A Chronology of Jesus

(Posted by Paige)

In a bid to enhance biblical literacy in our congregation, I’ve dabbed many a brushstroke onto the walls of one room in our building to provide our Bible teachers with enormous maps and timelines to illustrate their lessons. I’ve just embarked on the most complex of the timelines, an attempt to sort out the events of Jesus’ ministry years into more-or-less chronological order; but I’m finding that I need to do some homework here before I commit myself in acrylics. Maybe some of you redemptive-history buffs can help.

First off, where do we get the idea that Jesus’ ministry was three years long? Is this simply implied in his parable about the barren fig tree in Luke 13:7 – “Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none”?

Second, have any of you ever seen a decent attempt to harmonize the events in the Synoptics with Jesus’ several visits to Jerusalem as described in John? I’m thinking of grouping the events from the Synoptics above the timeline, and adding the punctuation of the holiday visits to Jerusalem from John’s account below it.

Not to mention the Lazarus event – am I correct to read this as the unnamed catalyst that turned Jesus southward from Galilee towards Jerusalem late in the Synoptic accounts? (Though John maybe implies that Jesus was in Perea just prior to that cataclysmic miracle – “He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained,” Jn. 10:40. So was he in Galilee or Perea when the message reached him [Jn. 11:6,“he stayed in the place where he was”]?)

I realize that the best we can do here is make educated guesses, so I’m hoping that some of your education in this area exceeds mine. Thanks in advance for your expertise!

If you’d like to see some of the murals from our Chart Room, check out the wall of my biblical literacy site. I have yet to figure out how to photograph the 20-foot timeline of redemptive history, but you can at least take a look at the maps. (The full-map JPEGs work great as Power Point slides, by the way – so I take my walls with me when I teach elsewhere! You’re welcome to borrow them too, if you’d like.)

John 1:15-18

15-16. Hutcheson argues that this passage (through verse 18 actually) tells us of the magnificence of Christ; that He has more magnificence than John (15), believers (16), Moses (17), and all men (18). Godet says that v. 16 is grace, v. 18 is truth, and v. 17 connects grace to truth.

15. Morris notes that “People were humble about their own generation and really thought that their fathers were wiser than they—incredible as this may sound to our generation.” John therefore indicates here a reversal of the normal pattern. The word “testifies” is in present tense, indicating that this doctrine is still in full force (Calvin). Ryle notes that it was John’s habitual testimony. Lenski calls this verse a riddle (not in the sense of incomprehensible, but in the sense of the form of a riddle). “The one who came after me has stepped ahead of me” (Augustine). Beasley-Murray notes that the status accords with priority in time. John understood Christ’s pre-existence. Some people tend to think ill of John’s level of knowledge, but John did know this (Ryle). Plainly the last clause of the riddle explicitly states the pre-existence of Christ. Christ is both before and after John, and therefore ranks higher than John.

16. Is John the Baptist still speaking, or is this John the evangelist? Who is the “we?” Probably the congregation (Bultmann).The “all” hints at the infinite resources (Morris). On the phrase “Grace for grace,” does John mean NT vs. OT, or grace piled on top of grace? Given verse 17, the former is more likely, as long as vs 17 is not understood in an adversarial way. Actually, both could be understood together. Keddie says that the grace acts “Like waves of the sea.” Kostenberger notes “It is as though, when the incarnation finally arrived, full of covenant love, the OT stood up and cheered.”

17-18. The connection of the two verses is well stated by Augustine: “And in case anyone should say, ‘Did not both grace and truth come about through Moses, who saw God?’ he immediately added, no one has ever seen God.” Moses did not have the law in and of himself, but Jesus does have grace and truth in and of Himself (Bengel).

17. Notice the contrast between “given” and “came” (Tasker). Carson says that there is nothing in this verse that requires antithesis. Schnackenburg notes the eschatological character of salvation pointed out in this verse. The revelation of Christ surpassed that of Moses because Moses did not really see God. Only Jesus has seen God (Kruse).

18. The first phrase of this verse “denies that God is directly accessible to men. At the same time it assumes that it is natural for man to wish to see God and to be able to approach him” (Bultmann). Only God can reveal God (Lindars). On the “bosom” of the Father: “So intimately close to the Father that He is reliably informed about the decisions of His Father’s heart” (Luther). Bultmann says it this way: “it stresses the absoluteness and sufficiency of the revelation, because the Revealer as the Son of the divine love stands in perfect communion with the Father.” Note the word “exegesato.” It means “narration” or “exegesis.” Jesus is the “exegesis” of the Father. He explains the Father to us.

