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The Major Themes Of John’s Gospel.

There are a number of major themes in John’s Gospel, and these are clearly underlined by the author himself when he says ‘Many other signs therefore Jesus did in the presence of His disciples --- but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life through His Name’ (20.30-31). We may divide this statement into three parts:

  • 1). ‘Many other signs Jesus did in the presence of His disciples.
  • 2). ‘That you may believe that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah), the Son of God’.
  • 3). ‘That believing you might have life through His Name.’

So here we learn quite definitely that John’s Gospel is a book of ‘signs’ which were witnessed by the disciples (thus they are seen as having actually happened) and that those signs were intended to inculcate belief and understanding about Jesus in those who heard of them, making them realise that Jesus was both Messiah (Christ) and Son of God. The consequence of believing would be that they would receive ‘life’. In other words the signs were to be seen as historical events which did actually occur, and to which the disciples could bear witness, events which had a vital lesson to teach.

1). The Signs In John’s Gospel.

Fortunately the writer leaves us in no doubt about what he saw as ‘signs’ (semeion), for he initially makes clear that the ‘first sign’ was the turning of water into wine at Cana. He can say of it, ‘this beginning of His signs did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and the disciples believed on Him (eis auton) (2.11). We note here that it was in the presence of disciples, it occurred at a specific place, and it revealed Jesus’ glory so that the disciples believed ‘into Him’. This was important for all the signs. They were witnessed, they occurred at specific places, and they did not just act as miracles which would convince people that God was at work, but rather they revealed something of the glory of Jesus Christ.

This is confirmed by the second example which is stated to be a ‘sign’, and that is the healing of the high official’s son at a distance, at a word from Jesus. The writer says of it, ‘this is again the second sign that Jesus did, having come out of Judea into Galilee (to Cana)’ (4.54). This underlines again the fact that the signs in questions are miracles, witnessed by the disciples, taking place at a specific place, and telling us something special about the Lord Jesus Christ. We are left in no doubt about the fact that they are to be seen as having actually happened.

An examination of the Gospel reveals to us seven such miracles, to which we can also add the miracle of the resurrection of Jesus. These are:

  • 1). The turning of purificatory water into wine (2.1-11).
  • 2). The healing of the high official’s son at a distance (4.46-54).
  • 3). The healing of the man who had been lame for thirty eight years (5.2-18).
  • 4). The feeding of the five thousand with a few loaves and fishes (6.1-15).
  • 5). The walking on the water (6.15-21).
  • 6). The healing of the man blind from birth (9.1-41).
  • 7). The raising of Lazarus (11.1-53).

    8). We may add to these the miracle of the resurrection of Jesus. (20.1-29).

These then are the signs that are to inculcate faith in ‘Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God’. Notice that they are not simply miracles (if we can speak of ‘simply miracles’). They are specific and difficult miracles that have a special point to them so that each one in its own way teaches us about what Jesus is. It was not a question of people simply seeing miracles and believing because they had seen miracles. Indeed it is made clear from the beginning that such believing is often shallow and unacceptable (2.23-25). Even Nicodemus, on seeing such miracles (and thinking of them as ‘signs’) only learned from them that Jesus was a teacher come from God. He had not understood the signs. For these ‘ordinary’ miracles did not teach anything apart from the compassion and power of God. But John’s ‘signs’ were rather a question of outstanding miracles that had a lesson to teach about Jesus, lessons which were not apparent to Nicodemus because his eyes were not opened. We can unquestionably say, therefore, that if these miracles did not happen, then we have no grounds for interpreting them as conveying any important message to us, and John’s witness becomes useless. That is why John underlines the fact that they happened. This is John’s specific emphasis. In other words the only reason why they tell us the truth about Jesus is because they actually happened.

There is undoubtedly one sense in which we can say that the Gospel is built up around these seven ‘signs’, although having said that it is also apparent that not all of the narrative is connected with the signs. Chapters 7, 8 and 10, and the trial and crucifixion narratives do not, for example, directly connect with the signs. Thus the signs cannot be seen as explaining the whole structure of the Gospel. However, as we proceed we should note that in each case they were witnessed by the disciples, took place at a specified place, and produced an important reaction. They were seen as important because they actually happened.

The first sign ‘revealed the glory of Jesus’ and resulted in the disciples coming to deeper faith (2.11), in other words it resulted in their coming into a deeper understanding about Jesus. This was firstly because as a ‘nature miracle’ it revealed Him as the One ‘through Whom all things were made’ (1.3) as He turned water into wine, and secondly because it revealed that He had come to turn the old ritual of Israel into something new and revivifying (something illuminated by chapters 3 and 4), the wine of the new age which had been promised by Isaiah and which would result in the swallowing up of death (Isaiah 25.6-8). A new Israel was now emerging out of the old, as Jesus underlines in 15.1-6 (compare Matthew 21.43). Thus the first sign intrinsically revealed Jesus first as Son of God, and then as ‘the Messiah’.

