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Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible Kelly Commentary
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Kelly, William. "Commentary on John 3". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ wkc/ john-3.html. 1860-1890.
Kelly, William. "Commentary on John 3". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://studylight.org/
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The opening verses (John 1:1-18) introduce the most glorious subject which God Himself ever gave in employing the pen of man; not only the most glorious in point of theme, but in the profoundest point of view; for what the Holy Ghost here brings before us is the Word, the everlasting, Word, when He was with God, traced down from before all time, when there was no creature. It is not exactly the Word with the Father; for such a phrase would not be according to the exactness of the truth; but the Word with God. The term God comprehends not only the Father, but the Holy Ghost also. He who was the Son of the Father then, as I need not say always, is regarded here as the revealer of God; for God, as such, does not reveal Himself. He makes His, nature known by the Word. The Word, nevertheless, is here spoken of before there was any one for God to reveal Himself to. He is, therefore, and in the strictest sense, eternal. "In the beginning was the Word," when there was no reckoning of time; for the beginning of what we call time comes before us in the third verse. "All things," it is said, "were made by Him." This is clearly the origination of all creaturehood, wherever and whatever it be. Heavenly beings there were before the earthly; but whether no matter of whom you speak, or of, what angels or men, whether heaven or earth, all things were made by Him.
Thus He, whom we know to be the Son of the Father, is here presented as the Word who subsisted personally in the beginning ( ἐν ἀρχῆ ) who was with God, and was Himself God of the same nature, yet a distinct personal being. To clench this matter specially against all reveries of Gnostics or others, it is added, that He was in the beginning with God.* Observe another thing: "The Word was with God" not the Father. As the Word and God, so the Son and the Father are correlative. We are here in the exactest phrase, and at the same time in the briefest terms, brought into the presence of the deepest conceivable truths which God,. alone knowing, alone could communicate to man. Indeed, it is He alone who gives the truth; for this is not the bare knowledge of such or such facts, whatever the accuracy of the information. Were all things conveyed with the most admirable correctness, it would not amount to divine revelation. Such a communication would still differ, not in degree only, but in kind. A revelation from God not only supposes true statements, but God's mind made known so as to act morally on man, forming his thoughts and affections according to His own character. God makes Himself known in what He communicates by, of, and in Christ.
* I cannot but regard John 1:2 as a striking and complete setting aside of the Alexandrian and Patristic distinction of λόγος ἐνδιάθετος and λόγος προφορικός . Some of the earlier Greek fathers, who were infected with Platonism, held that the λόγος was conceived in God's mind from eternity, and only uttered, as it were, in time. This has given a handle to Arians, who, like other unbelievers, greedily seek the traditions of men. The apostle here asserts, in the Holy Ghost, the eternal personality of the Word with God.
In the case before us, nothing can be more obvious than that the Holy Ghost, for the glory of God, is undertaking to make known that which touches the Godhead in the closest way, and is meant for infinite blessing to all in the person of the Lord Jesus. These verses accordingly begin with Christ our Lord; not from, but in the beginning, when nothing was yet created. It is the eternity of His being, in no point of which could it be said He was not, but, contrariwise, that He was. Yet was He not alone. God was there not the Father only, but the Holy Ghost, beside the Word Himself, who was God, and had divine nature as they.
Again, it is not said that in the beginning He was, in the sense of then coming into being ( ἐγένετο ), but He existed ( ἦν ). Thus before all time the Word was. When the great truth of the incarnation is noted in verse 14, it is said not that the Word came into existence, but that He was made ( ἐγένετο ) flesh began so to be. This, therefore, so much the more contrasts with verses 1 and 2.
In the beginning, then, before there was any creature, was the Word, and the Word was with God. There was distinct personality in the Godhead, therefore, and the Word was a distinct person Himself (not, as men dreamt, an emanation in time, though eternal and divine in nature, proceeding from God as its source). The Word had a proper personality, and at the same time was God "the Word was God." Yea, as the next verse binds and sums up all together, He, the Word, was in the beginning with God. The personality was as eternal as the existence, not in (after some mystic sort) but with God. I can conceive no statement more admirably complete and luminous in the fewest and simplest words.
Next comes the attributing of creation to the Word. This must be the work of God, if anything was; and here again the words are precision itself "All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made." Other words far less nervous are used elsewhere: unbelief might cavil and construe them into forming or fashioning. Here the Holy Ghost employs the most explicit language, that all things began to be, or received being, through the Word, to the exclusion of one single thing that ever did receive being apart from Him language which leaves the fullest room for Uncreate Beings, as we have already seen, subsisting eternally and distinctly, yet equally God. Thus the statement is positive that the Word is the source of all things which have received being ( γενόμενα ); that there is no creature which did not thus derive its being from Him. There cannot, therefore, be a more rigid, absolute shutting out of any creature from origination, save by the Word.
It is true that in other parts of Scripture we hear God, as such, spoken of as Creator. We hear of His making the worlds by the Son. But there is and can be no contradiction in Scripture. The truth is, that whatever was made was made according to the Father's sovereign will; but the Son, the Word of God, was the person who put forth the power, and never without the energy of the Holy Ghost, I may add, as the Bible carefully teaches us. Now this is of immense importance for that which the Holy Ghost has in view in the gospel of John, because the object is to attest the nature and light of God in the person of the Christ; and therefore we have here not merely what the Lord Jesus was as born of a woman, born under the law, which has its appropriate place in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, but what He was and is as God. On the other hand, the gospel of Mark omits every thing of the kind. A genealogy such as Matthew's and Luke's, we have seen, would be totally out of place there; and the reason is manifest. The subject of Mark is the testimony of Jesus as having taken, though a Son, the place of a servant in the earth. Now, in a servant, no matter from what noble lineage he comes, there is no genealogy requisite. What is wanted in a servant is, that the work should be done well, no matter about the genealogy. Thus, even if it were the Son of God Himself, so perfectly did He condescend to the condition of a servant, and so mindful was the Spirit of it, that, accordingly, the genealogy which was demanded in Matthew, which is of such signal beauty and value in Luke, is necessarily excluded from the gospel of Mark. For higher reasons it could have no place in John. In Mark it is because of the lowly place of subjection which the Lord was pleased to take; it is excluded from John, on the contrary, because there He is presented as being above all genealogy . He is the source of other people's genealogy yea, of the genesis of all things. We may say therefore boldly, that in the gospel of John such a descent could not be inserted in consistency with its character. If it admit any genealogy, it must be what is set forth in the preface of John the very verses which are occupying us which exhibit the divine nature and eternal personality of His being. He was the Word, and He was God; and, if we may anticipate, let us add, the Son, the only begotten Son of the Father. This, if any thing, is His genealogy here. The ground is evident; because everywhere in John He is God. No doubt the Word became flesh, as we may see more of presently, even in this inspired introduction; and we have the reality of His becoming man insisted on. Still, manhood was a place that He entered. Godhead was the glory that He possessed from everlasting His own eternal nature of being. It was not conferred upon Him. There is not, nor can be, any such thing as a derived subordinate Godhead; though men may be said to be gods, as commissioned of God, and representing Him in government. He was God before creation began, before all time. He was God independently of any circumstances. Thus, as we have seen, for the Word the apostle John claims eternal existence, distinct personality, and divine nature; and withal asserts the eternal distinctness of that person. (Verses John 1:1-2)
Such is the Word Godward ( πρὸς τὸν Θεόν ). We are next told of Him in relation to the creature. (Verses John 1:3-5) In the earlier verses it was exclusively His being. In verse 3 He acts, He creates, He causes all things to come into existence; and apart from Him not one thing came into existence which is existent ( γέγονεν ). Nothing more comprehensive, nothing more exclusive.
The next verse (John 1:4) predicts of Him that which is yet more momentous: not creative power, as in verse 3, but life. "In him was life." Blessed truth for those who know the spread of death over this lower scene of creation! and the rather as the Spirit adds, that "the life was the light of men." Angels were not its sphere, nor was it restricted to a chosen nation: "the life was the light of men." Life was not in man, even unfallen; at best, the first man, Adam, became a living soul when instinct with the breath of God. Nor is it ever said, even of a saint, that in him is or was life, though life he has; but he has it only in the Son. In Him, the Word, was life, and the life was the light of men. Such was its relationship.
