There are three great subjects in the Gospel of John, light, love and life. Light is prominent in the first half. Love pervades the whole Gospel. Life is the chief central theme, which we shall examine in a sevenfold way.
Firstly, there are two great
stated in the third chapter, upon which a sinner can obtain life. One is that ‘as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up’. Only on that condition could anyone have eternal life, 3. 14, 15. His being ‘lifted up’ has this in view ‘that whosoever believeth in him should … have eternal life’. The other is that a person must be born again in order to have it. As natural life is the outcome of natural birth, so is spiritual life dependent upon spiritual birth. The Lord made this clear to Nicodemus when He explained His statement ‘ye must be born again’. His word to him was, ‘that which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit’, 3. 6.
Secondly, in chapters 4 and 5, Christ is seen as the
Source of Eternal Life
He tells the woman of Samaria that the water to be obtained from Him ‘shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life’. In chapter 5 during His first public discourse He makes clear that eternal life is conditional upon faith in Him. He, the Son, ‘quickeneth whom he will’, v. 21. He then says ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath ever-lasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life’. The hour had already come when the dead, that is, the dead spiritually, would hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear would live. That period, ‘the hour’, has been going on from that day to this and those who have heard His voice and believed upon Him have passed out of death into life.
In His next discourse in chapter 6, He shows that He is the
Sustainer of Life
The people had just been taking material bread from His hand and desired that He might abide with them to give them bread continually. He tells them not to work for the meat which perisheth, but for the meat which abideth unto eternal life, which the Son of man would give them. In reply to their question how they should work for this He replies, ‘This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent’. That leads them to recall how their fathers were fed by manna in the wilderness, so He tells them that the bread of which He is speaking, the bread of God, comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. He declares that He Himself is the Bread of life; the one who comes to Him shall not hunger and the one who believes on Him shall never thirst. All this is conditional upon believing on Him.
At His declaration that He Himself is the Bread which came down out of heaven they murmur, and their discussion again leads Him to state emphatically that he that believes on Him has eternal life, that He is the Living Bread, which came down out of heaven, and that if any man eat of this Bread he will live for ever.
In view of their unbelief and murmuring He has something to say which is hard for them to accept. He declares that the bread which He will give is His flesh, given for the life of the world. Their increased scepticism draws from Him something still more difficult: ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me’.
In His statements about His flesh and His blood. He is speaking of His death. His body was to be nailed to the tree and His blood was to be shed by His voluntary sacrifice. This is the great basic fact by means of which He becomes to the believer the Living Bread by which the life received is maintained. As the natural life is sustained by natural food so the spiritual life, imparted at the new birth, is sustained by spiritual food, namely Christ Himself as the result of the giving up of His life on the cross.
It is necessary clearly to distinguish between the eating and drinking described in this discourse and the partaking of the bread and the cup in the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. What the Lord teaches in this sixth chapter is not an ordinance, and to apply this passage to the partaking of the elements of the Lord’s Supper is to pervert the meaning of His discourse. Here He is teaching that His flesh and His blood are the means of life, but what is called the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is not a means of life. The nourishment of the Christian life is dependent upon what the Lord accomplished in His sacrifice on the cross, but there is no nourishment derived from the bread and the wine at the Lord’s Supper. The bread is only bread and the wine is only wine; it is partaken of in remembrance of Him and to show His death. The bread could not be His body, for His body was there at the table when He instituted the feast. In fact, He makes perfectly clear that the language He is using is not to be taken literally; He says, ‘the words that I speak unto you (or rather, the words “I have spoken”, R.v.) are spirit, and are life’, 6. 63.
Fourthly, in the eighth chapter, verse 12, the Lord shows that He is the
Guide of Spiritual Life
He says, ‘I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life’. The combination of light and life is beautifully suited to the subject of guidance. The spiritual life of the believer is a path in which he walks so as to please the Lord and thus he is His true follower. To walk in fellowship with the world is to walk in its darkness; to enjoy the true Christian life is to be a follower of Christ. The world’s pathway is downward, Christ’s is upward; there is no neutral ground. He declares that those who are His are not of the world, even as He is not of the world, 17. 16. Fifthly, He reveals Himself as the
Supplier of Life
In the tenth chapter He speaks of Himself as the Shepherd and His followers as His sheep. In contrast to the objects of the thief, Christ has come that ‘they might have life, and that they might have it abundantly’ (the word ‘more’ is not in the original), 10. 10. He is not speaking here of an increase of life but of the quality of the life that He imparts. The life is a full supply from the beginning; it is derived from Him as the Supplier.
Sixthly, in His discourse to His disciples in the upper room, He makes known that He is the
Personal Means of Life
He tells them that He is going to prepare a place for them and that they know the way. Thomas replies that they do not know whither He is going and how can they know the way? In answer to this, Jesus says, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life’. His statement that He Himself is the Life is the climax to the revelation that He is the Way and the Truth. The way is to be walked in, the truth is to be apprehended, but the life is to be lived. If He is the life, then He is also the means of its being lived and the very element in which it is lived. The apostle Paul says ‘To me to live is Christ’, expressing the fact that Christ is the life. This involves the believer being a revelation of the character and mind, the will and the way, of Christ. The seventh revelation of Christ concerning eternal life is given in His prayer recorded in chapter 17. He gives a
Definition of Eternal Life
and shows that its very essence consists in knowing the Father and in knowing Him: ‘this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent’, 17. 3. This is not a matter of knowing the truth concerning Him, nor is it a case of mere acquaintance with Him. This knowledge of Christ involves increase, progress. Its increase depends upon prayerful meditation of the Scriptures, upon communion with Him in the meditation, and upon the constant practice of communion during the circumstances of life. That is the very essence of the Christian life. It is expressed in the desire of the apostle Paul when he says that his one object in life is ‘to win Christ, …, that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death’, Phil. 3. 10. This knowledge of Christ is inseparable from the experience of the power of His resurrection. It means that the believer gives himself assiduously to ‘attain unto the resurrection of the dead’, that is, here and now to enjoy and live the life of Christ as the One who has been raised from the dead. To live that life is to know Him and this is what is implied in His own definition of eternal life in John 17.