant (1:43-51)
Christ’s Ways of Grace with the Remnant (vv.43-47)
¶ 43 On the morrow he would go forth into Galilee, and Jesus finds Philip, and says to him, Follow me. 44 And Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter. vv.43-44 The remnant is sought by Christ. Jesus Himself took the initiative in finding Philip, which was not so with the two disciples in v.37, who followed spontaneously and voluntarily. With two words, “Follow Me”, Jesus presented Himself to Philip as the Leader who has the right to everyone’s obedience. There is only one “way”. “Bethsaida” means “house of fish”. Just as the Church of God began with a nucleus of godly Israelites, so this will be true of the restoration of Israel at the end of the tribulation: they come from the same root.
45 Philip finds Nathanael, and says to him, We have found him of whom Moses wrote in the law, and the prophets, Jesus, the son of Joseph, who is from Nazareth. v.45 Christ made known as the subject of the Old Testament scriptures. Just as Philip finds Nathanael, so the Jewish remnant will grow through the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom. Philip was a man of many words, and much logical reasoning. Philip’s desire is to share with Nathanael the preciousness of knowing the Messiah. Two facts were related. First, that Jesus is the Christ, the One promised by Moses and the prophets. Second, that Jesus had come from Nazareth, a place commonly despised. Note: Nathanael is probably identical with Bartholomew (John 1:45; John 21:2) because John never otherwise mentions Bartholomew.
46 And Nathanael said to him, Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Philip says to him, Come and see. v.46 Christ’s humble circumstances accepted by the remnant. Nathanael’s objection voiced the common prejudice of the Jews; Galilee was a place despised by the Jews. Philip was wiser than to argue the point. As to whether Jesus qualified as a “good thing”, let alone the Messiah of Israel, Philip knew that a personal interview with the Lord would be what would persuade Nathanael, or any honest person.
47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and says of him, Behold one truly an Israelite, in whom there is no guile. v.47 Christ draws the Jewish remnant to himself. Nathanael had “no guile“. This does not mean he was without sin, but that he had a character of honestly and frankness in confessing his sins (see Psa. 32:2-5). The Lord’s expression “Behold, an Israelite, etc.“ shows that the existence of a godly Jewish remnant was a delight to the Lord’s heart.
Christ Known as Son of God and King of Israel (Psa. 2) (vv.48-49)
48 Nathanael says to him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said to him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig-tree, I saw thee. v.48 Nathanael had been deeply exercised in soul beneath the fig tree (a figure of the nation of Israel), no doubt in self-judgment, confessing the sin of Israel, and looking by faith for its restoration through the Messiah (Mark 11:21-22). Jesus had seen him there, a remnant, prepared for the coming of the messiah. Nathanael realized that his heart was fully known by this Person. With this moral proof, quickly all of his doubts were dispelled… he knew who this One was! In a similar way, the godly Jews will sing the Psalms as those scriptures which give verbal expression to what they pass through in their sufferings, etc. When the remnant sees One in the Psalms who perfectly empathizes with them, they will know subjectively, instantly, that this is their Messiah! Even before they were conscious of His gaze, He knew their down-sitting and their up-rising, and that He understood their thoughts afar off (Psa. 139:2).
Philip and Nathanael. Perhaps we get the two parts of the restoration of Israel in these two men. Philip was in plain sight, but Nathanael was hidden under a fig tree. Perhaps Philip represents the remnant of the two tribes, who will be used to go to the ten tribes with the gospel of the kingdom. This is similar to how Philip called Nathanael. The ten tribes are hidden very well, but the Lord can see them where they are even today.
49 Nathanael answered and said to him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God, thou art the King of Israel. v.49 Having been morally prepared under the fig tree, Nathanael answers according to the confession of Psalm 2; Jesus is Son of God (His identity in the Godhead) and the King of Israel (His Jewish title). The Jewish remnant will own at His second coming that which the apostate nation denied at His first coming. First and foremost, Jesus is the Son of God. Secondly, Jesus is the Christ. “Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:22).
