the First Week of Advent
Click here to learn more!
Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary
New American Standard Version
Bible Study Resources
Nave's Topical Bible - Envy; Jesus, the Christ; Jesus Continued; Priest; Prudence; Thompson Chain Reference - Council, Jewish; Courts; Plots Laid; Plotting; Sanhedrin; Torrey's Topical Textbook - Courts of Justice; Miracles; Pharisees, the; Prophecies Respecting Christ;
Verse 47. Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council — The Pharisees, as such, had no power to assemble councils; and therefore only those are meant who were scribes or elders of the people, in conjunction with Annas and his son-in-law Caiaphas, who were the high priests here mentioned. See John 18:13; John 18:24.
What do we? — This last miracle was so clear, plain, and incontestable, that they were driven now to their wit's end. Their own spies had come and borne testimony of it. They told them what they had seen, and on their word, as being in league with themselves against Jesus, they could confidently rely.
These files are public domain.
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on John 11:47". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://studylight.org/​commentaries/​acc/​john-11.html. 1832.
117. Jews plot to kill Jesus (John 11:45-57)
As a result of his miraculous works, Jesus was becoming more famous every day. The Sanhedrin feared that the nation might accept him as the leader of a messianic uprising against Rome, which would lead to Rome’s intervention. The outcome could be the loss of the Jews’ religious privileges and even the destruction of their temple (John 11:45-48).
Caiaphas, who was high priest and president of the Sanhedrin, suggested they get rid of Jesus and so remove the possibility of Rome’s intervention. Jesus should die so that the nation might be saved. These words had a meaning that Caiaphas never intended, as if they were a prophecy of the outcome of Jesus’ death; for his death saves not only the Jewish people, but people of every nation who believe in him (John 11:49-52).
While the Jewish leaders plotted his death, Jesus took his disciples to a quiet place away from the crowd (John 11:53-54). Back in Jerusalem people from the country began to arrive in preparation for the coming Passover Festival. Many were uneasy as they thought about what might happen if Jesus came to the city for the festival (John 11:55-57).
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on John 11:47". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/​commentaries/​bbc/​john-11.html. 2005.
The chief priests therefore and the Pharisees gathered a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many signs.
The hatred of Jesus by his enemies was past healing by any power; even that of raising Lazarus. The answer of the Sanhedrin to this greatest of the signs was to convene a council and formulate plans to kill Jesus, and even Lazarus also.
What do we? … means "What are we doing?" It should be noted that there was no hesitancy in their acceptance of the resurrection of Lazarus as a fact. Indeed, how could they have denied it? Many of their own number had been eyewitnesses of it; and the community knew all about it. When Satan is unable to answer an argument, his response has always been to kill the witness; that was his response here, and another example of the same is found in the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 7:58).
John is in full harmony with the synoptics, indicating that the chief priests (the Sadducees) led the cabal against Christ. They did so, not in opposition to the doctrine of the resurrection; for, if they had founded their opposition on that, the Pharisees would not have supported them. It was on the selfish fear of losing their power and privilege that they based their murder of the Lord; and to be sure, on that basis, the Pharisees readily supported them.
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on John 11:47". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/​commentaries/​bcc/​john-11.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
A council - A meeting of the Sanhedrin, or Great Council of the nation. See the notes at Matthew 2:4. They claimed the right of regulating all the affairs of religion. See the notes at John 1:19.
What do we? - What measures are we taking to arrest the progress of his sentiments?
For this man doeth many miracles - If they admitted that he performed miracles, it was clear what they ought to do. They should have received him as the Messiah. It may be asked, If they really believed that he worked miracles, why did they not believe on him? To this it may be replied that they did not doubt that impostors might work miracles. See Matthew 24:24. To this opinion they were led, probably, by the wonders which the magicians performed in Egypt Exodus 7:0; Exodus 8:0, and by the passage in Deuteronomy 13:1. As they regarded the tendency of the doctrines of Jesus to draw off the people from the worship of God, and from keeping his law John 9:16, they did not suppose themselves bound to follow him, even if he did work miracles.
These files are public domain.
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on John 11:47". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/​commentaries/​bnb/​john-11.html. 1870.
47.Then the chief priests and the Pharisees assembled the council. Not less monstrous is the blindness of the priests, which is here described. If they had not been exceedingly stupid and brutish, they would at least have been impressed with some reverence for Christ, after so striking a demonstration of his Divine power. They now assemble deliberately and intentionally to bury the glory of God, at the sight of which they are constrained to be astonished. True, they do not openly proclaim that they wish to make war with God, but as they cannot extinguish Christ but by overturning the power of God, they unquestionably fight against that power openly by presumption and sacrilege. Infidelity indeed is always haughty, and despises God, but does not all at once break out to such an extent as to raise its horns against God. But when men have long struggled against God, the result at which they ultimately arrive is, that they endeavor to ascend above heaven, after the manner of the giants, (328) without any dread of the Divine majesty; (329) for they acknowledge that Christ doth many miracles And whence proceeds his great power? They therefore openly prepare to crush the power of God, which shines in the miracles of Christ. Yet God is not unemployed; but though he wink at them for a time, he laughs at their foolish arrogance, till the time come for executing his wrath, as it is said, (Psalms 2:4.)
What do we? By these words they accuse themselves of sloth, as if they said that it is on account of their doing nothing, that Christ continues to make advances, because by active exertion they may stop his progress. Such is the confidence of wicked men, by which they lay claim to everything, as if it were in their power to do as they please, and as if even the result of the work depended on their wishes. And if the whole be duly weighed, they here employ their own industry as a shield against the Divine power, as if by perseverance they could vanquish God.
(328) See page 223, n. 1.
These files are public domain.
Calvin, John. "Commentary on John 11:47". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/​commentaries/​cal/​john-11.html. 1840-57.
The gospel according to John, chapter 11.
Now we remember that John is carefully picking out certain incidents in the life of Jesus by which he might prove that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the living God, bringing people to a faith in Him, as such, that through that faith they might have the life of Christ imparted to them. And he testifies there were many other things that Jesus did which he did not record, but these he recorded that you might believe. And so John is writing from a slant, trying to encourage faith. At the end of the epistle, he again declared that if all of the things were written that should be written, all of the libraries could not hold the books that should be written on the subject of Jesus Christ. So, he is carefully choosing certain events, and he has been pointing out different types of miracles that Jesus did. And in our last study, we studied the miracle of the man who was born blind. And the proof that it offered, that no man can open the eyes of the blind, except he is from God.
Now, he comes to one of the most powerful proofs of the deity of Jesus Christ and of His Messiahship, as we come to the raising of Lazarus from the dead.
There was a certain man who was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany ( John 11:1 ),
Bethany is just a little village just over the top of the Mount of Olives on the eastern slope toward the Judean wilderness away from Jerusalem. It's just adjacent there to Jerusalem. And it is called here, interestingly enough,
the town of Mary ( John 11:1 )
Which gives us just a little insight into Mary, the sister of Lazarus. Mary was a special kind of a person that, when you think of Bethany, you think of Mary. She is that kind of a sociable person, so friendly, so sociable, that everybody knew her and it was just her town. It was just the town that Mary just sort of had captivated, no doubt, by her friendliness and sociability and all. It was just the town of Mary. You say, "Oh, Bethany? Yeah, that's the town of Mary." She was very devoted to Jesus, was sitting at His feet just drinking in and learning, when Martha, her sister, said, "Lord, make her come and help me. It's not fair." And Jesus said, "She's chosen the better part, Martha. You're always so busy, wanting to make sure everything is set just right, and all, and everything is just so, but Mary has really chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her" ( Luke 10:40-42 ). And, of course, she was the one that anointed the feet of Jesus with the costly perfumes. So the town of Mary--very special. I'm looking forward to meeting Mary. I'm certain that she's just a special kind of a person that you'll just like knowing. Her sister Martha was also a very outstanding person, but of a different temperament than was Mary.
(It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) ( John 11:2 )
So, John is identifying for us that it's Mary, because actually, in the New Testament there are probably four Mary's that are involved around the story of Jesus. Of course, his mother, and then Mary Magdalene, and then Mary, the sister of Lazarus, and then there was a Mary who was the wife of Cleopas. There at the cross there were: Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and Mary, the wife of Cleopas. And so, you have at least four Mary's in the New Testament record. And so, John felt it necessary to identify that Mary.
Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick ( John 11:3 ).
It is interesting to me that they did not make any demands that Jesus heal him. All they did was inform Him, "The one you love is sick." And they knew that Jesus would respond, respond to the need because of that relationship they had with Him. And so, they didn't feel it was necessary to tell Him how to respond or to demand the response. Just to declare, "Lord, the one you love is sick."
So, when Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby ( John 11:4 ).
Now, there was a purpose. God had allowed this sickness in order that God might demonstrate His power through Jesus Christ in the raising of Lazarus.
Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. And when he heard therefore that he was sick, he abode for two days still in the same place where he was ( John 11:5-6 ).
So John felt it was necessary to point out that Jesus really loved them. It wasn't a lack of concern, but there was a deliberate waiting of Jesus for two days. At this point, Jesus was down at the Jordan River, about twenty miles from Bethany. And in those days, you figured with travelling with a group that you make about ten miles a day. And that was just an average day's journey. So, just about every ten miles along wherever you were going you would come either to a village, or if there were no villages in that span, then they would have the inns, the enclosures where you could stay. And inasmuch as it's pretty barren between Bethany and Jericho, no villages at all, about halfway there is an inn. This is what was quite common in those times. If no villages, then the establishing of an inn, so you make your ten miles. Your goal is to get the ten miles to the end where you go into the courtyard.
And an inn isn't like a hotel or a motel, either one. All it is is a walled-in area with a little house where the innkeeper stays, and there is a well, usually, in the center of the courtyard. But you could just get next to the wall and be sheltered from the wind. It was just a place to spend the night, get water. They provided no food. Just a shelter was all that it was, not even a covered shelter.
And so, being at the Jordan River, He was a two-day journey from Bethany. So they sent the message to Jesus. It took two days for the messenger to get from Bethany to the Jordan River. And after He received the message, He stayed two more days at the Jordan River before He began His two-day journey back to Bethany. So, you have about six days involved here. Or, if the messenger, say, ran all the way in one day, the fact that He stayed an extra two days and then made the two-day journey, you've got between five and six days from the time that the message went out to Jesus and Jesus' arrival at Bethany. But we notice that it was a deliberate delay on the part of Jesus. And during this deliberate delay, Jesus knew exactly what was going on in Bethany. "So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed for two days at the same place there at the Jordan River."
After that he said to his disciples, Let us go into Judea again ( John 11:7 ).
That is, into the area of Jerusalem.
His disciples said unto him, Master, the last time you were there the Jews sought to stone thee ( John 11:8 );
You remember, it was when Jesus was there and they said, "Tell us plainly if You're the Messiah." And Jesus again asserted His relationship with the Father, and they took up stones to stone Him. So they said, "Hey, Lord, the last time you were there, they tried to stone You. What do You want to go back for?" So,
Jesus said, Are there not twelve hours in a day? ( John 11:9 )
That is, twelve hours of light. And He's talking about what we call, well, the daytime, twelve hours of light. So, just the daytime.
If any man walk in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if a man walk in the night, he stumbles, because there is no light in him ( John 11:9-10 ).
So, it's "I've got to do My work while it is yet day" is what He is basically saying.
These things he said: and after that he said unto them, Our friend Lazarus is sleeping; but if I go, I may awake him out of his sleep ( John 11:11 ).
Now, what happens to a child of God is different from what happens to a person who is not a child of God in what we call death. And because there is a vast difference, the Bible did not use the term death to signify the departing of a believer's soul from his body. They just called it sleep. You remember when Jesus went to heal Jarius' daughter, and when He got to the house, the people were all wailing because she had died. And Jesus said, "She's not dead, she's only sleeping." And they laughed Him to scorn, and so He put them out. Paul, in writing to the Thessalonians, said, "Now, concerning those that are asleep in Christ; I write to you that you sorrow not as those who have no hope" ( 1 Thessalonians 4:13 ). And so, it was a term that was used, and yet, not an accurate term, because there are those who have taken the idea of sleep then and created a doctrine of soul sleep. Your soul is asleep until the resurrection according to the soul sleep doctrine. But the Bible does not teach that. As we pointed out this morning, the Bible teaches that to be absent from this body is to be present with the Lord. So, in order that we might distinguish, though, the difference between a believer and a non-believer, as far as death is concerned; to the believer the term sleep was often used. And Jesus used it here of Lazarus. He said, "He is sleeping." Now, His disciples did not understand Him, and they thought sleeping like we think of sleeping. So, they said, "Well, if he's sleeping he ought to be getting better."
Jesus was speaking of his death. So Jesus said unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent that ye may believe ( John 11:13-15 );
Now, as John said, these things that he recorded were recorded in order that they might believe. And so Jesus is now again calling upon His works as a witness to His deity. "Believest thou not that I am in the Father and the Father in me, or else believe me for the very works' sake" ( John 14:11 ). "The works that I do," He said, "they do testify of Me." Now, "I'm glad for your sakes I wasn't there..." Because had He been there, He would have healed him from his sickness. That would have been a glorious miracle, but He wanted even a more glorious miracle. He waited until Lazarus had died. In fact, He waited until he was buried. And they usually bury the person the same day, because they really didn't practice embalming in Israel to any great extent at all. And they would bury the person the same day that they died. And so, Jesus said, "I'm glad for your sakes that I wasn't there that you might believe when you see this miracle. You might really know and believe who I am."
So, "Nevertheless, let us go unto him." Now Thomas probably didn't understand completely what was going on at this point and felt he had to say something, and usually when you say something not knowing really what to say, you say something stupid. Someone said, "It's better to keep your mouth shut and let people think that you're a fool than to open it and dispel all their doubts."
Thomas, which is called Didymus, said unto his fellow disciples, Let us go also, that we may die with him ( John 11:16 ).
Now, he probably...you remember they said, "Lord, why do you want to go back there? The last time you were there they tried to stone you." And he's probably saying, "Lord, it's fool-hardy for you to go back there. They're going to kill you." And so, he's saying, "Well, if He wants to go back, well, let's all go back and die with Him." In other words, "We're heading towards our death," in a sense.
When Jesus came, he found that he had been in the grave for four days already. Now Bethany was near to Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off ( John 11:17-18 ):
A furlong is about an eighth of a mile, so it's just about two miles from Jerusalem over to Bethany.
And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house ( John 11:19-20 ).
Now, Bethany is up near the top of the Mount of Olives on the eastern slope, and you can see from Bethany all the way down to the Dead Sea. And you can see the road coming from Jericho for miles, as it winds on up the hill towards Jerusalem. So, as you're looking out from Bethany, you can see them coming from a long distance. And so, they saw a company of people coming and they realized it must be Jesus and the disciples. And so, Martha left the people that had gathered to mourn and she came out on the path and met Jesus before He ever got to Bethany.
And then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died ( John 11:21 ).
Bitterness in her voice, no doubt, disappointment at least. "Lord, where were you? Why didn't you respond?" It was really sort of a rebuke of Jesus. "Lord, if you would have been here, my brother would not have died. Why didn't you come, Lord, when we called you? Don't you realize it's been six days?"
But I know, that even now, whatsoever you will ask of God, God will give it to you ( John 11:22 ).
Now there's a tremendous expression of faith, but I don't think that Martha was anticipating the resurrection of her brother. But yet, here is a very remarkable statement of faith, and maybe a hint, "Lord, you know, maybe--who knows? Whatsoever You ask of the Father, I know He'll give it to You." And it may be that she is suggesting at this point that He raise him from the dead. However, when they came to the tomb and He said, "Roll back the stone," they said, "Oh, he's been there for four days. He smells by now." But it could be that Martha somehow had that kind of faith, "Lord, I know that anything you ask the Father, He will give it to You."
And Jesus said unto her, Your brother is going to rise again. And Martha said unto him, I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day. And Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: and he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And he who lives and believes in me shall never die. Believest thou this? ( John 11:23-26 )
A very radical statement that Jesus would not dare to make unless He were the Son of God. This statement is so radical, no man could dare make this statement without immediately being classified as a lunatic, a madman. For someone to stand before you and say, "I'm the resurrection and the life. If you live and believe in me, you'll never die." The guy's got to be diluted, or he has to be the Son of God. And in this case, He was the Son of God. And then Jesus said, "Believest thou this?"
Jesus always demanded a "yes" or a "no." You could not be neutral. He said, "He who is not for Me is against me. You're not neutral. If you don't have a positive attitude towards Me, then you're against Me." Now, when He said, "Do you believe this?" you can either answer "yes" or "no." "Yes, I believe that; no, I don't believe that." And you can't move to a middle position. There is none. I either believe it or I don't believe it. It's a radical statement that marks Him as the Son of God, or as a raving madman. And you believe it or not. If you believe it, then you have the hope of eternal life; if you don't believe it, you have no hope for eternal life. There is no other hope, there is no other way. And so Jesus challenged Martha on her faith, and she responded,
Yes, Lord: I believe that thou art the Messiah, the Son of God, which was to come into the world ( John 11:27 ).
Now, because of this statement of Jesus, we realize that He said in the previous chapter concerning, "My sheep hear My voice," verse John 11:27 , "and I know them and they follow me, and I give unto them eternal life and they shall never perish." Now, you see how inconsistent it would be to say that someone who had eternal life died. It's a total inconsistency of terms. "Oh, he has eternal life. Yes, he died yesterday." No, if you have eternal life, you can't die. And this is the record that God has given unto us life, eternal life. This life is in the Son, and he who has the Son has life. "I'm the resurrection and the life."
So then, what happens to the child of God that we say died? What has happened is that he has his spirit, which is the real me, has moved out of the tent, the temporary abode that God has made for my spirit, into the house, the building of God not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. This tent in which I am living is only a temporary measure for me. You never think of a tent as a permanent residence. It's always transient; we're moving on.
It's interesting that in the Holy Land today there are still the Bedouins, a nomadic people who live still in their tents, and they move their tents from place to place. They keep their sheep and their goats and all, and they'll let them sort of work out a pasture area and then they'll fold up their tents--the ladies will, the men don't know how to handle tents--and they will move to another place where the ladies will set the tents up again. They are nomadic people. Now, it is also interesting that the Bedouins are, some of them, beginning to settle in areas, and when they start to settle in an area, when you know that the Bedouins have decided this is where they're going to settle, they move from tents into little shacks that they make. They start to build a houses.
And so, God has a new body for me. It's a body that's designed for the heavenly environment. It is a body that is my eternal abode; it is a body that cannot and will not age. It is a body that cannot know pain or suffering. It is a body that can't be incapacitated by a virus or disease or whatever. It is a body that won't get tired, and won't have a bulge in the middle. The new body, the building of God not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
Now I am living in this body that is designed for the environment of the earth. God has a new body for me designed for the environmental conditions of heaven. For me to come into the heavenly scenes, I have to have a metamorphosis, the change of a body. And we think of the little caterpillars, which go through a metamorphosis. Their body is designed for the ground. They have all those little legs, and they go crawling through the fields. And as they get to the highways, they crawl across the highways. And you get into some places, there are so many caterpillars and all going across the highway, it's dangerous to drive, it gets slick. And as they are crossing those highways, the black asphalt during the fall of the year, I can imagine the little caterpillar thinking to himself, "Oh, it's rough having all these hot dirty feet, coming out of the field to the highway. Oh, I wish I could fly. This is hot! If I could only fly." But the poor little caterpillar, his body is not designed to fly. It's designed only to crawl on the ground. The aerodynamic design isn't there; it's designed for the environment of just crawling on the ground, not for the environment of flying through the air.
But one day that little caterpillar crawls up the wall of your house, exudes a little glue, sticks himself under your windowsill and spins a chrysalis around himself. And if you take that chrysalis and you pop it, you'll find just juices come shooting out. But, if you let that chrysalis go, after a period of time you'll see the thing begin to wiggle a lit bit. And you want to keep watching it, because it'll begin to wiggle more and more, and then get sort of convulsive kind of jerks. Then that chrysalis will pop open and two beautiful golden black wings will emerge, and the tiger-swallow tail butterfly will sit perched on the chrysalis for just a moment, as the wings just seem to expand and then it starts flying around the yard. Pretty soon it flies over the fence, across the fields, away. No more hot dirty feet. It has had a metamorphosis. It has now a new body, designed for a new environment. It can now exist where it used to not be able to exist. Had the little caterpillar tried to fly, he had had a real problem. If he had climbed up on a tree and out on a twig and jumped and wiggled himself as fast as he can, his body isn't designed for flying. It's only going to plop on the ground. But once it is gone through the metamorphosis, now flight is very natural.
We, too, the Bible says, are to be changed. We, too, will experience a metamorphosis. I look around and I see the world in which we live. I see the corruption. I see the hurt, the pain. I see the child abuse. I see the threat of the holocaust. And I say, "God, I'm so tired of hot dirty feet. I wish I could fly." And one day there's going to be a metamorphosis, for we shall be changed in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye. For this corruption must put on incorruption, this mortal must put on immortality. I'm going to get a new body; I'm not going to die. Oh, people may say, "Oh, Chuck Smith died." No, not so. I've just moved into the new body, the building of God not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. So, the metamorphosis, I have the new body now designed to exist in a whole new environment. And I dwell now, as David said, in the house of the Lord forever.
So, "He who lives and believes in me," Jesus said, "shall never die. They shall not perish. I have given to them eternal life, eternal LIFE." And it is impossible that one with eternal could die, else it isn't eternal life. All it is is a change for the better, to be sure. From the tent to the house. From the temporary to the permanent. From the restricted to the unrestricted. It'll be fascinating indeed for us to discover what that new life and body will be like with Jesus.