No doubt, whatever was revealed of old was of Him; whatever word came out from God was from Him, the Word, and light of men. But then God was not revealed; for He was not manifested. On the contrary, He dwelt in the thick darkness, behind the veil in the most holy place, or visiting men but angelically otherwise. But here, we are told, "the light shines in the darkness." (Ver. John 1:5) Mark the abstractedness of the language it "shines" (not shone). How solemn, that darkness is all the light finds! and what darkness! how impenetrable and hopeless! All other darkness yields and fades away before light; but here "the darkness comprehended it not" (as the fact is stated, and not the abstract principle only). It was suited to man, even as it was the light expressly of men, so that man is without excuse.
But was there adequate care that the light should be presented to men? What was the way taken to secure this? Unable God could not be: was He indifferent? God gave testimony; first, John the Baptist; then the Light itself. "There was ( ἐγένετο ) a man sent from God, whose name was John." (v. John 1:6) He passes by all the prophets, the various preliminary dealings of the Lord, the shadows of the law: not even the promises are noticed here. We shall find some of these introduced or alluded to for a far different purpose later on. John, then, came to bear witness about the Light, that all through him might believe. (Verse John 1:7) But the Holy Ghost is most careful to guard against all mistake. Could any run too close a parallel between the light of men in the Word, and him who is called the burning and shining lamp in a subsequent chapter? Let them learn their error. He, John, "was not that light;" there is but one such: none was similar or second. God cannot be compared with man. John came "that he might bear witness about the light," not to take its place or set himself up. The true Light was that which, coming into the world, lighteth every man.* Not only does He necessarily, as being God, deal with every man (for His glory could not be restricted to a part of mankind), but the weighty truth here announced is the connection with His incarnation of this universal light, or revelation of God in Him, to man as such. The law, as we know from elsewhere, had dealt with the Jewish people temporarily, and for partial purposes. This was but a limited sphere. Now that the Word comes into the world, in one way or another light shines for every one: it may be, leaving some under condemnation, as we know it does for the great mass who believe not; it may be light not only on but in man, where there is faith through the action of divine grace. It is certain that, whatever light in relation to God there may be, and wherever it is given in Him, there is not, there never was, spiritual light apart from Christ all else is darkness. It could not be otherwise. This light in its own character must go out to all from God. So it is said elsewhere, "The grace of God that bringeth salvation to all men hath appeared." It is not that all men receive the blessing; but, in its proper scope and nature, it addresses itself to all. God sends it for all. Law may govern one nation; grace refuses to be limited in its appeal, however it may be in fact through man's unbelief.
*I cannot but think that this is the true version, and exhibits the intended aim of the clause. Most of the early writers took it as the authorized version, save Theodore of Mopsuestia, who understood it as here given: Εἰπὼν τὸ · ἐρχόμενον εἰς τὸν κοσμον , περὶ τοῦ δεσπότου Χριστοῦ καλως ἐπήγαγεν τὸ · ἐν τῳ κοσμῳ ἦν , ὥστε δεῖξαι , ὅτι τὸ ἐρχόμενον πρὸς την διὰ σαρκὸς εἶπεν φανέρωσιν . (Ed. Fritzsche, p. 21)
"He was in the world, and the world was made by him." (Verse John 1:9) The world therefore surely ought to have known its Maker. Nay, "the world knew him not." From the very first, man, being a sinner, was wholly lost. Here the unlimited scene is in view; not Israel, but the world. Nevertheless, Christ did come to His own things, His proper, peculiar possession; for there were special relationships. They should have understood more about Him those that were specially favoured. It was not so.
"He came unto his own [things], and his own [people] received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power [rather, authority, right, or title] to become children of God." (Ver. John 1:11-12; John 1:11-12) It was not a question now of Jehovah and His servants. Neither does the Spirit say exactly as the English Bible says "sons," but children. His glorious person would have none now in relation to God but members of the family. Such was the grace that God was displaying in Him, the true and full expresser of His mind. He gave them title to take the place of children of God, even to those that believe on His name. Sons they might have been in bare title; but these had the right of children.
All disciplinary action, every probationary process, disappears. The ignorance of the world has been proved, the rejection of Israel is complete: then only is it that we hear of this new place of children. It is now eternal reality, and the name of Jesus Christ is that which puts all things to a final test. There is difference of manner for the world and His own ignorance and rejection. Do any believe on His name? Be they who they may now, as many as receive Him become children of God. It is no question here of every man, but of such as believe. Do they receive Him not? For them, Israel, or the world, all is over. Flesh and world are judged morally. God the Father forms a new family in, by, and for Christ. All others prove not only that they are bad, but that they hate perfect goodness, and more than that, life and light the true light in the Word. How can such have relationship with God?
Thus, manifestly, the whole question is terminated at the very starting-point of our gospel; and this is characteristic of John all through: manifestly all is decided. It is not merely a Messiah, who comes and offers Himself, as we find in other gospels, with most painstaking diligence, and presented to their responsibility; but here from the outset the question is viewed as closed. The Light, on coming into the world, lightens every man with the fulness of evidence which was in Him, and at once discovers the true state as truly as it will be revealed in the last day when He judges all, as we find it intimated in the gospel afterwards. (John 12:48)
Before the manner of His manifestation comes before us in verse 14, we have the secret explained why some, and not all, received Christ. It was not that they were better than their neighbours. Natural birth had nothing to do with this new thing; it was a new nature altogether in those who received Him: "Who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." It was an extraordinary birth; of God, not man in any sort, or measure, but a new and divine nature (2 Peter 1:1-21) imparted to the believer wholly of grace. All this, however, was abstract, whether as to the nature of the Word or as to the place of the Christian.
But it is important we should know how He entered the world. We have seen already that thus light was shed on men. How was this? The Word, in order to accomplish these infinite things, "was made. ( ἐγένετο ) flesh, and dwelt among us." It is here we learn in what condition of His person God was to be revealed and the work done; not what He was in nature, but what He became. The great fact of the incarnation is brought before us "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father"). His aspect as thus tabernacling among the disciples was "full of grace and truth." Observe, that blessed as the light is, being God's moral nature, truth is more than this, and is introduced by grace. It is the revelation of God yea, of the Father and the Son, and not merely the detecter of man. The Son had not come to execute the judgments of the law they knew, nor even to promulgate a new and higher law. His was an errand incomparably deeper, more worthy of God, and suitable to One "full of grace and truth." He wanted nothing; He came to give yea, the very best, so to speak, that God has.
What is there in God more truly divine than grace and truth? The incarnate Word was here full of grace and truth. Glory would be displayed in its day. Meanwhile there was a manifestation of goodness, active in love in the midst of evil, and toward such; active in the making known God and man, and every moral relation, and what He is toward man, through and in the Word made flesh. This is grace and truth. And such was Jesus. "John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This is he of whom I spake: He that cometh after me is preferred before me, for he was before me." Coming after John as to date, He is necessarily preferred before him in dignity; for He was ( ἦν ) [not come into being ( ἐγένετο )] before Him. He was God. This statement (verse John 1:15) is a parenthesis, though confirmatory of verse John 1:14, and connects John's testimony with this new section of Christ's manifestation in flesh; as we saw John introduced in the earlier verses, which treated abstractly of Christ's nature as the Word.
