Thoughts on John’s Gospel
J. R. Charlesworth, Barnstaple
The introduction of John's Gospel is unique. This introduction, 1. 1-18, contains the whole treatise of John's testimony in embryo. The prologue, vv. 1 -14, leads on to the witness of John the Baptist, anticipating the evidence of the deity of the Saviour found mainly in chapters 2-12. The Holy Spirit here also enables John to write a beautiful appraisal of the Lord's demeanour throughout His life on earth. He is "full of grace and truth". His whole bearing was stamped with "the glory as of the only begotten of the Father". How sublimely do verses 14-18 present in essence all that is portrayed in chapters 12-17.
The remainder of chapter 1 is divided into three sections each headed "the next day" or "the day following", 1. 29, 35, 43. Why did God cause John to recapture these incidents and present them in such a way as to highlight the fact that they had occurred on three successive days? Is it important to know that John Baptist saw and spoke of the Lord Jesus the very day after his recorded discussions with some Pharisees? Is it necessary to learn that the following day was the one when Andrew and Peter had met the Lord? and what does it matter whether the conversation with Nathanael took place the next day or weeks later? What is the point of being told that it all happened within these days? We may be sure there is nothing superfluous in the narrative.
Emphasis in Scripture upon a sequence of three days causes one to think of the Saviour's death and resurrection. As we look into these paragraphs of John 1, this is exactly what we find, a parabolical preview of chapters 18-20.
Just before the record of the three days begins, we note the comment of John the Baptist, "There standeth one among you, whom ye know not", 1. 26. This expression well sums up the situation that obtained as Jesus moved through Israel, His face set to go to Jerusalem. Then on the first of the three days, John the Baptist said, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world", v. 29: namely Golgotha, 19. 17. John added, "I saw the Spirit . . . and it abode upon him": namely, "Christ . . . through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God", Heb. 9. 14.
The second day saw two men enquiring where Jesus was staying. "Two" speaks of separation and contrast, namely the two sides of an argument, and also of witness, e.g. "the testimony of two men", John 8. 17. The story of this second day's events has its climax in the night, 1. 39. The two men left John Baptist and joined the Lord Jesus. That night lay between their former allegiance and their new attachment.
The buria! of the Lord's body proclaims the truth of separation very clearly. Paul tells us "that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures", 1 Cor. 15. 3-4. The "second day" acted as the line of demarcation between "the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow", 1 Pet. 1. 11.
The Lord first bore my sins "in his body on the tree". Then "the body of Jesus" was laid in the tomb, John 19. 38-42. At the resurrection, it was transformed, and with His glorious body He ascended into heaven. "Christ . . . our life". To walk in "newness of life" is now the privilege of every member of the mystic body of Christ. "Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God", Col. 3. 3. There can be no return to the unsaved state. The break between the past and the future is irrevocable.
The believer, at his salvation, receives a new nature; he is a new creation in Christ Jesus. We "are become dead to the law by the body of Christ . . . We should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter", Rom. 7. 4-6. "Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new", 2 Cor. 5. 17. At his baptism, the Christian sinks bodily beneath the water and rises again. Baptism is an immersion and an emersion. In symbol, the old life in the flesh is reckoned as finished, dead, to be revivified no more; and the Christian rises to "live by the faith of the Son of God", Gal. 2. 20.
As we move through this second day's events we temporarily lose sight of John Baptist, the last of the prophets of the old covenant, and meet Simon Peter, the first apostolic preacher of the new covenant. Note that it was on this day of division that Simon was given his new name, Peter, John 1. 42. The listening son of Jonas was to become a living stone of Jesus. We also collectively have a God-given name, Acts 11. 26; "Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity", 2Tim.2. 19.
The third day is introduced, John 1. 43, by exactly the same phrase in the Greek. There is no mention now of the sacrificial Lamb. Instead our gaze is directed forward, "Jesus would go forth". The reference to Galilee reminds us of Matthew 28. 7. The Saviour is recognized on this day not only as Son of God (see John 1. 34), but also as King of Israel, 1. 49. The talk which the Lord had with Nathanael has a prophetic atmosphere. It looks to the time when the Messiah will be truly acclaimed by His own people as Israel's rightful sovereign. Nathanael's character, 1. 47, will then be shared by every Israelite. This closing section has a millennial theme within it, and reflects the indissoluble life of the resurrected Lord of glory. Compare, for instance, verse 48 with Micah 4. 4.