I have a brother who was a great tinker, who went to be with the Lord. I'm anxious to see him, because I'm sure he's got a lot of things figured out that other people haven't yet. He was one who pressed his body to its limits. He had no fears, and he was always pushing his body to its limits. And I'm just anxious to see what he can do in that new body of his. "The building of God not made with hands eternal in the heavens." So, the glorious hope.
"Do you believe this?" Jesus said. Martha said, "Yes, Lord: I believe."
And when she had said this, she went ahead, and she called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Master has come, and he's asked for you. So as soon as Mary heard that, she arose quickly, and came to Jesus. Jesus was still at that place outside of the village, where Martha had met him. And the Jews which were with her in the house, who were comforting her, when they saw Mary rise up hastily and going out, they followed her, saying, Oh, she's probably going to weep at the tomb. Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hast been here, my brother would not have died ( John 11:28-32 ).
So, He's getting the accusation now from the other sister. You see, Martha said the same thing, "Lord, where were You? Why didn't You respond? If You'd only have been here, things would have been different." And He's getting it again now from Mary.
And when Jesus therefore saw her weeping ( John 11:33 ),
He realized the grief, the pain she had gone through, and He loved her, He loved Martha, and He saw the pain. The pain of human limitations.
Jesus groaned in his own spirit, and was troubled ( John 11:33 ),
It bothered Him to see the pain of humanity.
And he said, Where have you laid him? They said, Come and see. Jesus wept ( John 11:34-35 ).
Now, there are those who suppose that Jesus wept, they say, because His friend Lazarus was dead. That's ridiculous. Why would He weep because Lazarus was dead? He knew that He was going to raise him from the dead in a few minutes. Don't you remember that Jesus said to His disciples down there at the Jordan River, "I must go to wake him out of his sleep"? And He said, "This is happened that the Son of God may be glorified, and I go that I may awake him out of his sleep." And then He said, "He's dead. I'm going to raise him from the dead." So, those commentators who say that Jesus was weeping because His friend was dead haven't really read the whole text. He was weeping when He saw the pain and the sorrow of humanity, when He saw the pain that His friends Mary and Martha were experiencing as a result of death. And He wept for their grief. Jesus is moved by our infirmities; we have such a great High Priest, who is touched by our weaknesses. He sees us in our frailties. He sees us in our griefs. And He's touched by our feelings of grief and sorrow, by our weaknesses. He's just a loving and compassionate Lord, and One who is moved by our own sorrow and grief. And so, He wept for them.
It is interesting that in death, in reality we usually weep not for the person who is gone, but for those that are left. When my father and brother were killed, I didn't weep for them, I wept for me. I lost the greatest supporter any man could ever have when my dad was killed. And I'd just lost a fabulous brother when they were killed together. I experienced a tremendous loss, and I wept for me. A little upset that they were going to get there so far ahead of me and get a head start, envious for them. But I've lost so much loving support, a companion with my brother. We always had a great time together. We purchased boats together, skied together, and did everything together, and we had a great time together; though he was several years younger than me, we just had a neat bond between us. And I knew I was going to miss them, I knew I was going to miss all their input. And I wept for me. It was a selfish weeping. "That dirty guy...he's going on and leaving me here!" I was weeping, though, for me.
Jesus wept not for Lazarus. You don't weep for the dead if they are in the Lord. If they're not in the Lord, then that's a different thing. "Them we sorrow as those who have no hope."
Then said the Jews, Oh, look how he loved him! ( John 11:36 )
They misunderstood completely His weeping too.
And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind ( John 11:37 ),
Referring to the last notable miracle there in Jerusalem,
Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man would not have died? And Jesus again just groaning in himself came to the grave. It was a cave, and there was a stone there upon it. And Jesus said, Take away the stone ( John 11:37-39 ).
Now Martha, you remember, said, "Lord, I know that anything you ask God, He would do." And it was Martha who said,
Oh, Lord, by this time he stinks: he's been dead for four days. Jesus said unto her, Didn't I tell you, that, if you would believe, you would see the glory of God? So they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, Father, I thank you that you have heard me. And I know that you always hear me: but because of the people which stand by I'm saying it, that they may believe that you have sent me ( John 11:39-42 ).
"Believest thou not that I am in the Father and the Father in Me....the works that I do I do not of Myself, but the Father that dwelleth in Me, He doeth the works. Believe Me, or else believe for the works' sake," Jesus said. Now He's giving another great proof that the Father is in Him and He is in the Father, that He is one with the Father. He's offering now another great proof. "And so, I'm only saying this, Father, not for My sake, but for the sake of the people that are here; that they may believe that You have sent Me."
And when he had thus spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come foRuth ( John 11:43 ).
One commentator said that had He just called "Come forth," the whole graveyard would have been resurrected. So He said, "Lazarus, come forth!"
And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes; and his face was bound with a napkin. Jesus said unto them, Loose him, and let him go. Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him. But some of them went their way to the Pharisees, and told them what Jesus had done. And so, there gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and they said, What are we going to do? for this man is doing many miracles. And if we let him alone, all of the people will believe on him; and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and our nation ( John 11:44-48 ).
Now, John gives us here a little bit of the insight to the conspiracy to put Jesus to death. It was that these religious leaders were fearing their position. You know, "We won't be the big shots any more. We'll loose our jobs. And we'll loose our position. What are we going to do? We've got to do something. If we don't, our jobs are threatened."
And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, You know nothing at all, nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, that the whole nation perish not ( John 11:49-50 ).
Now, John is saying he didn't understand what he was saying fully. He was the high priest, and because of that position, he was now prophesying that one man should die for the nation--a very interesting prophecy. The high priest later offered a prophecy when Jesus was hanging on the cross. He said, "Others He saved, Himself He cannot save." Very true! If He saved himself, He couldn't save others...you can't do both in His position. Had Jesus come down off the cross, He could not save us. So he said, "Others He saved, Himself He cannot save." Very interesting statement, and yet, very true because he was a high priest speaking prophetically. Here now, speaking prophetically as the high priest, "Don't you realize it's necessary that one man die that the whole nation perish not?" Die for the people in order that the whole nation perish not.
And so, John points out that he was not really saying this of himself:
but being the high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation; And not for the nation only, but that also that he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad. Then from that day forth they took council together to put him to death. Therefore Jesus walked no more openly among the Jews; but went from there unto the country near to the wilderness, unto a city called Ephraim, and there he stayed with his disciples ( John 11:51-54 ).
So Jesus went back down towards the Jordan River, did not stay around Jerusalem after the raising of Lazarus.
And the Jews' Passover was nigh at hand: and many went out of the country up to Jerusalem before the passover, to purify themselves ( John 11:55 ).
Now, it was necessary to go through the purification rites in order to participate in the Passover. And you would go up to Jerusalem and you'd take a vow before the Lord and you'd go through these purification rites.
You remember when Paul returned to Jerusalem, there was a feast coming that Paul was desiring to get to Jerusalem for this feast. And so, when he arrived, because he wanted to participate in the Jewish feast, he was going through the purification rites. And that's when someone from Asia spotted him and said, "Hey, isn't that the guy that's been preaching to the Gentiles everywhere?" And they raised a big ruckus over Paul when they saw him in the temple going through purification rites. And so, many of the Jews would go early in order that they might go through these purification rites, in order that they might participate then in the feast.
They sought for Jesus, and they were talking among themselves, as they were standing in the temple, [and they said,] Do you think he's going to come to the feast? Now both the chief priests and the Pharisees had given a commandment, that, if any man knew where he was, they should let them know, that they might arrest him ( John 11:56-57 ).
Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on John 11:47". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/​commentaries/​csc/​john-11.html. 2014.
2. The responses to the raising of Lazarus 11:45-57
Again Jesus’ words and works divided the Jews (cf. John 6:14-15; John 7:10-13; John 7:45-52; John 10:19-21).
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on John 11:47". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/​commentaries/​dcc/​john-11.html. 2012.
John’s "Therefore" or "Then" ties this paragraph directly to what precedes in a cause and effect relationship. The chief priests, who were mostly Sadducees, and the Pharisees, who were mostly scribes, assembled for an official meeting. The chief priests dominated the Sanhedrin, but the Pharisees were a powerful minority. The third and smallest group in the Sanhedrin was the elders, who were landed aristocrats who had mixed theological views.
The Sanhedrin members felt that they had to take some decisive action against Jesus because the more miracles He performed the greater His popular following grew. Ever more of the Jews were concluding that Jesus was the Messiah. Their present tactics against Jesus needed adjusting or He might destroy them.
It is interesting that they admitted privately that Jesus had performed many signs, though publicly they had earlier asked Him to produce some to prove His claims (John 2:18; John 6:30). Someone in the Sanhedrin, perhaps Nicodemus, must have reported this confession of their selfish reasons for killing Jesus to the disciples later.
"It has always been the case that those whose minds are made up to oppose what Christ stands for will not be convinced by any amount of evidence." [Note: Ibid., p. 502.]
The reference to "our place" was probably to the position of authority they occupied. A popular uprising resulting from the Jews’ belief that Israel’s political deliverer had appeared might bring the Romans down hard on Israel’s leaders and strip them of their power. These rulers viewed Israel as their nation rather than God’s nation, and they did not want to lose control of it or their prestige as its leaders (cf. King Saul). No one mentioned the welfare of the people in such an event (cf. John 10:8).
"The rich man in hades had argued, ’If one went unto them from the dead, they will repent’ (Luke 16:30. Lazarus came back from the dead, and the officials wanted to kill him!" [Note: Wiersbe, 1:338.]
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on John 11:47". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/​commentaries/​dcc/​john-11.html. 2012.
The official response 11:47-53
The raising of Lazarus convinced Israel’s leaders that they had to take more drastic action against Jesus. John recorded this decision as the high point of Israel’s official rejection of God’s Son so far. This decision led directly to Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on John 11:47". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/​commentaries/​dcc/​john-11.html. 2012.
ON THE ROAD TO GLORY ( John 11:1-5 )
11:1-5 There was a man Lazarus, who came from Bethany from the village where Mary and her sister Martha lived, and he was ill. It was Mary who had anointed the Lord with perfumed ointment, and who had wiped his feet with her hair, and it was her brother Lazarus who was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus. "Lord," they said, "See! The one you love is ill." When Jesus heard the message, he said: "This illness is not going to prove fatal; rather it has happened for the sake of the glory of God, so that God's Son should be glorified by means of it." Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.
It is one of the most precious things in the world to have a house and a home into which one can go at any time and find rest and understanding and peace and love. That was doubly true for Jesus, for he had no home of his own; he had nowhere to lay his head ( Luke 9:58). In the home at Bethany he had just such a place. There were three people who loved him; and there he could find rest from the tension of life.
The greatest gift any human being can give another is understanding and peace. To have someone to whom we can go at any time knowing that they will not laugh at our dreams or misunderstand our confidences is a most wonderful thing. It is open to us all to make our own homes like that. It does not cost money, and does not need lavish hospitality. It costs only the understanding heart. Sir William Watson, in his poem Wordsworth's Grave, paid a great tribute to Wordsworth:
"What hadst thou that could make so large amends,
For all thou hadst not and thy peers possessed?
Motion and fire, swift means to radiant ends?
Thou hadst for weary feet, the gift of rest."
No man can have a greater gift to offer his fellow men than rest for weary feet; and that is the gift which Jesus found in the house in Bethany, where Martha and Mary and Lazarus lived.
The name Lazarus means God is my help, and is the same name as Eleazar. Lazarus fell ill, and the sisters sent to Jesus a message that it was so. It is lovely to note that the sisters' message included no request to Jesus to come to Bethany. They knew that was unnecessary; they knew that the simple statement that they were in need would bring him to them. Augustine noted this. and said it was sufficient that Jesus should know; for it is not possible that any man should at one and the same time love a friend and desert him. C. F. Andrews tells of two friends who served together in the First World War. One of them was wounded and left lying helpless and in pain in no-man's-land. The other, at peril of his life, crawled out to help his friend; and, when he reached him, the wounded man looked up and said simply: "I knew you would come." The simple fact of human need brings Jesus to our side in the twinkling of an eye.
When Jesus came to Bethany he knew that whatever was wrong with Lazarus he had power to deal with it. But he went on to say that his sickness had happened for God's glory and for his. Now this was true in a double sense--and Jesus knew it. (i) The cure would undoubtedly enable men to see the glory of God in action. (ii) But there was more to it than that. Again and again in the Fourth Gospel Jesus talks of his glory in connection with the Cross. John tells us in John 7:39 that the Spirit had not yet come because Jesus was not yet glorified, that is to say, because he had not yet died upon his Cross. When the Greeks came to him, Jesus said: "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified" ( John 12:23). And it was of his Cross that he spoke, for he went straight on to speak of the corn of wheat which must fall into the ground and die. In John 12:16 John says that the disciples remembered these things after Jesus had been glorified, that is after he had died and risen again. In the Fourth Gospel it is clear that Jesus regarded the Cross both as his supreme glory and as the way to glory. So when he said that the cure of Lazarus would glorify him, he was showing that he knew perfectly well that to go to Bethany and to cure Lazarus was to take a step which would end in the Cross--as indeed it did.
With open eyes Jesus accepted the Cross to help his friend. He knew the cost of helping and was well prepared to pay it.
When some trial or affliction comes upon us, especially if it is the direct result of fidelity to Jesus Christ, it would make all the difference in the world if we saw that the cross we have to bear is our glory and the way to a greater glory still. For Jesus there was no other way to glory than through the Cross; and so it must ever be with those who follow him.
TIME ENOUGH BUT NOT TOO MUCH ( John 11:6-10 )
11:6-10 Now, when Jesus had received the news that Lazarus was ill, he continued to stay where he was for two days. But after that he said to his disciples: "Let us go to Judaea again." His disciples said to him: "Rabbi, things had got to a stage when the Jews were trying to find a way to stone you, and do you propose to go back there?" Jesus answered: "Are there not twelve hours in the day? If a man walks in the day-time, he does not stumble because he has the light of this world. But if a man walks in the night-time, he does stumble because the light is not in him."
We may find it strange that John shows us Jesus staying two whole days where he was when he received the news about Lazarus. Commentators have advanced different reasons to explain this delay. (i) It has been suggested that Jesus waited so that when he arrived Lazarus would be indisputably dead. (ii) It has therefore been suggested that Jesus waited because the delay would make the miracle he proposed to perform all the more impressive. The wonder of raising to life a man who had been dead for four days would be all the greater. (iii) The real reason why John tells the story in this way is that he always shows us Jesus taking action entirely on his own initiative and not on the persuasion of anyone else. In the story of the turning of the water into wine at Cana of Galilee ( John 2:1-11) John shows us Mary coming to Jesus and telling him of the problem. Jesus' first answer to Mary is: "Don't bother about this. Let me handle it in my own way." He takes action, not because he is persuaded or compelled to do so, but entirely on his own initiative. When John tells the story of Jesus' brothers trying to dare him into going to Jerusalem ( John 7:1-10), he shows us Jesus at first refusing to go to Jerusalem and then going in his own good time. It is always John's aim to show that Jesus did things, not because he was pressed to do them, but because he chose to do them in his own good time. That is what John is doing here. It is a warning to us. So often we would like Jesus to do things in our way; we must leave him to do them in his own way.
When Jesus finally announced that he was going to Judaea, his disciples were shocked and staggered. They remembered that the last time he was there the Jews had tried to find a way to kill him. To go to Judaea at that time seemed to them--as indeed humanly speaking it was--the surest way to commit suicide.
Then Jesus said something which contains a great and permanent truth. "Are there not," he asked, "twelve hours in the day?" There are three great truths implied in that question.
(i) A day cannot finish before it ends. There are twelve hours in the day, and they will be played out no matter what happens. The day's period is fixed, and nothing will shorten or lengthen it. In God's economy of time a man has his day, whether it be short or long.
(ii) If there are twelve hours in the day there is time enough for everything a man should do. There is no need for a rushed haste.
(iii) But, even if there are twelve hours in the day, there are only twelve hours. They cannot be extended; and therefore, time cannot be wasted. There is time enough, but not too much; the time we have must be used to the utmost.
The legend of Dr. Faustus was turned into great drama and poetry by Christopher Marlowe. Faustus had struck a bargain with the devil. For twenty-four years the devil would be his servant and his every wish would be realized; but at the end of the years the devil would claim his soul. The twenty-four years have run their course, the last hour has come, and Faustus now sees what a terrible bargain he has struck.
Now hast thou but one bare hour to live,
And then thou must be damn'd perpetually;
Stand still, you ever-moving spheres of heaven,
That time may cease, and midnight never come.
Fair Nature's eye, rise, rise again and make
Perpetual day; or let this hour be but
A year, a month, a week, a natural day,
That Faustus may repent and save his soul!
O lente, lente currite, noctis equi!
The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike,
The devil will come, and Faustus must be damn'd."
Nothing in the world could give Faustus more time. That is one of the great threatening facts in the life of man. There are twelve hours in the day--but there are only twelve hours in the day. There is no necessity for haste; but, equally, there is no room for waste. There is time enough in life, but there is never time to spare.
THE DAY AND THE NIGHT ( John 11:6-10 continued)
Jesus goes on to develop what he has just said about time. He says that if a man walks in the light, he will not stumble; but if he tries to walk in the night, he will stumble.
John again and again says things which have two meanings, one which lies on the surface and is true, and another which lies below the surface and is truer yet. It is so here.
(i) There is a surface meaning which is perfectly true and which we must learn. The Jewish day, like the Roman day, was divided into twelve equal hours, from sunrise to sunset. That of course means that the length of an hour varied according to the length of the day and the season of the year. On the surface Jesus simply means that a man will not stumble when the sun is shining, but when the dark comes down he cannot see the way. There was no street lighting in those days, at least not in the country places. With the dark, the time for journeying was done.
Jesus is saying that a man must finish the day's work within the day, for the night comes when work is ended. If a man had one wish it might well be that he might come to the end of each day with its work completed. The unrest and the hurry of life are so often simply due to the fact that we are trying to catch up on work which should have been done before. A man should so spend his precious capital of time and not dissipate it on useless extravagances, however pleasant, that at the end of each day he is never in debt to time.
(ii) But below the surface meaning is another meaning. Who can hear the phrase the light of the world without thinking of Jesus? Again and again John uses the words the dark and the night to describe life without Christ, life dominated by evil. In his dramatic account of the last meal together, John describes how Judas went out to make the dreadful final arrangements for the betrayal. "So, after receiving the morsel, he immediately went out; and it was night" ( John 13:30). The night is the time when a man goes from Christ and when evil possesses him.
The gospel is based on the love of God; but whether we like it or not, there is a threat also at its heart. A man has only so much time to make his peace with God through Christ; and if he does not do so the judgment must follow. So Jesus says: "Finish your greatest work; finish the work of getting yourself right with God while you have the light of the world; for the time comes when for you, too, the dark must come down and then it will be too late."
No gospel is so sure that God loved the world as the Fourth Gospel is; but also no gospel is so sure that love may be refused. It has in it two notes--the glory of being in time; and the tragedy of being too late.
THE MAN WHO WOULD NOT QUIT ( John 11:11-16 )
11:11-16 Jesus said these things, and then he went on to say: "Our friend Lazarus is sleeping; but I am going to waken him up." "Lord," the disciples said to him, "if he is sleeping he will recover." But Jesus had spoken about his death. They thought that he was speaking about the sleep of natural sleep. So Jesus then said to them plainly: "Lazarus has died, and, for your sakes, I am glad that I was not there, because it is all designed in order that you may come to believe. But let us go to him." Thereupon Thomas, who was called Didymus, said: "Let us, too, go that we may die with him."
John here uses his normal method of relating a conversation of Jesus. In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus' conversations always follow the same pattern. Jesus says something which sounds quite simple. His saying is misunderstood, and he goes on to explain more fully and unmistakably what he meant. So it is with his conversation with Nicodemus about being born again ( John 3:3-8); and his conversation with the woman at the well about the water of life ( John 4:10-15).
Jesus here began by saying that Lazarus was sleeping. To the disciples that sounded good news, for there is no better medicine than sleep. But the word sleep has always had a deeper and a more serious meaning. Jesus said of Jairus' daughter that she was asleep ( Matthew 9:24); at the end of Stephen's martyrdom we are told that he fell asleep ( Acts 7:60). Paul speaks about those who sleep in Jesus ( 1 Thessalonians 4:13); and of those witnesses of the Resurrection who are now fallen asleep ( 1 Corinthians 15:6). So Jesus had to tell them plainly that Lazarus was dead; and then he went on to say that for their sake this was a good thing, because it would produce an event which would buttress them even more firmly in their faith.
The final proof of Christianity is the sight of what Jesus Christ can do. Words may fail to convince, but there is no argument against God in action. It is the simple fact that the power of Jesus Christ has made the coward into a hero, the doubter into a man of certainty, the selfish man into the servant of all. Above all, it is the plain fact of history that again and again the power of Christ has made the bad man good.
That is what lays so tremendous a responsibility on the individual Christian. The design of God is that every one of us should be a living proof of his power. Our task is not so much to commend Christ in words--against which there is always an argument, for no one can ever write Q.E.D. after a Christian verbal proof--but to demonstrate in our lives what Christ has done for us. Sir John Reith once said: "I do not like crises; but I like the opportunities which they supply." The death of Lazarus brought a crisis to Jesus, and he was glad, because it gave him the opportunity to demonstrate in the most amazing way what God can do. For us every crisis should be a like opportunity.
