THE GOSPEL OF JOHN.
The writer of the fourth Gospel is the apostle John, see Ch. 21:20-24. The date of the book falls between A.D. 85 and 90.
The theme of this Gospel is the incarnation of the eternal Word, Himself God, in Jesus Christ, with a twofold purpose:
1. To reveal God in terms of human life.
2. To give eternal life to as many as will believe on Him.
The prominent words are “believed” and “life.”
The book is in seven natural divisions:
1. Ch. 1:1-14. The eternal Word made flesh.
2. Chs. 1:15-34; 3:22-36. The testimony of John the Baptist.
3. Ch. 1:35 to Ch. 12. The public ministry of Christ.
4. Chs. 13 to 17. The private ministry of Christ to His own.
5. Chs. 18 and 19. The sacrifice of Christ.
6. Chs.20. The manifestation of the risen Christ.
7. Ch. 21. Christ the Master of life, and service.
THE ETERNAL WORD MADE FLESH.
In Ch. 1:1-2, we have a very clear and direct statement that the subject of the Gospel of John is no ordinary man. In some way beyond human reasoning He is the Word, part of the Godhead, and very God. He had no beginning, but “was in the beginning with God.” Thus we read, and thus we accept the fact of the deity of Jesus Christ. That the reader should not misunderstand the stupendous implication an enlarging of the fact is given in v.3, “all things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made.” Such was the work of the pre-incarnate Christ. Not only is the Word the Author of creation, but He also was ever present in creation as Light or perfection. Even though rebellion against God brought darkness or sin into prominence, yet the darkness never comprehended or overpowered the Light, v.5. When manifested to man, He appealed to His own, that is the Jews or people of God, but they received Him not. To those, however, who do receive Him, His creative power flows forth in new production and they are made sons of God, or new creatures in Christ, vs.11-13; 2 Cor. 5:17. This thought is wrapped up in the statement in v.14, “and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us”, and in v. 17, “Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.”
THE TESTIMONY OF JOHN THE BAPTIST.
John the Baptist, was the predestined forerunner of Christ. He presents Him in four ways:
1. v.15. As a greatly superior Person than the one who was His herald.
2. v. 18. As one Who, dwelling in the bosom of the Father, thereby perfectly revealed Him.
3. v.29. As the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.
4. v.33. As the One Who baptiseth with the Holy Ghost.
To be sure of his own testimony, John was given a pre-arranged sign of the Spirit descending upon and remaining on Him, v.34, and declared “that this is the Son of God.” Just before John was imprisoned people came to him and reported how the crowds were turning from him to follow Jesus. He told them plainly that he was not the Christ, and then made it clear as to what position we should all take regarding the Lord Jesus, that is, “He must increase, but I must decrease,” Ch. 3:30. Happy is the Christian who learns to submit to his own demotion. John furthermore, exalted Christ as being above all, v.31, and that unlike all others whom God has been pleased to use, the Spirit was given without measure to Him so that there was no limit to the capacity of His ministry, v.34. Johns last recorded word in this Gospel is an ultimatum, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him”, v.36.
THE PUBLIC MINISTRY OF CHRIST.
In Johns Gospel, the ministry of Christ falls almost naturally into two divisions. First, we have His public ministry by which the people in general were reached, and then we have a ministry, which was addressed more particularly to His disciples. In Ch. 1:36, we read that John the Baptist pointed to Jesus as the “lamb of God”, and immediately two of his disciples followed Him. They were the beginning of a new group, and as others were added to them they formed the nucleus of the future New Testament church.
In Ch. 2, we have the record of Christ’s first miracle. Both He and His disciples were invited to a marriage in Cana of Galilee. When it was discovered that there was a shortage of wine, the mother of Jesus appealed to Him. As soon as the Lord heard from heaven He gave orders and the need was met.
By this time, Jesus had quite a reputation. A man named Nicodemus having heard of His miracles came to the Lord by night for a talk on spiritual matters. Imagine his surprise when he learned that no matter how religions a man may be, except he is born again he cannot enter the kingdom of God, Ch. 3:5. Nicodemus could not understand the matter, but Jesus as much as told him that it was not a case of understanding, but receiving; that “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.” Looking at the cross as the Israelites looked at the serpent on the pole will heal the sin-sick soul as their bodies were healed that day. After speaking thus, Jesus gave forth the most familiar verse in the whole Bible, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Condemnation is not because of sin, but because man fails to take the right steps to get rid of his sin, v.18.