John 1:14

Whole Verse: Notice the contrast with verse 1: “WAS in the beginning” versus “became”; “God” versus “flesh”; “With God” versus “among us” (Schaff, in Lange, p. 71). Pink has a very helpful comment on the verse as a whole:

Verse 14 is really an explanation and amplification of verse 1. there are three statements in each which exactly correspond, and ht elatter throw light on the former. First, “in the beginning was the word,” and that is something that transcends our comprehension; but “and the word became flesh” brings him within reach of our sense. Second “and the word was with God,” and again we are unable to understand; but the Word “tabernacled among us,” and we may draw near and behold. Third, “and the word was God,” and again we are in the realm of the Infinite; but “full of grace and truth,” and here are two essential facts concerning God which come within the range of our vision (Pink, p. 42)

Chrysostom says “God’s own Son was made the Son of men so that he might make the sons of men the sons of God.” “He who was the express image of the Father should be the repairer of the image of God in us” (Hutcheson).

“And the Word became flesh” This phrase would astonish the Greek (Burge). The word “became” implies pre-existence (Barnes). O’Day says that this is the first time the word “become” has been used of the Logos (previously, it was only “was,” this is the indicator that the Logos has moved from the eternal to the temporal). The term “flesh” is not corrupt flesh, but mortal man (Calvin). Yet, it is still a synechdoche for the whole of human nature (Calvin). Remember, whatever is not assumed is not healed (Gregory of Nazianzen). Why the term “flesh” then? Schaff answers, “Of all the words which express human nature, John chooses the meanest and most contemptible, viz.: flesh, which, in the O.T., denotes the lower, perishing, corruptible part of man; but even this the Logos did not despise, and thus He became man in the fullest sense of the term” (in Lange). This does not mean “changed” into flesh, but rather took on a new existence in a new form, or “added” a new nature. As Calvin says, “The Son of God began to be man in such a manner that he still continues to be that eternal Speech who had no beginning of time.” Practical benefit is clear in Luther’s answer to Satan, “I am a Christian, of the same flesh and blood as my Lord Christ, the Son of God. You settle with Him, devil!”

“And tabernacled among us” This phrase would astonish the Jew (Burge, p. 59).“And the Son of God thus incarnate is the trysting place wherein sinners may draw near unto, and meet with God, as of old they sought him in the tabernacle” (Hutcheson). Note also that the body is the habitation of pilgrims (Hutcheson). Michaels notes that this world is not the home of the Logos, but is rather a “home away from home.” Henry says, “That as of old God dwelt in the tabernacle of Moses, by the shechinah between the cherubim, so now he dwells in the human nature of Christ; that is now the true shechinah, the symbol of God’s peculiar presence.” Even further, the “among us” implies that the disciples were also part of this tabernacle (Lange).

“And we beheld His glory” Almost certainly a reference to the Transfiguration (Barnes). Don’t forget that Peter wanted to make some tents for them. Maybe his thought was better than he knew!

“Glory as of the Unique One from the Father” The word “as” does not express inappropriate comparison, but rather true and hearty approbation (Calvin). Hutcheson is even clearer: “for ‘as’ here is not a note of similitude or likeness, as when we say of a beggar, he goeth as (or like) a king, but a note of suitableness, as when we say of a king, he goeth as (or as becometh) a king.” The word “monogenes” implies that Jesus’ Sonship is unique (as opposed to Israel, Keener), and is the ground of our sonship (Hengstenberg, p. 46). Lincoln notes the background of this term as being that honor and glory was tied to lineage, and an only son would have an incomparably privileged status in the family. As Köstenberger says, “This designation also provides the basis for Jesus’ claim that no one can come to the Father except through him (14:6).”  Schaff is helpful: “The term refers back to ‘children of God,’ verse 12, and marks the difference between Christ and the believers: 1. He is the only Son in a sense in which there is no other; they are many; 2. He is Son from eternity; they become children in time; 3. He is Son by nature; they are made sons by grace and by adoption; 4. He is of the same essence with the Father; they are of a different substance” (in Lange).

“Full of grace and truth” That the coming of God would not be a source of anxiety, but a source of salvation.

John 1:9-13

9-13. John’s Gospel is a Gospel of rejection. The foundational irony is that Jesus came to the very people expecting Him, and they rejected Him (Köstenberger). We might have expected the opposite: that the Jews would not have shared Jesus with the world. The great tragedy is their rejection of Him (Lenski). It is better to be the poorest child of God than the richest child of Abraham.

9. The word “true” is probably contrasted with the imperfect light of John the Baptist (Barrett). The word “gives light to” can also mean “expose” or “reveal.” This does not mean what the Quakers said it was (some kind of inner light of revelation). Rather, the true Light divides the race (Carson). The phrase “coming into the world” is to be taken with the Light, not with “man.” It is the light coming into the world in this verse, not man coming into the world.

10-11. Isaiah 1:2-3 is a good commentary here: nature knows God, but the people do not.

