Through the Bible in a Year: John 1-3

This Week’s Readings

Monday, June 25: John 1:1-3
Tuesday, June 26: John !:4-3
Wednesday, June 27: John 4-6
Thursday, June 28: John 7-9
Friday, June 29: John 10-12

Next week we will finish the Gospel of John, then cover more Psalms and Proverbs on Thursday and Friday.

The overall year’s plan is here.

John 1

I wrote a lot yesterday about the Father and his Son, the divine Logos (or Word). It would be easy for that to be left as a theological issue. I didn’t know how to avoid that, but today I want to make sure we moved on to a better approach.

Theological issues easily turn into divisive issues. Because I think I have an excellent explanation on the relationship between the Father and the Son that answers several Scriptural problems that modern Christians have and that is based on the consistent, united testimony of the earliest churches and the confirmation of 250 church leaders at the Council of Nicea, I am always tempted to maintain that people ought to listen to me and agree with me. My position is not my own; it is the tradition of the church, and, in my opinion, clearly more Scriptural.

But what good does it do for me to worry about converting people to my position. If I fought vigorously enough for it, I could get followers and create much division. Creating division is a much worse violation of the traditions of the apostles than a misunderstanding of the difficult concept of how the Son can be divine, yet there be only one God.

On the other hand, there are much better purposes to understanding who the Son is. John is glorying in what he has to say about the Word of God throughout the first part of this chapter.

This is the Logos!
This is the One who was from the beginning!
This is the One who created all things!
Nothing came into existence that was not made by him!
He is the Life, and that particular Life that is the Word is the Light of all men!

The Logos became flesh and lived in our midst!
We saw his glory! Glory that he shared with God himself, his Father!
He is the Father’s Only-begotten!
We have received of his fulness!
He brought us grace and truth!

I don’t know that I’m very good and conveying poetry or excitement, but that’s what I’m trying to do there. I think that’s what John was trying to do in chapter 1. This is the Logos of God who was in the beginning! He came to earth to be with us!

In 1 John (the first letter of John, towards the end of the Bible), he says it this way:

Look at the kind of love that God has shown to us, that we should be called the children of God! (3:2)

Finally, he ends this glorious rejoicing in the Word and Son of God by saying that no one has seen God at any time, but the Son, who has lived in the bosom of the Father, has "expounded" him.

That word, in v. 18, that is translated "declared" (KJV) or "explained" (NASB) or "made known" (NET) is exegeomai. It’s the word we get "exegesis" from. Exegesis is the act of interpreting a text to find its true meaning.

Jesus interpreted the Father for us. He lived the life of the Father so that we could watch him live it.

John 1:11-12: The Gospel

This is a very important passage. "Those who are his" could be everyone in the world because he created them all. Most likely, though, this is a reference to the Jews, because the Logos is the Word and Reason of God. He is the Jews’ God. All the speaking from God to the Jews came through him because he is the Word of God.

This is also why John can say that no one has seen God at any time (v. 18) despite the fact that God was seen relatively often in old covenant times. They did not see the Father, who is the one God (Jn. 17:3; 1 Cor. 8:6), but they saw the divine Word of God, who proceeds from God and is of the divine substance.

Jesus came to his own, the Jews, and they did not receive him. John was probably writing this 65 years after the coming of Christ, and certainly at least 45 years. He saw the Jews not only reject their Messiah and put him to death, he also saw that the Gentiles were flocking into the church even when the Jews were not. Paul calls it a "partial hardening" (Rom 11:25).

The important part of this passage, though, is verse 12, which promises that those who do receive Jesus will be given authority to become the children of God.

Today we often teach that if we believe that Jesus died for our sins, then we have received him and we are believers. That’s not belief. Belief is belief in Jesus, not in things about Jesus, no matter how true or important those things are. We need to receive him, not just receive a teaching about him, no matter how true or important that teaching is.

Later in the Gospel, John will record this prayer from Jesus:

This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (17:3)

The Jehovah’s Witnesses want to translate this as "take in knowledge about you" rather than know you. If there was ever a deadly mistranslation, that is it. Jesus Christ is the Life, and that Life enlightens every man that comes into the world. You don’t need to take in knowledge about the Life and Light, you need to know the Life and Light.

John 1:19-51

We’re over 1,000 words already. I think we’ve established a good basis, though. I’ll have to not be quite so thorough in from here through chapter 2.