In His public ministry, Jesus gave time to the many or few. As he journeyed one day His disciples left Him resting by Jacobs well while they went into the town to buy food. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. The Lord engaged her in conversation, and finally made her understand her need of living water. She asked for the same, but discovered that her life of sin must be forsaken. Being willing to admit her fault, she found a ready response from Christ, and obtained the peace her heart so much needed. The woman immediately became a living witness for the Lord, and many of her townspeople turned to Him as a result, Ch.4. One great lesson contained in this chapter is that God is not confined to a set place of worship, but that He is a Spirit, and regardless of location people “must worship Him in spirit and in truth”, v.24.
The healing ministry of Christ is well illustrated in Ch. 5. Many sick lay by the pool of Bethesda WAITING for something to move for them, v.3. Jesus came on the scene and singling out one of the most needy cases asked him if he would be made whole. The man who had been a chronic invalid for thirty-eight years was WAITING. He was told to rise, take up his bed, and walk. The man was made whole immediately and did as he was told, vs. 8-9. Let us all learn the lesson that we do not need to wait for God, but rather that His is waiting for us, and will work if we take the necessary step in faith. Because of healing of the sick man the Jews persecuted Jesus but He said, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work”, v.17. In other words, being filled with God He must be active even as the Father is active in behalf of the needy. Jesus further said that even the dead would hear His voice and live, v.25, and that some day all that are in the graves shall hear His voice and shall come forth to either the resurrection of life, or the resurrection of damnation, vs. 26-29.
One of the most unusual messages Jesus ever gave was on “The Bread of Life”. The five thousand had been miraculously fed and when the Lord dismissed the people many of them sought Him later thinking that perhaps He would feed them again. To offset such expectancy He exhorted them to not labor for the meat, which perisheth, but for that which endureth unto everlasting life, Ch. 6:27. Gradually the subject developed until Jesus could state plainly that He was the Living Bread, which came down from heaven, v.51. Then He said, “except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you”. This was more than many could receive and they began falling away from Him, vs. 60, and 66. To explain His meaning to the truly hungry the Lord said in v. 63, “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing, the Words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” For us who live on this side of Calvary, the meaning is plain. His flesh or body was broken that we might be healed, and His blood was shed or life forfeited that ours might be spared. To believe these Words from the heart will give us life.
In Ch. 7, Jesus foretold the coming of the Holy Ghost. Until He died and rose again, or was glorified, the fulfillment of the promise must wait, v. 37-39, but in anticipation the Lord showed how rivers of blessing will flow through one who is filled with the Spirit.
The grace of the Gospel shone forth when the scribes and Pharisees brought an adulterous woman to Christ, Ch. 8:1-11. Her sin was all too evident which disturbed His carping critics. They sought occasion against Him, and if only He would speak so that He differed from Moses, what a real case they would have. By the remarkable Word of Wisdom: the Lord gave any sinless one among them the privilege of casting the first stone. One by one they retires, self-condemned. Then to the woman He said, “Go, and sin no more.” Such is grace! We are freely forgiven, but must sincerely straighten up for that is part of the new covenant.
After this Jesus met further criticism because of His preaching. He proved, however, that His method of presentation was Scriptural, as it was given in the mouth of two witnesses and would therefore stand, vs. 17-18. To us it suggests the need of receiving the Holy Ghost that our witnessing may be in the mouth of two, and therefore be acceptable in the court of heaven. One of Christ’s most pointed claims to Deity is also given in this chapter. He said that Abraham had seen His day and was glad. Being reproved for such a statement because of His age He said, “Before Abraham was, I AM,” vs. 56-58, thus boldly taking to Himself the position of equality with God.
In Ch. 10, we have the beautiful picture of Christ, the Good Shepherd. False shepherds had made havoc among the flock, and the thief Satan had wrought much destruction, but now the Lord had come to give abundant life to all who would enter the open door of the truth that “the Good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep”. Following this discourse, which is especially loved by the children, we come to the account in Ch. 11 of the raising of Lazarus. No one can help like the Lord, and no one is more accessible than He, and yet from this incident we learn that at times God holds back that He might do a greater work for those who believe. When Martha and Mary sent to Christ for help, He delayed going to them and abode two days still in the same place where He was, v.6. Then Lazarus died. The Lord, by the Spirit, was made aware of it, and was then led forth to “awake him out of sleep”. It was a new experience for the disciples.