Christ Makes Himself Known as Son of Man (Psa. 8) (vv.50-51)
50 Jesus answered and said to him, Because I said to thee, I saw thee under the fig-tree, believest thou? Thou shalt see greater things than these. v.50 Christ makes himself known to the remnant by a moral proof, personal knowledge of their hearts, but they would see much greater things than this. This refers to the wider glory of Christ as Son of Man (Psalm 8). “Son of Man” is used as embracing not only Israel, but all mankind.
51 And he says to him, Verily, verily, I say to you, Henceforth ye shall see the heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of man. v.51 They would see a greater manifestation of glory; i.e. the Son of Man on earth as the object of divine favor and love. He would see “heaven opened“, a figure of the blessing of God on the earth because He is satisfied with the Man whom He will set over the creation. This will be the fulfillment of Jacob’s dream in Genesis 28:12; i.e. restored communication between heaven and earth. It is a picture of the Millennium (Heb. 2:5-9), when heaven and earth will be connected through Christ. But it was seen in a measure by the disciples who witnessed the attendance of the angels of God as they served and cared for the humiliated Son of Man is this world. They were “ascending“ to report to God of our Lord’s needs as a man. They were “descending“ to refresh Him and sustain Him in the path (Luke 22:43).
Four times the heavens open: Jesus the object of each. There are only four occasions in scripture on which the heavens literally open. Jesus – as a man – is the object of each of these revelations; although each has its special character.
- His baptism. The heavens open upon Jesus, the Son of God on earth, as the object of heaven’s delight, and He is sealed with the Holy Ghost (Matt. 3:16).
- His lifetime. The heavens continually opened upon Jesus, the Son of man on earth, as the object of heaven’s ministry, the angels as His servants (John 1:51). This scripture is also prophetic of the Millennium, when Christ as Son of Man on earth will be the restorer of all things, of the communication between heaven and earth, and the blessing that will result!
- Stephen. The heavens open to reveal Jesus, the Son of man in the glory, as on high at the right hand of God, the object of the believer who is full of the Spirit, even in suffering here for His sake (Acts 7:56).
- The Appearing. The heavens open to reveal Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, as coming forth to judge and make war against all that dispute His authority and oppress the earth (Rev. 19:11).
To us who believe, the heavens are opened now. We know the Father, we know His heart of love. But still the object of the opened heavens remains the same, God’s beloved Son!
The 3rd Day: The Blessing of the Earth in the Millennium (2:1-12)
The Third day. The third day always speaks of resurrection. In this case, the third day speaks of the restitution of all things in the Millennium. It will begin with the repentance and restoration of Israel, and it will continue out to the blessing of the Gentiles. “After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight” (Hos. 6:2).
Practical application. Here the Lord attends a marriage. He puts His stamp of approval on marriage. However, the couple runs out of wine (joy) even before the feast is over! What went wrong? A Christian couple will run out of joy without the Lord. The first thing we need is to have a spirit of extreme submission to the Word of God… “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.” Then we need to fill our marriage with the water of the Word, and Jesus will turn it into the wine of joy. The result will be an ever-deepening of joy in marriage (v.10). These same lessons can all be applied to us on a personal level as well. Christ is the source of our joy.
¶ And on the third day a marriage took place in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. v.1 The marriage in Cana is a type of restored Israel’s relationship with their Messiah, and the joy of Millennial blessing that flows to the world around. “The mother of Jesus” being present at the marriage speaks of Jehovah’s natural relationship to Israel under the Old Covenant.
2 And Jesus also, and his disciples, were invited to the marriage. v.2 At this point, the wedding party wanted Jesus to be a part of the marriage, but they didn’t yet feel their need of Him. His “disciples” are a picture of the heavenly saints that come with Christ at His appearing.
3 And wine being deficient, the mother of Jesus says to him, They have no wine. v.3 When wine (typical of joy) runs out, His “mother“ (the nation of Israel) can tell Him of the fact, but can’t produce the needed joy herself. Those at the feast did not understand that Jesus is the key to Millennial blessing. The remnant may bring in a lot of ideas from Judaism, but it will run dry. The same is true in our lives… true joy can only come from Christ.