10. The first two clauses of the verse refer to the time before the Incarnation. The point, then, of verses 9-10 is that both before and after the Incarnation, there was both light and the rejection of light. The bare fact of the Incarnation is not enough to prevent people from rejecting the light. We are not saved by the Incarnation of Christ alone, as important as that doctrine is. “Knowledge” is another important theme in John’s Gospel. Knowledge of God, of course, does not refer merely to knowing things about God, but includes also knowing Him personally. Cf. the biblical use of a husband “knowing” his wife. Not knowing means rejection (Lenski).

11. The first “His own” refers to His own possessions, which could refer either to the entire world, or to the land of Israel. “His own people,” however, refers most definitely to the Jews, who rejected Him. This would favor the latter interpretation for the first “His own.”

12. There is always a remnant (Carson). “Believing in the name” means believing in that person (Morris). The word for “power” means “right” or “authority.” Now this does not refer merely to a possibility being created, but refers to a change in the person.

13. The three negations have in common human agency. The Jews would be the group most likely to see bloodlines and human agency as what constitutes us as children of God (see especially chapter 8). It is probable that John has in mind here an allusion (not explicit) to the Virgin Birth, such that our spiritual births follow the pattern of Christ’s physical birth in being initiated and empowered by God alone, quite apart from any human agency (Barrett). The first negation probably refers to bloodlines (plural for the father and mother). The second negation seems to refer to the sexual urge. The third negation refers to any possible human volition. Chapter 3, of course, is the big commentary on being born of God, which happens through regeneration and adoption. We can then truly say “Our Father.”

John 1:6-8

Verses 6-8 as a whole: Keddie notes the importance of fanfare to the introduction of heads of state. This is Jesus’ fanfare: the ministry of John the Baptist. This passage introduces us to the forerunner of Jesus Christ. Godet well describes the connection to verse 5: “There appeared a man…,” can only be thus mentioned with the design of giving through history the proof of the thought declared in ver. 5.” The outline of the passage is given by Dodd (quoted in Boice): 1. John is not the Light; 2. John was sent to bear witness about the Light so that 3. all might believe through him. This is the outline of John’s testimony in the rest of chapter 1: verses 19-28- John is not the light; 2. verses 29-34- John points to the Light; 3. verses 35-51- John’s witness produces the first disciples. Note also the contrast between John the Baptist and the Word (see Hendriksen, p. 76): “was” verses “came;” “Word” versus “man;” “is God” versus “commissioned by God;” “is the real light” versus “testifying about the light;” “is the object of trust” versus “being the agent through whose testimony people might come to trust God.” The Word is the truth, but it becomes known to us through witnesses (Keener). Note the differences between the John of John’s Gospel and the John of the Gospels: his sole task was witnessing, in the eyes of the apostle John (McHugh). Luther writes: “It has always been the world’s misfortune to be infested with wiseacres and smart alecks, self-styled lights who explore their own way to heaven and presume to be the lights of the world, to teach it, and lead it to God. John warns against this.” This passage shows the immense important of the ministerial office, and yet also its limitations (Schaff). Ministers aren’t doing their job unless they point to Christ.

6. The verb “there came” has as its prime significance the fact that it places John’s ministry among those “all things” that have come about through the Word (McHugh). It is a continuation of the plan of creation (Michaels). The fact that John was sent is the main thing behind the significance of John. This word has in its focus a specific task, and the idea of authority of the (divine!) sender is also present (McHugh). This also establishes his credentials (Keddie). He was sent as a forerunner. Of course, he was the first prophet that God had sent in quite a long time (Godet). Hengstenberg notes that the name of John is significant here (the Lord is gracious). From the other gospels we know that his testimony started even in the womb (Origen).

7. John’s sphere of concern narrows here from all creation to the world of humanity (Brown). The concept of witness is exceptionally important to John. In fact, the entirety of John’s Gospel could be viewed as a trial narrative. The idea of a witness is that it is competent testimony concerning firsthand experience (Lenski). There is also the idea of commitment: a witness commits himself to a certain interpretation of the events: no commitment, no witness (Morris). Schnackenburg notes that John sees all faith as a result of testimony. It is pathetic that the world would need to be told about the light. Only the blind have to be told that the sun is shining (Pink)! It is not Christ who needs human testimony, but rather the world’s darkness (Henry). Henry says, “John was like the night watchman that goes round the town, proclaiming the approach of the morning light to those that have closed their eyes, and are not willing themselves to observe it.” Bultmann notes that here it is simply the purpose of the witness that receives stress. Only later on will there be a discussion of its content. The world’s witnesses are only false witnesses. However, Jesus’ witnesses not only clear Jesus of any wrong-doing, but actually put the entire world under judgment (Painter, quoted in Keener). The Samaritan woman (4:39), the works of Jesus (5:36, 10:25), the Old Testament (5:39), the multitude (12:17), the Holy Spirit and the apostles (15:26ff), and God the Father Himself (5:37, 8:18) are all witnesses to the Christness of Jesus (Barrett). There are 7 witnesses, just as there are 7 signs and 7 “I Am” statements. There are also 7 discourses. Imagine then, the courtroom scene, with John calling his witnesses, one after another, in order to testify as to the status of Jesus Christ. This directly serves John’s purpose (20:31). John’s purpose in witnessing to Christ is that all might believe in Jesus through his testimony. Many authors have noted that since several of Jesus’ disciples came to faith through John the Baptist’s ministry, and also since John’s ministry prepared the way for Jesus’ ministry, it could, with only a little exaggeration, be said that all Christians can trace their spiritual ancestry through the ministry of John the Baptist (Tasker).