We should note that elsewhere in John’s Gospel the revealing of Jesus’ glory specifically indicates the revealing of His true unique sonship. As John says, ‘we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only Son of the Father --’ (1.14). And this is the same glory of which He would later say, ‘the glory which I had with You before the world was’ (17.5). Thus it was seen as revealing that He was truly ‘the Son of God’.

The second sign revealed the power of Jesus’ word as He gave ‘life’ to a dying son (‘in Him (the Word) was life’ -- 1.1, 4). Notice within this narrative that Jesus denounces signs of the wrong kind (4.48), the kind that simply produced a level of belief that was not a saving faith (examples are given of certain men in Jerusalem in 2.23-25 and initially of Nicodemus). But the consequence of the high official learning that his son was healed at the very time that Jesus had said, produced true faith in him and all his household, a faith clearly greater than that produced by less emphatic ‘signs and wonders’ (4.48). It revealed the power of Jesus’ word as ‘the Word’, and that He is the healer and sustainer of mankind. In a sense, therefore, we can say that the high official and his household saw the glory of Jesus. Thus was revealed the creative power of Jesus’ unspoken but implied word, which brought life to the young man from afar. And once again it also had Messianic significance, for Isaiah made clear that the new age was to be an age of healing (Isaiah 35.5-6). We note again that the disciples were witnesses of what had happened, that it happened at a specific place, and that it revealed Jesus as the Messiah and the creative Word (the Son of God). Note in this example the approved faith of the household which resulted from it (4.53). The sign produced true faith.

The third sign revealed the power of Jesus to enable the man who had been lame for thirty eight years to walk, and resulted in both unbelief on behalf of those who did not understand it and faith in those who did. The difficulty of the miracle is here underlined (he had been lame for thirty eight years). But it is also very probable that the writer intended us to see in the reference to thirty eight years a reminder that God’s people had been ‘lame’ in the wilderness for thirty eight years (Deuteronomy 2.14), and an indication therefore that a lame Israel were now to be restored (compare again 15.1-6). But in Isaiah the healing of the lame was also specifically stated to be an indication of the new age (Isaiah 35.6). Thus the healing of the lame man at Jesus’ sovereign command (no faith was specifically called for, apart from in the fact that the man had to obey Jesus) was an indication of what a sovereign God would do for Israel through Jesus the Messiah. He would restore them from their ‘lameness’.

It might be seen as remarkable, but true to life, that the response of the Judaisers was to ignore the miracle and complain that it was performed on the Sabbath at a time when there was no life threatening condition (the only circumstances under which healing was allowed under their rules). To them observance of their rules (which of course they saw as God-given) was more important than a display of the power of God and of the Messiahship of Jesus. They were so taken up with their traditions that they overlooked the fact that in such a healing God must have been involved. The sign thus passed them by. Jesus, however, specifically drew their attention to the fact. His reply was that it was His Father Who had performed this work on the Sabbath day, and that He Himself had done it along with Him (5.17). He was thus indicating that He should be seen as on a parallel with the Father, and that He thus had the right to do what He would on the Sabbath (compare Mark 2.28). But the only result of that was that it made them want to stone Him for paralleling Himself with His Father. They could not see that what He had done set Him above their rules as Lord and Messiah. Even signs and wonders did not make them believe, even less then did they learn the lesson of the miracle that John wanted his readers to see, that here was the Messiah and Son of God.

The fourth sign revealed the power of Jesus as the creative Word able to multiply bread and fishes, thus revealing Himself as a greater than Moses and as the actual creator of man’s provisions. And He then points out that He is the true Bread Who can give them not just physical life, but spiritual life (6.35). They must look beyond the miraculous bread to Him. As the people rightly recognised this miracle was again Messianic, as it revealed the power of Jesus to feed the people miraculously, something that according to apocalyptic Jewish literature was expected of the Messiah (compare Isaiah 25.6-8; Matthew 4.3). But the writer brings out the important message that they misinterpreted how they should respond because of their earthly-mindedness. They wanted to be fed miraculously, but they did not want the bread of spiritual life (6.35). They wanted physical bread on a par with that given by Moses. Thus they tried to make Jesus into an earthly king and a Messianic pretender. Jesus had then to point out the true significance of the miracle, and that was that it pointed to Him as the giver of life (6.33, 35, 40). And that as a consequence all who truly believed in Him, and partook of Him by coming to Him and believing on Him (6.35), would find life (6.29, 35, 40, 47, 51). Once again false faith and understanding (they believed in the miracle) is contrasted with true faith (believing in Jesus Himself), and there is an emphasis on the receiving of life through Him in response to ‘faith’, a trusting response to Him, something made available to them by Himself as ‘the Son of Man’ (6.37). He wanted them to see beyond His Messiahship. It is then confirmed that this is possible because He is ‘the Son’ (6.40 - the idea of ‘the Son of God’ taken at its highest level).