Then, resuming the strain of verse John 1:14, we are told, in verseJohn 1:16; John 1:16, that "of his fulness have all we received." So rich and transparently divine was the grace: not some souls, more meritorious than the rest, rewarded according to a graduated scale of honour, but "of his fulness have all we received." What can be conceived more notably standing out in contrast with the governmental system God had set up, and man had known in times past? Here there could not be more, and He would not give less: even "grace upon grace." Spite of the most express signs, and the manifest finger of God that wrote the ten words on tables of stone, the law sinks into comparative insignificance. "The law was given by Moses." God does not here condescend to call it His, though, of course, it was His and holy, just, and good, both in itself and in its use, if used lawfully. But if the Spirit speaks of the Son of God, the law dwindles at once into the smallest possible proportions: everything yields to the honour the Father puts oil the Son. "The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came ( ἐγένετο ) by Jesus Christ." (ver. John 1:17; John 1:17) The law, thus given, was in itself no giver, but an exacter; Jesus, full of grace and truth, gave, instead of requiring or receiving; and He Himself has said, It is more blessed to give than to receive. Truth and grace were not sought nor found in man, but began to subsist here below by Jesus Christ.
We have now the Word made flesh, called Jesus Christ this person, this complex person, that was manifest in the world; and it is He that brought it all in. Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
Lastly, closing this part, we have another most remarkable contrast. "No man hath seen God at any time: the only-begotten Son," etc. Now, it is no longer a question of nature, but of relationship; and hence it is not said simply the Word, but the Son, and the Son in the highest possible character, the only-begotten Son, distinguishing Him thus from any other who might, in a subordinate sense, be son of God "the only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father." Observe: not which was, but "which is." He is viewed as retaining the same perfect intimacy with the Father, entirely unimpaired by local or any other circumstances He had entered. Nothing in the slightest degree detracted from His own personal glory, and from the infinitely near relationship which He had had with the Father from all eternity. He entered this world, became flesh, as born of woman; but there was no diminution of His own glory, when He, born of the virgin, walked on earth, or when rejected of man, cut off as Messiah, He was forsaken of God for sin our sin on the cross. Under all changes, outwardly, He abode as from eternity the only-begotten Son in the bosom of the Father. Mark what, as such, He does declare Him. No man hath seen God at any time. He could be declared only by One who was a divine person in the intimacy of the Godhead, yea, was the only-begotten Son in the bosom of the Father. Hence the Son, being in this ineffable nearness of love, has declared not God only, but the Father. Thus we all not only receive of His fulness, (and what fulness illimitable was there not in Him!) but He, who is the Word made flesh, is the only-begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, and so competent to declare, as in fact He has. It is not only the nature, but the model and fulness of the blessing in the Son, who declared the Father.
The distinctiveness of such a testimony to the Saviour's glory need hardly be pointed out. One needs no more than to read, as believers, these wonderful expressions of the Holy Ghost, where we cannot but feel that we are on ground wholly different from that of the other gospels. Of course they are just as truly inspired as John's; but for that very reason they were not inspired to give the same testimony. Each had his own; all are harmonious, all perfect, all divine; but not all so many repetitions of the same thing. He who inspired them to communicate His thoughts of Jesus in the particular line assigned to each, raised up John to impart the highest revelation, and thus complete the circle by the deepest views of the Son of God.
After this we have, suitably to this gospel, John's connection with the Lord Jesus. (ver. John 1:19-37; John 1:19-37) It is here presented historically. We have had his name introduced into each part of the preface of our evangelist. Here there is no John proclaiming Jesus as the One who was about to introduce the kingdom of heaven. Of this we learn nothing, here. Nothing is said about the fan in His hand; nothing of His burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire. This is all perfectly true, of course; and we have it elsewhere. His earthly rights are just where they should be; but not here, where the only-begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father has His appropriate place. It is not John's business here to call attention to His Messiahship, not even when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask, Who art thou? Nor was it from any indistinctness in the record, or in him who gave it. For "he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ. And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No. Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself? He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias. And they which were sent were of the Pharisees. And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet? (ver. John 1:20-25) John does not even speak of Him as one who, on His rejection as Messiah, would step into a larger glory. To the Pharisees, indeed, his words as to the Lord are curt: nor does he tell them of the divine ground of His glory, as he had before and does after.* He says, One was among them of whom they had no conscious knowledge, "that cometh after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to loose." (Ver. John 1:26-27; John 1:26-27) For himself he was not the Christ, but for Jesus he says no more. How striking the omission! for he knew He was the Christ. But here it was not God's purpose to record it.
* The best text omits other expressions, evidently derived from verses John 1:15; John 1:30John 1:30.
Verse John 1:29 opens John's testimony to his disciples. (Ver. John 1:29-34) How rich it is, and how marvellously in keeping with our gospel! Jesus is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, but withal, as he had said, the eternal One, yet in view of His manifestation to Israel (and, therefore, John was come baptizing with water a reason here given, but not to the Pharisees in verses 25-27). Further, John attests that he saw the Spirit descending like a dove, and abiding on Him the appointed token that He it is who baptizes with the Holy Ghost even the Son of God. None else could do either work: for here we see His great work on earth, and His heavenly power. In these two points of view, more particularly, John gives testimony to Christ; He is the lamb as the taker away of the world's sin; the same is He who baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. Both of them were in relation to man on the earth; the one while He was here, the other from above. His death on the cross included much more, clearly answering to the first; His baptizing with the Holy Ghost followed His going to heaven. Nevertheless, the heavenly part is little dwelt on, as John's gospel displays our Lord more as the expression of God revealed on earth, than as Man ascended to heaven, which fell far more to the province of the apostle of the Gentiles. In John He is One who could be described as Son of man who is in heaven; but He belonged to heaven, because He was divine. His exaltation there is not without notice in the gospel, but exceptionally.
Remark, too, the extent of the work involved in verse 29. As the Lamb of God (of the Father it is not said), He has to do with the world. Nor will the full force of this expression be witnessed till the glorious result of His blood shedding sweep away the last trace of sin in the new heavens and the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. It finds, of course, a present application, and links itself with that activity of grace in which God is now sending out the gospel to any sinner and every sinner. Still the eternal day alone will show out the full virtue of that which belongs to Jesus as the Lamb of God, who takes away the world's sin. Observe, it is not (as is often very erroneously said or sung) a question of sins, but of the "sin" of the world. The sacrificial death of Him who is God goes far beyond the thought of Israel. How, indeed, could it be stayed within narrow limits? It passes over all question of dispensations, until it accomplishes, in all its extent, that purpose for which He thus died. No doubt there are intervening applications; but such is the ultimate result of His work as the Lamb of God. Even now faith knows, that instead of sin being the great object before God, ever since the cross He has had before His eyes that sacrifice which put away sin. Notably He is now applying it to the reconciliation of a people, who are also baptized by the Holy Ghost into one body. By and by He will apply it to "that nation," the Jews, as to others also, and finally (always excepting the unbelieving and evil) to the entire system, the world. I do not mean by this all individuals, but creation; for nothing can be more certain, than that those who do not receive the Son of God are so much the worse for having heard the gospel. The rejection of Christ is the contempt of God Himself, in that of which He is most jealous, the honour of the Saviour, His Son. The refusal of His precious blood will, on the contrary, make their case incomparably worse than that of the heathen who never heard the good news.
What a witness all this to His person! None but a divine being could thus deal with the world. No doubt He must become a man, in order, amongst other reasons, to be a sufferer, and to die. None the less did the result of His death proclaim His Deity. So in the baptism with the Holy Ghost, who would pretend to such a power? No mere man, nor angel, not the highest, the archangel, but the Son.
So we see in the attractive power, afterwards dealing with individual souls. For were it not God Himself in the person of Jesus, it had been no glory to God, but a wrong and a rival. For nothing can be more observable than the way in which He becomes the centre round whom those that belong to God are gathered. This is the marked effect on the third day (ver. John 1:29; John 1:29John 1:34; John 1:34) of John Baptist's testimony here named; the first day (ver. 29) on which, as it were, Jesus speaks and acts in His grace as here shown on the earth. It is evident, that were He not God, it would be an interference with His glory, a place taken inconsistent with His sole authority, no less than it must be also, and for that reason, altogether ruinous to man. But He, being God, was manifesting and, on the contrary, maintaining the divine glory here below. John, therefore, who had been the honoured witness before of God's call, "the voice," etc., does now by the outpouring of his heart's delight, as well as testimony, turn over, so to say, his disciples to Jesus. Beholding Him as He walked, he says, Behold the Lamb of God! and the two disciples leave John for Jesus. (ver. John 1:35-40) Our Lord acts as One fully conscious of His glory, as indeed He ever was.