8. John’s witness to Christ is vitally important when it is recalled that many in that day thought that John was the light. John himself knew that he wasn’t the Light, and he was constantly bearing witness to the otherness of Jesus Christ, and that Jesus was the one true Light. John was a lamp, not the light (5:35). Hendriksen notes that Christ is the light whereas the Baptist is only the reflector. John is like the moon, whereas Jesus is like the sun. John the apostle was himself a disciple of John the Baptist at one time (Bernard). Hutcheson notes the importance of having a calling that is sent from God, and also that the minister’s job is to point out Christ, not to draw attention to themselves. Keddie notes that it is quite possible to follow the wrong man, even if that man is on the right track (Acts 18-19). All true possessors of the Holy Spirit function as witnesses to the grace of God, as John did (and as his name signified). Boice notes that “God regards your testimony as being important enough to be included among all those other monumental testimonies to the person and work of the glorious Lord Jesus Christ.” What are we doing as witnesses?

In Him Was Life- John 1:2-5

Verses 2-5 as a whole: Do the terms “life” and “light” have a creation or salvation connotation in these verses? Hendriksen, Hengstenberg, Hughes, and Lenski all agree that salvation is the connotation of these words in this context. This passage proves the divinity of the Son by His manifestations of creative power (Hutcheson). How does this prove the thesis of 20:31 (that the Christ is Jesus, and that by believing, we might have life in His name)? If the Messiah is going to be powerful enough to save us from our sins, then He has to have re-creative power (Keddie). The flip side of that is that here we learn about the exceeding sinfulness of sin. “Let us often read these first five verses of St. John’s Gospel. Let us mark what kind of Being the Redeemer of mankind must needs be, in order to provide eternal redemption for sinners. If no one less than the Eternal God, the Creator and Preserver of all things, could take away the sin of the world, sin must be a far more abominable thing in the sight of God than most men suppose. The right measure of sin’s sinfulness is the dignity of Him who came into the world to save sinners” (J.C. Ryle). McHugh says it well: “One may then recall that in Gen 1, the creation proceeds from day to day, in a careful logical succession, establishing the conditions in which living things may grow until on the sixth day, when all is at last ready for the completion of the work, God creates the land-based beasts and finally the human race. In Genesis, all these things, from the first creation (light) to the last, were brought into existence through God’s Word. So in the Fourth Gospel. All proceeds towards the restoration of life for the entire human race on the sixth day of the final week of Jesus’ earthly life, with Paradise Restored.”

Verse 2: “Houtos” (“This one”) implies “none other” (Beasley-Murray). Lenski also argues that this sums up verse 1 in one word. This verse says that the relationship of Jesus with the Father is eternal (Bernard). Westcott tells the profound truth that it is not only the Father and the Son (as persons) who were responsible for the creation of the World. But it is also their relationship that was involved (God speaking through His Son, the Word). Of course, we know from Genesis 1 that the Holy Spirit was involved as well. Creation was a result of the eternal fellowship among the persons of the Trinity.

Verse 3: This verse states the same thing twice, once positively, once negatively (Barrett). The “all things” is completely comprehensive of all created things. There is great comfort from this verse, in that nothing is outside God’s control, if nothing is outside His creative power (Schaff).

Verses 3-4: A punctuation issue: does “which came to pass” go with verse 3 or verse 4? An example of the former is the ESV: “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” An example of the latter is the NRSV: “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being, etc.” Most translations have the phrase go with verse 3. In favor of having it go with verse 4 is that “any thing made that was made” sounds a bit redundant. One could answer to this objection that this phrase could be consciously excluding the Word Himself as someone who was begotten, but not made. He was not created, but was rather the Word by Whom all things were created. In favor of having it go with verse 3 is that it is difficult to know what “What has come into being in Him was life” actually means (so many commentators). To this it could be answered that in Christ’s person and work the way of salvation has come into being. The new creation that Jesus accomplished in the resurrection is life (for us!) that has come into being in Him. I marginally favor the latter reading (with verse 4), but it’s certainly not a hill on which I desire to perish.