The fifth sign revealed the power of Jesus to control nature itself. It indicated that He could bestride the mighty waters in the same way as God does (Psalm 77.19). Here was a clear indication of His deity for those with eyes to see. It revealed Him as Lord over all. Its significance is underlined by the fact that it raised questions as to how He had managed to cross the sea without a boat, as the writer sought to draw attention to the wonder of what had been done. It was thus revealing His glory, and it leads on to a narrative where ‘partaking’ of Jesus (coming to Him and believing on Him - 6.35) is revealed as the source of true life.

The sixth sign revealed Jesus again as fulfilling Messianic expectation in the healing of the blind (see Isaiah 35.5). But this was not just the case of healing of a blind man, it was the healing of a man blind from birth, and was a revelation of the fact that Jesus is the light of the world and as such opens the eyes of men who have been spiritually blind from birth (9.5). They have been blind to the truth. It goes on to contrast the sure faith of the blind man whose eyes have been opened, so that he truly believes in Jesus as ‘the Son of God’ (9.35), with that of the Judaisers whose eyes are still blind even though they claim to be able to see. It is only those of true faith who can see and understand that Jesus is the Son of God because their blindness has been removed, and the consequence is that they receive the light of the world (9.5), the light of life (8.12).

The seventh sign reveals Jesus as the giver of life, and the giver of eternal life (11.25), and there is once again a stress on the term ‘Son of God’, and the glorifying of Jesus (11.4) and on the fact that Jesus is both Son of God and Messiah (11.27). The raising up of Lazarus in a way very similar to that of the final resurrection (compare 5.28-29) is surely a pointer to that resurrection. It is a physical enactment of the glory of the coming general resurrection. So above all it reveals Jesus as the One Who has life in Himself (11.35), and as the One Whose voice as ‘the Son of God’ (5.25; 11.4, 27) can raise the dead. While His glory is not specifically mentioned at the end, it was underlined at the beginning (11.4). What has happened has revealed the glory of the Father resulting in He Himself being glorified, and later in chapter 20 the writer goes on to draw our attention to the fact that Jesus is to ascend to His Father (20.17), in other words to the glory which He had had with Him before the world was (17.5). Again we have the contrast made in the narrative between those who saw and believed the truth about Jesus, and those whose eyes were closed (11.45-53). John’s hope was that his readers would be among those who saw and believed. Note also the reference by the Chief Priests and the Pharisees to ‘signs’ (11.47), but again they were signs which were misunderstood and never properly interpreted.

What can be seen as the eighth sign is the resurrection itself as Jesus was revealed thereby as ‘my Lord and my God’ (20.28). Here was the greatest miracle of all, and in John’s Gospel it was accomplished by Jesus Himself (10.17-18). And it is significant that those who believe without literally seeing are especially commended (20.29).

Thus these eight signs, witnessed to as facts by the disciples, and occurring at specified places, manifest the fact that Jesus is both Messiah and Son of God to those who have true faith, with the consequence that they receive ‘life’.

But whilst they are undoubtedly central to the theme of the Gospel it is also unquestionable that they do not in themselves provide a foundational structure that can explain the whole Gospel, for, as we have seen, even apart from the prologue and the activities of John the Baptist, chapters 7, 8 and 10, and the passion narrative, do not build on these signs, but are separate elements in the narrative. Thus John’s selection of material is not to be seen as dependent only on the seven signs. He has a wider view.

Chapter 7 does, however, in is own way bring out what men were thinking about Jesus. It commences with Jesus’ brothers encouraging Him to do signs openly (7.3), in order to win allegiance from the people, although again they are the wrong kind of signs because the aim was simply physical notoriety (7.4). And it goes on to deal with the fact that all were asking questions about Him (7.11-12). But they were not coming to the right answers, because they had not understood the signs. They too were blind. Some, however did respond to His miracles and would appear to have acknowledged His Messiahship (7.31), although not in the fullest sense required by John (7.40-43), and this eventually leads on in 7.37-39 to a confirmation, and even expansion, of 6.35 as Jesus reveals Himself as the water of life and the giver of the Spirit.

2). That They Might Have Life In His Name.

A second major theme of the Gospel is that eternal life has been made available through Jesus Christ, a life which is given to all who truly believe in Him as Messiah and Son of God (20.31). This theme is apparent right from the beginning (1.4), and is found all the way through the Gospel up to 20.31. It is thus seen as very important.

