Through the Bible in a Year: John 4-6

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 4

Here we can see the importance of paying attention to the things we paid attention to as we were reading through the history of Israel. We know who Jacob was. We may not remember exactly where Sychar was (and I have no internet as I type this, so I can’t look it up and give you a link), but we do know where Samaria is, as far as it being a territory. It was north of the kingdom of Judah.

We also know the reason that the Jews have nothing to do with the Samaritans (v. 9) because we read about how the Assyrians captured the ten northern tribes and settled Israel with people from other countries. The Samaritans were "half-breeds."

Jesus has a strange conversation with this Samaritan woman. He doesn’t really answer any of her questions until the end, after he has thrown her off balance by telling her what he knew about her. Instead, he gently leads her to a spiritual desire, which she doesn’t really understand ("Give me this water so that … I don’t have to come here to draw"). Then he throws her off balance by pointing out here marital situation, which she is not proud of.

The Samaritan woman then does something all of us should be aware of. She tries to shift the subject to a religious debate. "Oh, you’re a prophet," she says. "Let’s talk about the temple controversy, Jerusalem vs. Samaria. Let’s ignore my sin and discuss theology, not obedience to God."

We love theology because discussing doctrines we have no control over is not threatening. Discussing the commands and judgments of God is much more threatening because it requires us to think every time we pull money out of our wallet. It requires us to question whether we care, whether we help people, whether we love the world, whether we’re more fascinated with Hollywood or Apple than we are with the things of the kingdom and the Spirit of God.

Notice, too, that Jesus did not berate the Samaritan woman for her sin. Instead he calls her to worship God in spirit and truth, then reveals who he is.

In the verses that follow, my opinion (for what it’s worth) is that Jesus didn’t eat because he was excited, not because he was fasting. He was satisfied by doing the will of the Father, and he was excited about reaching the Samaritan woman’s heart. He told us in Matthew that there is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents (15:7). Since Jesus is the Lord from heaven, he shares the joy of heaven over that repentance.

John 5:1-16

There’s a verse in this chapter that was quite surprising to me. In verse 14, Jesus tells the man he healed to stop sinning so that something worse didn’t happen to him. I think that surprises me every time I read it. When Jesus heals the blind man in chapter 9 of John’s Gospel, he tells his disciples that the blindness was not caused by sin but brought about so that God could be glorified.

The fact is, there are many sources for sickness. Whatever we wish were true, the fact is that God has not devoted himself to answer our question, "Why?" He reveals himself, he heals, and he transforms lives, but overall he does not answer our pleas to know why bad things happen.

At one time Jesus says that a bent over woman has been oppressed by satan for 18 years. Here he says that the healed man must stop sinning to prevent a worse problem than his paralysis. In chapter 9 he says that God let the blind man be blind so that his works would be glorified.

Right now, Steve Saint of Itec Ministries—son of Nate Saint who was martyred by Waodani Indians with Jim Elliott in Ecuador in 1956—is lying in a hospital bed in Florida. He is trying to get movement back in his legs, arms, hands, and feet after being hit in the head by an airfoil that snapped loose from a safety strap.

Steve’s testimony is incredible. He said (paraphrasing), "Despite all the pain, I have not been tempted once to ask why, which really encourages me." Steve simply says that he wants God to write this chapter of his story, just as he has written all the others. (See his book Walking God’s Trail.)

Concerning the Pharisees’ blind reaction to this man’s healing, focusing on a ridiculous religious technicality rather than an incredible miracle from God, we must all beware of how we exalt our own theology. We see the Pharisees exalting their theology above a miracle from God, but the worst exaltation of theology is to exalt it above love. Love can be found even in the judgment of God, not just in the mercy of God, but it cannot be found in pharisaical condemnation based on the traditions of men.

It’s easy to condemn the Pharisees for the traditions of men, but are we really willing to look at the Word of God (I’m referring to Jesus here, not the Bible) and the Scripture and face our own traditions that stop God’s commands from being carried out?

John 5:17-20

Oddly enough, the Pharisees had a little understanding of the idea of divinity, probably better than most of the modern church. They understood that the claim to be the Son of God was a real claim. The Son is called the Son because he really is a Son. He was actually begotten of God in the beginning, the firstborn of all creation.

Thus, referring to himself as the Son of God meant that he was equal to God. He was eternal. He was not made, and he never came into existence. The divine substance has always existed and is not created.

Equal, however, is not a universal word. There is a sense in which the Son is not equal. He will tell us in 14:28 that the Father is greater than he is. In Mark 13:32, he told us that there are things the Father knows that he does not.