At that moment the disciples might well have refused to follow Jesus; then one lonely voice spoke up. They were all feeling that to go to Jerusalem was to go to their deaths, and they were hanging back. Then came the voice of Thomas: "Let us, too, go that we may die with him."
All Jews in those days had two names--one a Hebrew name by which a man was known in his own circle, the other a Greek name by which he was known in a wider circle. Thomas is the Hebrew and Didymus ( G1324) the Greek for a twin. So Peter is the Greek and Cephas ( H3710 and G2786) is the Hebrew for a rock; Tabitha ( H5000) is the Hebrew, and Dorcas ( G1393) the Greek for a gazelle. In later days the apocryphal Gospels wove their stories around Thomas, and they actually in the end came to say that he was the twin of Jesus himself.
At this moment Thomas displayed the highest kind of courage. In his heart, as R. H. Strachan said, "There was not expectant faith, but loyal despair." But upon one thing Thomas was determined--come what may, he would not quit.
Gilbert Frankau tells of an officer friend of his in the 1914-18 war, an artillery observation officer. His duty was to go up in a captive balloon and to indicate to the gunners whether their shells fell short of or over the target. It was one of the most dangerous assignments that could be given. Because the balloon was captive, there was no way to dodge; he was a sitting target for the guns and planes of the enemy. Gilbert Frankau said of his friend: "Every time he went up in that balloon he was sick with nerves, but he wouldn't quit."
That is the highest form of courage. It does not mean not being afraid. If we are not afraid it is the easiest thing in the world to do a thing. Real courage means being perfectly aware of the worst that can happen, being sickeningly afraid of it, and yet doing the right thing. That was what Thomas was like that day. No man need ever be ashamed of being afraid; but he may well be ashamed of allowing his fear to stop him doing what in his heart of hearts he knows he ought to do.
THE HOUSE OF MOURNING ( John 11:17-19 )
11:17-19 So, when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, less than two miles away. Many of the Jews had gone to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother.
In order to visualize this scene we must first see what a Jewish house of mourning was like. Normally in Palestine, because of the climate, burial followed death as quickly as possible. There was a time when a funeral was an exceedingly costly thing. The finest spices and ointments were used to anoint the body; the body itself was clothed in the most magnificent robes; all kinds of valuables were buried in the tomb along with the body. By midway through the first century all this had become a ruinous expenditure. Naturally no one wished on such an occasion to be outdone by his neighbour, and the wrappings and robes with which the body was covered, and the treasures left in the tomb, became ever more expensive. The matter had become almost an intolerable burden which no one liked to alter--until the advent of a famous Rabbi called Gamaliel the Second. He gave orders that he was to be buried in the simplest possible linen robe, and so broke the extravagance of funeral customs. To this day at Jewish funerals a cup is drunk to Rabbi Gamaliel who rescued the Jews from their own ostentatious extravagance. From his time on the body was wrapped in a simple linen dress which was sometimes called by the very beautiful name of the travelling-dress.
As many as possible attended a funeral. Everyone who could was supposed, in courtesy and respect, to join the procession on its way. One curious custom was that the woman walked first, for it was held that since woman by her first sin brought death into the world, she ought to lead the mourners to the tomb. At the tomb memorial speeches were sometimes made. Everyone was expected to express the deepest sympathy, and, on leaving the tomb, the others stood in two long lines while the principal mourners passed between them. But there was this very wise rule--the mourners were not to be tormented by idle and uninvited talk. They were to be left, at that moment, alone with their sorrow.
In the house of mourning there were set customs. So long as the body was in the house it was forbidden to eat meat or to drink wine, to wear phylacteries or to engage in any kind of study. No food was to be prepared in the house, and such food as was eaten must not be eaten in the presence of the dead. As soon as the body was carried out all furniture was reversed, and the mourners sat on the ground or on low stools.
On the return from the tomb a meal was served, which had been prepared by the friends of the family. It consisted of bread, hard-boiled eggs and lentils; the round eggs and lentils symbolized life which was always rolling to death.
Deep mourning lasted for seven days, of which the first three were days of weeping. During these seven days it was forbidden to anoint oneself, to put on shoes, to engage in any kind of study or business, and even to wash. The week of deep mourning was followed by thirty days of lighter mourning.
So when Jesus found a crowd in the house at Bethany, he found what anyone would expect to find in a Jewish house of mourning. It was a sacred duty to come to express loving sympathy with the sorrowing friends and relations of one who had died. The Talmud says that whoever visits the sick shall deliver his soul from Gehenna; and Maimonides, the great medieval Jewish scholar, declared that to visit the sick takes precedence of all other good works. Visits of sympathy to the sick, and to the sorrowing, were an essential part of Jewish religion. A certain Rabbi expounded the text in Deuteronomy 13:4: "You shall walk after the Lord your God." He said that text commands us to imitate the things which God is depicted as doing in scripture. God clothed the naked ( Genesis 3:21); God visited the sick ( Genesis 18:1). God comforted the mourners ( Genesis 25:11); God buried the dead ( Deuteronomy 34:6). In all these things we must imitate the actions of God.
Respect for the dead and sympathy for the mourner were an essential part of Jewish duty. As the mourners left the tomb, they turned and said: "Depart in peace," and they never mentioned the name of the one who had died without invoking a blessing on it. There is something very lovely in the way in which the Jews stressed the duty of showing sympathy to the mourner.
It would be to a household crowded with sympathizers that Jesus came that day.
THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE ( John 11:20-27 )
11:20-27 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him, but Mary remained sitting in the house. So Martha said to Jesus: "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. And even as things are, I know that whatever you ask God, God will give you." Jesus said to her: "Your brother will rise again." Martha said to him: "I know that he will rise at the resurrection on the last day." Jesus said to her: "I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in me will live even if he has died; and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" She said to him; "Yes, Lord. I am convinced that you are God's Anointed One, the Son of God, the One who is to come into the world."
In this story, too, Martha is true to character. When Luke tells us about Martha and Mary ( Luke 10:38-42), he shows us Martha as the one who loved action, and Mary as the one whose instinct was to sit still. It is so here. As soon as it was announced that Jesus was coming near, Martha was up to meet him, for she could not sit still, but Mary lingered behind.
When Martha met Jesus her heart spoke through her lips. Here is one of the most human speeches in all the Bible, for Martha spoke, half with a reproach that she could not keep back, and half with a faith that nothing could shake. "If you had been here." she said, "my brother would not have died." Through the words we read her mind. Martha would have liked to say: "When you got our message, why didn't you come at once? And now you have left it too late." No sooner are the words out than there follow the words of faith, faith which defied the facts and defied experience: "Even yet," she said with a kind of desperate hope, "even yet, I know that God will give you whatever you ask."
Jesus said "Your brother will rise again." Martha answered: "I know quite well that he will rise in the general resurrection on the last day." Now that is a notable saying. One of the strangest things in scripture is the fact that the saints of the Old Testament had practically no belief in any real life after death. In the early days, the Hebrews believed that the soul of every man, good and bad alike, went to Sheol. Sheol is wrongly translated Hell; for it was not a place of torture, it was the land of the shades. All alike went there and they lived a vague, shadowy, strengthless, joyless ghostly kind of life. This is the belief of by far the greater part of the Old Testament. "In death there is no remembrance of thee: in Sheol who can give thee praise?" ( Psalms 6:5). "What profit is there in my death if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise thee? Will it tell of thy faithfulness?" ( Psalms 30:9). The Psalmist speaks of "the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom thou dost remember no more; for they are cut off from thy hand" ( Psalms 88:5). "Is thy steadfast love declared in the grave," he asks, "or thy faithfulness in Abaddon? Are thy wonders known in the darkness, or thy saving help in the land of forgetfulness?" ( Psalms 88:10-12). "The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any that go down into silence" ( Psalms 115:17). The preacher says grimly: "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going" ( Ecclesiastes 9:10). It is Hezekiah's pessimistic belief that: "For Sheol cannot thank thee, death cannot praise thee; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for thy faithfulness" ( Isaiah 38:18). After death came the land of silence and of forgetfulness, where the shades of men were separated alike from men and from God. As J. E. McFadyen wrote: "There are few more wonderful things than this in the long history of religion, that for centuries men lived the noblest lives, doing their duties and bearing their sorrows, without hope of future reward."
Just very occasionally someone in the Old Testament made a venturesome leap of faith. The Psalmist cries: "My body also dwells secure. For thou dost not give me up to Sheol, or let thy godly one see the pit. Thou dost show me the path of life; in thy presence there is fullness of joy, in thy right hand are pleasures for evermore" ( Psalms 16:9-11). "I am continually with thee; thou dost hold my right hand. Thou dost guide the with thy counsel, and afterward thou wilt receive me to glory" ( Psalms 73:23-24). The Psalmist was convinced that when a man entered into a real relationship with God, not even death could break it. But at that stage it was a desperate leap of faith rather than a settled conviction. Finally in the Old Testament there is the immortal hope we find in Job. In face of all his disasters Job cried out:
"I know that there liveth a champion,
Who will one day stand over my dust;
Yea, another shall rise as my witness,
And, as sponsor, shall I behold--God;
Whom mine eyes shall behold, and no stranger's."
( Job 14:7-12; translated by J. E. McFadyen).
Here in Job we have the real seed of the Jewish belief in immortality.
The Jewish history was a history of disasters, of captivity, slavery and defeat. Yet the Jewish people had the utterly unshakable conviction that they were God's own people. This earth had never shown it and never would; inevitably, therefore, they called in the new world to redress the inadequacies of the old. They came to see that if God's design was ever fully to be worked out, if his justice was ever completely to be fulfilled, if his love was ever finally to be satisfied, another world and another life were necessary. As Galloway (quoted by McFadyen) put it: "The enigmas of life become at least less baffling, when we come to rest in the thought that this is not the last act of the human drama." It was precisely that feeling that led the Hebrews to a conviction that there was a life to come.
It is true that in the days of Jesus the Sadducees still refused to believe in any life after death. But the Pharisees and the great majority of the Jews did. They said that in the moment of death the two worlds of time and of eternity met and kissed. They said that those who died beheld God, and they refused to call them the dead but called them the living. When Martha answered Jesus as she did she bore witness to the highest reach of her nation's faith.
THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE ( John 11:20-27 continued)
When Martha declared her belief in the orthodox Jewish belief in the life to come, Jesus suddenly said something which brought to that belief a new vividness and a new meaning. "I am the Resurrection and the Life," he said. "He who believes in me will live even if he has died; and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die." What exactly did he mean? Not even a lifetime's thinking will reveal the full meaning of this; but we must try to grasp as much of it as we can.
One thing is clear--Jesus was not thinking in terms of physical life; for, speaking physically, it is not true that the man who believes in him will never die. The Christian experiences physical death as any other man does. We must look for a more than physical meaning.
(i) Jesus was thinking of the death of sin. He was saying: "Even if a man is dead in sin, even if, through his sins, he has lost all that makes life worth calling life, I can make him alive again." In point of historical fact that is abundantly true. A. M. Chirgwin quotes the example of Tokichi Ishii. Ishii had an almost unparalleled criminal record. He had murdered men, women and children in the most brutal way. Anyone who stood in his way was pitilessly eliminated. Now he was in prison awaiting death. While in prison he was visited by two Canadian women who tried to talk to him through the bars, but he only glowered at them like a caged and savage animal. In the end they abandoned the attempt; but they gave him a Bible, hoping that it might succeed where they had failed. He began to read it, and, having started, could not stop. He read on until he came to the story of the Crucifixion. He came to the words: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." and these words broke him. "I stopped," he said. "I was stabbed to the heart, as if pierced by a five-inch nail. Shall I call it the love of Christ? Shall I call it his compassion? I do not know what to call it. I only know that I believed, and my hardness of heart was changed." Later, when the condemned man went to the scaffold, he was no longer the hardened, surly brute he once had been, but a smiling radiant man. The murderer had been born again; Christ had brought Tokichi Ishii to life.
It does not need to be so dramatic as that. A man can become so selfish that he is dead to the needs of others. A man can become so insensitive that he is dead to the feelings of others. A man can become so involved in the petty dishonesties and the petty disloyalties of life, that he is dead to honour. A man can become so hopeless that he is filled with an inertia, which is spiritual death. Jesus Christ can resurrect these men. The witness of history is that he has resurrected millions and millions of people like them and his touch has not lost its ancient power.
(ii) Jesus was also thinking of the life to come. He brought into life the certainty that death is not the end. The last words of Edward the Confessor were: "Weep not, I shall not die; and as I leave the land of the dying I trust to see the blessings of the Lord in the land of the living." We call this world the land of the living; but it would in fact be more correct to call it the land of the dying. Through Jesus Christ we know that we are journeying, not to the sunset, but to the sunrise; we know, as Mary Webb put it, that death is a gate on the sky-line. In the most real sense we are not on our way to death, but on our way to life.
How does this happen? It happens when we believe in Jesus Christ. What does that mean? To believe in Jesus means to accept everything that Jesus said as absolutely true, and to stake our lives upon that in perfect trust. When we do that we enter into two new relationships.
(i) We enter into a new relationship with God. When we believe that God is as Jesus told us that he is, then we become absolutely sure of his love; we become absolutely sure that he is above all a redeeming God. The fear of death vanishes, for death means going to the great lover of the souls of men.
(ii) We enter into a new relationship with life. When we accept Jesus' way, when we take his commands as our laws, and when we realize that he is there to help us to live as he has commanded, life becomes a new thing. It is clad with a new loveliness, a new winsomeness, a new strength. And when we accept Christ's way as our way, life becomes so lovely a thing that we cannot conceive of it ending incomplete.
When we believe in Jesus, when we accept what he says about God and about life and stake everything on it, in truth we are resurrected for we are freed from the fear which is characteristic of the godless life; we are freed from the frustration which is characteristic of the sin-ridden life; we are freed from the futility of the Christless life. Life is raised from sin's death and becomes so rich that it cannot die but must find in death only the transition to a higher life.
THE EMOTION OF JESUS ( John 11:28-33 )
11:28-33 When Martha had said this, she went away and called Mary her sister. Without letting the rest of the people know, she said to her: "The Teacher has arrived and is calling for you." When she heard this, she rose quickly and began to go to him. Jesus had not yet come into the village, but he was still in the place where Martha met him. So when the Jews, who were in the house with Mary, and who were condoling with her, saw her rise quickly and go out, they followed her, for they thought that she was going back to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came to where Jesus was, when she saw him, she knelt at his feet. "Lord" she said, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her weeping, and when he saw the Jews who had come with her weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit so that an involuntary groan burst from him, and he trembled with deep emotion.
Martha went back to the house to tell Mary that Jesus had come. She wanted to give the news to her secretly, without letting the visitors know, because she wanted Mary to have a moment or two alone with Jesus, before the crowds engulfed them and made privacy impossible. But when the visitors saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they immediately assumed that she had gone to visit the tomb of Lazarus. It was the custom, especially for the women, for a week after the burial to go to the tomb to weep on every possible occasion. Mary's greeting was exactly the same as that of Martha. If only Jesus had come in time, Lazarus would still be alive.
Jesus saw Mary and all the sympathizing crowd weeping. We must remember that this would be no gentle shedding of tears. It would be almost hysterical wailing and shrieking, for it was the Jewish point of view that the more unrestrained the weeping, the more honour it paid to the dead.
Now we have a problem of translation. The word which the King James Version and the Revised Standard Version translate as deeply moved in spirit comes from the verb embrimasthai ( G1690) . It is used three other times in the New Testament. It is used in Matthew 9:30 when Jesus sternly charged the blind men not to publish abroad the fact that he had given them their sight. It is used in Mark 1:43 when Jesus sternly charged the leper not to publish the fact that he had healed him. It is used in Mark 14:5 when the spectators reproached the woman who anointed Jesus' head with the costly ointment, because they thought that this deed of love was wastefully extravagant. In every one of these instances the word has a certain sternness, almost anger, in it. It means rather to rebuke, to give a stern order to. Some who wish to take it in that way and would translate: "Jesus was moved to anger in his spirit."
Why the anger? It is suggested that the display of tears by the Jewish visitors to Bethany was sheer hypocrisy, that this artificial grief raised Jesus' wrath. It is possible that this was true of the visitors, although there is no indication that their grief was synthetic. But it was certainly not true of Mary and it can hardly be right here to take embrimasthai ( G1690) to imply anger. Moffatt translates it: "Jesus chafed in spirit," but chafed is weak. The Revised Standard Version translates: "Jesus was deeply moved in spirit," but again that is colourless for this most unusual word. Rieu translates: "He gave way to such distress of spirit as made his body tremble." With this we are getting nearer the real meaning. In ordinary classical Greek the usual usage of embrimasthai ( G1690) is of a horse snorting. Here it must mean that such deep emotion seized Jesus that an involuntary groan was wrung from his heart.
Here is one of the most precious things in the gospel. So deeply did Jesus enter into men's sorrows that his heart was wrung with anguish
"In every pang that rends the heart,
The Man of Sorrows had a part."
But there is more. To any, Greek reading this--and we must remember that it was written for Greeks--this would be a staggering and incredible picture. John had written his whole gospel on the theme that in Jesus we see the mind of God. To the Greek the primary characteristic of God was what he called apatheia, which means total inability to feel any emotion whatsoever.
How did the Greeks come to attribute such a characteristic to God? They argued like this. If we can feel sorrow or joy, gladness or grief, it means that someone can have an effect upon us. Now, if a person has an effect upon us, it means that for the moment that person has power over us. No one can have any power over God; and this must mean that God is essentially incapable of feeling any emotion whatsoever. The Greeks believed in an isolated, passionless and compassionless God.
What a different picture Jesus gave. He showed us a God whose heart is wrung with anguish for the anguish of his people. The greatest thing Jesus did was to bring us the news of a God who cares.
THE VOICE THAT WAKES THE DEAD ( John 11:34-44 )
11:34-44 Jesus said to them: "Where have you laid him?" "Lord," they said to him: "Come and see." Jesus wept. So the Jews said: "Look how he loved him!" Some of them said: "Could not this man who opened the eyes of the blind have so acted that Lazarus would not have died?" Again a groan was wrung from Jesus' inner being. He went to the tomb. It was a cave; and a stone had been laid upon it. Jesus said: "Take away the stone." Martha, the dead man's sister, said to him: "Lord, by this time the stench of death is on him, for he has been in the tomb for four days." Jesus said to her: "Did I not tell you that, if you believe, you will see the glory of God?" So they took the stone away. Jesus lifted up his eyes and said: "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me. But I said this for the sake of the crowd which is standing round, because I want them to believe that you sent me." When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice: "Lazarus, come out!" The man who had been dead came out, bound hand and foot in grave-clothes, and with his face encircled with a napkin. Jesus said to them: "Set him free from his wrappings and let him go!"
We come to the last scene. Once again we are shown the picture of Jesus wrung with anguish as he shared the anguish of the human heart. To the Greek reader that little sentence: "Jesus wept," would be the most astonishing thing in an astonishing story. That the Son of God could weep would be almost beyond belief.
We must have in our minds a picture of the usual Palestinian tomb. It was either a natural cave or hewn out of the rock. There was an entrance in which the bier was first laid. Beyond that was a chamber, usually about six feet long, nine feet wide and ten feet high. There were usually eight shelves cut in the rock, three on each side and two on the wall facing the entrance, and on these shelves the bodies were laid. The bodies were enveloped in linen but the hands and feet were swathed in bandage-like wrappings and the head was wrapped separately. The tomb had no door, but in front of the opening ran a groove in which was set a great stone like a cartwheel that was rolled across the entrance to seal the grave.
Jesus asked that the stone should be moved. Martha could think of only one reason for opening the tomb--that Jesus wished to look on the face of his dead friend for the last time. Martha could see no consolation there. She pointed out that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. The point is this. It was Jewish belief that the spirit of the departed hovered around his tomb for four days, seeking an entrance again into his body. But after four days the spirit finally left for the face of the body was so decayed that it could no longer be recognized.
Then Jesus spoke his word of command which even death was powerless to oppose.
"He speaks, and, listening to his voice,
New life the dead receive."
And Lazarus came forth. It is weird to think of the bandaged figure staggering out from the tomb. Jesus told them to unloose the hampering grave-clothes and wrappings and let him go.
There are certain things to note.
(i) Jesus prayed. The power which flowed through him was not his; it was God's, "Miracles," said Godet, "are just so many answered prayers."
(ii) Jesus sought only the glory of God; he did not do this to glorify himself. When Elijah had his epic contest with the prophets of Baal, he prayed: "Answer me, O Lord, that this people may know that thou art God" ( 1 Kings 18:37).
Everything Jesus did was due to the power of God and designed for the glory of God. How different men are! So much that we do is attempted in our own power and designed for our own prestige. It may be that there would be more wonders in our life, too, if we ceased to act by ourselves and for ourselves and set God in the central place.
THE RAISING OF LAZARUS ( John 11:1-44 )
We have tried to expound the raising of Lazarus simply as the story stands written. But we can not evade the fact that of all the miracles of Jesus this presents the greatest problem. Let us honestly face the difficulties.
(i) In the other three gospels there are accounts of people being raised from the dead. There is the story of the raising of Jairus' daughter ( Matthew 9:18-26; Mark 5:21-43; Luke 8:40-56). There is the story of the raising of the widow's son at Nain ( Luke 7:11-16). In both cases the raising followed immediately after death. It would be quite possible to believe that in both these miracles the person raised was in a coma. We have seen how burial had to follow hard upon death in the climate of Palestine; and we know from the evidence of the graves that people were not infrequently buried alive, because of that haste. It could well be that these were miracles of diagnosis in which Jesus saved two young people from a dreadful death. But there is no parallel whatever for the raising of a man who had been dead for four days and whose body had begun to putrefy.