Bear in mind that one of the points of instruction in this first part of our gospel is the action of the Son of God before His regular Galilean ministry. The first four chapters of John precede in point of time the notices of His ministry in the other gospels. John was not yet cast into prison. Matthew, Mark, and Luke start, as far as regards the public labours of the Lord, with John cast into prison. But all that is historically related of the Lord Jesus inJohn 1:1-51; John 1:1-51; John 2:1-25; John 3:1-36; John 4:1-54. was before the imprisonment of the Baptist. Here, then, we have a remarkable display of that which preceded His Galilean ministry, or public manifestation. Yet before a miracle, as well as in the working of those which set forth His glory, it is evident that so far from its being a gradual growth, as it were, in His mind, He had, all simple and lowly though He were, the deep, calm, constant consciousness that He was God. He acts as such. If He put forth His power, it was not only beyond man's measure, but unequivocally divine, however also the humblest and most dependent of men. Here we see Him accepting, not as fellow-servant, but as Lord, those souls who had been under the training of the predicted messenger of Jehovah that was to prepare His way before, His face. Also one of the two thus drawn to Him first finds his own brother Simon (with the words, We have found the Messiah), and led him to Jesus, who forthwith gave him his new name in terms which surveyed, with equal ease and certainty, past, present, and future. Here again, apart from this divine insight, the change or gift of the name marks His glory. (Verses John 1:41-44)
On the morrow Jesus begins, directly and indirectly, to call others to follow Himself. He tells Philip to follow Him. This leads Philip to Nathanael, in whose case, when he comes to Jesus, we see not divine power alone in sounding the souls of men, but over creation. Here was One on earth who knew all secrets. He saw him under the fig tree. He was God. Nathanael's call is just as clearly typical of Israel in the latter day. The allusion to the fig-tree confirms this. So does his confession: Rabbi, thou art the Son of God: thou art the King of Israel. (SeePsalms 2:1-12; Psalms 2:1-12) But the Lord tells him of greater things he, should see, and says to him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, henceforth (not "hereafter," but henceforth) ye shall see the heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of man. It is the wider, universal glory of the Son of man (according toPsalms 8:1-9; Psalms 8:1-9); but the most striking part of it verified from that actual moment because of the glory of His person, which needed not the day of glory to command the attendance of the angels of God this mark, as Son of man. (Verses John 1:44-51)
On the third day is the marriage in Cana of Galilee, where was His mother, Jesus also, and His disciples. (John 2:1-25) The change of water into wine manifested His glory as the beginning of signs; and He gave another in this early purging of the temple of Jerusalem. Thus we have traced, first, hearts not only attracted to Him, but fresh souls called to follow Him; then, in type, the call of Israel by-and-by; finally, the disappearance of the sign of moral purifying for the joy of the new covenant, when Messiah's time comes to bless the needy earth; but along with this the execution of judgment in Jerusalem, and its long defiled temple. All this clearly goes down to millennial days.
As a present fact, the Lord justifies the judicial act before their eyes by His relationship with God as His Father, and gives the Jews a sign in the temple of His body, as the witness of His resurrection power. "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." He is ever God; He is the Son; He quickens and raises from the dead. Later He was determined to be Son of God with power by resurrection of the dead. They had eyes, but they saw not; ears had they, but they heard not, nor did they understand His glory. Alas! not the Jews only; for, as far as intelligence went, it was little better with the disciples till He rose from the dead. The resurrection of the Lord is not more truly a demonstration of His power and glory, than the only deliverance for disciples from the thraldom of Jewish influence. Without it there is no divine understanding of Christ, or of His word, or of Scripture. Further, it is connected intimately with the evidence of man's ruin by sin. Thus it is a kind of transitional fact for a most important part of our gospel, though still introductory. Christ was the true sanctuary, not that on which man had laboured so long in Jerusalem. Man might pull Him down destroy Him, as far as man could, and surely to be the basis in God's hand of better blessing; but He was God, and in three days He would raise up this temple. Man was judged: another Man was there, the Lord from heaven, soon to stand in resurrection.
It is not now the revelation of God meeting man either in essential nature, or as manifested in flesh; nor is it the course of dispensational dealing presented in a parenthetic as well as mysterious form, beginning with John the Baptist's testimony, and going down to the millennium in the Son, full of grace and truth. It becomes a question of man's own condition, and how he stands in relation to the kingdom of God. This question is raised, or rather settled, by the Lord in Jerusalem, at the passover feast, where many believed on His name, beholding the signs He wrought. The dreadful truth comes out: the Lord did not trust Himself to them, because He knew all men. How withering the words! He had no need that any should testify of man, for He knew what was in man. It is not denunciation, but the most solemn sentence in the calmest manner. It was no longer a moot-point whether God could trust man; for, indeed, He could not. The question really is, whether man would trust God. Alas! he would not.
John 3:1-36 follows this up. God orders matters so that a favoured teacher of men, favoured as none others were in Israel, should come to Jesus by night. The Lord meets him at once with the strongest assertion of the absolute necessity that a man should be born anew in order to see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus, not understanding in the least such a want for himself, expresses his wonder, and hears our Lord increasing in the strength of the requirement. Except one were born of water and of the Spirit, he could not enter the kingdom of God. This was necessary for the kingdom of God; not for some special place of glory, but for any and every part of God's kingdom. Thus we have here the other side of the truth: not merely what God is in life and light, in grace and truth, as revealed in Christ coming down to man; but man is now judged in the very root of his nature, and proved to be entirely incapable, in his best state, of seeing or entering the kingdom of God. There is the need of another nature, and the only way in which this nature is communicated is by being born of water and the Spirit the employment of the word of God in the quickening energy of the Holy Ghost. So only is man born of God. The Spirit of God uses that word; it is thus invariably in conversion. There is no other way in which the new nature is made good in a soul. Of course it is the revelation of Christ; but here He was simply revealing the sources of this indispensable new birth. There is no changing or bettering the old man; and, thanks be to God, the new does not degenerate or pass away. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." (Verses John 3:1-6)
But the Lord goes farther, and bids Nicodemus not wonder at His insisting on this need. As there is an absolute necessity on God's part that man should be thus born anew, so He lets him know there is an active grace of the Spirit, as the wind blows where it will, unknown and uncontrolled by man, for every one that is born of the Spirit, who is sovereign in operation. First, a new nature is insisted on the Holy Ghost's quickening of each soul who is vitally related to God's kingdom; next, the Spirit of God takes an active part not as source or character only, but acting sovereignly, which opens the way not only for a Jew, but for "every one." (VersesJohn 3:7-8; John 3:7-8)
It is hardly necessary to furnish detailed disproof of the crude, ill-considered notion (originated by the fathers), that baptism is in question. In truth, Christian baptism did not yet exist, but only such as the disciples used, like John the Baptist; it was not instituted of Christ till after His resurrection, as it sets forth His death. Had it been meant, it was no wonder that Nicodemus did not know how these things could be. But the Lord reproaches him, the master of Israel, with not knowing these things: that is, as a teacher, with Israel for his scholar, he ought to have known them objectively, at least, if not consciously. Isaiah 44:3; Isaiah 44:3, Isaiah 59:21, Ezekiel 36:25-27 ought to have made the Lord's meaning plain to an intelligent Jew. (Verse John 3:10)
The Lord, it is true, could and did go farther than the prophets: even if He taught on the same theme, He could speak with conscious divine dignity and knowledge (not merely what was assigned to an instrument or messenger). "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven." (Verses John 3:11-13) He (and He was not alone here) knew God, and the things of God, consciously in Himself, as surely as He knew all men, and what was in man objectively. He could, therefore, tell them of heavenly things as readily as of earthly things; but the incredulity about the latter, shown in the wondering ignorance of the new birth as a requisite for God's kingdom, proved it was useless to tell of the former. For He who spoke was divine. Nobody had gone up to heaven: God had taken more than one; but no one had gone there as of right. Jesus not only could go up, as He did later, but He had come down thence, and, even though man, He was the Son of man that is in heaven. He is a divine person; His manhood brought no attainder to His rights as God. Heavenly things, therefore, could not but be natural to Him, if one may so say.