4 Jesus says to her, What have I to do with thee, woman? mine hour has not yet come. v.4 Christ will not bring in Millennial blessing on the ground of His relationship to Israel after the flesh. Blessing could not be brought in under the Old Covenant. “Mine hour” is the hour of manifest kingdom glory (see note on seven “hours” in John’s Gospel). This “day” is a type of the millennium, yet in fact this marriage occurred at His first coming, under the law (Gal. 4:4). He had to hold Himself at a distance from the nation of Israel because the relation was purely natural. In the Millennium, Jehovah’s law will be on their hearts, and He will own Israel once again. Mary is not offended. The marriage at Cana was but a shadow, not the very image.
5 His mother says to the servants, Whatever he may say to you, do. v.5 There is one great lesson Israel has learned under the Old Covenant… obedience to the Lord is the key to blessing. Israel (Mary) can pass that lesson on to the remnant. The servants are a picture of the Jewish remnant in a spiritual relationship with Christ.
6 Now there were standing there six stone water-vessels, according to the purification of the Jews, holding two or three measures each. v.6 The six water pots speak of the empty legal forms of purification. They have a little water in them, just enough to meet the requirements of the legal system. Why six and not seven? “For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God.” (Heb. 7:19).
7 Jesus says to them, Fill the water-vessels with water. And they filled them up to the brim. v.7 Jesus tells them to fill the vessels to the brim. This is a simple commandment. Sometimes the simple things are the hardest to obey. In order to have joy in our lives we need to fill our hearts and minds to the brim with the Word of God. This of course makes us think of the cleansing power of the water of the Word. “In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness” (Zech. 13:1). The world will learn from Israel’s example that moral cleaning is the prerequisite to joy!
8 And he says to them, Draw out now, and carry it to the feast-master. And they carried it. v.8 Obedience to this command would have taken great faith. For all natural purposes, they were about to dish up water to the feast-master. This could have gotten them fired! We don’t know whether the change occurred when the water filled the vessels, on the way in, or as it was being poured out. Obedience results in blessing!
9 But when the feast-master had tasted the water which had been made wine (and knew not whence it was, but the servants knew who drew the water), the feast-master calls the bridegroom, v.9 The water of purification is changed into the wine of joy for the marriage-feast. In the same way, the old forms of Judaism are traded in for Millennial joy! In that day the earth will ring from one end to the other with joy, and the trees of the field will clap their hands (Isa. 55:12). In the Millennium, Christ will be both the feast-master and the bridegroom. The servants which drew the water knew of the miracle before the feast-master. In the same way, those who are active in digging into the Word of God (in this dispensation or any other) will be the first to discover the great secret that Christ is the source and stay of joy!
Water into wine. The first miracle Moses did was turn water into blood (Exodus 4:9). The first miracle Jesus does is turn water into wine. Typically, the law was only able to be a ministration of death (2 Cor. 3:7). But grace and truth came by Jesus Christ (John 1:17)… not only for Christians, but for the whole world. It shows that Jesus’ coming into the world marked a massive shift from an old economy that could only produce death to a new one that can bring joy.
10 and says to him, Every man sets on first the good wine, and when men have well drunk, then the inferior; thou hast kept the good wine till now. v.10 How different the heart of God from the heart of man. So it is with the things of God. There will be no ultimate disappointment for the faithful. The wine of Millennial blessing is far superior to the wine of Israel’s earthly joy even at the best of times in the Old Testament.
11 This beginning of signs did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed on him. v.11 It is significant that the first of Christ’s miracles was not done at Jerusalem (the center of Judaism) but rather in Galilee, where a remnant of Israel was attracted to His Person. This despised place was where He chose His glory to be manifested. What does it mean that “his disciples believed on him”? Weren’t they already His disciples? Yes. But at this time the disciples grew or were strengthened in their faith. See John 11:15.