Verse 19 is crucial to following God. Do we have our eyes open to what our Father is doing? Have we made any effort to be those that watch for what God is doing? Or are we concerned with our own plans and doings.

If we will give ourselves to God, we will find that he begins to intervene in our lives. Our plans will begin to go astray. Hurdles and roadblocks will arise, detouring us from our own path into his. After some time of this, you will begin to see quickly where God is going and where you should be following.

But if we complain and buck and kick, we will find that we learn nothing at all and remain carnal throughout our Christian life. This is bad because living according to the flesh will lead to our dying. It as we put the deeds of the body to death by the Spirit that we will live (Rom. 8:12-13).

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go. I will guid you with my eye. Don’t be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding and whose mouth must be controlled with bit and bridle. (Ps. 32:8-9)

In verse 20, Jesus says that the Father shows him great things to do because the Father loves him. This does not leave us out! In chapter 14, Jesus tells us that we will do even greater works than he did (v. 12). That is not because any one of us is going to be more powerful than Jesus. It is because as there are many living by the Spirit of God, some with gifts of healing, some with miracles, some who teach, others who evangelize, some who shepherd, some who administrate, and many others … as we together do these things, our effect on the world and the miracles we perform will far outstrip those done by Jesus when he was living in just one body.

The fact is, anything we do is still being done by Jesus, but now he has a corporate body!!! He can work through all of us. We are called his body; in fact, we are called his very limbs (1 Cor. 12).

John 5:21-30

Jesus has a lot to say about judgment here. It is the Son who will resurrect us at the end of the age. It is the Son who will judge us.

There are two resurrections mentioned in this passage. In verse 25, Jesus is not talking about the physically dead, but about the spiritually dead (which we all are prior to knowing Jesus – Eph. 2:1-3). The dead will hear his voice and live.

In verses 27-29, he is talking about those in the graves. Notice that he says "all that are in the graves" rather than "the dead."

John 5:31-47: The Word and the Church (Advanced)

Verse 38 says something interesting. It’s important to remember. Jesus says that the Word is not living inside of the Pharisees because they don’t listen to the one God has sent. We may tend to think of that as only applying to Jesus, but that’s not true. In John’s first letter, he tells us that is true for the church as well.

We are of God. The one that knows God listens to us. The one that is not of God does not hear us. This is how we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. (1 Jn. 4:6)

The next two verses add to Jesus’ point. You can make all the Scriptural arguments you want, but those who are not of God and who do not listen to the ones God has sent have already read the Scriptures. They study them, thinking that life is in them, but they refuse to come to Jesus Christ so that they will actually have life. The Scriptures testify of Jesus, which means …

It means that the Scriptures testify of the church, too, because the church is the body of Christ! The church is called the pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15). God has promised to lead the church into what is "true and not a lie" (1 Jn. 2:27). As the church speaks to each other, they are preserved from doctrinal error and they grow—together— into the fullness of Christ.

By church, if I haven’t explained it before, I do not mean this organization or that organization. I mean the local church. I mean the disciples who live in a town together and who are able to be in fellowship with each other, whether or not they actually are in fellowship with each other. They are the possessors of the promises. They are the ones who can be led into what is true. In most cases, they are not being led and they are not being taught by God because they are scattered, being taught by organizations not much different than the Pharisees—groups that had good beginning, but have settled into tradition and are unable to change or to receive the revelation of God.

Towards the end of the chapter, we see Jesus backing up Moses. Jesus always backed up Moses. This is not strange because God conversed with Moses face to face, like a friend (Ex. 33:11). That God would have been the Logos, the Word of God. So Moses is Jesus’ friend, and not just Jesus’ friend while Jesus is in a human body, but the friend of Jesus when Jesus was in the divine form of God’s Wisdom (whatever form that is).

Jesus is charging the Pharisees with misusing the Law to condemn the one that Moses spoke of.

Surely, too, when Jesus says that Moses spoke of him, he is referring back to the prophecy about "the prophet" like Moses that God would raise up and to whom Israel would be obligated to listen (Deut. 18:15-19).

John 6:1-35

Here we find two of Jesus’ most well-known miracles, the feeding of the five thousand and walking on water. John doesn’t mention that Peter attempted, and partially succeeded at, walking on water as well.

When Jesus is asked what the work of God is (v. 29), he replies that the work of God is to believe in the One God has sent. That is because real belief will issue forth in all other works, for the works we are to do are prepared since the foundation of the world (Eph. 2:10). We find those works by walking by the Spirit, which is the same as letting Christ live through you. The issue is not just good deeds, but doing spiritual deeds, those that are the product of a spiritual life and the motivations put in our hearts when we set our minds on spiritual things.

Jesus was apparently very patient. "What sign can you give us?" they ask in verse 30.