Here the Lord introduces the cross. (Ver. John 3:14-15; John 3:14-15) It is not a question simply of the Son of God, nor is He spoken of here as the Word made flesh. But "as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must ( δεῖ ) the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." As the new birth for the kingdom of God, so the cross is absolutely necessary for eternal life. In the Word was life, and the life was the light of men. It was not intended for other beings it was God's free gift to man, to the believer, of course. Man, dead in sins, was the object of His grace; but then man's state was such, that it would have been derogatory to God had that life been communicated without the cross of Christ: the Son of man lifted up on it was the One in whom God dealt judicially with the evil estate of man, for the, full consequences of which He made Himself responsible. It would not suit God, if it would suit man, that He, seeing all, should just pronounce on man's corruption, and then forthwith let him off with a bare pardon. One must be born again. But even this sufficed not: the Son of man must be lifted up. It was impossible that there should not be righteous dealing with human evil against God, in its sources and its streams. Accordingly, if the law raised the question of righteousness in man, the cross of the Lord Jesus, typifying Him made sin, is the answer; and there has all been settled to the glory of God, the Lord Jesus having suffered all the inevitable consequences. Hence, then, we have the Lord Jesus alluding to this fresh necessity, if man was to be blessed according to God. "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." But this, however worthy of God, and indispensable for man, could not of itself give an adequate expression of what God is; because in this alone, neither His own love nor the glory of His Son finds due display.
Hence, after having first unmistakably laid down the necessity of the cross, He next shows the grace that was manifested in the gift of Jesus. Here He is not portrayed as the Son of man who must be lifted up, but as the Son of God who was given. "For God," He says, "so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." The one, like the other, contributes to this great end, whether the Son of man necessarily lifted up, or the only begotten Son of God given in His love. (Verse John 3:16)
Let it not be passed by, that while the new birth or regeneration is declared to be essential to a part in the kingdom of God, the Lord in urging this intimates that He had not gone beyond the earthly things of that kingdom. Heavenly things are set in evident contradistinction, and link themselves immediately here, as everywhere, with the cross as their correlative. (See Hebrews 12:2, Hebrews 13:11-13) Again, let me just remark in passing, that although, no doubt, we may in a general way speak of those who partake of the new nature as having that life, yet the Holy Ghost refrains from predicating of any saints the full character of eternal life as a present thing until we have the cross of Christ laid (at least doctrinally) as the ground of it. But when the Lord speaks of His cross, and not God's judicial requirements only, but the gift of Himself in His true personal glory as the occasion for the grace of God to display itself to the utmost, then, and not till then, do we hear of eternal life, and this connected with both these points of view. The chapter pursues this subject, showing that it is not only God who thus deals first, with the necessity of man before His own immutable nature; next, blessing according to the riches of His grace but, further, that man's state morally is detected yet more awfully in presence of such grace as well as holiness in Christ. "For God sent not his Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world through him might be saved." (Ver. John 3:17; John 3:17) This decides all before the execution of judgment, Every man's lot is made manifest by his attitude toward God's testimony concerning His Son. "He that believeth on him is not judged: but he that believeth not is judged already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." (Ver. John 3:19; John 3:19) Other things, the merest trifles, may serve to indicate a man's condition; but a new responsibility is created by this infinite display of divine goodness in Christ, and the evidence is decisive and final, that the unbeliever is already judged before God. "And this is the judgment, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God." (VersesJohn 3:20-21; John 3:20-21)
The Lord and the disciples are next seen in the country district, not far, it would seem, from John, who was baptizing as they were. The disciples of John dispute with a Jew about purification; but John himself renders a bright witness to the glory of the Lord Jesus. In vain did any come to the Baptist to report the widening circle around Christ. He bows to, as he explains, the sovereign will of God. He reminds them of his previous disclaimer of any place beyond one sent before Jesus. His joy was that of a friend of the Bridegroom (to whom, not to him, the bride belonged), and now fulfilled as he heard the Bridegroom's voice. "He must, increase, but I decrease." Blessed servant he of an infinitely blessed and blessing Master! Then (ver. John 3:31-36) he speaks of His person in contrast with himself and all; of His testimony and of the result, both as to His own glory, and consequently also for the believer on, and the rejecter of, the Son. He that comes from above from heaven is above all. Such was Jesus in person, contrasted with all who belong to the earth. Just as distinct and beyond comparison is His testimony who, coming from heaven and above all, testifies what He saw and heard, however it might be rejected. But see the blessed fruit of receiving it. "He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true. For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him." I apprehend the words the Authorised Version gives in italics should disappear. The addition of "unto him" detracts, to my mind, from the exceeding preciousness of what seems to be, at least, left open. For the astonishing thought is, not merely that Jesus receives the Holy Ghost without measure, but that God gives the Spirit also, and not by measure, through Him to others. In the beginning of the chapter it was rather an essential indispensable action of the Holy Ghost required; here it is the privilege of the Holy Ghost given. No doubt Jesus Himself had the Holy Ghost given to Him, as it was meet that He in all things should have the pre-eminence; but it shows yet more both the personal glory of Christ and the efficacy of His work, that He now gives the same Spirit to those who receive His testimony, and set to their seal that God is true. How singularly is the glory of the Lord Jesus thus viewed, as invested with the testimony of God and its crown! What more glorious proof than that the Holy Ghost is given not a certain defined power or gift, but the Holy Ghost Himself; for God gives not the Spirit by measure!
All is fitly closed by the declaration, that "the Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand." It is not merely or most of all a great prophet or witness: He is the Son; and the Father has given all things to be in His hand. There is the nicest care to maintain His personal glory, no matter what the subject may be. The results for the believer or unbeliever are eternal in good or in evil. He that believes on the Son has everlasting life; and he that disobeys the Son, in the sense of not being subject to His person, "shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him" Such is the issue of the Son of God present in this world an everlasting one for every man, flowing from the glory of His person, the character of His testimony, and the Father's counsels respecting Him. The effect is thus final, even as His person, witness, and glory are divine.
The chapters we have had before us (John 1:1-51; John 2:1-25; John 3:1-36) are thus evidently an introduction: God revealed not in the Word alone, but in the Word made flesh, in the Son who declared the Father; His work, as God's Lamb, for the world, and His power by the Holy Ghost in man; then viewed as the centre of gathering, as the path to follow, and as the object even for the attendance of God's angels, the heaven being opened, and Jesus not the Son of God and King of Israel only, but the Son of man object of God's counsels. This will be displayed in the millennium, when the marriage will be celebrated, as well as the judgment executed (Jerusalem and its temple being the central point then). This, of course, supposes the setting aside of Jerusalem, its people and house, as they now are, and is justified by the great fact of Christ's death and resurrection, which is the key to all, though not yet intelligible even to the disciples. This brings in the great counterpart truth, that even God present on earth and made flesh is not enough. Man is morally judged. One must be born again for God's kingdom a Jew for what was promised him, like another. But the Spirit would not confine His operations to such bounds, but go out freely like the wind. Nor would the rejected Christ, the Son of man; for if lifted up on the cross, instead of having the throne of David, the result would be not merely earthly blessing for His people according to prophecy, but eternal life for the believer, whoever. he might be; and this, too, as the expression of the true and full grace of God in His only-begotten Son given. John then declared his own waning before Christ, as we have seen, the issues of whose testimony, believed or not, are eternal; and this founded on the revelation of His glorious person as man and to man here below.