Verse 4a: “The life which was eternally in the Word, when it goes forth, issues in created life, and this is true both of the physical world and the spiritual world” (Bernard). Hutcheson says that “the life of all living creatures was ‘in him’ as in the fountain cause, as the stream is in the fountain, and the rays of light in the sun.” Keddie says that “the logic of the text is that the Creator of life must be the very essence and definition of life.” Keener notes that the Jews believed that life and light both resided in the Torah. That belief would be in contrast to what John teaches here. Meyer argues that any and all kinds of life are here included.

Verse 4b: See Genesis 1:3 (“Let there be light”) leading to John 8:12 (“I am the light of the world”) (Bernard). Of course, light is what makes it possible for life to exist (Kostenberger). It also leads to a choice which has to be made. See Boice, vol 1, pp. 46-47, for a good illustration of the difference between lesser lights and the great light of Jesus Christ.

Verse 5: Note the present tense of “shines” (Bernard). “Darkness” has an ethical quality here (Barrett). Brown interprets “the darkness” to be the fall in Genesis 3. Hengstenberg adds that the darkness is both a deficient religious condition and also the end result, hence darkness implies death. Ambrose tells us that the darkness is not a protection, since the light will always expose what is done in darkness. Isaiah 9:2 (“the people walking in darkness have seen a great light”). Light and darkness are opposites, but not of equal strength, contra dualism (Bruce). Besser (quoted by Lenski) says “In Christ is the life-light, outside is the night of death.” He now shines in us (Lenski). See 12:35 (“Walk while you have the light”) for application (Lincoln). John does not leave us in suspense: the story has a happy ending (Michaels). Luther notes that this verse hurls a thunderbolt against all human reason, since the light exists only in Jesus, not in us. In us is darkness. The so-called Enlightenment isn’t.

Verse 5: (Translation issue: is “katelaben” to be translated “overcome” or “comprehend”?) Maybe it plays on the two meanings (Barrett). Hendriksen argues a litotes here emphasizing the absolute antithesis between darkness and light. Perhaps the best translation is one that incorporates both connotations: “mastered” is my favorite way of translating the term.

In the Beginning- John 1:1

References to names in parentheses are references to the commentary written by that individual and are cited according to their comments on that passage, unless otherwise noted.

Verse as a whole: Genesis 1:1 is the obvious background (Godet writes, “Moses descends the stream of time and reaches the creation of man (ver 26). John, having started from the same point, follows the reverse course and ascends from the beginning of things to eternity”), Proverbs 8:22 (on which, see Bultmann, who says, “She is pre-existent, and is God’s partner at the creation. She seeks a dwelling on earth among men, but is rejected: she comes to her own possession, but her own do not accept her.”), 1 John 1:1-4. The “en” is expressive of “continuous timeless existence” (Bernard).

Logos: John introduces the term with no explanation (Westcott). This implies that people would have had a good idea of what it meant. “As a word is a means of revealing a man’s mind to others, so Christ hath revealed the Father in his own person” (Hutcheson). Pink expands on this, and says, “He is God’s alphabet, the One who spells out Deity, the One who utters all God has to say…Christ then, is the One who has made the incomprehensible God intelligible…The Scriptures reveal God’s mind, express His will, make known His perfections, and lay bare His heart. This is precisely what the Lord Jesus has done for the Father…It is only in Christ that God is fully told out.” If you want to know God, then study Jesus (Pink and Boice).” “Logos” implies inward thought and outward speech (Barrett). This is “ratio” (thought) and “oratio” (speech) (Keddie). Michaels (quoted by Kostenberger) says, “Elsewhere in John’s Gospel, Jesus speaks the word, but in the prologue he is the Word, the personal embodiment of all that he proclaims.” Bultmann writes “In the O.T. the Word of God is his Word of power, which, in being uttered, is active as event.” He further writes that no silence preceded the Word. Notice that the word of God is creative and revelatory (Barrett). Isaiah 55 tells us that God’s Word is effective for accomplishing His purpose. Why the term “logos?” J.C. Ryle notes various possibilities, all of which feed into this concept: “the wisdom of God, the express image of the Father, the subject of OT prophecy, and the speaker and interpreter of God’s will.” It is also true that God does not communicate His essence to us: it must be mediated (Meyer). “The deeds and words of Jesus are the deeds and words of God; if this be not true the book is blasphemous” (Barrett). Therefore the whole of the Gospel needs to be read in light of this verse (ibid.). In fact, connecting 20:31 with this passage yields the following thought: “the one I want you to believe in, because the Christ is Jesus, this Jesus is also the pre-incarnate God Himself, the one responsible for all creation.”

Clause 1: “In Gen. 1:1 ‘In the beginning’ introduces the story of the old creation; here it introduces the story of the new creation. In both works of creation the agent is the Word of God” (Bruce). “Beginning” denotes the period before creation (Brown). Carson notes, “Since Mark begins his Gospel with the same word, ‘The Beginning,’ it is also possible that John is making an allusion to his colleague’s work, saying in effect, “Mark has told about the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry; I want to show you that the starting point of the gospel can be traced farther back than that, before the beginning of the entire universe.” Notice the difference between “was” and “became” (Bernard). This clause refutes the Arians, who say that there was a time when then Son was not.

