Through the Bible in a Year: John 16-18

This Week’s Readings

Monday, July 2: John 13-15
Tuesday, June 26: John 16-18
Wednesday, June 27: John 19-21
Thursday, June 28: Psalms 42-45; Proverbs 15
Friday, June 29: Psalms 46-49; Proverbs 16

Next week we will begin Isaiah. I gave us 3 weeks to work on that 66-chapter book.

The overall year’s plan is here.

John 16

Jesus’ words about the Holy Spirit convicting the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment are a little cryptic, or I’ve always found them so. I looked at some commentaries, and they all took these words pretty simply.

  • Sin: Primarily referring to the Jews refusing to believe in Jesus, but also referring to the future when the Holy Spirit would convict those who hear the Gospel of their sin and need for repentance.
  • Righteousness: After Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, his righteousness and innocence would be established. He had been accused of many things, even of having a demon, but the resurrection would prove him to be Lord and Christ.
  • Judgment: Several different explanations of this were offered, but it seems simple enough to me. Jesus mentions the ruler of this world being judged. Satan’s power was broken because of the cross and the resurrection. The Holy Spirit is going to convince the world of this judgment and bring those who repent into the freedom of that judgment.

In verses 12-15, Jesus is speaking primarily to the apostles. The Holy Spirit will lead them into all truth because the Gospel has been committed to them. Today, we occasionally teach that the Holy Spirit will lead us individually into accurate Bible interpretation, but all of that is wrong. The promise that truth will be revealed to us is directed at the church, as evidenced by the fact that all the "you’s" in those verses are plural (1 Jn. 2:27).

Also, truth is not the equivalent of "accurate Bible interpretation." Truth, as I hope you will see over and over again as we go through the apostles writings, has more to do with behavior, with obeying Jesus’ commands, than it does with accurately interpreting the Bible.

For too often, "accurately" interpreting the Bible results in proud proclamations that lead to division. Creating division is a terrible violation of the Bible and of the will of God. God is not so much interested in renewing our intellects and making us Bible scholars as he is in renewing our hearts and minds so that we are humble servants of God filled with the Spirit and power.

To "accurately" interpret the Bible, and then create division with your accurate interpretation renders your accurate interpretation completely useless; in fact, it makes it evil.

In verses 16-22 we should have some patience with the apostles. Today, we have grown used to (and perhaps even take for granted) the death and resurrection of the Messiah. We can easily put those verses into that context. Jesus was still alive and standing in front of the apostles here, and the thought that Jesus would die and rise again would seem very strange to them.

In verses 23-30, the apostles appear to understand, but that is only because Jesus’ death is no longer being discussed. Instead, Jesus promises that they will be able to pray to the Father in power just as he had been doing for three years in front of them. They understood this. Death and resurrection they still did not understand.

In verses 31-33, Jesus corrects their mistaken perception about how well they understand. He explains that he has said these things so that when they see what is happening, they will have something to fall back on so that they do not utterly despair.

John 17

John 17 is entirely a prayer.

We’ve already addressed the whole subject of the divinity of the Word of God back in chapter 1, so we shouldn’t have to address why Jesus calls the Father the one true God in verse 3. (See The Trinity if you want a more indepth discussion of the subject, or get my book for a thorough analysis of the Trinity and the Council of Nicea.)

In verse two, it’s important—especially the way we think today—to catch that Jesus is the one who gives eternal life. Eternal life is not an automatic thing that happens if you learn about the atonement and can pass a test on it. Eternal life is in the possession of Jesus Christ, and he gives eternal life to those who believe in him, which means that they become his disciples. The teaching that we can simply believe that Jesus died for our sins, then do whatever we want is a falsehood that needs to be driven out of the church until every vestige of it is gone.

Do people really teach that? Charles Ryrie, the person who put the notes in the Ryrie Study Bible, wrote a very popular book called So Great Salvation about 20 years ago that teaches that false gospel. (John MacArthur answered it with a book called The Gospel According to Jesus.)

Verses 6-19 may need to be read a couple times (or more) to fully catch what Jesus is saying. Overall, the basic message is that Jesus is returning to the Father, and he is asking his Father to work through the apostles the way he has worked through Jesus. Jesus is the living Word of God, and now he has given the Word to the apostles, who will proclaim that Word to the world.

In verses 20-23 Jesus prays for a certain result to the preaching of the Word. That result is unity. Through that unity, he prays, the world will know that the Father sent the Son.

Our Protestant traditions have caused us to forget the importance of unity. We love our denominations and our right to choose our own church—and sit in the pew and be non-participants—more than we love the Word of God, which says that by our division we are testifying against the authenticity of Jesus as the Son of God.

Of course, that’s not everyone, but the fact is that Christianity in general is not known for its unity. It is known for its division, and this is a horrible contradiction of what Jesus prayed for.

A couple notes here:

I am not advocating a return to the days when one massive organization, calling itself a church, ruled over all Christians. Those were days when Christianity was almost unknown except in monasteries. To this day, in countries where one massive organization accounts for almost all Christians, the vast majority of those Christians follow a mix between Christianity, some local pagan religion, and pure worldliness. (Places where I have direct experience or study of this: Haiti, South America, Ethiopia, in addition to any historical account of the Middle Ages in Europe.)