(ii) In the other three gospels there is no account, not even a mention, of the raising of Lazarus. If the other writers knew about this miracle, how could they possibly omit it? If it actually happened, how could they fail to know of it? It has been suggested that the answer is this. We know that Mark drew his information from Peter. The fact is that Peter does not appear in the Fourth Gospel at all in John 5:1-47 and John 7:1-53; John 8:1-59; John 9:1-41; John 10:1-42; John 11:1-57; John 12:1-50. Thomas is, in fact, the spokesman of the disciples. It has been suggested that Peter was not with Jesus at this time, and only came up later to the Passover Feast. On the face of it that does not seem likely, and, even if Peter was not there, surely the writers of the gospels must have heard from other sources of so amazing a miracle.
(iii) Perhaps the greatest difficulty is that John sees in this miracle the essential cause which moved the Jewish authorities to take definite steps to have Jesus eliminated ( John 11:47-54). In other words, the raising of Lazarus was the direct cause of the Cross. In the other three gospels the great moving cause of the crucifixion was the Cleansing of the Temple. It is difficult to understand why the other three gospel writers have nothing to say of it, if indeed it was the immediate cause of Jesus' crucifixion.
(iv) On the other hand, it might well be argued that the Triumphal Entry is inexplicable without this miracle to go before it. Why otherwise did Jesus receive that tremendous reception when he arrived in Jerusalem? Yet the fact remains that, in the story as the other three gospels tell it, there is just no space into which this miracle can be fitted.
If, then, this is not a record of actual historical fact, how can we explain it?
(i) Renan suggested that the whole thing was a deliberate fraud arranged by Jesus and Martha and Mary and Lazarus. That explanation has only to be stated to be dismissed as incredible; and, later, Renan himself departed from it.
(ii) It has been suggested that Lazarus was in a coma. It would be impossible to argue that from the story as it stands. The details of death are too vivid.
(iii) It has been suggested that the story is an allegory written round the saying of Jesus: "I am the Resurrection and the Life," a story composed to illustrate that saying and to give it a setting. That may be an oversimplified and overstated version of the truth.
(iv) It has been suggested that the story is to be connected with the Parable of Dives and Lazarus ( Luke 16:19-31). That story ends with the saying that even if someone was raised from the dead the Jews would still not believe. It is suggested that the story was produced to show that someone did rise from the dead and the Jews did not believe.
When we consider the difficulties of this story, we are in the end compelled to say that we do not know what happened, although undoubtedly something tremendous did happen. It is worth noting that to this day Bethany is known as Azariyeh, which is derived from the name Lazarus. But we do know for certain the truth which it teaches.
Robert McAfee Brown, an American professor, tells of something which this story did. He was an American army chaplain on a troopship in which 1,500 marines were returning from Japan to America for discharge. Greatly to his surprise he was approached by a small group to do Bible study with them. He leapt at the opportunity. Near the end of the voyage, they were studying this chapter and afterwards a marine came to him. "Everything in that chapter," he said, "is pointing at me." He went on to say that he had been in hell for the last six months. He had gone straight into the marines from college. He had been sent out to Japan. He had been bored with life; and he had gone out and got into trouble--bad trouble. Nobody knew about it--except God. He felt guilty; he felt his life was ruined; he felt he could never face his family although they need never know; he felt he had killed himself and was a dead man. "And," said this young marine, "after reading this chapter I have come alive again. I know that this resurrection Jesus was talking about is real here and now, for he has raised me from death to life." That lad's troubles were not finished; he had a hard road to go; but in his sin and his sense of guilt he had found Jesus as the resurrection and the life.
That is the end of the whole matter. It does not really matter whether or not Jesus literally raised a corpse to life in A.D. 30, but it matters intensely that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life for every man who is dead in sin and dead to God today. There may be problems in this story; we may never know what exactly happened at Bethany so many years ago; but we do know for certain that Jesus is still the Resurrection and the Life. That is what this story tells us--and that is what really matters.
THE TRAGIC IRONY ( John 11:47-53 )
11:47-53 The chief priests and Pharisees assembled the Sanhedrin: "What are we going to do?" they said, "because this man does many signs. If we leave him alone like this, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and will take away our place and will destroy our nation." One of them, called Caiaphas, who was High Priest for that year, said to them: "You are witless creatures. You do not think it out that it is to our good that one man should die for the people, rather than that the whole nation should perish." It was not he who was responsible for what he said; but, since he was High Priest for that year, he was really prophesying that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and, not only for the nation, but that the scattered children of God should be gathered into one. So from that day they plotted to kill him.
The Jewish authorities are very vividly sketched before us. The wonderful happening at Bethany had forced their hand; it was impossible to allow Jesus to continue unchecked, otherwise the people would follow him in ever larger numbers. So the Sanhedrin was called to deal with the situation.
In the Sanhedrin there were both Pharisees and Sadducees. The Pharisees were not a political party at all; their sole interest was in living according to every detail of the law; and they cared not who governed them so long as they were allowed to continue in meticulous obedience to the law. On the other hand, the Sadducees were intensely political. They were the wealthy and aristocratic party. They were also the collaborationist party. So long as they were allowed to retain their wealth, comfort and position of authority, they were well content to collaborate with Rome. All the priests were Sadducees. And it is clear that it was the priests who dominated this meeting of the Sanhedrin. That is to say, it was the Sadducees who did all the talking.
With a few masterly strokes John delineates their characteristics. First, they were notoriously discourteous. Josephus said of them (The Wars of the Jews 2: 8, 14) that: "The behaviour of the Sadducees to one another is rather rude, and their intercourse with their equals is rough, as with strangers." "You know nothing at all," said Caiaphas ( John 11:49). "You are witless, brainless creatures." Here we see the innate, domineering arrogance of the Sadducees in action; this was exactly in character. Their contemptuous arrogance is an implicit contrast to the accents of love of Jesus.
Second, the one thing at which the Sadducees always aimed was the retention of their political and social power and prestige. What they feared was that Jesus might gain a following and raise a disturbance against the government. Now, Rome was essentially tolerant, but, with such a vast empire to govern, it could never afford civil disorder, and always quelled it with a firm and merciless hand. If Jesus was the cause of civil disorder, Rome would descend in all her power, and, beyond a doubt the Sadducees would be dismissed from their positions of authority. It never even occurred to them to ask whether Jesus was right or wrong. Their only question was: "What effect will this have on our ease and comfort and authority?" They judged things, not in the light of principle but in the light of their own career. And it is still possible for a man to set his own career before the will of God.
Then comes the first tremendous example of dramatic irony. Sometimes in a play a character says something whose full significance he does not realize; that is dramatic irony. So the Sadducees insisted that Jesus must be eliminated or the Romans would come and take their authority away. In A.D. 70 that is exactly what happened. The Romans, weary of Jewish stubbornness, besieged Jerusalem, and left it a heap of ruins with a plough drawn across the Temple area. How different things might have been if the Jews had accepted Jesus! The very steps they took to save their nation destroyed it. This destruction happened in A.D. 70; John's gospel was written about A.D. 100; and all who read it would see the dramatic irony in the words of the Sadducees.
Then Caiaphas, the High Priest, made his two-edged statement. "If you had any sense," he said, "you would come to the conclusion that it is far better that one man should perish for the nation than that the whole nation should perish." It was the Jewish belief that when the High Priest asked God's counsel for the nation, God spoke through him. In the old story Moses chose Joshua to be his successor in the leadership of Israel. Joshua was to have a share in his honour and when he wished for God's counsel he was to go to Eleazar the High Priest: "And he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire for him ... at his word they shall go out, and at his word they shall come in" ( Numbers 27:18-21). The High Priest was to be the channel of God's word to the leader and to the nation. That is what Caiaphas was that day.
Here is another tremendous example of dramatic irony. Caiaphas meant that it was better that Jesus should die than that there should be trouble with the Romans. It was true that Jesus must die to save the nation. That was true--but not in the way that Caiaphas meant. It was true in a far greater and more wonderful way. God can speak through the most unlikely people; sometimes he sends his message through a man without the man being aware; he can use even the words of bad men.
Jesus was to die for the nation and also for all God's people throughout the world. The early Church made a very beautiful use of these words. Its first service order book was called the Didache, or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. It dates back to shortly after A.D. 100. When the bread was being broken, it was laid down that it should be said: "Even as this bread was scattered upon the mountains, and was brought into one, so let thy Church be brought together from the ends of the earth into the kingdom" (Didache 9: 4). The bread had been put together from the scattered elements of which it was composed; so some day the scattered elements of the Church must be united into one. That is something about which to think as we look on the broken bread of the Sacrament.
JESUS THE OUTLAW ( John 11:54-57 )
11:54-57 So Jesus walked no longer openly among the Jews, but he went away from them to a place near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and he stayed there with his disciples.
Now the Passover Feast of the Jews was near; and many from the country areas went up to Jerusalem before the Passover Feast to purify themselves. So they were looking for Jesus; and, as they stood in the Temple precincts, they were talking with each other and saying: "What do you think? Surely it is impossible that he should come to the Feast?" Now the chief priests and Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where Jesus was, he should lodge information with them, that they might seize him.
Jesus did not unnecessarily court danger. He was willing to lay down his life, but not so foolishly reckless as to throw it away before his work was done. So he retired to a town called Ephraim, which was near Bethel in the mountainous country north of Jerusalem (compare 2 Chronicles 13:19).
By this time Jerusalem was beginning to fill up with people. Before the Jew could attend any feast he had to be ceremonially clean; and uncleanness could be contracted by touching a vast number of things and people. Many of the Jews, therefore, came up to the city early to make the necessary offerings and go through the necessary washings in order to ensure ceremonial cleanness. The law had it: "Every man is bound to purify himself before the Feast."
These purifications were carried out in the Temple. They took time, and in the time of waiting the Jews gathered in excited little groups. They knew what was going on. They knew about this mortal contest of wills between Jesus and the authorities; and people are always interested in the man who gallantly faces fearful odds. They wondered if he would appear at the feast; and concluded that he could not possibly come. This Galilean carpenter could not take on the whole might of Jewish ecclesiastical and political officialdom.
But they had underrated Jesus. When the time arrived for him to come, nothing on earth would stop him coming. Martin Luther was a man who hurled defiance at cautious souls who sought to hold him back from being too venturesome. He took what seemed to him the right course "despite all cardinals, popes, kings and emperors, together with all devils and hell." When he was cited to appear at Worms to answer for his attack on the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church, he was well warned of the danger. His answer was: "I would go if there were as many devils in Worms as there are tiles on the housetops." When told that Duke George would capture him, he answered: "I would go if it rained Duke Georges." It was not that Luther was not afraid, for often he made his greatest statements when both voice and knees were shaking; but he had a courage which conquered fear. The Christian does not fear the consequences of doing the right thing; he fears rather the consequences of not doing it.
From the concluding verses of the chapter, it seems that by this time, Jesus had been classed as an outlaw. It may be that the authorities had offered a reward for information leading to his apprehension and that it was this that Judas sought and received. In spite of that Jesus came to Jerusalem, and not skulking in the back streets but openly and in such a way as to focus attention upon himself. Whatever else we may say of Jesus, we must bow in admiration before his death-defying courage. For these last days of his life he was the bravest outlaw of all time.
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Barclay, William. "Commentary on John 11:47". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://studylight.org/​commentaries/​dsb/​john-11.html. 1956-1959.
Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council,.... They convened the sanhedrim, the great council of the nation together, of which they were some of the principal members:
and said, what do we? that is, why is nothing done? why are we so dilatory? why do we sit still, and do nothing? or what is to be done? this now lies before us, this is to be considered and deliberated on:
for this man doth many miracles; this is owned, and could not be denied by them; and should have been a reason why they should have acknowledged him to have been the Messiah, and embraced him; whereas they used it as a reason, why they should think of, and concert some measures, to hinder and put a stop to the belief of him as such.
The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Gill, John. "Commentary on John 11:47". "Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://studylight.org/​commentaries/​geb/​john-11.html. 1999.
|The Consultation of the Pharisees; The Prophecy of Caiaphas; A Conspiracy against Christ.|
45 Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him. 46 But some of them went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done. 47 Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles. 48 If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation. 49 And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, 50 Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. 51 And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; 52 And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad. 53 Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death. 54 Jesus therefore walked no more openly among the Jews; but went thence unto a country near to the wilderness, into a city called Ephraim, and there continued with his disciples. 55 And the Jews' passover was nigh at hand: and many went out of the country up to Jerusalem before the passover, to purify themselves. 56 Then sought they for Jesus, and spake among themselves, as they stood in the temple, What think ye, that he will not come to the feast? 57 Now both the chief priests and the Pharisees had given a commandment, that, if any man knew where he were, he should show it, that they might take him.
We have here an account of the consequences of this glorious miracle, which were as usual; to some it was a savour of life unto life, to others of death unto death.
I. Some were invited by it, and induced to believe. Many of the Jews, when they saw the things that Jesus did, believed on him, and well they might, for it was an incontestable proof of his divine mission. They had often heard of his miracles, and yet evaded the conviction of them, by calling in question the matter of fact; but now that they had themselves seen this done their unbelief was conquered, and they yielded at last. But blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. The more we see of Christ the more cause we shall see to love him and confide in him. These were some of those Jews that came to Mary, to comfort her. When we are doing good offices to others we put ourselves in the way of receiving favours from God, and have opportunities of getting good when we are doing good.
II. Others were irritated by it, and hardened in their unbelief.
1. The informers were so (John 11:46; John 11:46): Some of them, who were eye-witnesses of the miracle, were so far from being convinced that they went to the Pharisees, whom they knew to be his implacable enemies, and told them what things Jesus had done; not merely as a matter of news worthy their notice, much less as an inducement to them to think more favourably of Christ, but with a spiteful design to excite those who needed no spur the more vigorously to prosecute him. Here is a strange instance, (1.) Of a most obstinate infidelity, refusing to yield to the most powerful means of conviction; and it is hard to imagine how they could evade the force of this evidence, but that the god of this world had blinded their minds. (2.) Of a most inveterate enmity. If they would not be satisfied that he was to be believed in as the Christ, yet one would think they should have been mollified, and persuaded not to persecute him; but, if the water be not sufficient to quench the fire, it will inflame it. They told what Jesus had done, and told no more than what was true; but their malice gave a tincture of diabolism to their information equal to that of lying; perverting what is true is as bad as forging what is false. Doeg is called a false, lying, and deceitful tongue (Psalms 52:2-4; Psalms 52:3), though what he said was true.
2. The judges, the leaders, the blind leaders, of the people were no less exasperated by the report made to them, and here we are told what they did.
(1.) A special council is called and held (John 11:47; John 11:47): Then gathered the chief priests and Pharisees a council, as was foretold, Psalms 2:2, The rulers take counsel together against the Lord. Consultations of the sanhedrim were intended for the public good; but here, under colour of this, the greatest injury and mischief are done to the people. The things that belong to the nation's peace were hid from the eyes of those that were entrusted with its counsels. This council was called, not only for joint advice, but for mutual irritation; that as iron sharpens iron, and as coals are to burning coals and wood to fire, so they might exasperate and inflame one another with enmity and rage against Christ and his doctrine.
(2.) The case is proposed, and shown to be weighty and of great consequence.
[1.] The matter to be debated was what course they should take with this Jesus, to stop the growth of his interest; they said What do we? For this man doeth many miracles. The information given about the raising of Lazarus was produced, and the men, brethren, and fathers were called in to help as solicitously as if a formidable enemy had been with an army in the heart of their country. First, They own the truth of Christ's miracles, and that he had wrought many of them; they are therefore witnesses against themselves, for they acknowledge his credentials and yet deny his commission. Secondly, They consider what is to be done, and chide themselves that they have not done something sooner effectually to crush him. They do not take it at all into their consideration whether they shall not receive him and own him as the Messiah, though they profess to expect him, and Jesus gave pregnant proofs of his being so; but they take it for granted that he is an enemy, and as such is to be run down: "What do we? Have we no care to support our church? Is it nothing to us that a doctrine so destructive to our interest spreads thus? Shall we tamely yield up the ground we have got in the affections of the people? Shall we see our authority brought into contempt, and the craft by which we get our living ruined, and not bestir ourselves? What have we been doing all this while? And what are we now thinking of? Shall we be always talking, and bring nothing to pass?"
[2.] That which made this matter weighty was the peril they apprehended their church and nation to be in from the Romans (John 11:48; John 11:48): "If we do not silence him, and take him off, all men will believe on him; and, this being the setting up of a new king, the Romans will take umbrage at it, and will come with an army, and take away our place and nation, and therefore it is no time to trifle." See what an opinion they have,
First, Of their own power. They speak as if they thought Christ's progress and success in his work depended upon their connivance; as if he could not go on to work miracles, and make disciples, unless they let him alone; as if it were in their power to conquer him who had conquered death, or as if they could fight against God, and prosper. But he that sits in heaven laughs at the fond conceit which impotent malice has of its own omnipotence.
Secondly, Of their own policy. They fancy themselves to be men of mighty insight and foresight, and great sagacity in their moral prognostications.
a. They take on them to prophecy that, in a little time, if he have liberty to go on, all men will believe on him, hereby owning, when it was to serve their purpose, that his doctrine and miracles had a very convincing power in them, such as could not be resisted, but that all men would become his proselytes and votaries. Thus do they now make his interest formidable, though, to serve another turn, these same men strove to make it contemptible, John 7:48; John 7:48, Have any of the rulers believed on him? This was the thing they were afraid of, that men would believe on him, and then all their measures were broken. Note, The success of the gospel is the dread of its adversaries; if souls be saved, they are undone.
b. They foretel that if the generality of the nation be drawn after him, the rage of the Romans will be drawn upon them. They will come and take away our place; the country in general, especially Jerusalem, or the temple, the holy place, and their place, their darling, their idol; or, their preferments in the temple, their places of power and trust. Now it was true that the Romans had a very jealous eye upon them, and knew they wanted nothing but power and opportunity to shake off their yoke. It was likewise true that if the Romans should pour an army in upon them it would be very hard for them to make any head against it; yet here appeared a cowardice which one would not have found in the priests of the Lord if they had not by their wickedness forfeited their interest in God and all good men. Had they kept their integrity, they needed not to have feared the Romans; but they speak like a dispirited people, as the men of Judah when they basely said to Samson, Knowest thou not that the Philistines rule over us?Judges 15:11. When men lose their piety they lose their courage. But, (a.) It was false that there was any danger of the Romans' being irritated against their nation by the progress of Christ's gospel, for it was no way hurtful to kings nor provinces, but highly beneficial. The Romans had no jealousy at all of his growing interest; for he taught men to give tribute to Cæsar, and not to resist evil, but to take up the cross. The Roman governor, at his trial, could find no fault in him. There was more danger of the Romans' being incensed against the Jewish nation by the priests than by Christ. Note, Pretended fears are often the colour of malicious designs. (b.) Had there really been some danger of displeasing the Romans by tolerating Christ's preaching, yet this would not justify their hating and persecuting a good man. Note, [a.] The enemies of Christ and his gospel have often coloured their enmity with a seeming care for the public good and the common safety, and, in order to this, have branded his prophets and ministers as troublers of Israel, and men that turn the world upside down. [b.] Carnal policy commonly sets up reasons of state, in opposition to rules of justice. When men are concerned for their own wealth and safety more than for truth and duty, it is wisdom from beneath, which is earthly, sensual, and devilish. But see what was the issue; they pretended to be afraid that their tolerating Christ's gospel would bring desolation upon them by the Romans, and therefore, right or wrong, set themselves against it; but it proved that their persecuting the gospel brought upon them that which they feared, filled up the measure of their iniquity, and the Romans came and took away their place and nation, and their place knows them no more. Note, That calamity, which we seek to escape by sin we take the most effectual course to bring upon our own heads; and those who think by opposing Christ's kingdom to secure or advance their own secular interest will find Jerusalem a more burdensome stone than they think it is, Zechariah 12:3. The fear of the wicked it shall come upon them,Proverbs 10:24.
(3.) Caiaphas makes a malicious but mystical speech in the council on this occasion.
[1.] The malice of it appears evident at first view, John 11:49; John 11:50. He, being the high priest, and so president of the council, took upon him to decide the matter before it was debated: "You know nothing at all, your hesitating betrays your ignorance, for it is not a thing that will bear a dispute, it is soon determined, if you consider that received maxim, That it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people." Here,
First, The counsellor was Caiaphas, who was high priest that same year. The high priesthood was by divine appointment settled upon the heir male of the house of Aaron, for and during the term of his natural life, and then to his heir male; but in those degenerate times it was become, though not an annual office, like a consulship, yet frequently changed, as they could make an interest with the Roman powers. Now it happened that this year Caiaphas wore the mitre.
Secondly, The drift of the advice was, in short, this, That some way or other must be found out to put Jesus to death. We have reason to think that they strongly suspected him to be indeed the Messiah; but his doctrine was so contrary to their darling traditions and secular interest, and his design did so thwart their notions of the Messiah's kingdom, that they resolve, be he who he will, he must be put to death. Caiaphas does not say, Let him be silenced, imprisoned, banished, though amply sufficient for the restraint of one they thought dangerous; but die he must. Note, Those that have set themselves against Christianity have commonly divested themselves of humanity, and been infamous for cruelty.