To the two sisters it was very trying and they chided Jesus for not coming earlier. He tried, but could not make them understand. At the grave, when asking that the stone be rolled away, the Lord gave forth what was in His heart. He said to Martha, “Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?” v.40. In other words, He had taught it to them many times, but in their hour of trial they failed to apply this important truth. How we need to learn the ways of God so that we fail Him not in the dark crisis hour.
The triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem is recorded in Ch. 12. In each of the Gospels it marks the great turning point in His ministry. Both Matthew and Luke record the fact that after the same had taken place, the Lord with tears denounced Jerusalem and foretold her destruction. In John’s Gospel, we find that after the Lord rode the colt amid the plaudits of the people, He refers distinctly to His coming death, and after that His public ministry is drawn to a close. Thus the memorable ride constitutes and offer to the nation, which was rejected, and from then on God turns to the new group, the Church. One great fact must be learned from vs. 31-33; by the lifting up of Christ upon the cross the judgment of the world for the sin of Adam was accomplished. God’s law slew the race in their Substitute, and now He can draw all men to Him with an offer of pardon because of his death.
THE PRIVATE MINISTRY OF CHRIST TO HIS OWN.
The next five chapters contain teaching of a more private nature. In Ch. 13, we read of Jesus washing the disciple’s feet. While to some it would seem that this was the only thing He had in mind, we gather from His own words that there was a deeper meaning seemingly hidden from His followers. When Peter objected, Jesus said, “What I do thou knowest not now”, and by his asking to be washed all over the Lord said they were clean but not all, meaning Judas, vs.10-11, we believe there was a deeper spiritual cleansing implied. It is no doubt a lesson on humility, but it is also a lesson on our need to be washed by the Lord as He daily cleanses us by the Word, and we in turn must wash others from the defilement of their walk by helping them also to a knowledge of the Word.
Three great truths are taught in Ch. 14. First, that Jesus is coming again, and during His absence he is preparing a place for His own, and He will come and receive us unto Himself, vs. 1-3. Second, that Christ’s disciples are chosen to do the same works, which He did, and are also to be used in the greater works He now engages in since He has gone to the Father, v.12. Third, that during the Lord’s absence from the earth He will be represented by the Comforter, the Holy Ghost, Who by dwelling in the believer will effect a union with him and God, even as the Father and the Son were one, vs. 16-17, 30. This promise is to believers, and it is to disciples that the Spirit will be given, vs. 19, 22-23, for the indwelling of God cannot be where sin is allowed to remain.
As a result of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit the believer’s life is transformed so that he bears fruit to the glory of God. Two things are essential, that one be joined to Christ as the branch is joined to the vine, and that he abide in Him by walking in the teaching of the Word, Ch. 15:4. This brings one into a new intimacy with God so that we leave the plane of mere servants, and live on the higher one of friends, laboring together with Him instead of just for Him, vs. 15-16. Contrary to what might be expected, a life so lived is not acceptable to the world, but rather an offense to it. One would think that a consistent Christian life would be more pleasing to the world than some lives lived by those in sin, but one learns all too early that the world is moved upon by Satan who is ever the opponent of real righteousness, v.19-20. God, however, by living in His Son and then through Christ now living in His other sons, has removed the cloak of excuse from those who claim it is impossible to be righteous in this world, for those who so live are His witnesses to such a possibility, vs. 22, 24a.
Ch.16 teaches of the ministry of the Holy Spirit to the world and to the believer. In the last two verses of the previous chapter we are told that the message of the Gospel should be given by two. The Comforter shall testify and we also shall bear witness. The message itself should be threefold by which the world is to be convinced of the fact that Divine righteousness is given to believers just as it was possessed by Christ; and again it is to be convinced that the judgment of the world for the sin of Adam has already taken place, Ch. 16:8-11. As to ourselves, we are in the dark concerning all that is involved in the life and work of Christ, but in order that we might learn, the Spirit of God will illumine our minds, vs. 12-14, so that the mystery of our new union with God may become a vital and intelligent reality.