In verse 21, when the Pharisees mention "the prophet," they are referring to Moses’ prophecy that God would raise up a prophet like Moses to whom the people would be obliged to listen.

Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptizer is another chance for the apostle to honor our Lord. John baptizes in water, but the Logos of God is able to baptize in the Holy Spirit! If ever there was a great power to have, that is the power to have!

In fact, as I try to emphasize over and over and over again, the ability of Jesus to baptize in the Holy Spirit is the very foundation of the New Testament. Jesus’ death brought forgiveness of sins and washed away the past. Jesus’ resurrection brings us a new life. But when he comes to live in us by the Spirit of God, that is the New Covenant (Acts 2:17-21).

More on that in chapter 3.

In verse 36, I suspect that John the Baptizer was not sure why he called Jesus the Lamb of God. There’s nothing in what we read about John to suggest that he knew that Jesus would give his life for the sins of the world. Jesus is "the Lamb slain since the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8), but I don’t think John knew that.

So what do I think? I think that John saw Jesus and was moved to call him the Lamb of God. I suspect that there are many times that a prophet doesn’t understand why he said what he said. There are no prophets unless they are willing to take some risk in obedience to the Word moving in their heart. The revelation of God sometimes reveals itself to the mind, but often it does not, and the prophet must proclaim what he does not understand.

John 2

There’s plenty of interesting things about the wedding in Cana. One of them is the interaction between Jesus and his mother.

I read a book once, called Do It Yourself Hebrew and Greek (which I HIGHLY recommend). He used Jesus statement to Mary, "What have I to do with thee?" (v. 4), to explain why those who are not experts should not trust their knowledge of Greek to back up novel interpretations.

The literal Greek of that statement is, "What to me and to you?" It really doesn’t mean much in Greek, but it is a standard Hebrew idiom, employed several times in the Hebrew Scriptures. Goodrick, the author, sends you to those various places, and he lets you put the statement in context of other uses of the Hebrew idiom.

That idiom is more strongly negative than we realize. David used it to Abishai when he wanted to put someone to death. The multiple demons in the man in the tombs at the Gaderenes said it to Jesus.

Despite such a strong statement to his mother, Jesus did what she said!

Drunkenness is expressly and repeatedly forbidden in the apostolic writings (e.g. Eph. 5:18; Gal. 5:19-21). Drinking, however, is not forbidden, and I’m pretty sure that no culture in the world besides the American one would ever have considered forbidding alcohol completely. At the wedding in Cana, Jesus not only made wine from water, but he made wine after everyone had drank until the original wine was all gone! The headwaiter clearly thought that the guests had drank enough that their ability to taste the wine was impaired (v. 10).

Note, too, that John calls this the beginning of the signs Jesus did. This is a bit of evidence for Eusebius’ assertion that John wrote the Gospel to cover the first year of Jesus’ ministry which the synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) did not cover.

In verses 13-17, we need to remember to learn about Jesus from what the apostles wrote about him, not interpret the apostles by what we think about Jesus. We’re Americans. We believe in being nice. Jesus wasn’t being nice. I think it’s clear from the narrative that Jesus was only trying to scare the merchants out of the temple, but I think it’s also clear that hitting a merchant or two with the whip would not have been out of the question.

In verse 19, Jesus gives a prophecy that could not possible have been understood by the Pharisees (and wasn’t). It wasn’t understood by the apostles, either, but after he rose again, the prophecy provided comfort and helped them believe.

The New Testament was the same way. No one understood the prophecies until after the events they portrayed happened, but they provided comfort and assurance once those things transpired.

In verses 24 and 25 we see that Jesus could read the hearts of man.

John 3

This is another of the most famous passages of Scripture. "Ye must be born again" (v. 7).

Shane Claiborne, whom I admire for the work he does, once wrote that we base our "born again" theology on one passage of Scripture. He didn’t object to the born again theology, just to the emphasis on it without also emphasizing taking care of the poor and widows and giving, which have many more verses.

His point is good, but this is nowhere near the only passage of Scripture that talks about new birth. 1 Peter 1:23 talks about the fact that we are born again, and James 1:18 says that God gave birth to us through the word of truth. There are other references to new life and to dying and rising again throughout the prophets and in the apostles writings.

I have heard it suggested relatively often that "born again" can also be translated "born from above." I read one really strong argument for that translation. The theologian who wrote on it spent an entire chapter defining the Greek word anothen. I got home and told my wife about it, and she took his argument apart with one question. "Then why did Nicodemus talk about entering a second time into his mother’s womb?"