Thirdly, This is plausibly insinuated, with all the subtlety as well as malice of the old serpent. 1. He suggests his own sagacity, which we must suppose him as high priest to excel in, though the Urim and Thummim were long since lost. How scornfully does he say, "You know nothing, who are but common priests; but you must give me leave to see further into things than you do!" Thus it is common for those in authority to impose their corrupt dictates by virtue of that; and, because they should be the wisest and best, to expect that every body should believe they are so. 2. He takes it for granted that the case is plain and past dispute, and that those are very ignorant who do not see it to be so. Note, Reason and justice are often run down with a high hand. Truth is fallen in the streets, and, when it is down, down with it; and equity cannot enter, and, when it is out, out with it, Isaiah 59:14. 3. He insists upon a maxim in politics, That the welfare of communities is to be preferred before that of particular persons. It is expedient for us as priests, whose all lies at stake, that one man die for the people. Thus far it holds true, that it is expedient, and more than so, it is truly honourable, for a man to hazard his life in the service of his country (Philippians 2:17; 1 John 3:16); but to put an innocent man to death under colour of consulting the public safety is the devil's policy. Caiaphas craftily insinuates that the greatest and best man, though major singulis--greater than any one individual, is minor universis--less than the collected mass, and ought to think his life well spent, nay well lost, to save his country from ruin. But what is this to the murdering of one that was evidently a great blessing under pretence of preventing an imaginary mischief to the country? The case ought to have been put thus: Was it expedient for them to bring upon themselves and upon their nation the guilt of blood, a prophet's blood, for the securing of their civil interests from a danger which they had no just reason to be afraid of? Was it expedient for them to drive God and their glory from them, rather than venture the Romans' displeasure, who could do them no harm if they had God on their side? Note, Carnal policy, which steers only by secular considerations, while it thinks to save all by sin, ruins all at last.
[2.] The mystery that was in this counsel of Caiaphas does not appear at first view, but the evangelist leads us into it (John 11:51; John 11:52): This spoke he not of himself, it was not only the language of his own enmity and policy, but in these words he prophesied, though he himself was not aware of it, that Jesus should die for that nation. Here is a precious comment upon a pernicious text; the counsel of cursed Caiaphas so construed as to fall in with the counsels of the blessed God. Charity teaches us to put the most favourable construction upon men's words and actions that they will fear; but piety teaches us to make a good improvement of them, even contrary to that for which they were intended. If wicked men, in what they do against us, are God's hand to humble and reform us, why may they not in what they say against us be God's mouth to instruct and convince us? But in this of Caiaphas there was an extraordinary direction of Heaven prompting him to say that which was capable of a very sublime sense. As the hearts of all men are in God's hand, so are their tongues. Those are deceived who say, "Our tongues are our own, so that either we may say what we will, and are not accountable to God's judgment, or we can say what we will, and are not restrainable by his providence and power." Balaam could not say what he would, when he came to curse Israel, nor Laban when he pursued Jacob.
(4.) The evangelist explains and enlarges upon Caiaphas's words.
[1.] He explains what he said, and shows how it not only was, but was intended to be, accommodated to an excellent purpose. He did not speak it of himself. As it was an artifice to stir up the council against Christ, he spoke it of himself, or of the devil rather; but as it was an oracle, declaring it the purpose and design of God by the death of Christ to save God's spiritual Israel from sin and wrath, he did not speak it of himself, for he knew nothing of the matter, he meant not so, neither did his heart think so, for nothing was in his heart but to destroy and cut off, Isaiah 10:7.
First, He prophesied, and those that prophesied did not, in their prophesying, speak of themselves. But is Caiaphas also among the prophets? He is so, pro hâc vice--this once, though a bad man, and an implacable enemy to Christ and his gospel. Note, 1. God can and often does make wicked men instruments to serve his own purposes, even contrary to their own intentions; for he has them not only in a chain, to restrain them from doing the mischief they would, but in a bridle, to lead them to do the service they would not. 2. Words of prophecy in the mouth are no infallible evidence of a principle of grace in the heart. Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? will be rejected as a frivolous plea.
Secondly, He prophesied, being high priest that year; not that his being high priest did at all dispose or qualify him to be a prophet; we cannot suppose the pontifical mitre to have first inspired with prophecy the basest head that ever wore it; but, 1. Being high priest, and therefore of note and eminence in the conclave, God was pleased to put this significant word into his mouth rather than into the mouth of any other, that it might be the more observed or the non-observance of it the more aggravated. The apophthegms of great men have been thought worthy of special regard: A divine sentence is in the lips of the king; therefore this divine sentence was put into the lips of the high priest, that even out of his mouth this word might be established, That Christ died for the good of the nation, and not for any iniquity in his hands. He happened to be high priest that year which was fixed to be the year of the redeemed, when Messiah the prince must be cut off, but not for himself (Daniel 9:26), and he must own it. 2. Being high priest that year, that famous year, in which there was to be such a plentiful effusion of the Spirit, more than had ever been yet, according to the prophecy (Joel 2:28; Joel 2:29, compared with Acts 2:17), some drops of the blessed shower light upon Caiaphas, as the crumbs (says Dr. Lightfoot) of the children's bread, which fall from the table among the dogs. This year was the year of the expiration of the Levitical priesthood; and out of the mouth of him who was that year high priest was extorted an implicit resignation of it to him who should not (as they had done for many ages) offer beasts for that nation, but offer himself, and so make an end of the sin-offering. This resignation he made inwittingly, as Isaac gave the blessing to Jacob.
Thirdly, The matter of his prophecy was that Jesus should die for that nation, the very thing to which all the prophets bore witness, who testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 1:11), that the death of Christ must be the life and salvation of Israel; he meant by that nation those in it that obstinately adhered to Judaism, but God meant those in it that would receive the doctrine of Christ, and become followers of him, all believers, the spiritual seed of Abraham. The death of Christ, which Caiaphas was now projecting, proved the ruin of that interest in the nation of which he intended it should be the security and establishment, for it brought wrath upon them to the uttermost; but it proved the advancement of that interest of which he hoped it would have been the ruin, for Christ, being lifted up from the earth, drew all men unto him. It is a great thing that is here prophesied: That Jesus should die, die for others, not only for their good, but in their stead, dies for that nation, for they had the first offer made them of salvation by his death. If the whole nation of the Jews had unanimously believed in Christ, and received his gospel, they had been not only saved eternally, but saved as a nation from their grievances. The fountain was first opened to the house of David,Zechariah 13:1. He so died for that nation as that the whole nation should not perish, but that a remnant should be saved,Romans 11:5.
[2.] The evangelist enlarges upon this word of Caiaphas (John 11:52; John 11:52), not for that nation only, how much soever it thought itself the darling of Heaven, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad. Observe here,
First, The persons Christ died for: Not for the nation of the Jews only (it would have been comparatively but a light thing for the Son of God to go through so vast an undertaking only to restore the preserved of Jacob, and the outcasts of Israel); no, he must be salvation to the ends of the earth,Isaiah 49:6. He must die for the children of God that were scattered abroad. 1. Some understand it of the children of God that were then in being, scattered abroad in the Gentile world, devout men of every nation (Acts 2:5), that feared God (Acts 10:2), and worshipped him (Acts 17:4), proselytes of the gate, who served the God of Abraham, but submitted not to the ceremonial law of Moses, persons that had a savour of natural religion, but were dispersed in the nations, had no solemn assemblies of their own, nor any peculiar profession to unite in or distinguish themselves by. Now Christ died to incorporate these in one great society, to be denominated from him and governed by him; and this was the setting up of a standard, to which all that had a regard to God and a concern for their souls might have recourse, and under which they might enlist themselves. 2. Others take in with these all that belong to the election of grace, who are called the children of God, though not yet born, because they are predestinated to the adoption of children,Ephesians 1:5. Now these are scattered abroad in several places of the earth, out of all kindreds and tongues (Revelation 7:9), and in several ages of the world, to the end of time; there are those that fear him throughout all generations, to all these he had an eye in the atonement he made by his blood; as he prayed, so he died, for all that should believe on him.
Secondly, The purpose and intention of his death concerning those persons; he died to gather in those who wandered, and to gather together in one those who were scattered; to invite those to him who were at a distance from him, and to unite those in him who were at a distance from each other. Christ's dying is, 1. The great attractive of our hearts; for this end he is lifted up, to draw men to him. The conversion of souls is the gathering to them in to Christ as their ruler and refuge, as the doves to their windows; and he died to effect this. By dying he purchased them to himself, and the gift of the Holy Ghost for them; his love in dying for us is the great loadstone of our love. 2. The great centre of our unity. He gathers them together in one,Ephesians 1:10. They are one with him, one body, one spirit, and one with each other in him. All the saints in all places and ages meet in Christ, as all the members in the head, and all the branches in the root. Christ by the merit of his death recommended all the saints in one to the grace and favour of God (Hebrews 2:11-13), and by the motive of his death recommends them all severally to the love and affection one of another, John 13:34; John 13:34.
(5.) The result of this debate is a resolve of the council to put Jesus to death (John 11:53; John 11:53): From that day they took counsel together, to put him to death. They now understood one another's minds, and so each was fixed in his own, that Jesus must die; and, it should seem, a committee was appointed to sit, de die in diem--daily, to consider of it, to consult about it, and to receive proposals for effecting it. Note, The wickedness of the wicked ripens by degrees, James 1:15; Ezekiel 7:10. Two considerable advances were now made in their accursed design against Christ. [1.] What before they had thought of severally now they jointly concurred in, and so strengthened the hands one of another in this wickedness, and proceeded with the greater assurance. Evil men confirm and encourage themselves and one another in evil practices, by comparing notes; men of corrupt minds bless themselves when they find others of the same mind: then the wickedness which before seemed impracticable appears not only possible, but easy to be effected, vis unita fortior--energies, when united, become more efficient. [2.] What before they wished done, but wanted a colour for, now they are furnished with a plausible pretence to justify themselves in, which will serve, if not to take off the guilt (that is the least of their care), yet to take off the odium, and so satisfy, if not the personal, yet the political conscience, as some subtly distinguish. Many will go on very securely in doing an evil thing as long as they have but something to say in excuse for it. Now this resolution of theirs to put him to death, right or wrong, proves that all the formality of a trial, which he afterwards underwent, was but show and pretence; they were before determined what to do.
(6.) Christ hereupon absconded, knowing very well what was the vote of their close cabal, John 11:54; John 11:54.
[1.] He suspended his public appearances: He walked no more openly among the Jews, among the inhabitants of Judea, who were properly called Jews, especially those at Jerusalem; ou periepatei--he did not walk up and down among them, did not go from place to place, preaching and working miracles with the freedom and openness that he had done, but while he staid in Judea, he was there incognito. Thus the chief priests put the light of Israel under a bushel.
[2.] He withdrew into an obscure part of the country, so obscure that the name of the town he retired to is scarcely met with any where else. He went to a country near the wilderness, as if he were driven out from among men, or rather wishing, with Jeremiah, that he might have in the wilderness a lodging place of way-faring men,Jeremiah 9:2. He entered into a city called Ephraim, some think Ephratah, that is, Bethlehem, where he was born, and which bordered upon the wilderness of Judah; others think Ephron, or Ephraim, mentioned 2 Chronicles 13:19. Thither his disciples went with him; neither would they leave him in solitude, nor would he leave them in danger. There he continued, dietribe, there he conversed, he knew how to improve this time of retirement in private conversation, when he had not an opportunity of preaching publicly. He conversed with his disciples, who were his family, when he was forced from the temple, and his diatribai, or discourses there, no doubt, were very edifying. We must do the good we can, when we cannot do the good we would. But why would Christ abscond now? It was not because he either feared the power of his enemies or distrusted his own power; he had many ways to save himself, and was neither averse to suffering nor unprepared for it; but he retired, First, To put a mark of his displeasure upon Jerusalem and the people of the Jews. They rejected him and his gospel; justly therefore did he remove himself and his gospel from them. The prince of teachers was now removed into a corner (Isaiah 30:20); there was no open vision of him; and it was a sad presage of that thick darkness which was shortly to come upon Jerusalem, because she knew not the day of her visitation. Secondly, To render the cruelty of his enemies against him the more inexcusable. If that which was grievous to them, and thought dangerous to the public, was his public appearance, he would try whether their anger would be turned away by his retirement into privacy; when David had fled to Gath, Saul was satisfied, and sought no more for him, 1 Samuel 27:4. But it was the life, the precious life, that these wicked men hunted after. Thirdly, His hour was not yet come, and therefore he declined danger, and did it in a way common to men, both to warrant and encourage the flight of his servants in time of persecution and to comfort those who are forced from their usefulness, and buried alive in privacy and obscurity; the disciple is not better than his Lord. Fourthly, His retirement, for awhile, was to make his return into Jerusalem, when his hour was come, the more remarkable and illustrious. This swelled the acclamations of joy with which his well-wishers welcomed him at his next public appearance, when he rode triumphantly into the city.
(7.) The strict enquiry made for him during his recess, John 11:55-57; John 11:55-57.
[1.] The occasion of it was the approach of the passover, at which they expected his presence, according to custom (John 11:55; John 11:55): The Jews' passover was nigh at hand; a festival which shone bright in their calendar, and which there was great expectation of for some time before. This was Christ's fourth and last passover, since he entered upon his public ministry, and it might truly be said (as, 2 Chronicles 35:18), There never was such a passover in Israel, for in it Christ our passover was sacrificed for us. Now the passover being at hand, many went out of all parts of the country to Jerusalem, to purify themselves. This was either, First, A necessary purification of those who had contracted any ceremonial pollution; they came to be sprinkled with the water of purification, and to perform the other rites of cleansing according to the law, for they might not eat the passover in their uncleanness, Numbers 9:6. Thus before our gospel passover we must renew our repentance, and by faith wash in the blood of Christ, and so compass God's altar. Or, Secondly, A voluntary purification, or self-sequestration, by fasting and prayer, and other religious exercises, which many that were more devout than their neighbours spent some time in before the passover, and chose to do it at Jerusalem, because of the advantage of the temple-service. Thus must we by solemn preparation set bounds about the mount on which we expect to meet with God.
[2.] The enquiry was very solicitous: They said, What think you, that he will not come to the feast?John 11:56; John 11:56.
First, Some think this was said by those who wished well to him, and expected his coming, that they might hear his doctrine and see his miracles. Those who came early out of the country, that they might purify themselves, were very desirous to meet with Christ, and perhaps came up the sooner with that expectation, and therefore as they stood in the temple, the place of their purification, they enquired what news of Christ? Could any body give them hopes of seeing him? If there were those, and those of the most devout people, and best affected to religion, who showed this respect to Christ, it was a check to the enmity of the chief priests, and a witness against them.
Secondly, It should rather seem that they were his enemies who made this enquiry after him, who wished for an opportunity to lay hands on him. They, seeing the town begin to fill with devout people out of the country, wondered they did not find him among them. When they should have been assisting those that came to purify themselves, according to the duty of their place, they were plotting against Christ. How miserably degenerate was the Jewish church, when the priests of the Lord were become like the priests of the calves, a snare upon Mizpeh, and a net spread upon Tabor, and were profound to make slaughter (Hosea 5:1; Hosea 5:2), --when, instead of keeping the feast with unleavened bread, they were themselves soured with the leaven of the worst malice! Their asking, What think you? Will he not come up to the feast? implies, 1. An invidious reflection upon Christ, as if he would omit his attendance on the feast of the Lord for fear of exposing himself. If others, through irreligion, be absent, they are not animadverted upon; but if Christ be absent, for his own preservation (for God will have mercy, and not sacrifice), it is turned to his reproach, as it was to David's that his seat was empty at the feast, though Saul wanted him only that he might have an opportunity of nailing him to the wall with his javelin, 1 Samuel 20:25-27, c. It is sad to see holy ordinances prostituted to such unholy purposes. 2. A fearful apprehension that they had of missing their game: "Will he not come up to the feast? If he do not, our measures are broken, and we are all undone for there is no sending a pursuivant into the country, to fetch him up."
[3.] The orders issued out by the government for the apprehending of him were very strict, John 11:57; John 11:57. The great sanhedrim issued out a proclamation, strictly charging and requiring that if any person in city or country knew where he was (pretending that he was a criminal, and had fled from justice) they should show it, that he might be taken, probably promising a reward to any that would discover him, and imposing a penalty on such as harboured him; so that hereby he was represented to the people as an obnoxious dangerous man, an outlaw, whom any one might have a blow at. Saul issued out such a proclamation for the apprehending of David, and Ahab of Elijah. See, First, How intent they were upon this prosecution, and how indefatigably they laboured in it, now at a time when, if they had had any sense of religion and the duty of their function, they would have found something else to do. Secondly, How willing they were to involve others in the guilt with them; if any man were capable of betraying Christ, they would have him think himself bound to do it. Thus was the interest they had in the people abused to the worst purposes. Note, It is an aggravation of the sins of wicked rulers that they commonly make those that are under them instruments of their unrighteousness. But notwithstanding this proclamation, though doubtless many knew where he was, yet such was his interest in the affections of some, and such God's hold of the consciences of others, that he continued undiscovered, for the Lord hid him.
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on John 11:47". "Henry's Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/​commentaries/​mhm/​john-11.html. 1706.
The point at which we have arrived gives me an opportunity of saying a little on the beginning of this chapter, and the end of the last; for it is well known that many men, and, I am sorry to add, not a few Christians, have allowed appearances to weigh against John 7:53 John 8:11 a very precious portion of God's word. The fact is, that the paragraph of the convicted adulteress has been either simply left out in some copies of Scripture, or a blank equivalent to it appears, or it is given with marks of doubt and a good deal of variety of reading, or it is put in elsewhere. This, with many alleged verbal peculiarities, acted on the minds of a considerable number, and led them to question its title to a place in the genuine gospel of John. I do not think that the objections usually raised are here understated. Nevertheless, mature as well as minute consideration of them fails to raise the slightest doubt in my own mind, and therefore to me it seems so much the more a duty to defend it, where the alternative is a dishonour to what I believe God has given us.
In its favour are the strongest possible proofs from such a character in itself, and such suitability to the context, as no forgery could ever boast. And these moral or spiritual indications (though, of course, only to such as are capable of apprehending and enjoying God's mind) are incomparably graver and more conclusive than any evidence of an external sort. Not that the external evidence is really weak, far from it. That which gives such an appearance is capable of reasonable, unforced, and even of what seems almost to amount to an historical solution. The meddling was probably due to human motives no uncommon thing in ancient or modern times. With good and with bad intentions men have often tried to mend the word of God. Superstitious persons, unable to enter into its beauty, and anxious after the good opinion of the world, were afraid to trust the truth which Christ was here setting forth in deed. Augustine,* an unimpeachable witness of facts, nearly as old as the most ancient manuscripts which omit the paragraph, tells us that it was from ethical difficulties some dropped this section out of their copies. We know for certain that dogmatic motives similarly influenced some in Luke 22:42-43. One of the considerations, adverted to already, ought to weigh exceedingly with the believer. The account, I shall show, is exactly in harmony with the Scripture that follows it not less so than the Lord's refusal to go up to the feast and show Himself to the world, with His words which follow on the gift of the Holy Ghost in John 7:1-53; or, again, the miracle of the miraculous bread, with the discourse appended on the needed food for the Christian inJohn 6:1-71; John 6:1-71. In a word, there is here, as there, an indissoluble link of connected truth between the facts related and the communication our Lord makes afterwards in each instance respectively.
* The suspicion that some weak believers or enemies of the faith omitted the section, as the Bishop of Hippo suggests, would expose the passage to be tampered with. It is very likely that the Christians who read the Shepherd of Hermas in their public services would omit John 8:1-11. Similar unbelief inclines critical judgment in that direction now. Judgment of facts is apt to be swayed and formed by the will.
For, let me ask, what is the salient divine principle which runs through our Lord's conduct and language when the scribes and Pharisees confront Him with the woman taken in adultery? A flagrant case of sin was produced. They manifest no holy hatred of the evil, and certainly feel no pity for the sinner. "They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?* This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him." Their hope was to ensnare Christ, and to leave Him only a choice of difficulties: either a useless repetition of the law of Moses, or open opposition to the law. If the latter, would it not prove Him God's adversary? If the former, would He not forfeit all His pretensions to grace? For they were well aware, that in all the ways and language of Christ, there was that which totally differed from the law and all before Him. Indeed, they counted on His grace, though they felt it not, relished it not, in no way valued it as of God; but still they so expected grace in our Lord's dealing with so heinous a sinner as the one before them, that they hoped thereby to commit Him fatally in the eyes of men. Enmity to His person was their motive. To agree with Moses or to annul him seemed to them inevitable, and almost equally prejudicial to the claims of Jesus. No doubt, they most expected that our Lord in His grace would oppose the law, and thus put Himself and grace in the wrong.
* It is the remark of a critic unfriendly to the passage, that this question belongs to the last days of our Lord's ministry, and cannot well be introduced chronologically here. Unconsciously, however, this is really a strong confirmation; for morally John starts with the rejection of Jesus, and gives at the beginning even (as in the cleansing of the temple) similar truths to those which the rest attest at the close.
But the fact is, the grace of God never conflicts with His law, but, on the contrary, maintains its authority in its own sphere. There is nothing which clears, establishes, and vindicates the law, and every other principle of God, so truly as His grace. Even the proprieties of nature were never so made good as when the Lord manifested grace on the earth. Take, for instance, His ways inMatthew 19:1-30; Matthew 19:1-30. Who ever developed God's idea and will in marriage as Christ did? Who cast light on the value of a little child till Christ did? When a man left Himself, who could look so wistfully and with such love upon him as Jesus? Grace therefore is in no way inconsistent with, but maintains obligations at their true height. It is precisely thus, only still more gloriously, with our Lord's conduct on this occasion; for He weakens not in the least either the law or its sanctions, but contrariwise sheds around divine light in His own words and ways, and even applies the law with convincing power, not merely to the convicted criminal, but to the more hidden guilt of her accusers. Not a single self-righteous soul was left in that all-searching presence none indeed of those who came about the matter, except the woman herself.