12 After this he descended to Capernaum, he and his mother and his brethren and his disciples; and there they abode not many days. v.12 It would seem from this verse, and especially from Mark 2:1, that Mary had moved from Nazareth to Capernaum. It would appear that Joseph had passed away at this time, being a good deal older than Mary. The attachment of the Lord’s family to Himself might be a picture of the growth in relationship with the Jewish remnant.
Judgment of the Jews’ Temple & Presentation of the True Temple (2:13-22)
First visit to Jerusalem. The synoptic gospels only bring in the Lord’s final visit to Jerusalem shortly before His death. By contrast, the vast majority of John’s gospel brings out the other visits to Jerusalem and Judea earlier in His ministry. John presents Jesus as a contrast to Jerusalem in every way. This is a case in point that John picks up morally where the synoptic gospels leave off. Also, the Lord’s yearly visits to Jerusalem show that He fulfilled the requirements of Deut. 16:16.
Millennial picture. These verses can be viewed as a continuation of the third day (vv.1-11). In the Millennium, the Lord will cleanse the land of Israel in preparation for the proper worship of God, just as He cleansed the temple at His first coming (see Mal. 3:1).
John 2, the Ruin of Man. You can also look at ch.2 as bringing out the ruin of the first man, prior to the doctrine of new birth (ch.3). Here is a helpful outline of ch.2:
- Man cannot be satisfied with natural joy (vv.1-12)
- Man corrupts and exploits the things of God (vv.13-17)
- Man cannot understand the things of God (vv.18-22).
- Jesus can have no part with man in this state (vv.23-25)
As a result of these four points, man must be born again (ch.3) before he can be saved. Those who deny the sovereignty of God in new birth also subtly deny the total depravity of man.
The Temple Cleansing (vv.13-17)
¶ 13 And the passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. v.13 In Exodus 12:11 we read that “this is the LORD’s Passover”. Why then is it called by the Spirit of God, “the Jew’s Passover”? John views the Lord’s life by looking back through the lens of Christianity. In this way he sees Judaism as disowned by God (see John 7:2, 11:55, and 19:42). The Spirit refuses to acknowledge the Jews’ version of Passover as a legitimate Feast of Jehovah (Lev. 23:4-5). Compare this with Matt. 26:2, where the Spirit calls it “the Passover”, because it was “when the Son of Man would be crucified”. John shows us that the Lord went up to Jerusalem on three separate Passovers (John 2:13; 6:4; 11:55). This makes is clear that the Lord had three years of public ministry.
14 And he found in the temple the sellers of oxen and sheep and doves, and the money-changers sitting; 15 and, having made a scourge of cords, he cast them all out of the temple, both the sheep and the oxen; and he poured out the change of the money-changers, and overturned the tables, vv.14-17 The reason for the animal salesmen in the temple was that some who traveled from a great distance could not bring an animal all that way, and so they would bring money instead, buy an animal, and have it offered. The Lord was not rebuking that practice (see Deut. 14:24-26), but rather the practice of charging exorbitant prices and extorting the poor. The money changers would do currency conversion for strangers, collecting a markup on that transaction as well.
The temple cleansing. The Lord cleansed the temple twice: once on His first ministerial visit to Jerusalem (John 2:13-17) and again just before the Cross on His third visit (Matt. 21:12-14; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46). On a very basic level, this shows that initial cleansing was only temporary. The salesmen and money changers brought it all back in again. Christendom is really no different, for we see a very similar condemnation given to the false church in Rev. 17-18. We should never use Christianity for personal gain. The Lord here gives a great example of righteous anger (Eph. 4:26). The initial cleansing is recorded only in John’s gospel, and it is remarkable that He calls it “my Father’s house”, for in John it is the Son defending the honor of His Father. The second cleansing is recorded in the synoptic gospels, and it is remarkable that He calls the temple “my house”, because it is more His connection with Israel that it in view.
16 and said to the sellers of doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house a house of merchandise. v.16 At His first visit to the temple the Lord calls it “a house of merchandise“. He seems to be more upset that the money-making was being carried on in the temple. The place for this was in the business market. But at His second visit He calls it “a den of robbers“, apparently more angry with the extortion that was going on.