It is first drawn to our attention in 1.4 where we learn that ‘in Him was life, and the life is the light of men’, and this theme of ‘life in Him’ is then underlined from that point on. Thus:

  • Through believing in Him and His Name men are ‘born of God’ (1.13; 3.5-6).
  • God gave His only Son so that we might have eternal life through believing in Him as the only true Son of God (3.15-16).
  • To believe in the Son is to have eternal life, while those who do not obey Him will come under God’s wrath (3.36).
  • The one who drinks of the water that Jesus gives will never thirst, and that water will become in him a spring gushing forth to eternal life (4.13-14).
  • The one who serves Christ by reaping a spiritual harvest will bring forth fruit to eternal life (4.36).
  • The one who hears Jesus’ words and believes the One Who sent Him, already has eternal life, and will not come into judgment but has passed from death to life (5.24).
  • In the same way as the Father, the Son has life in Himself (5.26 compare 1.4).
  • In the last day men will come forth from their grave, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment (5.29).
  • The Judaisers searched the Scriptures because they thought in them to find eternal life (5.39). They had replaced God’s Word with a book. Thus they would not come to Him that they might have life (5.40).
  • Men are to labour, not for earthly food which will perish, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man gives because He is sealed by the Father (6.27).
  • And this food is Jesus Who has come down from Heaven to feed men’s hearts and thus give them life as through faith they eat and drink of Him, and especially of His death (6.33, 35, 40, 47, 48, 51, 53, 54).
  • Through His words men will find life (6.63, 68).
  • He has come as the light of the word so that men might receive the light of life (8.12).
  • He has come to give ‘life more abundantly’ (10.10), for He gives to those who follow Him eternal life (10.28).
  • As the One Who is the resurrection and the life He gives present unceasing life and a life in the future after the resurrection (11.25), and in a sense the whole of chapter 11 is dealing with life out of death as a pointer to the life to come.
  • Those who would enjoy life must first die to themselves, for those who cling on to their old lives will lose them, but those who hate their old lives (and thus respond to Him) will keep them unto eternal life (12.25).
  • Jesus’ words give life because so the Father has commanded (12.50).
  • Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (14.6).
  • Jesus has been given authority over all flesh so as to give eternal life to all who have been given to Him by the Father, and this eternal life consists of knowing the Father, and Jesus Christ Whom He has sent (17.2-3).
  • Life ‘through His Name’ (through what He is) is given to all who believe in Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God (20.31).

It will be noted from these references that Jesus is Himself ‘the Life’ (11.25; 14.6; 5.26), and is therefore the source of life (1.4; 5.26), while in Himself giving life to His own (11.25). This life is found through believing in Jesus Christ (6.35 ff), knowing the Father and the Son (17.2-3) and hearing His word (6.63, 68; 12.50). This will result for them in ‘eternal life’, both present and future (3.15-16, 36; 4.13-14; 5.24; 10.28; 11.25; 12.25; 5.29)

It will be noted all through that this ‘life’ centres in Jesus, and that it is through responding to Him and His words as Messiah and Son of God that life is to be found. Indeed this was John’s purpose in writing the Gospel (20.31). So this idea of ‘life’ (eternal life) from Him, because He Himself is ‘the Life’, runs right through the Gospel. Nevertheless in spite of its central importance it is apparent that there are parts of the Gospel where it is not in mind (e.g. chapters 2, 9 and the trial and crucifixion narratives). Thus, though important, it is not the foundational theme of the whole, although coming fairly close.

Jesus Has Come As A Light Into The World.

The idea of Jesus as coming as the light of the world (8.12; 9.5) appears a number of times in the Gospel and is especially prominent in the Prologue, where it is connected with Jesus as the One Who both is life and gives life (1.4), a life which is the light of men. ‘In Him was life, and the life was the light of men’ (1.4). Thus the light which He has brought very much connects with the life that is in Him, and results from us having His life within us, a life which is ‘in Him’. It is His life given to them that gives men light (compare 8.12).

The subsequent stress on Jesus as ‘the Light shining in the darkness’ in 1.5 then echoes the teaching of Isaiah in Isaiah 9.2, as cited in Matthew 4.16, that light was coming into the world to those who ‘walked in darkness’ and would ‘shine on them’. Note that the very language of Isaiah 9.2 is echoed in 1.5 (the light would shine on them); and in 8.12; 12.36 (as those who ‘walked in darkness’). The difference between Isaiah 9.2 and John 1 is that while in Isaiah 9.1-2 that light shone on Galilee of the Nations, in John it shines on every man who comes into the world. Jesus as the Saviour of the world Who has died for the whole world (3.16; 1 John 2.2; 4.14) offers salvation to all who truly believe in Him.