Choose for me in all Scripture a preface of fact so suited to the doctrine of the chapter that follows. The whole chapter, from first to last, beams with light the light of God and of His word in the person of Jesus. Is not this undeniably what comes out in the opening incident? Does not Christ present Himself in discourse just after as the light of the world (so continually in John), as God's light by His word in Himself, infinitely superior even to law, and yet at the same time giving the law its fullest authority? Only a divine person could thus put and keep everything in its due place; only a divine person could act in perfect grace, but at the same time maintain immaculate holiness, and so much the more because it was in One full of grace.
This is just what the Lord does. Therefore, when the charge was brought thus heartlessly against outward evil, He simply stoops down, and with His finger writes on the ground. He allowed them to think of the circumstances, of themselves, and of Him. As they still continued asking, He lifted up Himself, and said unto them, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast the stone at her." And again, stooping down, He writes on the round. (Verses John 8:6-8) The first act allows the full iniquity of their aim to be realized. They hoped, no doubt, it might be an insuperable difficulty to Him. They had time to weigh what they had said and were seeking. When they continued to ask, and He lifted Himself up and spoke to them those memorable words, He again stoops, that they might weigh them in their consciences. It was the light of God cast on their thoughts, words, and life. The words were few, simple, and self-evidencing. He that is without sin among you, let him first cast the stone at her." The effect was immediate and complete. His words penetrated to the heart. Why did not some of the witnesses rise and do the office? What! not one? "They which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last.; and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst." (v. John 8:9) The law had never done this. They had learnt and trifled with the law up to this time; they had freely used it, as men do still, to convict other people. But here was the light of God shining full on their sinful condition, as well as on the law. It was the light of God that reserved all its rights to the law, but itself shone with such spiritual force as had never reached their consciences before, and drove out the faithless hearts which desired not the knowledge of God and His ways. And this a waif tossed haphazard on the broken coast of our gospel! Nay, brethren, your eyes are at fault; it is a ray of light from Christ, and shines just where it should.
It was not exactly, as Augustine says, "Relicti sunt duo, misera, et misericordia" ( In Jo. Evang. Tr., xxxiii. 5); for here the Lord is acting as light. Therefore, instead of saying, Thy sins are forgiven, He asks, "Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more."* It is not pardon, nor mercy, but light. "Go, and sin no more" (not, "Thy faith hath saved thee: go in peace"). Man invented such a story as this! Who since the world began, had he set to work to imagine an incident to illustrate the chapter, could or would have framed such an one as this? Where is there anything like it, that poet, philosopher, historian ever wrote, ever conceived? Produce the Protevangelion, the gospel of Nicodemus, or any other such early writing. These, indeed, are the genuine productions of man; but what a difference from that before us! Yet is it in the truest sense original, entirely distinct from any other fact, either in the Bible, or anywhere else, not, of course, excepting John himself. Nevertheless, its air, scope, and character can be proved, I think, to suit John, and no other; and this particular context in John, and no other. No theory is less reasonable than that this can be either a mere floating tradition stuck in here by some chance, or the work of a forger's mind. I do not think it harsh, but charitable to speak thus plainly; for the course of incredulity is now running strong' and Christians can hardly avoid hearing of these questions. I therefore do not refuse this opportunity of leading any simple souls to see how truly divine the whole bearing of this portion is how exactly apposite to that which the Lord insists on throughout the chapter. For, immediately after, we have doctrine unfolded which, no doubt, goes farther, but is intimately connected, as no other chapter is, with the story.†
*The fact that κατακρίνω is found here twice, and here only in John, is of no weight against the genuineness of the passage. It is the strict judicial term for passing an adverse sentence among men. How, where, could this be anywhere else in John? It is not true that κρίνω is ever used in this sense anywhere in John. It means, and should always be rendered, "judge," not "condemn," though the effect for the guilty (and man is guilty) be necessarily condemnation.
†Among the detailed objections to the genuineness of the passage (John 7:53; John 8:1-11), it is contended that the evidence of Augustine and Nicon (who distinctly tell us that it was expunged wilfully on account of the supposed license it gave to sin) does not account for the omission ofJohn 7:53; John 7:53. But this is short-sighted. For the going of each to his home is in evident connection with, and contra-distinction to, the going of Jesus to the mount of Olives. He was ever the stranger here. And what gospel, or whose style, does this simple but profound contrast suit so much as John? (Compare John 20:10-11) We know, fromJohn 18:2; John 18:2, that this neighbourhood was the frequent resort of Jesus with His disciples.
Next, the idea of many distinct and independent texts (as distinguished from abundance of various readings) seems an evident exaggeration. Take the fact, that this is eked out by putting the Received Text as one; the text of D (or Beza's Cambridge Uncial) as another; and that of most of the MSS. E F G H K M S U, etc., as a third. Now, what right has the Received Text to be thus ranged? It was formed by collating some of those very manuscripts which are thrown together as a third text. The true conclusion, therefore, is simply the not at all unprecedented phenomenon that D differs considerably from almost if not all other manuscripts, and that the Received Text is but a poor approximation to a text based on a collation of manuscripts. A really standard text, which gives just but discriminating value to an worthy witnesses, is as yet a desideratum.
Thirdly, what the contents of the passage are which countenances the notion that there is some inherent defect in the text to invalidate its claim to a place in the sacred narrative I cannot divine, as it is not here explained.
The fourth objection is the very general concurrence of the MSS. that contain the passage in placing it here. Why this place, of all others, should have been selected, will be no difficulty to those who feel with me; but, on the contrary, in my judgment, it refutes the "desperate resource" (as it is even allowed to be, strange to say, by those who adopt it), that the evangelist may have in this solitary case incorporated a portion of the current oral tradition into his narrative, which was afterwards variously corrected from the gospel to the Hebrews, or other traditional sources, and from different diction put in at the end ofLuke 21:1-38; Luke 21:1-38, or elsewhere. I am convinced, that where there is a real understanding of John 8:1-59 as a whole, the opening incident will be felt to be a necessary exordium of fact before the discourse which, to my mind, manifestly and certainly grew out of it, as surely as it happened then, and at no other time. Lastly, the mind which could conceive that the fact, as well as the tone or the moral drift of this incident, fits in to the end of Luke 21:1-38 rather than to the beginning ofJohn 8:1-59; John 8:1-59, seems so decidedly imaginative, that reasoning is here out of place, particularly as it is allowed, along with this, that its occurrence here (spite of the evidence of some cursive MSS. for Luke 21:1-38) seems much in its favour. Lastly, I have examined with care, and satisfied myself, that the alleged weightiest argument against the passage, in its entire diversity from the style of John's narrative, is superficial and misleading. Some peculiar words are required by the circumstance; and the general cast and character of the passage, so far from being alien to the evangelist's manner, seems to me, on the contrary, in his spirit, rather than in any other inspired writer's, no matter in which of the manuscripts we read it. D is the copy which makes the chief inroads; this is a common thing with that venerable, but most faulty document.
Jesus spoke again to them (the interrupters having disappeared). "I am the light of the world." He had just acted as light among those who had appealed to law; He here goes on, but widens the sphere. He says, "I am the light of the world." it is not merely dealing with scribes and Pharisees. Further, "He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." The life was the light of men, the perfect display and guide of the life He was to His followers. The law never is this good if a man use it lawfully, but not for a righteous man whose Christ is. So Christ tells the Pharisees who objected that He knew whence He came, and whither He was going: they were in the dark, and knew nothing of it. They were in the unrelieved darkness of the world, they judged after the flesh. Not so Jesus: He did not judge. Yet, if He did, His judgment was true; for He was not alone, but His Father was with Him. And their law bid them bow to two witnesses. But what witnesses? His testimony was so decided, that the reason why they did not then lay hands on Him was simply this His hour was not yet come. (Verses John 8:12-20)
The Lord throughout the chapter speaks with more than usual solemnity, and with increasing plainness to His enemies, who knew neither Him nor His Father. They should die in their sins; and whither He went, they could not come. They were from beneath of this world; He from above, and not of this world.
The truth is, that throughout the gospel He speaks as One consciously rejected, but morally judging all things as the Light. He therefore does not scruple to push things to an extremity, to draw out their real character and state most distinctly; to pronounce on them as from beneath, as He Himself from above; to show that there was no resemblance between them and Abraham, but rather Satan, and not the smallest communion in their thoughts with His Father's. Hence it is, too, that later on He lets them know that the time is coining when they should know who He was, but too late. He is the rejected light of God, and light of the world, from the first, and all through; but, more than this, He is the light of God, not only in deed, but in His word; as elsewhere He let them know they would be judged by it in the last day. Hence, when they asked Him who He was, He answers them to that effect; and I refer to it the more, because the force is imperfectly given, and even wrongly, in verse 25: "Who art thou? And Jesus saith unto them, Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning." Not only is there no need of adding "the same," but there is nothing that answers to "from the beginning." And this, again, has involved our translators in a change of tense, which is not merely uncalled for, but spoils the true idea. Our Lord does not refer to what He had said at or from any starting-point, but to what He speaks always, as then also. In every respect the sense of the Holy Ghost is enfeebled, changed, and even destroyed in the common version. What our Lord did answer is incomparably more forcible, and in exact accordance with the doctrine of the chapter, and the incident that begins it. They asked Him who He was. His answer is this: "Absolutely that which I also am speaking to you." I am thoroughly, essentially what I also speak. It is not only that He is the light, and that there is no darkness in Him as there is none in God, so none in Him; but, as to the principle of His being, He is what He utters. And, indeed, of Him only is this true. A Christian may be said to be light in the Lord; but of none, save Jesus, could it be said, that the word he discourses is the expression of what he is. Jesus is the truth. Alas! we know that, so false is human nature and the world, nothing but the power of the Spirit, revealing Christ to us through the Word, keeps us even as believers from departure into error, misconduct, and evil of any kind. None but One could say, "I am what I speak." And this is precisely what Christ is showing throughout the scene. He was the light to convict the doers of darkness, however hidden; He was the light which made others no matter what they might have been in the world to be light, if they followed Himself, God manifest in flesh. He manifested God, and made man manifest also. Everything was manifested by the light. Who is He? "Absolutely ( τὴν ἀρχὴν ) what I speak." What He utters in speech is what He is. There was not the smallest deflection from the truth; His every word and way declared it. There was never the appearance of what He was not. He is always, and in every particular, what He speaks.
How entirely this falls in with what we have elsewhere, does not need to be pressed. We see farther on the same doctrine, only ever expanding; revelation clearer, and more antagonistic to more and more determined unbelief. He lets them know, that when they have lifted up the Son of man, then they shall know that Jesus is He (the truth would be thoroughly out), "and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things." It is not miracles here, but the truth. He not only is the truth in His own person, but He speaks it. He speaks it to the world also; for all through John's gospel, although it be the eternal life that was with the Father, the Word that was with God in the beginning, still, He is also (from John 1:14) a man on earth a real, true man here below, however truly God. And so it is in this chapter. It began by showing that He is so in act; then it opens out that He is so in word. He said to the world what He heard from Him that sent Him as they rightly understood, from the Father.
He pursues the same line in dealing with the Jews who believed in Him (verse John 8:31): "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. They answered him, We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free? Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." Thus His word (not the law) is the sole means of knowing the truth and its liberty. It was not merely a question of commands, or of something God wanted from man. That had been given, and tried; and what was the end of it for them and Him? Now much more was at stake, even the manifestation of God in Christ to the world, and this also in His word, in the truth. It became a test, therefore, of the truth; and if they continued in His word, they should be His disciples indeed; and should know the truth, and the truth should make them free.
But then there is another thing required to set free, or rather which does à fortiori set free. The truth learnt in the word of Jesus is the only foundation. But if received, it is not merely that I have the truth, so to speak, as an expression of His mind, but of Himself of His person. Hence it is that He touches on this point in verse 36: "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." It is not merely, then, the truth making free, but the Son. He who pretends to receive the truth, but does not bow before the glory of the Son, proves that there is no truth in him. He that receives the truth might at first be very ignorant; the truth may be, then, nothing more than that which lets in the light of God graciously, but in a limited measure. It is rarely that all at once the full glory of Christ bursts in upon the soul. As with the disciples, so it might be with any soul now. There might be real, but gradual perception; but the truth invariably works thus, where God is the teacher. Then, as light increases, and the glory of Christ shines more distinctly, the heart welcomes Him; and so much the more rejoices as He is exalted. On the contrary, where it is not the truth, but theory or tradition a mere reasoning or sentiment about Christ, the heart is offended by the full presentation of His glory, stumbles at it, and turns away from Him, just because it cannot bear the strength and brightness of that divine fulness which was in Christ: it knows not God, nor Jesus Christ whom He has sent. Eternal life is unknown and unenjoyed.
Further, the Lord brings out here another thing worthy of all attention; especially as the same principle runs through from the incident at the beginning of the chapter. It is not merely light, truth, and the Son known in the person of Christ, but also as contrasted with the law. Did they boast in the law? What place had they under it? Slaves! Yes, and they were faithless to it; they broke the law; they were slaves of sin. It is not the slave, but the Son, who abides in the house. Thus the law is not in any way lowered, but at the same time there is the bright contrast of Christ with it. The law has its just place; it is for servants, and deals with them justly. The consequence is, there is no permanence for them, any more than liberty. Law could not meet the case; nothing, and none short of the Son. "Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin." Was not this precisely what He had brought home to the conscience at the beginning of the chapter? Before God (and He was God) it was not what the poor woman had done that was all, but what they were, and they were convicted of sin; they were not without sin. He had said, "The servant abideth not in the house;" and this was precisely the case with them; they were obliged to go.* "But the Son abideth ever," and so He does in the best, and highest, and truest estate. Thus the doctrine entirely harmonizes with the fact, and in a way that does not appear at first sight, but only as we look into it a little more closely, and search into the depths of the living word of God, though none of us can boast of the progress we have made. Nevertheless, we may be permitted to say, that the more closely we are given of God to apprehend the truth, the more the divine perfectness of the entire picture becomes manifest to our souls.
*"They were struck by the power of the word of Christ," says an opponent of the claim of the commencing section to a genuine and divinely given place in the chapter, unconscious that he is thereby illustrating its connection with the whole current of the chapter.
I need not go through the particulars which the Lord brings out in laying bare the condition of the Jews, the seed (not the children) of Abraham, but really of their father the devil, and manifesting it in the two characters of liar and murderer. They did not know His speech, because they could not hear His word. The truth meant is the key to the outer vehicle of it just the reverse of man's knowledge. In fine, all is shown in its true essential character here, the convicted one and her accusers, the Jews, the world, the disciples, the truth, the Son, Satan himself, God Himself. Not only is Abraham* seen truly (not as misrepresented in his seed), but One who was greater than "our father" Abraham, who would say, If I honour myself, my honour is nothing; but who could say (with a verily, verily), "BEFORE ABRAHAM WAS, I AM." He is the light in deed and word. He says so. Then He deals with them, convicting them more and more. He shows that the truth is found here only in His word. He, the witness, testifies that He is the Son. But the chapter does not end before He announces His eternal Godhead. He is God Himself, yet hides Himself when they took up stones to stone Him. His hour was not yet come. This is the truth of them, as of Him. He was God. Such is the truth. Short of this, we have not the truth of Christ. But it is the growing rejection of Christ's word that leads Him on step by step to the assertion that He was very God, though a man upon the earth.
* I apprehend that by "my day" He means the day of Christ's glory; not vaguely the time of Christ, but the day when He will be displayed in glory. "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day." He looked for that day of Christ's appearing in glory, and he "saw it, and was glad." It was the day when the promises would be accomplished, and very naturally he who had the promises looked for the time when they are to be made good in Christ.
Like the preceding, John 9:1-41 shows us the Lord rejected here in His work, as there in His word. The difference a little answers to what we have seen in John 5:1-47; John 6:1-71. In the fifth chapter He is the quickening Son of God; but all testimonies are vain, and judgment awaits the unbeliever a resurrection of judgment. In John 6:1-71. He is seen as the suffering Son of man, who takes the place of humiliation, instead of the kingdom which they wanted to force on Him. But no; this was not the purpose for which He had come, though true in its own time; but what He took, and took because His eye was ever single, viewed as man, was for God's glory, not for His own; and the real glory of God in a ruined world is only met by the service and death of the Son of man dying for sinners and for sin. Somewhat similarly in John 8:1-59 He is the rejected Word, who confesses Himself (when most scorned and men are ready to stone Him) to be the everlasting God Himself. As man becomes more hardened in unbelief, Christ becomes more pointed and plain in the assertion of the truth. Thus the more it is pressed down, the more the brightness of the truth makes its way out, that He is God. They had fully heard now who He was, and therefore must He be ignominiously cast out. His words brought God too close, too really; and they would not bear them.
But now He is rejected in another way, and in this it is as man, though declaring Himself and worshipped as Son of God. We shall see that there is stress on His manhood, more especially as the necessary mould or form which divine grace took to effect the blessing of man, to work the works of God in grace on the earth. Accordingly, here it is not merely that man is seen to be guilty, but blind from his birth. Doubtless there is light that discovers man in his evil and. unbelief; but man is sought and met by His grace; for here the man had no thought of being healed never asked Jesus to heal him. There was no cry here to the Son of David. This we hear most properly in the other gospels, which develop the last offer of the Messiah to the Jews. In every one of the gospels, indeed, we have Him finally presented as the Son of David; and therefore, although it be the proper province of Matthew, yet inasmuch as all the synoptic gospels dwell on our Lord at the close as Son of David, all the gospels give the story of the blind man at Jericho. Matthew, however, gives blind men over and over again, crying to Him, "Son of David." The reason is, I suppose, that not merely is He so presented at the last, but all through in Matthew. In John this case does not appear at all; no blind man cries to the Son of David throughout. What is brought before us in the man, blind from his birth, is a wholly different truth. It was, indeed, the most desperate case. Instead of the man looking to Christ, it is Christ that looks at the man, without a single cry or appeal to Him. It is absolute grace. If it be not the Father seeking, at any rate it is the Son. It is One who had deigned to become man in love to man. He is seeking, though rejected, to display the grace of God toward this poor blind beggar in his abject need: "As Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?"
They had nothing better than Jewish thoughts about the case. But all through the gospel of John Christ is setting aside these thoughts on every side, whether in enquirers outside, or more particularly in disciples, who were under this pernicious influence like other people. Here the Lord answered, "Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents." The ways of God are not as man's; and their revelation stands in contrast with Jewish notions of retributive justice. The reason lay deeper than what his parents deserved, or the foresight of what he would do amiss. Not that the man and his parents were not sinners; but the eye of Jesus saw beyond nature, or law, or government, in the man's blindness from his birth. To divine goodness, the inner and true and ultimate reason, God's reason if one may be permitted such a phrase was to furnish an opportunity for Christ to work the works of God on the earth. How blessedly grace operates in, and judges of, a hopeless case! That it was wholly outside the resources of man made it just the occasion for Jesus, for the works of God. This is the point of the chapter Jesus working the works of God in free unconditional grace. In John 8:1-59 the prominent feature. is the word of God; here, the works of God made effectual and manifest in grace. "I must work the works of him that sent me while it is day." Therefore can one say, that it is unqualified grace, because it is not merely God mercifully answering man's appeal, and blessing man's work, but God sending, and Christ working. "I must work the works of him that sent me." What grace (save in Jesus all through) can be compared with this? Jesus, then, was doing this work "while it is day." Day was while He was present with them. Night was coming, which would be, for the Jew, the personal absence of the Messiah; indeed, such for any would be the departure of the Son of God. "The night cometh when no man can work." (Verse 4) Higher things might follow in their season, and brighter light suited to them when the day should dawn, and the day-star arise in hearts established with grace. But here it is the time of the absence of Jesus in contrast with His presence on earth as He then was. "As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." (Verse 5)
This establishes very plainly the fact, that these two chapters are so far linked together, in that they look at Christ as light, and the light of the world too. But, far from being confined to Israel, it rather sets aside the Jewish system, which assumes to order things justly now according to man's conduct, thus ignoring man's ruin by sin, and God's grace in Christ as the sole deliverance. Here it is not so much the light by the word convicting man, and bringing out God's nature and the reality of His own personal glory, but "the light of the world" as manifesting God graciously working in power contrary to nature. It was a question not of light for eyes, but of giving power to see the light to one wholly and evidently incapable of seeing as he was. Hence we do well to remark the peculiarity in the Lord's manner of working. He lays clay upon the man's eyes; an extraordinary step at first sight. In truth, it was the shadow of Himself become man, an apt figure of the human body which He took in order therein to do God's will. He was not simply Son of God, but Son of God possessed of a body prepared of God. (Hebrews 10:1-39) He became man; and yet the fact of the body of Christ of God's Son being found in fashion as a man only and greatly increases the difficulty at first sight, because nobody, apart from the word of God, would look for a divine person in such a guise. But when faith bows to the word, and accepts the will of God in it, how precious the grace, how wise the ordering yea, how indispensable it is learnt to be! So with the man already blind before. Putting the plaster of clay over his eyes did not at once mend his blindness in the least; but, if anything, the contrary would have hindered his seeing, had he seen before. But when he goes at the word of Jesus, and washes in the pool of Siloam that is, when the word is applied in the Holy Ghost to his case, revealing Jesus as the sent One of God (compareJohn 5:24; John 5:24), all was so far plain. It was not a mere man who had spoken; he apprehended in Jesus One Sent (for the pool to which the Lord directed the man to wash his clay-covered eyes in was called "Siloam;" that is, it bore the very name of "sent"). It was then understood that Jesus had a mission on earth to work the works of God. Though, of course, man born of a woman, He was more than human: He was the Sent One the Sent of the Father in love into this world, to work effectually where man was entirely incapable even of helping in any way.