Unity must begin locally. That is where unity is practical, where the world can actually see Christians loving one another and taking care of one another. Only after there is unity in local areas that can we hope for unity between local areas.

John 18

In verses 4-8, it is commonly held that Jesus is referring back, just as he certainly was in John 8:58, to the burning bush, where God told Moses, "I am that I am" (Ex. 3:14). You will notice that in most translations the "he" in "I am he" is in italics, indicating that it’s not in the original Greek, but added in English for clarification. Of course, if Jesus meant to say "I Am" as a title, rather than "I am he," then the addition of "he" was not a clarification, but an error.

It is possible that the "he" was understood in Greek. I don’t suppose there is any way to be certain that Jesus meant to use "I Am" as a title in these verses, even though it’s clear he was using it as a title in John 8:58.

Of course, we do have to pay attention to the fact that the soldiers fell backwards when he said it. That seems evidence that he meant to identify himself as the great "I Am" in this passage.

The "other disciple" who is mentioned in verse 15 is supposed by all, including me, to be John himself. Tradition has it that he was related to the high priest’s family.

In verse 19-24, it is easy to wonder who the high priest is, Annas or Caiaphas? The answer is that at that time, Annas and Caiaphas were switching off as high priest every year. Verse 13 tells us that it was Caiaphas’ year to be high priest, so Jesus wasn’t really addressing the high priest when he addressed Annas. Annas had been the high priest the year before.

Verse 28 raises a real quandary, at least for those for whom inspiration means that there can be no historical errors nor any differences between the various witnesses of Jesus’ life. John tells us that the Pharisees did not go into the praetorium because they did not want to be defiled for the Passover meal. However, we read in the other Gospels that Jesus had eaten the Passover meal the evening before.

You can read through various explanations of this. There are two main explanations offered:

  • That eating the Passover is a reference to the rest of the feast, which lasted seven more days, and not to the Passover meal itself.
  • That Jesus ate the Passover early, knowing that he was going to be arrested, and that he was crucified at the actual hour that everyone else was eating the Passover. A day for the Jews ran from sunset to sunset, so if Jesus and the apostles at the last supper after the sun set on Thursday evening, then they would have still eaten it on the same day as any Jews who ate the Passover meal before sunset on Friday.

Of course, the proponents of these explanations both refer to the other explanation as unlikely.

I’d like to throw in a third possibility, which is that John wrote his Gospel some 60 years after the events that happened, and that he got the timing wrong because of memory. I don’t know that is the case, but I wish we didn’t rule it out. I wish that we didn’t confuse inspiration with "complete historical and scientific inerrancy down to the tiniest detail, even if there was no way for the writer to have understood modern science."

If we could get free from such an interpretation of inspiration, we could quit making bizarre excuses for why Genesis one and two are so contradictory or why the book of Job says that the sky is as hard as metal (Job 37:18). We might even be able to extract the real spiritual lessons that God inspired through Moses and the standard Hebrew creation myth in Genesis one, rather than trying to explain how there could be water above the "firmament" even though the firmament includes the sun, moon, and stars.

Verse 36 was a pretty central verse to the early churches. In case you don’t know, until the fourth century, Christians were opposed to participating in war. They talk about it over and over, calling war murder on a mass scale.

Part of the reason for that was Jesus’ statement here that his kingdom was not of this world. Ancient Israel fought wars because their kingdom was of this world. The Israel of God, however, which is the church, the kingdom of heaven revealed on earth, does not fight with carnal weapons but with spiritual weapons.

The following passage is part of a letter that Justin Martyr claimed was written by Marcus Aurelius, emperor of Rome. Historians doubt the letter is genuine, but it does illustrate early Christian thinking about Christians and war:

"They [i.e., the Christians] began the battle, not by preparing weapons, nor arms, nor bugles; for such preparation is hateful to them, on account of the God they bear about in their conscience. … Having cast themselves on the ground, they prayed not only for me, but also for the whole army as it stood, that they might be delivered from the present thirst and famine. For during five days we had got no water, because there was none; for we were in the heart of Germany, and in the enemy’s territory. And simultaneously with their casting themselves on the ground, and praying to God (a God of whom I am ignorant), water poured from heaven, upon us most refreshingly cool, but upon the enemies of Rome a withering hail. And immediately we recognised the presence of God following on the prayer—a God unconquerable and indestructible. (appended to end of Justin’s First Apology)

Primarily, though, they referred to Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 2:2-4. They applied "out of Zion" to the apostles, and they pointed out that the hearers of the apostles would "beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks … neither shall they learn war anymore."

This chapter ends with the Jews asking for Barabbas to be released. It is of note to me, and I’ve pointed it out before, that "Barabbas" means "son of the father." The real Son of the Father was rejected by the Jews (and by us all through them) and a lesser, criminal, human son of the father was taken in his place.

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