We’ll stick with "born again" as the proper translation.

Being born again means being born of the Spirit and of water (v. 5). Since many Protestants don’t like what the Bible has to say about water baptism, they have come up with a couple alternate interpretations of water in verse 5. We will ignore those alternative interpretations because there are no value to them. I think David Bercot may have said it best in Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up. "If Jesus meant something other than baptism, then he was a terrible communicator because everyone for 1500 years thought that’s what he meant."

My favorite description of being born of the Spirit and walking in the Spirit is in this chapter. You don’t know where the spiritual man is going or coming from. He’s like the wind. You can’t see his source, but he is moved by it all the time.

I like it. I want to live like that. I do live like that, and you can, too. It is the New Covenant.

In verses 14-15 we are treated to a shocking statement by Jesus. He compares his crucifixion to the lifting up of the bronze serpent in the wilderness!

The first time I read that, I couldn’t believe it. I had to go see a commentary to make sure I understood what I was reading.

My mind isn’t so narrow now, though, and I can see the excellent typology of the bronze serpent. The story is in Numbers 21:4-9. The serpent on the stick did provide the shape of the cross, which was a prophecy of Christ. More so, though, as we are horrified by snakes, so the raising up of Christ on the cross because of how we lived and what we did ought to horrify us even more.

From verses 13-36, no one is certain whether Jesus is continuing to talk to Nicodemus or whether those verses are John’s commentary after Jesus asked Nicodemus, "How will you believe if I tell you heavenly things" (v. 12, NASB). Because of what we have read already in John, we can know that it doesn’t matter. Jesus is the Word of God. Whether those are his direct earthly words, summarized by John 60 years after the fact, or whether those are John’s words, inspired by the living Word of God, doesn’t really matter. The source is still Jesus, the Word.

John 3:16 is the most famous verse in the Bible, of course. It really needs to be taken in context, though. Those who believe in verse 16 are the same ones who "practice the truth" in verse 20 (NASB). Those who believe are also those who walk in the light so there deeds may be exposed. John says in his letter that anyone who says he is in the light but hates his brother is in the darkness no matter what he says (1 Jn. 2:9).

I haven’t pointed out that there are groups of people who believe that Jesus did not exist prior to coming to earth. He was just a man like the rest of us, but he was exalted to be the Son of God because of his obedience. John the Baptizer disagrees with them. John believes Jesus created all things, and he believes that Jesus "comes from heaven" (v. 31).

John 3:36 can be very confusing. Some Bibles translate "believe" twice in that verse; others have "believe" and then "obey."

There are two different Greek words there. One is pisteuo and the other is peitho. The same two words are used interchangeably in Hebrews 3:18-19, though peitho is used first in that passage.

Peitho carries the connotation of "be persuaded by," and it is often translated "obey," especially in modern translations. The KJV translates apeitho (= not peitho) as "disobey" 7 out of the 16 times it is used. Peitho is used 55 times, and it is translated as "persuade" or "obey" 29 of those times. It has various translations the other 26 times, only being translated "believe" 3 times.

Okay, enough Greek. I think it’s clear that John used those two words on purpose. Belief in a person, in this case Jesus Christ, means that you are persuaded by them and that you intend to do what they say. That is not just an exposition of the Greek, that’s what we mean in English. If I were to tell you that I believe in the Libertarian party and I’m an advocate of big government and social programs, you’d know to tell me that I don’t really believe in the Libertarian party, which strongly opposes those things.

Belief in Jesus Christ is not some kind of joke, where you say you believe, announce that Jesus’ blood has paid for your sins, and then also announce that you’re not really interested in turning the other cheek when someone does you wrong. God is not mocked. The spiritual man will reap eternal life, but the fleshly one will reap corruption (Gal. 6:7-9). There is far too many "Christians" willing to say that the words of Jesus are "overboard" and unnecessary to follow.

Eternal life is an incredible gift! Until Jesus came, we had no promise of living forever. Forget cryogenics. Here is an opportunity right now, without technology to receive eternal life: to partake of it here through the deposit of the Spirit and then to experience it at the judgment as a reward.

The way to that is faith in Jesus, and it is well worth being a real believer, who does the work and reaps the benefits (Jam. 2:14-26). We don’t work to become a believer. We believe in Jesus to become a believer so that we can, through grace, be made new creatures who can do the works that God has prepared in advance for us to do (Eph. 2:8-10).

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