Through the Gospel in a Year: John 19-21

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 19:1-5: Roman Scourging

Pontius Pilate found Jesus innocent, but when the people asked for Barabbas in his place, Pilate took Jesus and scourged him.

There’s a lot written about this scourging. All of the Christian sources I’ve found say the same thing, and it’s pretty gruesome. I have to admit, though, that I haven’t seen a good source yet for standard practice in Roman scourging. It’s entirely possible that I just haven’t looked hard enough.

However, I did find two doctors who describe what the scourging would have been like, assuming that the scourging they describe is really what the Romans would have done. Those descriptions are here and here. You might want to be careful about reading or showing those to kids. It’s pretty gruesome.

I also found a reference to Roman scourging in general from just a couple hundred years after Jesus’ death. Eusebius writes about some martyrs who were put to death under Decius (most likely) around A.D. 250. He writes:

They say that the bystanders were struck with amazement when they saw them lacerated with scourges even to the innermost veins and arteries, so that the hidden inward parts of the body, both their bowels and their members, were exposed to view. (Eusebius, Church History IV:15:4)

John 19:6-16

Here we see an example of the inconsistencies of those who oppose God. They don’t care what’s true or consistent at all, even going so far as to cry out, "We have no king but Caesar," a proclamation that they would never dare make on any other day in the streets of Jerusalem.

Having said that about those who oppose God, let me warn those of us who wish to cooperate with God that we are not guilty of the same thing. So often, our doctrinal disputes devolve into arguments like this, where in order to bolster our position we say things that are illogical, unreasonable, or even inconsistent with our own position as Christians. It can take great effort to keep ourselves in a state of loving truth, especially when cherished doctrines are at risk or when we are personally convicted of some sin or weakness.

We can trust the Truth to take care of itself. The Truth, who is Jesus himself, does not need to dodge or hide evidence and arguments, because he is the Truth. An honest look at reality will point to him, and his power as giver of grace and truth will bring those open to the truth to him without our needing to become deceptive or dishonest.

John 20:1-18

John and Peter both went into the tomb, but it was not until Mary Magdalene peeked her head in the tomb that the angels appeared. It was no accident that Mary was the first person to whom Jesus revealed himself. It is possible that this is because she loved him the most. Whatever the reason, it was not chance. Jesus purposely chose to reveal himself to Mary after the two most prominent apostles had already left the tomb.

A lot of reasons have been advanced as to why Mary didn’t recognize him. In fact, today I read that the brutality of the scourging scarred him so much that he was unrecognizable after rising from the dead, though I really don’t care for that explanation. My favorite is that after the resurrection, we will recognize each other spiritually, not physically. Only those with a spiritual relationship with Jesus could recognize him when he appeared.

John 20:22-23

I think everyone knows these are Roman Catholic verses. Protestants don’t use verse 23 because for the most part we don’t believe that there’s ever a situation where we should not forgive someone’s sin.

The Roman Catholics believe these verses have to do with the authority of the church, and they are obviously correct. Jesus gives the apostles the authority to retain and remit sins. That authority would have been passed on to the elders that the apostles appointed to lead the churches after their death.

That authority is not capricious. It is desperately needed today. It is based on the fact that the church, and especially the shepherds of the church, should actually know the members of the church. They should know their weaknesses and strengths, and we should all be praying for one another.

Forgiving sin is to set a person free who cannot find forgiveness in themselves. Retaining a person’s sin is also to set a person free, only in this case it is for those who cannot find repentance or honesty within themselves.

All of this requires us to know one another. Elders especially, who are charged with shepherding the Lord’s flock, should know the members of the church and care for them with the same care Jesus has for them. How will an elder leave the 99 to go find the straying one if he does not know the sheep to recognize one is gone? (Matt. 18:12).

John 20:28-31

Yesterday or the day before I mentioned memorizing a verse or story from each chapter of the apostles writings in order to have an excellent overview of the New Covenant writings. These four verses provide both a story and a memory verse for John 20.

The story of doubting Thomas is famous and easy to remember, though it’s a little harder to remember, at least for me, that we need to avoid being like him. Trusting Jesus’ words—his commands, instructions, and promises—when it seems horribly frightening to trust him is the way to be blessed because we’ve believed without seeing.

Verse 31 is the memory verse to which I’m referring: "These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name" (NASB).

John 21:1-14

One more appearance of Jesus is described here. Again the apostles don’t recognize him. I’ll repeat, I like the explanation that this was on purpose because Jesus wanted to be recognized spiritually, not by physical appearance.

John 21:15-17

This is a much more interesting passage in Greek. There are two Greek words for love used in this passage. One is phileo, meaning a friendship kind of love. The other is agapeo, which is a word that was put into common use by Jesus and his apostles, so it is their usage that infuses it with meaning. Christians normally define it as divine love, a love unmoved by circumstances or feeling.

Jesus asks Peter if he loves him using the word agapeo. Peter answers that he loves him with phileo love.

This happens a second time, then the third time Jesus uses the word phileo as well. Using those Greek words, Peter’s reaction to Jesus’ third question reads like this: "Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you phileo me?’"

I don’t have a deep teaching or commentary based on this information. My comment would only be that Peter was not yet ready to love with agape love until the Holy Spirit descended on the day of Pentecost. So, too, we may love with a natural love, but to agapeo others or even the Lord requires the descent of the Spirit, who sheds the agape of God abroad in hour hearts (Rom. 5:5).

John 21:18-25

The Gospel of John ends with an anecdote about Peter and John. Jesus prophesies (somewhat cryptically) that Peter will be martyred. When Peter asks about what will happen to John, Jesus gives him an answer that really means "None of your business; we’re talking about you, not him." However, because John was the longest lived apostles, that statement became a rumor that John would live forever.

One of the traditions about John is that he was thrown in boiling oil and was not burned. This, too, would have fueled rumors that he would live forever.

John’s last statement is that there is very much more that he could have written. That is more true now because Jesus has continued to good works through his corporate body, the church, for 2,000 years.

Yes, there’s been much counterfeit Christianity, but where men and women—and even boys and girls—have submitted themselves to God through Jesus, great deeds have continued to be accomplished. Without those men, women, boys, and girls, the Gospel of Jesus would not have continued to our time. Let us be among the people who give themselves to Jesus, walk by the Spirit of God, and carry the Gospel in power to the next generation of believers!

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