A wonderful prayer of Christ is recorded in Ch.17. Commencing with the statement that eternal life is an inward revelation of the Father and the Son in the heart of the believer, Jesus said He had finished His earthly task, and He asked for a return of the glory which He had with the Father before the world was, v.5. From this, one learns that the greater works now to be accomplished come to pass because of the exaltation of the son, and the outflow of His greater life through His followers, which on the one hand gives them eternal life, and on the other hand flows through them into others who believe, and they are thereby brought into the Divine family, see Colossians 1:29. Jesus in His prayer also outlined the method He had used in His ministry. Six things are worthy of note:
1) v.8. He gave the disciples the words, which God gave Him.
2) v.12. He kept His own by the power of His Fathers name.
3) v.14. He gave them the Word of God as a rich legacy for future use.
4) v.19. He sanctified Himself through the Truth that His people might see the way and do likewise.
5) v.22. He gave them the glory, or the Spirit, to bring about the union with the Father and the Son.
6) v.24. He asked that there might be reserved for those in whom He could work out all His good pleasure the privilege of being with Him, that they may behold His glory, which the Father has given Him.
THE SACRIFICE OF CHRIST.
The apostle John records the events leading up to the crucifixion in a way quite similar to the other Gospel writers. The claim to kingship made by Jesus is very clearly stated in Ch. 18:36-37 as He said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world...Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born.” Pilate then brought Him forth to the people and said, “Behold your King!” But the response he got was, “Crucify Him”, Ch. 19:14-15, and thus we have the official rejection of Christ by the Jews. One outstanding fact connected with the crucifixion is mentioned in v.34. John watched and saw blood and water flow from His side when the Roman soldier thrust in his spear. To the apostle it was full of meaning. Not only did it signify the double cleansing from sin and from the defilement of self, cut it also fully proved the claims of Christ to the satisfaction of John. He knew what the Old Testament taught about the Spirit, the water, and the blood. In the life and ministry of Christ the Spirit was in evidence, and at His death John saw water and blood, and was fully satisfied that this Man was truly the Word made flesh, carrying out in Himself all the testimony of the Old Testament types. Therefore, he could say, “This is He that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ...and it is the Spirit that beareth witness”, I John 5:6.
THE MANIFESTATION OF THE RISEN CHRIST.
Ch. 20 begins by saying that Mary Magdalene went early on the first day of the week to the tomb of Jesus. It was still dark, but she noticed that the stone was rolled away and ran and reported this to the disciples. Peter and John hurried to the grave. John, who got there first, entered in and saw the grave clothes lying there. Peter then stepped in and saw the napkin, which was wrapped about Christ’s head folded up and laid in a place by itself. Evidently there had been no rude removal of the body, but it was as though one had arisen from sleep and gone on His way. Mary remained at the sepulcher weeping, and Jesus appeared to her and revealed how He must go to the Father, thus fulfilling the high priestly type He must go with His blood to the mercy seat in heaven before joining His disciples. That same day at evening, Jesus suddenly appeared in the midst of them and gave them the Spirit, vs. 20-21, commissioning them to represent Him and make official declaration regarding remission of sins. To Thomas, who was not present, and who doubted the report of the others, Jesus spoke on His second visit, and exhorted him to believe. John concludes the chapter by saying that by no means are all the works of Jesus recorded, but that what was written was that we might believe, and obtain life through His name.
CHRIST THE MASTER OF LIFE AND SERVICE.
The Gospel of John closes with an example of labor without and then with Divine direction. Peter, the ringleader, decided to go fishing and the others went with him. That night they caught nothing. The next morning the Lord appeared on the shore and directed them to cast their net in again. This time the catch was so large that they could hardly handle it. The first effort might be called, Service Under Human Leadership and the other, Christ-Directed Service. Peter was kindly dealt with, so that he gave up his own way and sought to wholly follow the Lord, vs. 18-19. As for John, Peter asked what he was to do, and Jesus said, “What is that to thee? Follow thou Me.” (editor’s note: As much as if to say, “don’t worry about what the other guy is doing, just do what you are supposed to do”). So the Lord in His great love tenderly bears with us, always endeavoring to subdue the natural tendency to labor our own way rather than be led, until He wins out and makes us really useful in His kingdom.