But as so often in the Gospel we may probably see in 1.4 a double meaning. ‘In Him was life and the life was the light of men’. In view of 1.9 where Jesus is described as the ‘the light who lightens every man’, and the fact that creation has just previously been mentioned by John, the first meaning can surely be seen as connecting with the unique life given to man at creation, when God breathed into him and he became ‘a living soul’ (Genesis 2.7). Man became a unique creature. The consequence was that, unlike all other creatures he was made “in the image of the ‘elohim’ (heavenly beings) or ‘God’ ” (1.28). In other words he was made with a spiritual nature through which he could have fellowship with God, and know God. And it was because he had received this life that he had the light of conscience, knew what was right, and worshipped God. He had received life and light from the Creator. He Who was the life, had given him life of a unique kind, temporally speaking, which gave him a light within not paralleled in any other part of the creation.

But the second meaning parallels that of Matthew 4.16 and sees Jesus Himself as being both the light and the source of light. And it is this second meaning that is emphasised in the verses that follow. The light has come into the world, as promised by Isaiah, on those who walk in darkness, but men as a whole love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil (3.18-21). It is only the relatively few who would respond. Those few, however, will receive the light, and they will be ‘born of God’, and become children of God (1.12-14). This emphasis on the spiritual significance of this imparting of ‘the light of life’ is what is central to the Gospel, but it is of course only possible because of the initial act whereby man was created as a spiritual being, and it is noteworthy that John ends his Gospel with an incident that is a reminder of that creation, for in 20.22 Jesus breathes on His disciples in order to impart to them an enduing with the Holy Spirit, in the same way as the Lord God initially breathed into man so that he became a living soul (Genesis 2.7). Here we are made to recognise that He Who was the life and gives light is Jesus Himself, and that this new life and light are spiritual and transforming, illuminating men within. And as we have seen above when considering ‘life’ this message is characteristic of the whole Gospel.

We should, however, note that there is the distinction made in John 1 between the life that is ‘in Him’ which provides light (1.4), a life that was ‘in Him’ and comes from Him (thus He could declare that He had life in Himself - 5.2), and Jesus Himself as the light (1.6-9; 8.12; 9.5) shining in the darkness. In the one case He is seen as illuminating men by Himself as the source of life, by giving them life as a light within them, in the other He is Himself the illumination. But as He IS the life (11.25; 14.6) and the light (8.12) the distinction is not to be overstressed. The point is that He is both the sun and the rays of the sun which are active in nature. He imparts the light ‘of life’ (8.12) because He is the light of Whom it can be said that when men receive Him, they are ‘born of God’ (1.12-13). As we learned in 1.4, this light comes from Jesus as ‘the life source’ (both physically and spiritually) Who shines in the darkness, a darkness which can now no longer lay hold of it or overcome it.

The question may then be asked as to what the ‘darkness’ refers to in 1.5. Does it refer to ‘men in their darkness’, or does it refer to the state of darkness itself? Or even to a world of more sinister spiritual darkness (‘the power of darkness’ - Colossians 1.13). If we translate the verse as ‘apprehend’ we are indicating that we see ‘darkness’ as referring to ‘men in darkness’ who do not apprehend the light that has come. This is favoured by some because it ties in with the tenor of the Prologue (1.1-18) where the emphasis is constantly on man’s inability or unwillingness to respond to God (1.10-11). On the other hand this interpretation is made more unlikely because it would not appear to tie in with the emphasis in other places where darkness is mentioned elsewhere in the Gospel (3.18-21; 8.12; 12.35, 45). If we translate the verb as ‘lay hold of’ we are seeing darkness as a state which pervades the world but cannot prevent the effectiveness of the light. The advantage of this interpretation is that it ties in with later statements, e.g. ‘walking in darkness’ (8.12; 12.35; compare Isaiah 9.2), and the general picture of darkness presented in the Gospel (e.g. 3.17-21; 8.12; 12.35, 46). It also blends in with the idea that in the Old Testament all was initially in darkness, and that that darkness will once more prevail when God finally brings about judgment (sun, moon and stars will cease to shine).

However, while it is unquestionable that Jesus as the Light is an important emphasis in the Prologue (1.5-9), and whilst the idea continues to appear, (it appears in 3.19-21; 8.12; 9.5; 11.9-10; 12 35-36, 46, and where Jesus Himself declares that He is the light of the world in 8.12; 9.5), it can hardly be said that the idea of the light as such pervades the whole Gospel. As we have seen it is the concept of ‘the life’ that prevails and pervades the whole Gospel, with the light being a secondary emphasis, even though an important one. It mainly emerges in 8.12-12.46, in preparation for the coming of night which follows (13.30).

Nevertheless it cannot be denied that it is an important emphasis, being very much paralleled with the idea of ‘life’. For it is life that gives light (1.4; 8.12). The world is seen as being ‘in darkness’, because it turns away from the light, and refuses that life. That light is seen to be both Jesus Himself (8.12; 9.5) and the teaching which He brought (3.17-19). But it is also found in the life of which Jesus is the source, and which He imparts to those who are His (1.4; 8.12). Those who refuse that life turn away from His light.