Thus the truth was in process of application, so to speak. The man goes his way, washes, and comes seeing. The word of God explains this mystery. The Son's taking humanity is ever a blinding fact to nature; but he who is not disobedient to the word will assuredly not fail to find in the acknowledgment of the truth Christ's glory under His manhood, as well as the need of his own soul met with a power and promptness which answers, as it is due, to His glory who wrought in grace here below.
Nevertheless, the word of the Lord tried him as ever; other hearts were tested by it too. The neighbours were astonished, and questions arise; the Pharisees are stirred but divided (for this miracle, also, was wrought on a sabbath). The parents being summoned, as well as himself questioned, all stand to the great and indisputable fact: the man just healed was their child, and he had been born blind. The man indeed witnessed what he believed of Jesus, and the threat of the consequences was only made the clearer, even though there was a total avoidance of all dangerous answers on the parents' part, and a determination to reject Christ and those who confessed Him in the Pharisees. The work of grace was hated, and especially because it was wrought on the sabbath day. For this bore solemn witness, that in the truth of things before God there was no sabbath possible for them: He must work if man was to be delivered and blessed. Of course, there was the holy form, and there was no doubt as to the duty; but if God revealed Himself on earth, neither forms nor duties, paid after a sort by sinful men, could hide the awful reality that man was incapable of keeping such a sabbath as God could recognise. The day had been sanctified from the beginning; the duty of the Jew was unquestionable; but sin was man's state; after every remedial measure, he was thoroughly and only evil continually.
In fact, so far the Jew quite understood, as far as that went, the moral meaning of the Lord's working thus both either on the impotent man before, and now on the blind man. For such deeds on the sabbath did pronounce sentence of death on that whole system, and on the great badge of relationship between God and Israel. If Jesus was true God as well as man, if He was really the light of the world, yet wrought on the sabbath day, there was plain evidence on God's part of what He thought of Israel. They felt it to be a matter of life and death. But the man was led on by these conscienceless attacks, as is always the case where there is simple faith. The effort to destroy the person of Christ and to undermine His glory only developed, in the goodness of God, that divine work which had already touched his soul, as well as given him eyes to see. Thus was his faith exercised and cleared, side by side with the unbelief and hostility of the enemies of Christ. The consequence is, that we have a beautiful history in this chapter of the man led on step by step; first owning the work the Lord had wrought with simplicity, and therefore in force of truth: what he does not know he owned with just the same frankness. Then, when the Pharisees were divided, and he was appealed to once more, "He is a prophet" was his distinct answer. Then, when the fact was only the more established by the parents, spite of their timidity, the hypocritical effort to honour God at the expense of Jesus draws out the most withering refutation (not without a taunt) from him who had been blind. (Verses 24-33) This closed, they could not answer, and cast him out. (Verse 34)
How beautiful to mark the Spirit's love, dwelling fully and minutely on a blind beggar taught of God, thus gradually and evermore beating their in credulous objections smaller than when they cast him out as dirt in the streets! What a living picture of the new witness for Christ! A character plain, honest, energetic, not always the most gracious, but certainly confronted with the most heartless and false of adversaries. But if the man finds himself out of the synagogue, he is soon in the presence of Christ. The religious world of that day could not endure a witness of divine power and grace which they themselves, feeling not the need, denied, denounced, and did all they could to destroy. Outside them, but with Jesus, he learns more deeply than ever, so as to fill his soul with profound joy and gladness, that the wondrous healer of his blindness was not merely a prophet, but the Son of God just object of faith and worship. Thus clearly we have in this case the rejection of Jesus viewed, not in open attack on His own person, as in the. chapter before, where they took up stones to stone Him, but here rather in His friends, whom He had first met in sovereign grace, and did not let them go till fully blessed, ending in Jesus worshipped outside the synagogue as the Son of God. (Verses 38-40)
Then the Lord declares the issues of His coming. "For judgment," He says, "I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind." In this gospel He ]lad said before, that it was to save and give life, not to judge, that He came. Such was the aim of His heart, at all cost to Himself; but the effect was moral in one way or the other, and this now. Manifest judgment awaits the evil by-and-by. And some of the Pharisees which were with him heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also? Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth." They were offended at the notion of their not seeing. Did they insist that they saw? The Lord admits the plea. If they felt their sin and shortcoming, there might be a hope. As it was, then, sin remained. The boast, like the excuse, of unbelief is invariably the ground of divine judgment.
John 10:1-42 pursues the subject and opens out into a development, not of the spiritual history of a sheep of Christ, but of the Shepherd Himself, from first to last, here below. Hence, the Lord does not rest in a judgment extorted by their unbelief, and in contrast with the deliverance of faith, but develops the ways of grace here, as always in marked antithesis with the Jewish system, though connected with the man for His sake turned out of the synagogue, then found by Himself, and led into the fullest perception of His own glory outside the Jews, where alone real worship is possible. Accordingly our Lord traces this new history His own from the beginning.
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber." It was not so with Jesus. He had entered in by the door, according to every requisition of the Scriptures. Although Son, He had submitted to each ordinance which God had laid down for the Shepherd of His earthly people. He accomplished the work that God had marked out for Him in prophecy and type. What had been required or stipulated, according to the law, that had He not rendered in full tale? He was born at the measured time, in the due place, from the sworn stock, and of the defined mother, according to the written word. God had taken care beforehand to make each important point plain, by which the true Christ of God was to be recognised; and all had been fulfilled thus far in Jesus thus far; for it is quite allowed that all the prophecies of subjugation and judgment, with the reign over the earth, remain to be accomplished. "To him," He says, "the porter openeth." This had been realized. Witness the Holy Ghost's action in Simeon and Anna, not to speak of the mass; and, above all, in John the Baptist. God had wrought by His grace in Israel, and there were godly hearts prepared for Him there.
"And the sheep hear his voice." (VerseJohn 10:3; John 10:3) So we find in the gospels, particularly Luke's, from the beginning. And he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out" an evident allusion to what had befallen the blind man. No doubt he had been turned out of the synagogue; but Christ imprints, on this, their wicked act, His own interpretation, according to divine counsels. Little did the man know at that painful moment, that it was in reality grace which was leading him out. If it was a little before His own public and final rejection, it was, after all, the same principle at the bottom. The disciple is not above his master; but every one that is perfect shall be as his master. "He goeth before them." This seems to refer to the manner in which it had been, and should be, accomplished. Already had the Lord tasted the enmity and scorn of man, and especially of the Jews; but He also knew the depths of shame and suffering which He must soon pass through, before there was an open separation of the sheep. Thus, whether it were done virtually or formally, in either case Jesus went before, and the sheep followed; "for they know his voice." This is their spiritual instinct, as it is their security not skill in determining or refuting error, but simple cleaving to Christ and the truth. See this exemplified in the once blind man. What weight had the Pharisees with his conscience? None whatever. They, on the contrary, felt he taught them. "A stranger will they not follow," any more than he would follow the Pharisees. For now, by the new eyes which the Lord had given him, he could discern their vain pretensions, and their hostility against Jesus so much the worse, because coupled with "Give God the praise." "A stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him" not because they are learned in the injurious jargon of strangers, "for they know not the voice of strangers." They know the Shepherd's voice, and this they follow. It is the love of what is good, and not skill in finding out what is evil. Some may have power to sift and discern the unsound; but this is not the true, direct, divine means of safety for the sheep of Christ. There is a much more real, immediate, and sure way. It is simply this: they cannot rest without the voice of Christ; and that which is not the voice of Christ they do not follow. What more suitable to them, or more worthy of Him?
As these things were not understood, the Lord opens out the truth still more plainly in what follows. Here (verse John 10:7) He begins by taking the place of "the door of the sheep;" not, be it observed, of the sheepfold, but of the sheep. He had entered in Himself by the door, not of the sheep, of course, but by the door into the sheepfold. He entered in according to each sign and token moral, miraculous, prophetic, or personal which God had given to His ancient people to know Him by. But enter as He might, the people who broke the law refused the Shepherd; and the end of it was, that He leads His own sheep outside, Himself going before them. Now, there is more, and He says, "I am the door of the sheep." The contrast of pretended or merely human shepherds is given in the next verse, which is parenthetical. "All that ever came before me [such as Theudas and Judas] are thieves and robbers [they secretly or openly enriched themselves by the sheep]: but the sheep did not hear them."
In verse 9 He enlarges. "I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture." The portion He gives the sheep is a contrast with the law in another way; not as light simply, as in the beginning of John 8:1-59, in detecting all sin and every sinner. Now, it is grace in its fulness. "By me," He says not by circumcision, or the law "By me if any man enter in." There was no question of entering in by the law; for it dealt with those who were already in a recognised relation with God. But now there is an invitation to those without. "By me if any man enter in, he shall be saved." Salvation is the first need of a sinner, and certainly the Gentile needs it as much as the Jew. "By me if any man" no matter who he may be, if he enter, he shall be saved. Nevertheless, it is only for those that enter in. There is no salvation for such as abide outside Christ. But this is not all; for grace with Christ freely gives, not salvation alone, but all things. Even now, too, "he shall go in and out." It is not only that there is life and salvation in Christ, but there is liberty, in contrast with the law. "And he shall find pasture." Besides, there is food assured. Thus we have here an ample provision for the sheep. To him that enters by Christ there is salvation, there is liberty, there is food.
Again, the Lord contrasts others with Himself. The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy." By their fruits they should know them. How could the sheep trust such shepherds as these? "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." There had been life when there was only a promise; there had been life all through the dealings of law. Clearly Christ had ever been the means of life from the day death entered the world. But now He was come, it was not only that they might have life, but that they might have it "more abundantly." This was the effect of the presence of God's Son in this world. Was it not right and becoming, that when the Son of God did humble Himself in this world, even to death, the death of the cross, dying also in atonement for sinners, God should mark this infinite fact and work and person by an incomparably richer blessing than ever had been diffused before? I cannot conceive it otherwise than the Word shows it is, consistently with the glory of God, even the Father.
Further, He was not only the door of the sheep, and then the door for others to enter in, but He says (verse John 10:11), "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep." It is no longer only in contrast with a thief or a robber, with murderous intent or evidently selfish purposes of the worst kind, but there might be others characterised by a milder form of human iniquity not destroyers of the sheep, but self-seeking men. "He that. is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep." Christ, as the good shepherd, does nothing of the kind, but remains to suffer all for them, instead of running away when the wolf came. "I am the good shepherd, and know those that are mine, and am known by mine, as the Father knoweth me, and I know the Father." Such is the true sense of the verse. The John 10:14 th andJohn 10:15; John 10:15 th verses really form one sentence. They are not divided as we have them in our Bibles. The meaning is, that He showed Himself as the good Shepherd because He knew the sheep, and was known of them, just. as He knew the Father, and was known of the Father. The mutuality of knowledge between the Father and the Son is the pattern of the knowledge between the Shepherd and the sheep. In what a wondrous. place this puts us and the character of knowledge we possess. The knowledge which grace gives to the sheep is so truly divine that the Lord has nothing to compare it with, except the knowledge that exists between the Father and the Son. Nor is it merely a question of knowledge, intimate and perfect and divine as it is; but, moreover, "I lay down my life for the sheep." Other sheep, too, He intimates here, He had, who were to be brought in, that did not belong to the Jewish fold; He clearly looks out into the world, as always in the gospel of John. There was to be one flock (not fold), one Shepherd.
Moreover, in order to open yet more the ineffable complacency of the Father in His work abstractedly, He adds, "Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life." Not here "for the sheep," but simply, "that I might take it again." (VerseJohn 10:17; John 10:17) That is to say, besides laying down His life for the sheep, He laid down His life to prove His perfect confidence in His Father. Impossible for another, or all others, to give so much. Even He could not give more than His life. Any other thing would not be comparable to the laying down of His life. It was the most complete, absolute giving up of Himself; and He did give up Himself, not merely for the gracious end of winning the sheep to God from the spoiler, but with the still more blessed and glorious aim of manifesting, in a world where man had from the first dishonoured God, His own perfect confidence in His Father, and this as man. He laid it down that He might take it again. Thus, instead of continuing His life in dependence on His Father, He gives it up out of a still profounder and truly absolute dependence. "Therefore," says He, "doth my Father love me." This becomes a positive ground for the Father to love Him, additional to the perfection which had ever been seen in Him all His pathway through. Even more than this; although it is so expressly an act of His own, another astonishing principle is seen the union of absolute devotedness on His own part, in perfect freeness of His will, with obedience. (Verse 18) Thus the very same act may be, and is (as we find it in all its perfection in Christ) His own will, and yet along with this simple submission to His Father's commandment. In truth, He and the Father were one; and so He does not stop till we have this fully expressed in verse John 10:30. He and His Father were one one in everything; not only in love and gracious counsel for the sheep, but in nature, too in that divine nature which, of course, was the ground of all the grace.
But, besides this, the unbelief of the Jews brings out another thing; that is, the perfect security of the sheep a very important question, because He was going to die. His death is in view: what will the sheep do then? Would the death of Christ in any way imperil the sheep? The very reverse. The Lord declares this in a most distinct manner. He says, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand." (VersesJohn 10:27-28; John 10:27-28) First of all, the life is everlasting. But then it is not merely that the thing itself is eternal, but they shall never perish; for it might be pretended, that though the life lasts for ever, this is conditional on something in its recipients. Nay, "they shall never perish" the sheep themselves. Thus, not merely the life, but those who have it by grace in Christ, shall never perish. To conclude and crown all, as far as their security was concerned, the question is answered as to any hostile power. What about some one external to them? Nay; there again, as there was no internal source of weakness that could jeopard the life, so there should be no external power to cause anxiety. If there was any power that might do so righteously, surely it must be God's own; but, contrariwise, they were in the Father's hand, no less than in the Son's hand none could pluck them out. Thus the Lord fenced them round even by His death, as well as by that eternal life which was in Him, the superiority of which over death was proved by His authority to take it again in resurrection. This was the life more abundantly which they derived from Him. Why should any one wonder at its power? He was, for the sheep, against all adversaries; and so was the Father. Yea, "I and the Father are one." (VersesJohn 10:29-30; John 10:29-30)
As there had been a division among the Jews for His sayings, and their appeal in doubt to Him had drawn out both His treatment of them as unbelievers, and the security of the sheep who heeded His voice and followed Him, as He knew them (ver. John 10:19-30) so our Lord, in the presence of their hatred and still growing enmity (ver. John 10:31; John 10:31), convicts them of the futility of their objection on their own ground. Did they find fault because He took the place of being the Son of God? Yet they must allow that kings, governors, judges, according to their law, were called gods. "If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?" A fortiori had He not a place which no king ever had? Did He, on their own principles, blaspheme then, because He said He was the Son of God? But He goes far beyond this. If they regarded not God's word, nor His words, He appeals to His works. "If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him." This connects, as I apprehend, the tenth chapter with the foregoing, and is in contrast with the eighth. They had thus repeatedly sought to kill Him, and He abandons them for the place in which John first baptized. In the face of total rejection, and in every point of view, both as the expression of God in the world, and of His working the works of grace in the world, the result was plain. Man, the Jew especially, settles down in resolute unbelief and deadly hostility; but, on the other hand, the indefeasible security of the sheep, the objects of grace, only comes out with so much the greater clearness and decision.
Nevertheless, though all was really closed, God would manifest by a full and final testimony what was the glory of Christ, rejected as He was, and previous to His death. And accordingly, in John 11:1-57; John 12:1-50 is given a strikingly rich presentation of the Lord Jesus, in many respects entirely differing from all the others; for while it embraces what is found in the synoptists (that is, the accomplishment of prophecy in His offer of Himself to Zion as the Son of David), John brings in a fulness of personal glory that is peculiar to his gospel.
Here we begin with that which John alone records the resurrection of Lazarus. Some have wondered that it appears only in the latest gospel; but it is given there for a very simple and conclusive reason. The resurrection of Lazarus was the most distinct testimony possible, near Jerusalem, in the face of open Jewish enmity. It was the grandest demonstrative proof that He was the Son of God, determined to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. Who but He on earth could say, I am the resurrection and the life? Who had ever looked for more in Messiah Himself than Martha did raising up the dead at the last day?
Here I may just observe, that Romans 1:4 does not restrict the meaning to the fact that He was determined to be the Son of God with power by His own resurrection. This is not what the verse states, but that resurrection of the dead, or the raising of dead persons, was the great proof that defined Him to be the Son of God with power. No doubt His own resurrection was the most astonishing instance of it; but His raising of dead persons in His ministry was a witness also, as the resurrection of His saints by-and-by will be the display of it. Hence the verse in Romans 1:1-32 expresses the truth in all its extent, and without specifying any one in particular. So Lazarus, as being the most conspicuous case of resurrection any where appearing in the gospels, except Christ's own, which all give, was the fullest testimony that even John rendered to that great truth. Hence, then, as one might expect from its character, the account is given with remarkable development in that gospel which is devoted to the personal glory of Jesus as the Son of God. To this attaches the revelation of the resurrection, and the life in Him as a, present thing, superior to all questions of prophetic time, or dispensations. It could be found nowhere else so appropriately as in John. The difficulty, therefore, in its occurrence here and not elsewhere, is really none whatever to any one who believes the object of God as apparent in the gospels themselves.
But, then, there is another feature that meets us in the story. Christ was not only the Son of God, but the Son of man. He was the Son of God, and a perfect man, in absolute dependence on His Father. He was not to be acted upon by any feeling, except the will of God. Thus He carries His divine sonship into His position as a man on earth, and He never allows that the glory of His person should in the smallest degree interfere with the completeness of His dependence and obedience. Hence, when the Lord hears the call, "Behold, he whom thou lovest is sick" the strongest possible appeal to the heart for acting at once on it He does not go. His answer is most calm, and, if God be not before us, to mere human feeling it might seem indifferent. It was not so, but was utter perfection. "This sickness," He says, "is not unto death." Events might seem to contradict this; appearances might say it was to death, but Jesus was and is the truth always. "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby." And so it was. "Now, Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus." Whatever, therefore, it might appear, His affection was unquestionable. But, then, there are other and even deeper principles. His love for Mary, for Martha, and for Lazarus weakened in no respect His dependence on God; He waited on His Father's direction. So, "when he heard that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was. Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judea again. They say, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again? Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. But if a man walk in the night he stumbleth, because there is no light in him." In Jesus there was nothing but perfect light. He was Himself the light. He walked in the sunshine of God. He was the very perfection of that which is only partially true with us in practice. "If, then, thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light." Indeed, He was the light, as well as full of it. Walking accordingly in this world, He waited for the word of His Father. At once, when this came, He says, "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth, but I go that I may awake him out of sleep." There was no darkness in Him. All is plain, and He go" forth promptly with the knowledge of all He is going to do.
Then we have the ignorant thoughts of the disciples, though not unmixed with devotedness to His person. Thomas proposes that they should go to die with him. How marvellous is the unbelief even of the saints of God! He was going really to raise the dead; their only thought was to go and die with him. Such was a disciple's sombre anticipation. Our Lord does not say a word about it at the moment, but calmly leaves the truth to correct the error in due time. Then we have the wonderful interview with the sisters; and, finally, our Lord is at the grave, a consciously divine person, the Son of the Father, but in the perfectness of manhood, yet with such deep feeling as Deity alone could produce not only sympathy with sorrow, but, above all, the sense of what death is in this world. Indeed, our Lord did not raise up Lazarus from the dead, until His own spirit had just as thoroughly taken, as it were, the sense of death on His soul, as when, in the removal of any sickness, He habitually felt its burden (Matthew 8:1-34); not, of course, in a low, literal, physical manner, but weighing it all in His spirit with His Father. Of us it is said, "with groanings that cannot be uttered." If Christ groaned, His could not but be a groan in accordance with the Spirit justly and perfectly uttering the real fulness of the grief that His heart felt. In our case this could not be, because there is that which mars the perfectness of what is felt by us; but in the case of Christ, the Holy Ghost takes up and groans out that which we cannot fully express. Even in us He gives the sorrow a divine expression to God; and, of course, in Christ there was no shortcoming, no mingling of the flesh, but all was absolutely perfect. Hence, along with this, there comes the full answer of God to the divine glory and perfection of Christ. Lazarus comes forth at the word of Christ.
This seems to me of deep interest; for we are too apt to look on Christ merely as One whose power dealt with sickness and with the grave. But does it not weaken His power if the Lord Jesus Christ enters into the reality of the case before God? On the contrary, it better manifests the perfectness of His love, and the strength of His sympathy, to trace intelligently the way in which His spirit took up the reality of the ruin here below to bear and spread it before God. And I believe that this was true of everything in Christ. So it was before and when He came to the cross. Our Lord did not go there without feeling the past and present and future: the atoning work is not the same as the anguish of being cast off by His people, and the utter weakness of the disciples. Then the sense of what was coming was realized by His spirit before the actual fact. It is not true, but positively and wholly false doctrine, to confine our Lord Jesus to the matter of bearing our sin, though this was confessedly the deepest act of all. Of course, the atonement was only on the cross: the bearing of the wrath of God, when Christ was made sin, was exclusively then and there. But to find fault with the statement that Christ did in His own spirit realize beforehand what He was going to suffer on the cross, is to overlook much of His sufferings, to ignore truth, and despise Scripture either leaving out a large portion of what God records about it, or confounding it with the actual fact, and only a part of it after all.