Clause 2: Kostenberger says (connecting the first clause with the second) that “Since the Word existed in the beginning, one might think that either the Word was God or the Word was with God. John affirms both.” Here John “may already be pointing out, rather subtly, that the ‘Word’ he is talking about is a person, with God and therefore distinguishable from God, and enjoying a personal relationship with him” (Carson). Not only does the “pros” establish a relationship between God and the Word, but also it distinguishes the two from each other” (Brown, quoted in Kostenberger). See also Genesis 1:26. This refutes the Sabellian heresy (which denied distinction of persons).

Clause 3: Jesus did NOT falsely claim to be God (see 10:33, 5:18). Keener says, “Jesus did not ‘make himself’ God; he shared glory with the Father before the world began.” NEB translation is excellent: “What God was, the Word was.” This refutes Socinians and Unitarians.

Anarthrous “theos” comments: If “theos” had the definite article “ho,” then it would have implied that “no divine being existed outside the second person of the Trinity” (Barrett). Note Colwell’s rule, which refutes the JW’s. Colwell’s rule, applied in this instance, is relatively simple. There are two nouns in the nominative case. To discover which one is the subject of the sentence, and which is the predicate, simply look for which noun has the definite article. In this case, “logos” has the definite article, and is therefore the subject of the sentence, even though it comes after the word “theos” in word order.

The Purpose of the Gospel of John

John 20:31 is the thesis and purpose statement of the Gospel of John: ταῦτα δὲ γέγραπται ἵνα πιστεύ[ς]ητε ὅτι Ἰησοῦς ἐστιν ὁ Χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ 
θεοῦ, καὶ ἵνα πιστεύοντες ζωὴν ἔχητε ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι αὐτοῦ. My translation agrees with D.A. Carson’s understanding of this verse. I translate it this way: “These things have been written so that you might believe that the Christ is Jesus, and so that when you believe, you will have life in His name.” Most translations of this verse reverse the subject and predicate in this way: “These things have been written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ,” etc. The problem with the latter translation is that the definite article goes with “Christ” and not with “Jesus.” Typically, when you have a copula (a verb form of “is”) connecting two nouns in Greek, the one with the article is the subject, and the one without is the predicate, regardless of word order. That is Carson’s argument, and I agree with him. The difference may seem small, but the implications are fairly large for the understanding of John as a whole.

The translation “that Jesus is the Christ” implies that you could say many things about Jesus, and one of them is that He is the Christ. The translation I favor implies that you could claim many people to be the Christ, but that Jesus is the only one Who can be proven to be the Messiah. In other words, is John primarily written to Gentiles (which the translation “that Jesus is the Christ” favors), or primarily to Jews (which the translation “that the Christ is Jesus” favors)? On either supposition, of course, John does not ignore the other people group.

The theological implications run this way: believing that the Christ is Jesus (knowing what we know about the Old Testament expectations concerning the nature of the Christ) brings with it life in His name. I can’t think of a more important thing to believe in life and in death.

Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life

John 11:1-44 

They say that there are two things certain in life: death and taxes. The only thing is that death doesn’t get worse every time congress meets. But if you look everywhere around you, people are saying that death is the end. The Grim Reaper. You could even say that those people who believe that there is a Resurrection think that it is far off, and not of much help in the present time.

The fact is that death is an intruder. Death does not belong in the created realm. God did not create the world with death in mind. Death is a punishment for sin, the sin of all humanity. Sin brings forth death, as the apostle James has it. So often, we look around at the world and say, “Why did death have to come to this person, or that person? Why didn’t God stop it?” The question we should really ask ourselves is, “Why did we sin?” If we want to know who is responsible for bringing sin into the world, we have to place the blame squarely on our own shoulders. We can’t blame God for punishing sin. If He didn’t punish sin, then He wouldn’t be God. God is not the author of sin. Humanity is. Oh sure, we had a little help from Satan. But the blame rests with us. Satan didn’t fall in the garden; Adam and Eve did. The old saying goes like this: In Adam’s fall, we sinned all. Adam was a representative for the human race.

Now that is bad news for humanity. Well, it isn’t exactly news. We should have known it for a long time. But we are extremely prone to forgetting the fact that death exists because of sin. What we have to realize now, though, and what our passage today teaches us is that death is a defeated enemy for those who believe in Jesus Christ. Let’s take a close look at our passage, focusing on verses 17-27, but starting with the first part of the chapter.