But why should John underline this idea of light in the Prologue? The answer would seem to lie in an intention to connect with Isaiah’s idea of the Coming King as coming as a light to those in darkness. It is a fulfilment of Isaiah’s words, ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, and those who dwell in the land of deep darkness, on them has the light shone’ (Isaiah 9.2), words which in Isaiah are immediately followed by a description of the appearance of the coming King (Isaiah 9.6-7). These very words are cited of Jesus in Matthew 4.16 indicating that Matthew saw Jesus in a similar way to John, as the light Who was coming into the world to those who were in darkness. And indeed Isaiah goes on to describe the Coming Servant of the Lord as being ‘a light to the Gentiles’ (Isaiah 42.6; 49.6), words which are cited in Luke 2.32 of Jesus, and tie in with the idea of Him ‘lighting every man who comes into the world’ rather than just the Jews. Thus this idea of Jesus as the Light appears near the commencement of three of the four Gospels. We may note also Isaiah’s later words to Israel, ‘arise, shine for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon you’ which have in mind the time of restoration (Isaiah 60.1). So when men who knew the Old Testament read John’s prologue they would immediately see that he was referring to the light that had now come to shine on those who were in darkness, and that it thus had the coming King and Servant in mind. The light is to be seen as having a Messianic emphasis.

3). Jesus Is The Messiah, the Son of God.

If we are to look for an idea that is the foundation of the whole Gospel it is to this idea that we must look, the idea that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. It is the one idea that pervades the whole Gospel (20.31).

Thus in the Prologue Jesus is ‘the Word’ Who ‘was God’ (the Son of God), the Creator of all things (1.1-3), and the Light Who has come to shine on those who are in darkness (the Messiah - Isaiah 9.2) (1.4-7). And while the darkness seeks to reject the light, His glory is revealed to those who respond to Him as the light, and they are born of God (1.12-13). Thus He is revealed as the Father’s only Son (1.14-18). He is God the Son. And the Gospel ends with the declaration by Thomas that Jesus is ‘My Lord and my God’ (20.28). The emphasis is on the uniqueness of Jesus especially in relation to his Sonship, paralleled with the revelation of Him as Messiah. In this latter case, however, the writers conception of the Messiah becomes very much an exalted one. We must now justify this position chapter by chapter.

In the account of John the Baptist’s testimony to Jesus the clear hint is given that Jesus is the coming Messiah and Prophet (1.20-21), for John declares himself the preparer of the way for ‘the Lord’ (1.23), for One Who was greater than him (1.26-27). He then declares Jesus to be ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world’ (1.29, 36), a probable reference to Isaiah 52.13-53.12 which had by then taken on Messianic significance, and as the One Who will be anointed by the Spirit and ‘drench men with Holy Spirit’ (1.32-33) thereby indicating that He was ‘the Son of God’ (1.34). It is at this point that Andrew, having heard John’s testimony, witnesses to the fact that Jesus is the Messiah (1.41). Andrew is of course speaking in the excitement of the moment and in the light of what he has heard from John the Baptist. Once he has followed Jesus for some time he, like all the disciples, will not be quite so sure. This is followed up by Nathaniel’s testimony that Jesus is ‘the Son of God’ and ‘the King of Israel’ (1.49). Nathaniel also probably means this Messianically. Jesus then reinterprets these ideas in terms of ‘the Son of Man’ (1.51) Who would come to the throne of God to receive glory and Kingly Rule (Daniel 7.13-14). Son of God, King of Israel, and Son of Man are therefore seen as being three terms defining Jesus, and as being close to each other in significance. And it will be as Son of God (19.7) and King of Israel (‘of the Jews’ -19.3, 14-15, 19) that He will be condemned.

In chapter 2.1-11 Jesus reveals His power as Creator by turning water into wine, something which, as we have seen above with reference to the signs, was also of Messianic significance as a foretaste of the Messianic feast as a result of which death would be defeated (Isaiah 25.6-8). Thereby He reveals His glory (2.11). And He follows this up by (clearly as the Son of God) cleansing ‘His Father’s house’ (2.16).

In chapter 3 Jesus describes Himself as the Son of Man Who has descended from Heaven (3.13), and we then learn that Jesus is ‘God’s only Son’ (3.16-17), whilst the judgment on unbelievers is that they have not believed in the Name of ‘the only Son of God’ (3.18). This is followed up by John’s further testimony to Jesus as ‘the Messiah’ (3.28-29) and as ‘the Bridegroom’ (3.29), an Old Testament depiction of God Himself (Isaiah 62.4-5; Ezekiel 16.8; Hosea 2.19-20). And the chapter closes with reference to Jesus as having come from above and being ‘above all’ (3.31), and as having been sent by God with the complete fullness of the Spirit (3.34), because the Father loved the Son and had committed all things into His hands (3.35). Thus is Jesus revealed as being of heavenly origin, and as acting in close partnership with His Father as His only Son. Finally it is by believing on the Son that men will receive eternal life, while the consequence of not obeying Him will result in being brought under the wrath of God (3.36). How men see Jesus is thus seen as central to salvation and life.