John 4:1-54 presents the Lord Jesus outside Jerusalem outside the people of promise among Samaritans, with whom Jews had no intercourse. Pharisaic jealousy had wrought; and Jesus, wearied, sat thus at the fountain of Jacob's well in Sychar. (Ver. John 4:1-6; John 4:1-6) What a picture of rejection and humiliation! Nor was it yet complete. For if, on the one side, God has taken care to let us see already the glory of the Son, and the grace of which He was full, on the other side, all shines out the more marvellously when we know how He dealt with a woman of Samaria, sinful and degraded. Here was a meeting, indeed, between such an one and Him, the Son, true God and eternal life. Grace begins, glory descends; "Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink." (VerseJohn 4:1; John 4:1) It was strange to her that a Jew should thus humble himself: what would it have been, had she seen in Him Jesus the Son of God? "Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water." (VerseJohn 4:10; John 4:10) Infinite grace! infinite truth! and the more manifest from His lips to one who was a real impersonation of sin, misery, blindness, degradation. But this is not the question of grace: not what she was, but what He is who was there to win and bless her, manifesting God and the Father withal, practically and in detail. Surely He was there, a weary man outside Judaism; but God, the God of all grace, who humbled Himself to ask a drink of water of her, that He might give the richest and most enduring gift, even water which, once drank, leaves no thirst for ever and ever yea, is in him who drinks a fountain of water springing up unto everlasting life. Thus the Holy Ghost, given by the Son in humiliation (according to God, not acting on law, but according to the gift of grace in the gospel), was fully set forth; but the woman, though interested, and asking, only apprehended a boon for this life to save herself trouble here below. This gives occasion to Jesus to teach us the lesson that conscience must be reached, and sense of sin produced, before grace is understood and brings forth fruit. This He does in verses 16-19. Her life is laid before her by His voice, and she confesses to Him that God Himself spoke to her in His words: "Sir [said she], I perceive that thou art a prophet." If she turned aside to questions of religion, with a mixture of desire to learn what had concerned and perplexed her, and of willingness to escape such a searching of her ways and heart, He did not refrain graciously to vouchsafe the revelation of God, that earthly worship was doomed, that the Father was to be worshipped, not an Unknown. And while He does not hide the privilege of the Jews, He nevertheless proclaims that "the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." This brings all to a point; for the woman says, "I know that Messiah cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things." And Jesus answers, "I that speak unto thee am he." The disciples come; the woman goes into the city, leaving her waterpot, but carrying with her the unspeakable gift of God. Her testimony bore the impress of what had penetrated her soul, and would make way for all the rest in due time. "Come, see a man that told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?" "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God." It was much, yet was it little of the glory that was His; but at least it was real; and to the one that has shall be given. (Verses John 4:20-30)
The disciples marvelled that He spoke with the woman. How little they conceived of what was then said and done! "Master, eat," said they. "But He said to them, I have meat to eat that ye know not of." They entered not into His words more than His grace, but thought and spoke, like the Samaritan woman, about things of this life. Jesus explains: "My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work. Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together. And herein is that true saying, One soweth, and another reapeth. I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labour: other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours." (Verses John 4:31-38)
Thus a despised Christ is not merely a crucified Son of man, and given Son of God, as in John 3:1-36, but Himself a divine giver in communion with the Father, and in the power of the Holy Ghost who is given to the believer, the source of worship, as their God and Father is its object for the worshippers in spirit and truth (though surely not to the exclusion of the Son, Hebrews 1:1-14). So it must be now; for God is revealed; and the Father in grace seeks true worshippers (be they Samaritans or Jews) to worship Him. Here, accordingly, it is not so much the means by which life is communicated, as the revelation of the full blessing of grace and communion with the Father and His Son by the Holy Ghost, in whom we are blessed. Hence it is that here the Son, according to the grace of God the Father, gives the Holy Ghost eternal life in the power of the Spirit. It is not simply the new birth such as a saint might, and always must, have had, in order to vital relations with God at any time. Here, in suited circumstances to render the thought and way of God unmistakable, pure and boundless grace takes its own sovereign course, suitable to the love and personal glory of Christ. For if the Son (cast out, we may say, in principle from Judaism) visited Samaria, and deigned to talk with one of the most worthless of that worthless race, it could not be a mere rehearsal of what others did. Not Jacob was there, but the Son of God in nothing but grace; and thus to the Samaritan woman, not to the teachers of Israel, are made those wonderful communications which unfold to us with incomparable depth and beauty the real source, power, and character of that worship which supersedes, not merely schismatic and rebellious Samaria, but Judaism at its best. For evidently it is the theme of worship in its Christian fulness, the fruit of the manifestation of God, and of the Father known in grace. And worship is viewed both in moral nature and in the joy of communion doubly. First, we must worship, if at all, in spirit and in truth. This is indispensable; for God is a Spirit, and so it cannot but be. Besides this, goodness overflows, in that the Father is gathering children, and making worshippers. The Father seeks worshippers. What love! In short, the riches of God's grace are here according to the glory of the Son, and in the power of the Holy Ghost. Hence the Lord, while fully owning the labours of all preceding labourers, has before His eyes the whole boundless expanse of grace, the mighty harvest which His apostles were to reap in due time. It is thus strikingly an anticipation of the result in glory. Meanwhile, for Christian worship, the hour was coming and in principle come, because He was there; and He who vindicated salvation as of the Jews, proves that it is now for Samaritans, or any who believed on account of His word. Without sign, prodigy, or miracle, in this village of Samaria Jesus was heard, known, confessed as truly the Saviour of the world ("the Christ" being absent in the best authorities, ver. 42). The Jews, with all their privileges, were strangers here. They knew what they worshipped, but not the Father, nor were they "true." No such sounds, no such realities were ever heard or known in Israel. How were they not enjoyed in despised Samaria those two days with the Son of God among them! It was meet that so it should be; for, as a question of right, none could claim; and grace surpasses all expectation or thought of man, most of all of men accustomed to a round of religious ceremonial. Christ did not wait till the time was fully come for the old things to pass away, and all to be made new. His own love and person were warrant enough for the simple to lift the veil for a season, and fill the hearts which had received Himself into the conscious enjoyment of divine grace, and of Him who revealed it to them. It was but preliminary, of course; still it was a deep reality, the then present grace in the person of the Son, the Saviour of the world, who filled their once dark hearts with light and joy.
The close of the chapter shows us the Lord in Galilee. But there was this difference from the former occasion, that, at the marriage in Cana (John 2:1-25), the change of the water into wine was clearly millennial in its typical aspect. The healing of the courtier's son, sick and ready to die, is witness of what the Lord was actually doing among the despised of Israel. It is there that we found the Lord, in the other synoptic gospels, fulfilling His ordinary ministry. John gives us this point of contact with them, though in an incident peculiar to himself. It is our evangelist's way of indicating His Galilean sojourn; and this miracle is the particular subject that John was led by the Holy Ghost to take up. Thus, as in the former case the Lord's dealing in Galilee was a type of the future, this appears to be significant of His then present path of grace in that despised quarter of the land. The looking for signs and wonders is rebuked; but mortality is arrested. His corporeal presence was not necessary; His word was enough. The contrasts are as strong, at least, as the resemblance with the healing of the centurion's servant in Matthew 13:1-58 and Luke 7:1-50, which some ancients and moderns have confounded with this, as they did Mary's anointing of Jesus with the sinful woman's in Luke 7:1-50.
One of the peculiarities of our gospel is, that we see the Lord from time to time (and, indeed, chiefly) in or near Jerusalem. This is the more striking, because, as we have seen, the world and Israel, rejecting Him, are also themselves, as such, rejected from the first. The truth is, the design of manifesting His glory governs all; place or people was a matter of no consequence.