It is true that many Christians have been absorbed with the bare exertion of power in the miracles of Christ. In His healing of disease they have passed by the truth expressed inIsaiah 53:4; Isaiah 53:4, which Matthew applies to His life, and to which I have referred more than once. It seems undeniable, that not only was the power of God exhibited in those miracles, but that they afforded opportunity for the depth of His feelings to display itself, who had before Him the creature as God made it, and the deplorable havoc sin had wrought. Thus Jesus did perfectly what saints do with a mixture of human infirmity. Take again the fact that the Lord is pleased at times to put us through some exercise of heart before the actual trial comes: what is the effect of this? Do we bear the trial less because the soul has already felt it with God? Surely not. On the contrary, this is just what proves the measure of our spirituality; and the more we go through the matter with God, the power and blessing are so much the greater; so that when the trial comes, it might appear to an outside observer as if all was perfect calmness, and so indeed it is, or should be; and this because all has been out between ourselves and God. This, I admit, increases the pain of the trial immensely; but is this a loss? especially as at the same time there is strength vouchsafed to bear it. Thus the principle applies even to our little trials.
But Christ endured and did everything in perfection. Hence, even before Lazarus was raised up at the grave, we do not see or hear of One coming with divine power and majesty, and doing the miracle, if I may so say, off-hand. What can be more opposed to the truth? He who has such a meagre notion of the scene has everything to learn about it. Not that there was the smallest lack of consciousness of His glory; He is the Son of God unmistakably; He knows that His Father hears Him always; but none of these things hindered the Lord from groans and tears at the grave which was about to witness His power. None of them hindered the Lord from taking on His spirit the sense of death as no one else did. This is described by the Holy Ghost in the most emphatic language. "He groaned in spirit, and was troubled." But what was all this, compared with what. was soon to befall Himself when God entered into judgment with Him for our sins? It is not only granted, but insisted, that the actual expiation of sin, under divine wrath, was entirely and exclusively on the cross; but thence to assume that He did not previously go through with God the coming scene, and what was leading on to it, and everything that could add to the anguish of our Lord, is defective and erroneous teaching, however freely it is allowed that there was in the scene itself the endurance of wrath for sin which separates that hour from all that ever was or can be again.
Then, before the end of the chapter, the effect of all this divine testimony is shown. Man decides that the Lord must die; their intolerance of Jesus becomes now more pronounced. It was well known before. The giddy multitude may never have realised it till it came; but the religious folk, and the leaders at Jerusalem, had made up their minds about it long before. He must die. And now he who was high priest takes up the word, and gives though a wicked man, yet not without the Spirit acting the authoritative sentence about it which is recorded in our chapter. The resurrection power of the Son of God brought to a head the enmity of him who had the power of death. Jesus might have done such works at Nain or elsewhere, but to display them publicly at Jerusalem was an affront to Satan and his earthly instruments. Now that the glory of the Lord Jesus shone out so brightly, threatening the dominion of the prince of this world, there was no longer a concealment of the resolution taken by the religious world Jesus must die.
In John 12:1-50, accordingly, we have this, the under-current, still, but in a beautiful contrast. The Spirit of God here works in grace touching the death of Jesus, just as much as Satan was goading on his children to hatred and murder. God knows how to guide a beloved one of His where Jesus was abiding for a little season before He suffered. It was Mary; for John lets us hear the Lord Jesus calling His own sheep by name; and however rightly Matthew and Mark do not disclose it, it was not consistent with John's view of the Lord that she should be called merely "a woman," In his gospel such touches come out distinctly; and so we have Mary, and Mary's act with greater fulness as to its great principles, than anywhere else the part Mary took at this supper, where Martha served, and Lazarus sat at the table. Everything, every one, is found in the just place and season; the true light makes all manifest as it was, Jesus Himself being there, but about to die. "Mary took a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus." She did anoint His head, and other gospels speak of this; but John mentions what was peculiar. It was natural to anoint the head; but the special thing for the eye of love to discern was the anointing of the feet. This was specially shown in two ways.
The woman in Luke 7:1-50 did the very same thing; but this was not Mary, nor is there any good reason to suppose that it was even Mary Magdalene, any more than the sister of Lazarus. It was "a woman that was a sinner;" and I believe there is much moral beauty in not giving us her name, for obvious reasons. What could it do but become an evil precedent, besides indulging a prurient curiosity about her? The name is here dropped; but what of that, if it be written in heaven? There is a delicate veil cast over (not the grace shown by the Lord, but) the name of this woman who was a sinner; but there is an eternal record of the name and deed of Mary, the sister of Lazarus, who at this much later moment anoints the feet of Christ. Yet, as far as this goes, both women did the same thing. The one, in the abasement of feeling her sin before His ineffable love, did what Mary did in the sense of His deep glory, and with an instinctive feeling withal of some impending evil that menaced Him. Thus the sense of her sin, and the sense of His glory, brought them, as it were, to the same point. Another point of analogy is, that neither woman spoke; the heart of each expressed itself in deeds intelligible, at least, to Him who was the object of this homage, and He understood and vindicated both.
In this case the house was filled with the odour of the ointment; but this manifestation of her love who thus anointed Jesus brought out the ill-feeling and covetousness of one soul who cared not for Jesus, but was, indeed, a thief under his high pretensions of care for the poor. It is a very solemn scene in this point of view, the line of treachery alongside of the offering of grace. How often the self-same circumstances, which draw out fidelity and devotedness, manifest either heartless treachery or self-seeking and worldliness 1
Such, in brief, was the interior of Bethany. Outside Jewish rancour was undisguised. The heart of the chief priests was set on blood. The Lord, in the next scene, enters Jerusalem as the Son of David. But I must pass on, merely noting this Messianic witness in its place. When Jesus was glorified, the disciples remembered these things. The subsequent notice we have is the remarkable desire expressed by the Greeks, through Philip, to see Jesus. Here the Lord at once passes to another testimony, the Son of man, where the introduction of His most efficacious death is couched under the well-known figure of the corn of wheat falling into the ground and dying, as the harbinger, and, indeed, the means, of much fruit. In the path of His death they must follow who would be with Him. Not that here again the destined Head of all, the Son of man, is insensible at the prospect of such a death, but cries to the Father, who answers the call to glorify His name by the declaration that He had ( i.e., at the grave of Lazarus), and would again ( i.e., by raising up Jesus Himself).
The Lord, in the centre of the chapter just after this, opens out once more the truth of the world's judgment, and of His cross as the attractive point for all men, as such, in contrast with Jewish expectation. There is, first, perfect submission to the Father's will, whatever it may cost; then, the perception of the results in all their extent. This is followed by their unbelief in His proper glory, as much as in His sufferings. Such must ever be for man, for the world, the insuperable difficulty. They had heard it in vain in the law; for this is always misused by man, as we have seen in the gospel of John. They could not reconcile it with the voice of grace and truth. Both had been fully manifested in Jesus, and above all, would be yet more in His death. The voice of the law spoke to their ears of a Christ continuing for ever; but a Son of man humbled, dying, lifted up! Who was this Son of man? How exactly the counterpart of an Israelite's objections to this day! The voice of grace and truth was that of Christ come to die in shame, yet a sacrifice for sinners, however true also it was that in His own person He should continue for ever. Who could put these things together, seemingly so opposed? He who only heeds the law will never understand either the law or Christ.
Hence the chapter concludes with two closing warnings. Had they heard their own prophets? Let them listen also to Jesus. We have seen their ignorance of the law. In truth, the prophet Isaiah had shown long before that this was no new thing. He had predicted it inJohn 6:1-71; John 6:1-71, though a remnant should hear. The light of Jehovah might be ever so bright, but the heart of the people was gross. "Seeing they saw, but they did not understand." There was no reception of the light of God. Even if they believed after a sort, there was no confession to salvation, for they loved the praise of men, Jesus the Son of God, Jehovah Himself stands on earth and cries His final testimony. He pronounces upon it claims once more to be the light. He was "come a light into the world." This we have seen all through, from John 1:1-51 down toJohn 12:1-50; John 12:1-50. He was come a light into the world, that those that believed on Him should not abide in darkness. The effect was plain from the first; they preferred darkness to light. They loved sin; they had God manifested in love, manifested in Christ. The darkness was thus rendered only more visible in consequence of the light. "If any man hear my words, and believe not. I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day." Christ had not spoken from Himself, but as the sent One from the Father, who had charged Him what to say and what to speak. "And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak."
Time does not admit of more than a few words on the next two chapters (John 13:1-38; John 14:1-31), which introduce a distinct section of our gospel, where (testimony having been fully rendered, not indeed with hope of man, but for the glory of God,) Christ quits association with man (though supper time was come, not "ended" ver. 2) for a place suited to His glory, intrinsic and relational, as well as conferred; but alone with this (blessed to say), to give His own a part with Him in that heavenly glory (instead of His reigning over Israel here below).
Before concluding tonight, this I can notice but briefly, in order to bring my subject within the space allotted for it. Happily there is the less need to dwell on the chapters at the length they might claim, since many here are familiar with them, comparatively speaking. They are especially dear to the children of God in general.
First of all, our Lord has now terminated all question of testimony to man, whether to the Jew or to the world. He now addresses Himself to His own in the world, the unwavering, abiding objects of His love, as one just about to leave this world actually for that place which suits His essential nature, as well as the glory destined Him by the Father. Accordingly our Lord, as one about to go to heaven, new to Him as man, would prove His increasing love to them, (though fully knowing what the enemy would effect through the wickedness of one of their number, as well as through the infirmity of another,) and hence proceeds to give a visible sign then of what they would only understand later. It was the service of love that He would continue for them, when Himself out of this world and themselves in it; a service as real as any that He had ever done for them while He was in this world, and if possible, more important than any they had yet experienced. But, then, this ministration of His grace was also connected with His own new portion in heaven. That is, it was to give them a part with Him outside the world. It was not divine goodness meeting them in the world, but as He was leaving the world for heaven, whence He came, He would associate them with Himself, and give them a share with Himself where He was going. He was about to pass, though Lord of all, into the presence of God His Father in heaven, but would manifest Himself the servant of them all, even to the washing of their feet soiled in walking here below. The point, therefore, was (not here exactly suffering for sins, but) the service of love for saints, to fit them for having communion with Him, before they have their portion with Him in that heavenly scene to which He was going at once. Such is the meaning suggested by the washing of the disciples' feet. In short, it is the word of God applied by the Holy Ghost to deal with all that unfits for fellowship with Christ in heaven, while He is there. It is the Holy Ghost's answer here to what Christ is doing there, as one identified with their cause above, the Holy Ghost meanwhile carrying on a like work in the disciples here, to keep them in, or restore them to, communion with Christ there. They are to be with Him alone; but, meanwhile, He is producing and keeping up, by the Spirit's use of the word, this practical fellowship with Himself on high. While the Lord, then, intimates to them that it had a mystical meaning, not apparent on the face of it, nothing could be more obvious than the love or the humility of Christ. This, and more than this, had been abundantly shown by Him already, and in His every act. This, therefore, was not, and could not be, what was here meant, as that which Peter did not know then, but should know hereafter. Indeed, the lowly love of His Master was so apparent then, that the ardent but hasty disciple stumbled over it. There ought to be neither difficulty nor hesitation in allowing that a deeper sense lay hidden under that simple but suggestive action of Jesus a sense which not even the chief of the twelve could then divine, but which not only he, but every one else, ought to seize now that it is made good in Christianity, or, more precisely, in Christ's dealing with the defilements of His own.
This should be borne in mind, that the washing meant is not with blood, but with water. It was for those who would be already washed from their sins in His blood, but who need none the less to be washed with water also. Indeed, it were well to look more narrowly into the words of our Lord Jesus. Besides the washing with blood, that with water is essential, and this doubly. The washing, of regeneration is not by blood, though inseparable from redemption by blood, and neither the one nor the other is ever repeated. But in addition to the washing of regeneration, there is a continual dealing of grace with the believer in this world; there is the constant need of the application of the word by the Holy Ghost discovering whatever there may be of inconsistency, and bringing him to judge himself in the detail of daily walk here below.
Note the contrast between legal requirement and our Lord's action in this case. Under the law the priests washed themselves, hands as well as feet. Here Christ washes their feet. Need I say how highly the superiority of grace rises over the typical act of the law? Then follows, in connection and in contrast with it, the treachery of Judas. See how the Lord felt it from His familiar friend! How it troubled His spirit! It was a deep sorrow, a fresh instance of what has been referred to already.
Finally, at the end of the chapter, when the departure of Judas on his errand brought all before Him, the Saviour speaks again of death, and so glorifying God. It is not directly for the pardon or deliverance of disciples; yet who does not know that nowhere else is their blessing so secured? God was glorified in the Son of man where it was hardest, and even more than if sin had never been. Hence, as fruit of His glorifying God in His death, God would glorify Him in Himself "straightway." This is precisely what is taking place now. And this, it should be observed again, is in contrast with Judaism. The hope of the Jews is the manifestation of Christ's glory here below and by-and-by. What John shows is here in the immediate glorification of Christ on high. It does not depend upon any future time and circumstance, but was immediately consequent on the cross. But Christ was alone in this; none now could follow no disciple, any more than a Jew, as Peter, bold but weak, would prove to his cost. The ark must go first into Jordan, but we may follow then, as Peter did triumphantly afterwards.
John 14:1-31 (and here, too, I must be brief) follows up the same spirit of contrast with all that belonged to Judaism; for if the ministration of love in cleansing the saints practically was very different from a glorious reign Over the earth, so was the hope here given them of Christ just as peculiar. The Lord intimates, first of all, that He was not going to display Himself now as a Jewish Messiah, visible to the world; but as they believed in God, so they were to believe in Him. He was going to be unseen: quite a new thought to the Jewish mind as regards the Messiah, who, to them, always implied One manifested in power and glory in the world. "Ye believe in God," He says, "believe also in me." But then He connects the unseen condition He was about to assume with the character of the hope He was giving them. It was virtually saying that He was not going merely to bless them here. Nor would it be a scene for man to look on with his natural eyes in this world. He was going to bless them in an infinitely better way and place. "In my Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you." This is what the Son tells. Very different is the burden of the prophets. This was a new thing reserved most fitly for Him. Who but He should be the first to unveil to disciples on earth the heavenly scene of love and holiness and joy and glory He knew so well? "If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." This is the turning-point and secret "where I am." All depends on this precious privilege. The place that was due to the Son was the place that grace would give to the sow. They were to be in the same blessedness with Christ. It was not merely, therefore, Christ about to depart and be in heaven, maintaining their communion with Himself there, but wondrous grace! in due time they, too, were to follow and be with Him; yea, if He went before them, so absolute was the grace, that He would not devolve it on any one else, so to speak to usher them there. He would come Himself, and thus would bring them into His own place "That where I am, there ye may be also." This, I say, in all its parts, is the contrast of every hope, even of the brightest Jewish expectations.
Besides, He would assure them of the ground of their hope. In His own person they ought to have known how this could be. "Whither I go ye know, and the way ye know." They were surprised. Then, as ever, it was the overlooking of His glorious person that gave occasion to their bewilderment. In answer to Thomas, He says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." He was the way to the Father, and therefore they ought to have known. because no man comes to the Father but by Him. By receiving Jesus, by believing in Him, and only so, one comes to the Father, whom they had seen in Him, as Philip should have known. He was the way, and there was none other. Besides, He was the truth, the revelation of every one and everything as they are. He was also the life, in which that truth was, by the Spirit's power, known and enjoyed. In every way Christ was the only possible means of their entering into this blessedness. He was in the Father, and the Father in Him; and as the words were not spoken from Himself, so the Father abiding in Him did the works. (Verses 1-11)
Then our Lord turns, from what they should even then have known in and from His person and words and works, to another thing which could not then be known. This divides the chapter. The first part is the Son known on earth in personal dignity as declaring the Father imperfectly, no doubt, but still known. This ought to have been the means of their. apprehending whither He was going; for He was the Son not merely of Mary but of the Father. And this they then knew, however dull in perceiving the consequences. All His manifestation in this gospel was just the witness of this glory, as they certainly ought to have seen; and the new hope was thoroughly in accordance with that glory. But now he discloses to them that which they could only do and understand when the Holy Ghost was given. "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it. If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you." This supposes the Holy Ghost given. First, it is the Son present, and the Father known in Him, and He in the Father. Next, the Holy Ghost is promised. When He was given, these would be the blessed results. He was going away indeed; but they might better prove their love by keeping His commandments, than in human grief over His absence. Besides, Christ would ask the Father, who would give them their ever-abiding Comforter while He Himself was away. The Holy Ghost would be not a passing visitor on the earth, even as the Son who had been with them for a season. He would abide for ever. His dwelling with them is in contrast with any temporary blessing; and besides, He would be in them the expression of an intimacy which nothing human can fully illustrate.
Observe, the Lord uses the present tense both for Himself and for the Comforter the Holy Spirit in this chapter, in a way that will be explained shortly. In the early part of verse 2 He says about Himself, "I go to Prepare a place for you." He does not mean that He was in the act of departure, but just about to go. He uses the present to express its certainty and nearness; He then was on the point of going. So even of coming back again, where likewise He uses the present, "I come again." He does not precisely say, as in the English version, "I will come." This passage of Scripture suffices to exemplify a common idiomatic usage in Greek, as in our own and other tongues, when a thing is to be regarded as sure, and to be constantly expected. It seems to me an analogous usage in connection with the Holy Ghost "He dwelleth with you." I apprehend that the object is simply to lay the stress on the dwelling. The Holy Ghost, when He comes, will not come and go soon after, but abide. Hence, says the Lord, Jesus, "He abideth with you" the same word so often used for abiding throughout the chapter; and next, as we saw, "He shall be in you:" a needful word to add; for otherwise it was not implied in His abiding with them.
These, then, are the two great truths of the chapter: their future portion with Christ in the Father's house; and, meanwhile, the permanent stay of the Holy Ghost with the disciples, and this, too, as indwelling on the footing of life in Christ risen. (Ver. 19) I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you." Thus, having the Holy Ghost as the power of life in Him, they would know Him nearer to them, and themselves to Him, when they should know Him in the Father, than if they had Him as Messiah with them and over them in the earth. These are the two truths which the Lord thus communicates to them.
Then we have a contrast of manifestation to the disciples, and to the world, connected with another very important point the Holy Ghost's power shown in their obedience, and drawing down a love according to the Father's government of His children. It is not merely the Father's love for His children as such, but Father and Son loving them, because of having and keeping the commandments of Jesus. This would be met by a manifestation of Jesus to the soul, such as the world knows nothing of. But the Lord explains further, that if a man loves Him, he will keep His word, and His Father will love him, "and we will come to him, and make our abode with him." (v. 23) This is not a commandment, but His word a simple intimation of His mind or will; and, therefore, as a more thorough test, so followed by a fuller blessing. This is a beautiful difference, and of great practical value, being bound up with the measure of our attentiveness of heart. Where obedience lies comparatively on the surface, and self-will or worldliness is not judged, a commandment is always necessary to enforce it. People therefore ask, " Must I do this? Is there any harm in that?" To such the Lord's will is solely a question of command. Now there are commandments, the expression of His authority; and they are not grievous. But, besides, where the heart loves Him deeply, His word* will give enough expression of His will to him that loves Christ. Even in nature a parent's look will do it. As we well know, an obedient child catches her mother's desire. before the mother has uttered a word. So, whatever might be the word of Jesus, it would be heeded, and thus the heart and life be formed in obedience. And what is not the joy and power where such willing subjection to Christ pervades the soul, and all is in the communion of the Father and the Son? How little can any of us speak of it as our habitual unbroken portion!
* It is difficult to say why Tyndale, Cranmer, the Geneva, and the Authorised Versions give the plural form, which has no authority whatever. Wiclif and the Rhemish, adhering to the Vulgate, happen to be right. His word has a unity of character which is of moment. He that loves Christ keeps His word; he that does not love Him keeps not His words; if he observes some of them only, other motives may operate; but if he loved Christ, he would value His word as a whole.
The concluding verses (25-31) bring before them the reason of the Lord's communication, and the confidence they may repose in the Spirit, both in His own teaching them all things, and in His recalling all things which Jesus said to them. "Peace," He adds, "I leave [fruit of His very death; nor this only, but His own character of peace, what He Himself knew] with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you." "Not as the world," which is capricious and partial, keeping for itself even where it affects most generosity. He alone who was God could give as Jesus gave, at all cost, and what was most precious. And see what confidence He looks for, what affections superior to self! "Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I." Little remained for Him to talk with them. Another task was before Him not with saints, but with Satan, who coming would find nothing in Him, save, indeed, obedience up to death itself, that the world might know that He loves the Father, and does just as He commands. And then He bids the disciples rise up, and go hence, as inJohn 13:1-38; John 13:1-38. He rose up Himself (both being, in my opinion, significant actions, in accordance with what was opening out before Him and them).
But I need and must say no more now on this precious portion. I could only hope to convey the general scope of the contents, as well as their distinctive character. May our God and Father grant that what has been said may help His children to read His word with ever deepening intelligence and enjoyment of it, and of Him with whose grace and glory it is filled!
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Kelly, William. "Commentary on John 11:47". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://studylight.org/​commentaries/​wkc/​john-11.html. 1860-1890.