In chapter 4 Jesus depicts Himself as the Gift of God Who can give men living water (4.10), and can thus give men a spring of water within which will well up to eternal life (4.14), in line with the promise that in God is the ‘fountain of life’ in Psalm 36.9, and the indication that He is the spring of living waters (Jeremiah 2.13). This also ties in with the many references in the Old Testament to God as being like a water source Who satisfies men’s thirst (e.g. Psalm 23.2; 46.4; Isaiah 44.3-4; 55.1; 48.21 etc.), which includes the going forth of ‘His word’ like the effects of rain and snow producing life (Isaiah 55.10-11); the reference in Isaiah to a coming king who will be like rivers of water in a dry place (Isaiah 32.1-2); and the reference to the mirage becoming a pool and the thirsty ground springs of water at the time when the lame and blind are healed (Isaiah 35.5-7). It may thus be seen as Messianic, if not more. And it leads up to an admission by Jesus that He is the Messiah (4.26). The Samaritans then declare that He is ‘the Saviour of the world’, a title almost certainly having Messianic significance. Finally Jesus heals the dying son of a high official at a distance, something which makes the man and his household ‘believe in Him’, presumably as the Messiah. John also no doubt intends us to see it as revealing Him as the Word Whose word gives life.

In chapter 5 Jesus heals the man who has been lame for thirty eight years. Such a healing had Messianic significance (Matthew 11.5; Isaiah 35.6), and probably indicates that Jesus is the One Who has come to heal Israel who had also suffered for thirty eight years in the wilderness (and that He is therefore the Messiah). This incident leads up to an argument about the Sabbath, which results in a claim that He has the right to work on the Sabbath because He is the Father’s Son, which is thus a clear indication that Jesus is the Son of God (5.17-18). His claim results in a desire to kill Him because He has claimed God as ‘His own Father’, making Himself equal with God (5.18).

This leads on to a dissertation in which Jesus makes clear that they are correct in their assumption, for He continually speaks of Himself as ‘the Son’ in correlation to ‘the Father’, and describes Himself as:

  • The Son as doing what His Father does (5.19).
  • As being the Son Who is loved by the Father so that the Father shows Him all that He the Father does (5.20).
  • As the Son Who like the Father can make alive whoever He wills (5.21).
  • As the Son to Whom the Father has committed all judgment (5.22).
  • As the Son deserving of equal honour with the Father (5.23).
  • As the Son Who like the Father has life in Himself, so that as the Son of God He will summon the dead to life at the last day (5.25-26).
  • As the Son to Whom the Father has given the authority to exercise judgment because He is the Son of Man (5.27).

The third, fifth and sixth statements are inconceivable unless Jesus really is equal with the Father, while the remainder bring out His uniqueness in the scheme of things.

Jesus then goes on to describe Himself as the One to Whom the Father has borne witness (5.37), and Whose very works bear witness to Him as the One sent by the Father (5.36), as do the Scriptures (5.39), and closes by emphasising that He has come in His Father’s Name. The reference to those who come in their own name (5.43) probably has in mind Messianic pretenders.

In chapter 6 Jesus feeds the crowds with five loaves and two fishes, and the miraculous side of what happened is brought out (6.7-9). It is also emphasised and specifically stated that twelve basketfuls remained from the five loaves (6.13). It is thus depicted as an act of creation The crowds see the feeding as a Messianic manifestation (6.14). This is immediately followed by the walking on the water (6.16-21). John does not draw attention to the fact (the tradition would have done it for him) that this caused the disciples to call Him the Son of God (Matthew 14.33), but he probably intended us to infer it. The crowds response to all this results in Jesus pointing out that He is the Son of Man Whom the Father has sealed (6.27), who will make available to those who believe eternal life. In John ‘Son of Man’ is at the minimum a Messianic title (compare above on chapter 1). It has in mind the One Who will approach God’s throne to receive kingship and glory (Daniel 7.13-14). But Jesus use of the idea takes it higher, for it signifies One Who has come down from Heaven (3.13; 6.62)

Jesus then speaks of God as His Father (6.32) (John has already made clear what this indicates in 5.18) and describes Himself as ‘the Bread of God’ (6.33, 3) and ‘the One Who has come down from Heaven’ (6.38). He emphasises that the Father’s will is that everyone who sees the Son and believes on Him will have eternal life and be raised up by Jesus at the last day (6.46).