Here (John 5:1-47) the first view given of Christ is His person in contrast with the law. Man, under law, proved powerless; and the greater the need, the less the ability to avail himself of such merciful intervention as God still, from time to time, kept up throughout the legal system. The same God who did not leave Himself without witness among the heathen, doing good, and giving from heaven rain and fruitful seasons, did not fail, in the low estate of the Jews, to work by providential power at intervals; and, by the troubled waters of Bethesda, invited the sick, and healed the first who stepped in of whatever disease he had. In the five porches, then, of this pool lay a great multitude of sick, blind, lame, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. But there was a man who had been infirm for thirty and eight years. Jesus saw the man, and knowing that he was long thus, prompts the desire of healing, but brings out the despondency of unbelief. How truly it is man under law! Not only is there no healing to be extracted from the law by a sinner, but the law makes more evident the disease, if it does not also aggravate the symptoms. The law works no deliverance; it puts a man in chains, prison, darkness, and under condemnation; it renders him a patient, or a criminal incompetent to avail himself of the displays of God's goodness. God never left Himself without witness; He did not even among the Gentiles, surely yet less in Israel. Still, such is the effect on man under law, that he could not take advantage of an adequate remedy. (Verses John 5:1-7)
On the other hand, the Lord speaks but the word: "Rise, take up thy couch and walk." The result immediately follows. It was sabbath-day. The Jews, then, who could not help, and pitied not their fellow in his long infirmity and disappointment, are scandalized to see him, safe and sound, carrying his couch on that day. But they learn that it was his divine Physician who had not only healed, but so directed him. At once their malice drops the beneficent power of God in the case, provoked at the fancied wrong done to the seventh day. (VersesJohn 5:8-12; John 5:8-12)
But were the Jews mistaken after all in thinking that the seal of the first covenant was virtually broken in that deliberate word and warranty of Jesus? He could have healed the man without the smallest outward act to shock their zeal for the law. Expressly had He told the man to take up his couch and walk, as well as to rise. There was purpose in it. There was sentence of death pronounced on their system, and they felt accordingly. The man could not tell the Jews the name of his benefactor. But Jesus finds him in the temple, and said, "Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee." The man went off, and told the Jews that it was Jesus: and for this they persecuted Him, because He had done these things on the sabbath. (Verses John 5:13-16)
A graver issue, however, was to be tried; for Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. For this, therefore, the Jews sought the more to kill Him; because He added the greater offence of making Himself equal with God, by saying that God was His own Father. (Verses John 5:17-18)
Thus, in His person, as well as in His work, they joined issue. Nor could any question be more momentous. If He spoke the truth, they were blasphemers. But how precious the grace, in presence of their hatred and proud self-complacency! "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." They had no common thoughts, feelings, or ways with the Father and the Son. Were the Jews zealously keeping the sabbath? The Father and the Son were at work. How could either light or love rest in a scene of sin, darkness, and misery?
Did they charge Jesus with self-exaltation? No charge could be remoter from the truth. Though He could not, would not deny Himself (and He was the Son, and Word, and God), yet had He taken the place of a man, of a servant. Jesus, therefore, answered, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. For the Father loveth the Son, and showeth him all things that himself doeth: and he will show him greater works than these, that ye may marvel. For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will. For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment; but is passed from death unto life. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; and hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man. Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment." (Ver. John 5:19-29)
It is evident, then, that the Lord presents life in Himself as the true want of man, who was not merely infirm but dead. Law, means, ordinances, could not meet the need no pool, nor angel nothing but the Son working in grace, the Son quickening. Governmental healing even from Him might only end in "some worse thing" coming. through "sin." Life out of death was wanted by man, such as he is; and this the Father is giving in the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son hath not the Father; he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also. This is the truth; but the Jews had the law, and hated the truth. Could they, then, reject the Son, and merely miss this infinite blessing of life in Him? Nay, the Father has given all judgment to the Son. He will have all honour the Son, even as Himself
And as life is in the person of the Son, so God in sending Him meant not that the smallest uncertainty should exist for aught so momentous. He would have every soul to know assuredly how he stands for eternity as well as now. There is but one unfailing test the Son of God God's testimony to Him. Therefore, it seems to me, He adds verse 24. It is not a question of the law, but of hearing Christ's word, and believing Him who sent Christ: he that does so has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment; but is passed from death unto life. The Word, God (and only begotten Son in the Father's bosom), He was eternally Son of God, too, as born into the world. Was this false and blasphemous in their eyes? They could not deny Him to be man Son of man. Nay, therefore it was they, reasoning, denied Him to be God. Let them learn, then, that as Son of man (for which nature they despised Him, and denied His essential personal glory) He will judge; and this judgment will be no passing visitation, such as God has accomplished by angels or men in times past. The judgment, all of it, whether for quick or dead, is consigned to Him, because He is Son of man. Such is God's vindication of His outraged rights; and the judgment will be proportionate to the glory that has been set at nought.
Thus solemnly does the meek Lord Jesus unfold these two truths. In Him was life for this scene of death; and it is of faith that it might be by grace. This only secures His honour in those that believe God's testimony to Him, the Son of God; and to these He gives life, everlasting life now, and exemption from judgment, in this acting in communion with the Father. And in this He is sovereign. The Son gives life, as the Father does; and not merely to whom the Father will, but to whom He will. Nevertheless the Son had taken the place of being the sent One, the place of subordination in the earth, in which He would say, "My Father is greater than I." And He did accept that place thoroughly, and in all its consequences. But let them beware how they perverted it. Granted He was the Son of man; but as such, He had all judgment given Him, and would judge. Thus in one way or the other all must honour the Son. The Father did not judge, but committed all judgment into the hands of the Son, because He is the Son of man. It was not the time now to demonstrate in public power these coming, yea, then present truths. The hour was one for faith, or unbelief. Did the dead (for so men are treated, not as alive under law) did they hear the voice of the Son of God? Such shall live. For though the Son (that eternal life who was with the Father) was a man, in that very position had the Father given Him to have life in Himself, and to execute judgment also, because He is Son of man. Judgment is the alternative for man: for God it is the resource to make good the glory of the Son, and in that nature, in and for which man blind to his own highest dignity dares to despise Him. Two resurrections, one of life, and another of judgment, would be the manifestation of faith and unbelief, or rather, of those who believe, and of those who reject the Son. They were not to wonder then at what He says and does now; for an hour was coming in which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; those that have done good to resurrection of life, and those that have done evil to resurrection of judgment. This would make all manifest. Now it is that the great question is decided; now it is that a man receives or refuses Christ. If he receives Him, it is everlasting life, and Christ is thus honoured by him; if not, judgment remains which will compel the honour of Christ, but to his own ruin for ever. Resurrection will be the proof; the two-fold rising of the dead, not one, but two resurrections. Life resurrection will display how little they had to be ashamed of, who believed the record given of His Son; the resurrection of judgment will make but too plain, to those who despised the Lord, both His honour and their sin and shame.
As this chapter sets forth the Lord Jesus with singular fulness of glory, on the side both of His Godhead and of His manhood, so it closes with the most varied and remarkable testimonies God has given to us, that there may be no excuse. So bright was His glory, so concerned was the Father in maintaining it, so immense the blessing if received, so tremendous the stake involved in its loss, that God vouchsafed the amplest and clearest witnesses. If He judges, it is not without full warning. Accordingly there is a four-fold testimony to Jesus: the testimony of John the Baptist; the Lord's own works; the voice of the Father from heaven; and finally, the written word which the Jews had in their own hands. To this last the Lord attaches the deepest importance. This testimony differs from the rest in having a more permanent character. Scripture is, or may be, before man always. It is not a message or a sign, however significant at the moment, which passes away as soon as heard or seen. As a weapon of conviction, most justly had it in the mind of the Lord Jesus the weightiest place, little as man thinks now-a-days of it. The issue of all is, that the will of man is the real cause and spring of enmity. "Ye will not come to me that ye might have life." it was no lack of testimony; their will was for present honour, and hostile to the glory of the only God. They would fall a prey to Antichrist, and meanwhile are accused of Moses, in whom they trusted, without believing him; else they would have believed Christ, of whom he wrote.