The first miracle Jesus did was wrought in Cana of Galilee just three days later, John 2. 1. At first there was sadness, "no wine". After a 'transformation inside the earthen vessels, however, there was gladness, "the best wine". This is yet another picture of that which lies behind the words, "on the third day rise again".
It seems, therefore, that in the events of the days of John I the Holy Spirit would, among many other things, remind us of four great tenets of the faith. First "of his fulness have all we received". "He came unto his own". Then we are led from Gethsemane to Olivet. "I am crucified with Christ", Gal. 2. 20; "we are buried with him", Rom. 6. 4; we "are risen with him", Col. 2. 12; and Paul could add, "we shall also reign with him", 2 Tim. 2. 12.
At the Beginning of chapter 2, the
introduction gives way to the account of the first of the seven miracles which were recorded "that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God", John 20. 31. The last of these specially selected miracles is found recorded in chapter 11.
Then in chapter 12, John returns to take up the thought behind 1. 14, "The Word became flesh, and tabernacled among us", r.v. marg. As is well known, the Saviour's movements, as given in chapters 12-20, beautifully exemplify the spiritual meaning hidden in the design and furniture of the tabernacle in the wilderness. Certain Greeks expressed a yearning desire, "We would see Jesus", 12. 21. In response, the Lord immediately referred to His forthcoming death. It is there that spiritual sight must begin. The reader stands, as it were, at the brazen altar in the courtyard of the tabernacle, watching the smoke of the burnt offering ascend and diffuse through the pillar of cloud hovering above the sanctuary. Then speaks John's final great witness to the authenticity of the Saviour's claims, 12.28.
Moving Forward to chapter 13, we see much that answers to the laver that stood between the brazen altar and the tabernacle door. This is followed by three chapters in which the Lord talks with His disciples. He commences by speaking of His Father's house. Each chapter contains a reference to the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, bringing to mind the three articles of furniture in the Holy Place. On the left, inside the curtained entrance to this sanctuary, stood the lampstand, the burning oil of which illuminated everything in that Holy Place. The Spirit of God is typified by that oil. "He shall not speak from himself ... he shall take of mine, and shall declare it unto you", 16. 13-15 r.v. In the lampstand, lit by the oil within itself, we see "the light of the world", "in him was life; and the life was the light of men". "The bread of life" is to be considered as we pass to the right hand side and look on the table of showbread. At the golden altar is that which speaks of the One who is "the resurrection, and the life". In fact, if in the altar and laver outside we see something of the Way and the Truth, 14, 6, here, in the sanctuary, we see the Life without whom "no man cometh unto the Father".
If the Gospels are the heart of the Bible and if John's record is the heart of the Gospels, then certainly chapter 17 is the very heart of hearts. Here the Son approaches the Father in the seclusion of the holiest of all.
From the sacred glow of the Shekinah above the mercy seat, we follow the Saviour over the brook Cedron into the darkness. These things "are written . . . that believing ye might have life through his name". Finally, John lays stress on the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, enabling us to be recipients of eternal life. The closing chapter makes a fitting conclusion to the Gospel, pointing to the Lord's return, 21. 22, and to the personal responsibility of every disciple to follow the Master during the interim.
If we believe that the Holy Scriptures were inspired by God, the Holy Spirit moving men of God in their writing of the original Scriptures, how accurate should we be in handling the Word of God. In these days of many modern translations, not all of which can be correct, how we should avail ourselves of means whereby to discover the mind of God revealed accurately in His Word. Have you ever discovered a printing error in the Bible— thereby rendering it not accurate? In previous years there were dire penalties for printing errors! Thus about 1630, Psalm 14. 1 was printed, "The fool hath said in his heart, There is a God", instead of "There is no God". The printers were fined £3000, and all copies were destroyed. In 1702, Psalm 119. 161 "Princes have persecuted me without a cause" appeared as "Printers have persecuted me without a cause"; evidently business occupations could distract from scriptural accuracy. Again, in 1802, "I discharge thee before God" should have been "I charge thee", 1 Tim. 5. 21. In 1711 "thy works . . . shall profit thee" should have been "shall not profit thee", Isa. 57. 12. In 1810 "If any man . . . hate not ... his own wife also" should have been "his own life", Luke 14. 26. In 1653 "the unrighteous shall inherit the kingdom of God" should have been "shall not inherit", 1 Cor. 6. 9. Comical or serious—every true word is vital and precious, j.h.