17 And his disciples remembered that it is written, “The zeal of thy house devours me.” [Psa. 69:9] v.17 Jesus acted with such moral and spiritual power that the Jews, though bitter and resentful, could not resist this honorable action. The quotation from Psa. 69:9 reveals that a burning zeal was in the Lord’s soul against that which had dared to invade His Father’s house… it was impressive to the disciples. We should have the same zeal for the house of God today (1 Tim. 3:15).
The Jews Demand Proof of His Authority (vv.18-22)
18 The Jews therefore answered and said to him, What sign shewest thou to us, that thou doest these things? v.18 There was reproach for His zeal; read the rest of Psa. 69:9, “the reproaches of them that reproach thee have fallen upon me.” The Jews couldn’t deny the moral rightness of His action, but they wanted to know what credentials He had for doing such things.
19 Jesus answered and said to them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. v.19 They had had plenty of signs. The Lord would not satisfy their idle curiosity. Instead He gives them a sign that they would hate. He could see their hearts (v.25) that in their unbelief and hatred toward Him they would “destroy this temple,” but He would raise it up in three days. This is similar to the sign of the prophet Jonas, although the sign of Jonah is a sign of judgment on Israel, and here it is really the resurrection of Christ that is in view. Throughout scripture we find the whole Trinity involved in Christ’s resurrection: He was raised by His own power (John 2:19; John 10:17, Rom. 1:4), He was quickened by the Spirit of God (1 Pet. 3:18), and He was raised by the glory of the Father (Rom. 6:4).
20 The Jews therefore said, Forty and six years was this temple building, and thou wilt raise it up in three days? v.20 The Jews immediately assume the Lord is speaking of the temple-building. They ignore the fact that Jesus said they would destroy the temple (compare with Matt. 26:61, a false accusation). They jump right to attack His ability to raise it up again. Just so, man cannot see the treachery of his own heart; that he is so bold as to attempt to destroy the temple of God. But man is quick to avow the weakness of the Son of God. This is true darkness. They thought the Lord was speaking of the literal temple in which they stood. It was Herod’s temple, a renovation of Zerubbabel’s temple which the Jews were very proud of. Later, in the Olivet discourse the Lord predicted the destruction of the temple-building as well.
21 But “he” spoke of the temple of his body. v.21 Jesus did not explain it to the Jews, but John does for our benefit. His own body was the true temple of God. God’s glory had left the temple-building in the days of Ezekiel. But in the Lord Jesus Christ that glory dwelt in fullness. The physical temple-building was but a name without God, soon to be formally pronounced “their” house (Matt. 23:38) and left desolate, given up to destruction (Matt. 24). This claim to raise His own body from among the dead was a claim to divine power (see Rom. 1:4)!
22 When therefore he was raised from among the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken. v.22 They would later look back with full assurance on two things:
- The scripture. These would be Old Testament scriptures that spoke of His resurrection (e.g. Psa. 16:8-11, Psa. 22:22, Isa. 53:12, Job 19:25-26).
- The word which Jesus had spoken. The Lord’s own promise that He would rise again (John 2:18-22, Matt. 12:39-40, 16:21, John 10:17, 18).
There is a difference between the resurrection of the dead and the resurrection “from among the dead”. From “among the dead” indicates that some will remain in their graves while others rise! This was a truth not understood in the Old Testament. It is a Christian revelation that was first taught by Christ on earth, and details were added later by revelation to the Apostle Paul.
The dwelling place of God on earth. In the Old Testament, God had been pleased to dwell in a temple made with men’s hands (1 Kings 8:12-13). But that temple was about to be destroyed because of Israel’s unfaithfulness. Now, the Logos, the very expression of God in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ was present on earth as the true temple of God. After the ascension and glorification of Christ, He received the Holy Spirit a second time and sent Him into this world to unite the believers on earth on the day of Pentecost. Now the assembly is the habitation of God by the Spirit (Eph. 2:22)! What a responsibility we have; to be the dwelling place of God here in this world.