In John 6:1-71 our Lord sets aside Israel in another point of view. Not only man under law has no health, but he has no strength to avail himself of the blessing that God holds out. Nothing less than everlasting life in Christ can deliver: otherwise there remains judgment. Here the Lord was really owned by the multitudes as the great Prophet that should come; and this in consequence of His works, especially that one which Scripture itself had connected with the Son of David. (Psalms 132:1-18) Then they wanted to make Him a king. It seemed natural: He had fed the poor with bread, and why should not He take His place on the throne? This the Lord refuses, and goes up the mountain to pray, His disciples being meanwhile exposed to a storm on the lake, and straining after the desired haven till He rejoins them, when immediately the ship was at the land whither they went. (VersesJohn 6:1-21; John 6:1-21)
The Lord, in the latter part of the chapter (verses John 6:27-58), contrasts the presentation of the truth of God in His person and work with all that pertained to the promises of Messiah. It is not that He denies the truth of what they were thus desiring and attached to. Indeed, He was the great Prophet, as He was the great King, and as He is now the great Priest on high. Still the Lord refused the crown then: it was not the time or state for His reign. Deeper questions demanded solution. A greater work was in hand; and this, as the rest of the chapter shows us, not a Messiah lifted up, but the true bread given He who comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world; a dying, not a reigning, Son of man. It is His person as incarnate first, then in redemption giving His flesh to be eaten and His blood to be drank. Thus former things pass away; the old man is judged, dead, and clean gone. A second and wholly new man appears the bread of God, not of man, but for men. The character is wholly different from the position and glory of Messiah in Israel, according to promise and prophecy. Indeed, it is the total eclipse, not merely of law and remedial mercies, but even of promised Messianic glory, by everlasting life and resurrection at the last day. Christ here, it will be noticed, is not so much the quickening agent as Son of God (John 5:1-47), but the object of faith as Son of man first incarnate, to be eaten; then dying and giving His flesh to be eaten, and His blood to be drank. Thus we feed on Him and drink into Him, as man, unto life everlasting life in Him.
This last is the figure of a truth deeper than incarnation, and clearly means communion with His death. They had stumbled before, and the Lord brought in not alone His person, as the Word made flesh, presented for man now to receive and enjoy; but unless they ate the flesh, and drank the blood of the Son of man, they had no life in them. There He supposes His full rejection and death. He speaks of Himself as the Son of man in death; for there could be no eating of His flesh, no drinking of His blood, as a living man. Thus it is not only the person of our Lord viewed as divine, and coming down into the world. He who, living, was received for eternal life, is our meat and drink in dying, and gives us communion with His death. Thus, in fact, we have the Lord setting aside what was merely Messianic by the grand truths of the incarnation, and, above all, of the atonement, with which man must have vital association: he must eat yea, eat and drink. This language is said of both, but most strongly of the latter. And so, in fact, it was and is. He who owns the reality of Christ's incarnation, receives most thankfully and adoringly from God the truth of redemption; he, on the contrary, who stumbles at redemption, has not really taken in the incarnation according to God's mind. If a man looks at the Lord Jesus as One who entered the world in a general way, and calls this the incarnation, he will surely stumble over the cross. If, on the contrary, a soul has been taught of God the glory of the person of Him who was made flesh, he receives in all simplicity, and rejoices in, the glorious truth, that He who was made flesh was not made flesh only to this end, but rather as a step toward another and deeper work the glorifying God, and becoming our food, in death. Such are the grand emphatic points to which the Lord leads.
But the chapter does not close without a further contrast. (Verses John 6:59-71) What and if they should see Him, who came down and died in this world, ascend up where He was before? All is in the character of the Son of man. The Lord Jesus did, without question, take humanity in His person into that glory which He so well knew as the Son of the Father.
On this basisJohn 7:1-53; John 7:1-53 proceeds. The brethren of the Lord Jesus, who could see the astonishing power that was in Him, but whose hearts were carnal, at once discerned that it might be an uncommon good thing for them, as well as for Him, in this world. It was worldliness in its worst shape, even to the point of turning the glory of Christ to a present account. Why should He not show Himself to the world? (Verses John 7:3-5) The Lord intimates the impossibility of anticipating the time of God; but then He does it as connected with His own personal glory. Then He rebukes the carnality of His brethren. If His time was not yet come, their time was always ready. (Ver. John 7:6-8) They belonged to the world. They spoke of the world; the world might hear them. As to Himself, He does not go at that time to the feast of tabernacles; but later on He goes up "not openly, but as it were in secret" (verseJohn 7:10; John 7:10), and taught. They wonder, as they had murmured before (John 7:12-15); but Jesus shows that the desire to do God's will is the condition of spiritual understanding. (Verses John 7:16-18) , The Jews kept not the law) and wished to kill Him who healed man in divine love. (Verses John 7:19-23) What judgment could be less righteous? (Ver. John 7:24) They reason and are in utter uncertainty. (Ver. John 7:25-31) He is going where they cannot come, and never guessed (for unbelief thinks of the dispersed among the Greeks of anything rather than of God). (VersesJohn 7:33-36; John 7:33-36) Jesus was returning to Him that sent Him, and the Holy Ghost would be given. So on the last day, that great day of the feast (the eighth day, which witnessed of a resurrection glory outside this creation, now to be made good in the power of the Spirit before anything appears to sight), the Lord stands and cries, saying, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink." (Ver. John 7:37) It is not a question of eating the bread of God, or, when Christ died, of eating His flesh and drinking His blood. Here, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink." Just as in John 4:1-54, so here it is a question of power in the Holy Ghost, and not simply of Christ's person. "He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." (Ver. John 7:38; John 7:38) And then we have the comment of the Holy Ghost: "(But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified)" There is, first, the thirsty soul coming to Jesus and drinking; then there is the power of the Spirit flowing forth from the inner man of the believer in refreshment to others. (Verse John 7:39)
Nothing can be simpler than this. Details are not called for now, but just the outline of the truth. But what we learn is, that our Lord (viewed as having entered into heaven as man on the ground of redemption, i.e., ascended, after having passed through death, into glory) from that glory confers meanwhile the Holy Ghost on him that believes, instead of bringing in at once the final feast of gladness for the Jews and the world, as He will do by-and-by when the anti-typical harvest and vintage has been fulfilled. Thus it is not the Spirit of God simply giving a new nature; neither is it the Holy Ghost given as the power of worship and communion with His God and Father. This we have had fully before. Now, it is the Holy Ghost in the power that gives rivers of living water flowing out, and this bound up with, and consequent on, His being man in glory. Till then the Holy Ghost could not be so given only when Jesus was glorified, after redemption was a fact. What can be more evident, or more instructive? It is the final setting aside of Judaism then, whose characteristic hope was the display of power and rest in the world. But here these streams of the Spirit are substituted for the feast of tabernacles, which cannot be accomplished till Christ come from heaven and show Himself to the world; for this time was not yet come. Rest is not the question now at all; but the flow of the Spirit's power while Jesus is on high. In a certain sense, the principle of John 4:1-54 was made true in the woman of Samaria, and in others who received Christ then. The person of the Son was there the object of divine and overflowing joy even then, although, of course, in the full sense of the word, the Holy Ghost might not be given to be the power of it for some time later; but still the object of worship was there revealing the Father; butJohn 7:1-53; John 7:1-53 supposes Him to be gone up to heaven, before He from heaven communicates the Holy Ghost, who should be (not here, as Israel had a rock with water to drink of in the wilderness outside themselves, nor even as a fountain springing up within the believer, but) as rivers flowing out. How blessed the contrast with the people's state depicted in this chapter, tossed about by every wind of doctrine, looking to "letters," rulers, and Pharisees, perplexed about the Christ, but without righteous judgment, assurance, or enjoyment! Nicodemus remonstrates but is spurned; all retire to their home Jesus, who had none, to the mount of Olives. (Verses John 7:40-53)
This closes the various aspects of the Lord Jesus, completely blotting out Judaism, viewed as resting in a system of law and ordinances, as looking to a Messiah with present ease, and as hoping for the display of Messianic glory then in the world. The Lord Jesus presents Himself as putting an end to all this now for the Christian, though, of course, every word God has promised, as well as threatened, remains to be accomplished in Israel by-and-by; for Scripture cannot be broken; and what the mouth of the Lord has said awaits its fulfilment in its due sphere and season.