The NIV has mistranslated verse 6. That is why I didn’t read it quite the way it was written. In verse 5, we see that Jesus loved Martha, Mary and Lazarus. The NIV says in verse 6 that, despite this fact that Jesus loved them, He stayed an extra two days where He was. This gives us the impression that we don’t know why Jesus delayed. But this is not what the text says. The text actually says, “Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. Therefore he stayed where He was for two more days.” It is because He loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, that He let Lazarus die! This sounds very strange to our ears. But Jesus explains Himself in verses 14-15: “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.” It is plain that Jesus already knew that Lazarus was going to be resurrected from the dead. His purpose, then, in staying where He was for two more days, was so that His disciples, and Mary and Martha, would believe, and have their faith confirmed by a mighty miracle.

That leads us to verse 17. Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days by the time that Jesus got there. This is significant. Four days in the tomb meant that death was completely irreversible. Jewish thought at the time said that the soul hovers over the body for three days, but on the fourth, the soul doesn’t recognize the body anymore, and so leaves it. John doesn’t necessarily believe that, but his point is that Lazarus was completely dead, and was starting to decompose.

Martha hears that Jesus is near, and she runs out to meet him. She says to him what she and Mary must have said many times to each other during the three days they had waited for Jesus, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” It is important to realize that Martha is not reprimanding Jesus for His delay. Even if Jesus had started right away, Lazarus would still have been dead by the time He got there. She does not say, “Lord if only you had gotten here sooner.” Instead, she says, “Lord if only you had been here.” It is regret, not reproach.

Then Martha shows that she has at least some faith. She asks Jesus implicitly to petition the Father for the resurrection of Lazarus. Now, some doubt that that is what Martha means, especially in the light of verse 39, where Martha objects to opening the tomb, because of the smell, plainly indicating (it is thought) that Jesus cannot resurrect Lazarus from the dead. However, what is happening here is that Martha wavers in her faith from hope to grief. She oscillates between the two. It is quite probable that she thought that Jesus might be able to do something about Lazarus even now, though she has nagging doubts.

In verse 23, we see Jesus giving us a wonderfully ambiguous statement. Jesus wants to draw out Martha’s heart, and so He gives a statement that mentions the general resurrection at the end of time. Does Jesus mean to include the resurrection that He is about to perform? Whatever the case, Martha obviously does not understand where Jesus is going with this. She must have heard from the Jewish people about the general resurrection, which is something that Pharisees believed. Martha is a little disappointed, when she replies in verse 24, “I know already about the general resurrection.” It is as if she is saying, “Lord, have you come to tell me what I already know?”

An then comes the real shocker. You see, Martha thought, and so often do we, that the resurrection is a long way off. We think that it is more difficult for God to do a miracle here and now, than it is for God to resurrect people on the final day of judgment. Martha had her thoughts on the present time, thinking that Jesus was not powerful enough to resurrect Lazarus right now, even though she thought He might be able to ask His Heavenly Father for that favor. So what Jesus says is a real shock: the Resurrection is a person, not so much an event! Now, of course, Jesus has just affirmed that the future resurrection is an event that will surely come to pass. However, what He is saying here is that Resurrection power resides in Jesus! The Resurrection is a person! What Jesus is saying is that resurrection power belongs only to Jesus as God. Now, one needs to be resurrected in order to have life, which is why Jesus says immediately afterward, that He is the Life. Resurrection leads to life. Where Christ is not present, there is death. Where Christ is, there is resurrection and life, a fact that Jesus is about to demonstrate in a dramatic fashion.

Here is where the unbeliever stumbles. The unbeliever cannot believe that death could be defeated. Death is the end, according to them. Only by faith can anyone accept that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. There are two ideas that Jesus explains here. The first is resurrection. “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” That refers to the physical time-point of death, and then the time point of physical resurrection. Physical death is no longer the end of the story. There is resurrection, brought to light by Jesus Himself. The second idea is life, spiritual life. That is what verse 26 is talking about: “whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” That is talking about th person who lives spiritually, and thus that person will never die spiritually. So, verse 25 is talking about physical death and resurrection, and verse 26 is talking about spiritual life and the immortality of the Christian soul.

And now comes the question: “Do you believe this?” Do you, here and now, facing death all our lives, believe Jesus’ words? Do you believe that Jesus is your only comfort in life and in death? Do you believe that you must be born again spiritually? Do you trust in Jesus? If you do not, there is no hope for you. There is no hope that there is anything beyond death that is good. No unbeliever has any hope. That is why Paul says that the Christian’s grief is not like the unbeliever’s grief. An unbeliever grieves without hope.

I want to read a passage to you, as it is extremely relevant to our passage here in John 11. This is John 5:19-29:

Jesus gave them this answer: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out– those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.