Oh, I don’t know. How about feeding 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish, then gathering up baskets of scraps?

They may not have known about the walking on water, but the passage tells us that the majority of them were part of the 5,000 who were fed by the loaves and fish. Did no one notice that the apostles never had to refill their baskets when they passed out the food?

Jesus says in v. 35 that he’s the bread of life. He’ll have a lot more to say about that in this chapter.

John 6:37 and Predestination (Advanced)

In verse 37, he says that all that the Father gives him will come to him. Predestination is a true doctrine, and it’s mentioned several times in the Scriptures (Acts 13:48; Rom. 8:29; 1 Pet. 1:2). When I object to Calvinism it is not because I object to predestination but because I object to capricious predestination, wherein God randomly selects a few to be saved. Calvinists like to hide this random consignment of the majority of mankind to eternal fire with nothing they can do about it by calling it "sovereignty," then claiming that if God isn’t cruel tyrant they portray him to be, then he isn’t sovereign.

Predestination is based on foreknowledge. God knows in advance the response people will give, just as I know the response my wife, children, and friends will give to many questions because I know them. I’m finite, so I only know the answer to a few questions for my family and friends, but God, being infinite, knows everything. This does not mean that he predetermines everything, just foreknows it.

The elect are those inside of Christ. If you’re in Christ, you’re elect. If you’re not, you’re not elect. It is up to you to "make your calling and election sure" by diligently adding godly qualities to your faith through a spiritual walk and trust in God (2 Pet. 1:5-11).

Thus, those that the Father gives to Jesus are those that he foreknows will believe and continue to the end.

John 6:38-46

In verse 38, can we say what Jesus says? Can we say that we are living on earth to do God’s will and not our own? Are we really seeking first the kingdom of God and allowing God to provide for us the things that we need? (Matt. 6:33).

The Jews were a little bothered by his disagreement with them that Moses brought them the bread from heaven. They ignore his foray into his mission on earth, and they get right back to the issue of his being the Bread of Life and particularly his being the Bread that "came down out of heaven." That sounded like blasphemy, as heaven was almost a euphemism for God among the Jews of the first century.

Jesus answers their complaints by saying that these Jews need to listen to God, not their traditions or their favorite Bible characters (such as Moses). Isaiah 54:13 is where the prophets say that everyone will be taught of the Lord, and Jesus points out that if they will be taught of God, they will come to him.

Thus, in verse 44, those who are drawn by God are the same ones who are open to learn from God. These will come to Jesus. Those who are not open will be given parables and stumbling blocks so that "hearing, they may not hear, and seeing, they may not perceive." We saw parables in the synoptic Gospels; here we see Jesus putting a stone of offense before them (Matt. 21:42-44).

In verse 46, we have John 1:18 explained. John 1:18 says that no man has seen God, yet the Hebrew Scriptures repeatedly talk of seeing God. As explained several times in these commentaries it was the Logos of God that was seen. Verse 46 makes that clear, as Jesus explains that it is the Father who has never been seen by man.

John 6:47 and Eternal Life

We talked about this when we went through Romans, but Paul and John use eternal life differently. For Paul, eternal life is a reward still to be obtained. When he speaks of the life we have through Christ on this earth, he only uses the word "life" (e.g., Rom. 2:5-7; 6:22; Gal. 6:7-9). That is also true of Mark (10:30).

The reason for this is explained in John’s letter. 1 John 5:11-13. The eternal life we have now is the life that is inside the Son. It is not our possession. If we have the Son, we have the life. If we do not have the Son, we do not have eternal life. At the judgment, it will be made our possession. We will be given immortality, becoming sons of God just as (well, not just as, but equally immortal) Jesus is, so that "he might become the firstborn among many siblings" (Rom. 8:29).

Thus, John, Paul, and Mark have the same thought in mind. On this earth, we live by the life that is in Jesus, but at the judgment, we will receive eternal life in ourselves if we have continued in the faith, not moved away from the hope of the Gospel (Col. 1:21-23).

John 6:48-71: The Great Offense

If the Jews struggled with the concept of Jesus as being the Bread from heaven, he made it far worse by explaining that they needed to eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to partake of that bread. They were horrified! Cannibalism was far outside the morals of Judaism (and, thank God, still is), and even animal blood was forbidden to them, much less human blood.

Jesus did not bother explaining himself except to tell them that his words were Spirit and life (v. 63). By this, he did not mean, "Interpret this figuratively, and thus ignore what I said about eating my meat and drinking my blood."

He meant, "All of you are thinking carnally. I’ve been trying to tell you that it is the Father who must draw you to me, or you will never last. Go to the Father! Learn from him, and you will understand what I am saying. Become those who have the Word of God inside of them and then you will be able to recognize the Word of God when it is spoken to you!"

The apostles understood this. When many of the Jews either didn’t understand or refused to go to the Father for guidance and revelation, they were offended enough to quit listening to him. So Jesus asked the apostles if they would leave, too. Their answer is rich:

"Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. (v. 68)

John 6:48-66: The Bread of Life and the Eucharist/Communion (Advanced)

So, while I have said that Jesus wasn’t declaring his words figurative in verse 63, how does that apply to communion which has to come to mind in this passage. Protestants say Jesus’ words are figurative. Catholics say they are literal, and they not only teach that in some way communicants (those who take the Eucharist or communion) are eating the literal body and blood of the Lord, but they also keep the consecrated pieces of bread in a chalice in a small tabernacle on an altar in their church buildings and cathedrals. Worshipers literally bow down to this cup of bread, believing Jesus to be present in it, an act that many Protestants (and I) consider entirely inappropriate if not outright idolatry.

Let’s cover several things, beginning with the difference in wording: Eucharist vs. communion.

The word "Eucharist" comes from the Greek word for thanksgiving. It was used because Jesus gave thanks over the bread and wine at the last supper (Matt. 26:27). Justin Martyr says that "Thanksgiving" (Gr. Eucharist) is what the churches in general called the meal (First Apology 66, c. A.D. 155).

The word "communion" means fellowship. It is koinonia in the Greek. and Paul calls the bread and wine of the Lord’s supper "communion" or "fellowship" of the body and blood of Christ.

Both words are perfectly good words to use.

As far as whether the bread and wine of communion is figuratively the body and blood of Christ, the first thing we need to admit is, of course it is; at least to a certain extent. Jesus did not expect the Jews to begin biting him and lapping at his blood when he gave that speech. When we—whether we are Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox, or refuse to be called such names—eat the fellowship meal, we are eating bread and drinking wine, not meat and blood. (Some Roman Catholics have written me arguing that science has proven that the molecular structure of the bread really becomes meat when the priest blesses it, but the Roman Catholic Church itself does not teach or believe this. And the rumor is a rumor, not a real scientific study.)

The second thing we need to admit is that the idea that the Lord’s Supper is completely symbolic is unscriptural. Such an idea was rejected by everyone except gnostic heretics until at least the time of the Reformation.

By unscriptural, I suppose I am referring primarily to 1 Corinthians 11, where we are told that eating the Eucharist unworthily leads to the judgment of God, which can include sickness and death. If the Eucharist can bring such judgment, then does it not bring grace to those who eat it worthily?

Further, Paul calls the Eucharist the fellowship of the body and blood of Christ. While the bread and wine is not literally meat and blood, it does cause us to interact (commune) with the body and blood of Christ, something Jesus clearly wanted us to do when he spoke in John 6.

As far as the tradition of the church, the teaching that the bread and wine is in some sense the body and blood of Christ is as early as it is possible to go. From the earliest Christian writings onwards, we read things like:

… breaking one and the same bread, which is the medicine of immortality, the antidote which prevents us from dying, and a cleansing remedy driving away evil so that we should live in God through Jesus Christ. (Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians 20, c. A.D. 110)

we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of his word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. (First Apology 66, c. A.D. 155)

He has acknowledged the cup as his own blood, from which he bedews our blood; and he has established the bread as his own body, from which he gives increase to our bodies. When, therefore, the mingled cup and the manufactured bread receives the Word of God and the Eucharist of the blood and the body of Christ is made, from which things the substance of our flesh is increased and supported … (Irenaeus, Against Heresies V:2:2-3, c. A.D. 185)

What to do with that information is up to each church, but to the early churches the Eucharist was important, providing grace and being the food of eternal life. I love the terminology, "the medicine of immortality."

I have several more early Christian quotes on the subject at Christian-history.org.

This entry was posted in Through the Bible and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Through the Bible in a Year: John 4-6

  1. Linda Johnson Khan says:

    This is a grand passage, and Jesus taught a grand lesson here. In my days as a Sunday school teacher, I loved teaching about Lazarus! IF JESUS HAD NOT CALLED HIM BY NAME THE ENTIRE GRAVEYARD WOULD HAVE COME FORTH!!
    The passage just lights my soul with fire! For me, this is a lesson in faith!! Oh my!! Thank you so much!!! 🙂 !!!! I really enjoyed reading your work!

    • Shammah says:

      Thank you, Linda, and I love the thought that Jesus had to call Lazarus by name to prevent the whole graveyard from rising. One day, his voice will raise all the dead, and every knee will bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord.

Comments are closed.