Jesus is talking about Lazarus here, and about all Christians. The resurrection that Lazarus experiences is symbolic of the spiritual resurrection that all Christians experience when they come to faith. Have you experienced this resurrection? If so, then you have only one death, and that death is a defeated enemy. Christ Himself has defeated death by being raised from the dead. You only have one death, but two resurrections: the resurrection of the soul, which guarantees the second resurrection, that of the body. If you do not believe, then you have only one resurrection to look forward to. And it will be such that you will wish you hadn’t been. You will prefer annihilation to being resurrected to eternal punishment for sin. Do not delay in coming to Christ. You do not know whether you will be alive tomorrow. You can shrug all this off as hogwash, and go back to your wicked ways, or you can sit up and listen to God speaking. He says, “Let the Christian come forth from his tomb of sin.” It is then that you take off your sinful grave clothes, and put on the spotless white robe that has been washed in the blood of the Lamb. The dead shall hear the voice of the living God. It does not matter what your past life has been. It does not matter what bad choices you have made. Everyone is dead in their trespasses and sins, as Paul makes so abundantly clear in Ephesians 2. But if God can conquer death, if He can call out to Lazarus, and the dead man hears and obeys the voice of the living God, then God can change you. Now is definitely not too late. But take care, this may be your only opportunity. “Sinner, come forth!”

John 15 and the Federal Vision

John Barach has the most entertaining and rhetorically flourishing comment on this passage. In talking about the branches that eventually cut off, he says “These branches were not stuck to the tree with Scotch tape.” The only problem with this quotation, rhetorically speaking, is that it should have been duct tape. Although, I don’t know if that would have worked rhetorically, come to think of it. Duct tape is too strong. The quote, by the way, is in AATPC, pg. 150, line 47.

Here is the text: 1. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7. If you abide in me, andmy words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”

It is the contention of the FV folk (and Norman Shepherd: see Call of Grace, pp. 89-90), that the passage makes no ontological distinction between branches that stay in, and branches that get thrown out. Barach, for example, says that “they were genuinely in Christ, but they were taken away because they failed to abide in Christ” (AATPC, pg. 150, lines 47-48). He qualifies this statement in lines 51-52 with this statement: “According to Scripture, not everyone who is in the covenant has been predestined to eternal glory with Christ.” So Barach is not claiming that the temporary “in Christ” status of the eventually-apostatizing-branches is equivalent to decretal election. He does equate this status to covenantal election in lines 68-70 on page 151. So, it would be God’s choosing of Israel/church which is in view. Barach does not limit this covenantal election to corporate status, however. He goes on in line 89 to say that covenantal election applies to individuals as well. So the question boils down to this: what, precisely, are the benefits which in-covenant but eventually apostatizing people have? Are they “saved?” My contention is that FV authors claim too much for this covenantal status. Barach claims that it is fine to say of these people that Christ died for them (lines 149-152 on page 153); Wilkins claims all the ordo salutis benefits for these apostates on page 59 of _Federal Vision_. Christ died only for the elect, and the ordo salutis benefits apply only to the elect, as has been said by the WCF in previous posts.

But we must deal with a critical issue here in the exegesis of John 15. What about the warnings? As Norman Shepherd seemingly wisely indicates: “If this distinction (outward and inward branches) is in the text, it is difficult to see what the point of the warning is. The outward branches cannot profit from it, because they cannot in any case bear genuine fruit. They are not related to Christ inwardly and draw no life from him. The inward branches do not need the warning, because they are vitalized by Christ and therefore cannot help but bear good fruit” (Call of Grace, pp. 89-90). R. Fowler White has the answer to this. It is decisive. He says “The warnings of God’s Word, as a means of grace, retain their integrity because the decree of election is realized through them, not apart from them…when the warnings against apostasy and wrath come, we are not to presume our election and to ignore them; rather we are to prove our election by trembling at the threats of God’s Word and embracing its promises.” In the face of this clear exposition of the value of the warning to the elect, Shepherd’s criticism of the traditional position falls utterly to the ground.

Exegetically speaking, there are several indications that there are ontological distinctions within the covenant, and I am picking my words very carefully here. Some branches are “fruit-bearing,” and others are not. This indicates an ontological distinction. I used to work on an apple orchard. When pruning apple trees, there are branches that grow straight up, but will never bear fruit. These are called “suckers.” they grow differently from fruit-bearing branches. They are pruned away, since, far from growing in any positive direction towards fruit-bearing, they actually steal sap away from the fruit-bearing branches. However it be interpreted, the suckers that are there in the vine are not doing the vine any good whatsoever. They are fundamentally different from the fruit-bearing branches. At the risk of pushing the analogy too far, what is the sap? It is not saving grace. These branches are attached to Christ’s body, the church, not by Scoth tape. They really are part of the visible church. Plainly here, the vine is the visible church, which includes the elect and those who are not. But these branches are fundamentally different. In fact, the branches that do not bear fruit are dead branches. The same is true in the parable of the wheat and tares. They both grow up together in the visible church. But the tares are never wheat! So also here, the branches that do not bear fruit never bear fruit.

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