John makes a deliberate contrast between the crowd’s view that Jesus is the son of Joseph (6.42), and Jesus’ own description of Himself as the Father’s Son (6.40). The point being made is that they are of those who have not believed on Him as the Father’s Son (6.40). Jesus then describes Himself as the One Who is from God and alone has seen the Father (6.46), and that the living Father has sent Him, and He lives by (sustenance from) the Father (6.57). It is by partaking of Him as the Son of Man that they can receive life (6.53). He then speaks of the Son of Man as ‘ascending where He was before’ (6.62). Taken in conjunction with 17.5 this is hugely significant. He is ascending in order to receive His glory (compare 20.17). Here ‘the Son of Man’ is being equated with ‘the Son’. The chapter closes with the description of Jesus as ‘the Holy One of God’ (6.69), another Messianic concept.

In chapter 7 Jesus’ brothers attempt to make Him perform miracles publicly precisely so that He can ‘manifest Himself to the world’ (7.4). Jesus’ reply is that His time has not yet come (7.6). Reference to ‘His time’ in this context would appear to refer to His Messiahship (certainly in John’s eyes). The consequence of Jesus’ eventual appearance in Jerusalem are discussions about whether He is the Messiah (7.25-27, 31, 41-42), whilst Jesus in His turn reveals Himself as the One from Whom they can drink (compare on chapter 4 above), so that those who believe in Him will receive the Spirit (7.37-39).

In chapter 8, having revealed Himself as the Light of the world (8.12), a conversation ensues in which Jesus closely aligns Himself with the Father. He declares that His judgment is true because He is not alone, but is in close relation with the Father Who sent Him (8.16). In 8.18 He bears witness to Himself, and His Father bears witness to Him along with Him, and in 8.19 He says that if they had known Him they would have known His Father as well. He is aligning Himself on the divine side of reality. Thus in 8.23 He describes his questioners as being ‘from beneath’ and ‘of this world’, while He is ‘from above’ and not ‘of this world’.

In 8.28 He reveals Himself as the Son of Man Whom they will ‘lift up’, and when they do so they will know that ‘I am’ (or reading in the ‘he’ it is ‘I am He’). This is either a veiled claim to divinity, or a veiled claim to Messiahship. The ‘I am’ is made the more significant because of 8.58 where it is much clearer. He then adds, ‘and that I do nothing of Myself but as the Father taught me I speak these things’. At minimum He is the Father’s unique mouthpiece. He then declares Himself to be the Son of the household Who can make them free (8.36). In all this He aligns Himself closely with the Father, and as being in a unique position.

In 8.38 He declares that ‘I speak the things which I have seen with my Father’ and contrasts it with what they have heard from their father (who subsequently turns out to be the Devil - verse 44). Note the contrast between ‘seen’ and ‘heard’. Jesus speaks of what He has seen. Others have only ‘heard’. He then declares that Abraham had rejoiced to see His day (8.56), a clear Messianic claim, for there was a Rabbinic tradition that when God had made a covenant with Abraham he had seen Messiah’s day. And this eventually leads on to Jesus’ declaration that He is the ‘I am’ Who existed before Abraham (8.58; compare Exodus 3.14). The veiled ‘I ams’ of verses 24, 28, have now become patent. Although indirectly expressed, the claim is that He is God the Son. The Judaisers certainly recognised that He meant this, for at this point they take up stones to stone Him, something which was only permitted in cases of extreme blasphemy. 5.18 in fact brings out the significance of their action. Once again they saw Him as claiming to be equal with God. (It is John’s practise to leave his readers to infer the significance of things from what he has said before).

In chapter 9 Jesus heals the man who has been blind from birth, and reveals that He so acts because He is the light of the world, the opener of eyes (9.5). The healing of blind eyes was considered to be a Messianic act (Isaiah 35.5-6; Compare Matthew 11.5). This healing on the Sabbath arouses controversy, and we subsequently discover that in spite of the sign that had been given (verse 16) no one dares to claim that Jesus is the Messiah for fear of reprisal (9.22). This brings out what people were thinking about Him even though they dared not say it. John then brings out the significance of all this in the former blind man’s words, ‘herein is the marvel, that you do not know from where He is and yet He has opened my eyes’ (9.30). The readers, however, know immediately from where He is. And the man adds, ‘since the world began it was never heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind’ (verse 32). The impact that this miracle made comes out in the later references to it, something which is unusual in respect of particular healing miracles (10.21; 11.37). All this is confirming Jesus’ Messiahship and leading up to Jesus’ revelation of Himself as ‘the Son of God’ (or ‘the Son of Man’) in Whom men must believe, which is found in 9.35-37.

In chapter 10 Jesus is revealed as the Shepherd Who gives His life for the sheep while the Father is the Gatekeeper. The two work together to watch over the sheep, with Jesus having the special saving function. The fact that Jesus is the unique Shepherd, and that ‘all who came before Him’ were thieves and robbers (10.8), suggests that Jesus intended this to be seen as a Messianic picture, which would explain why the prophets are not in mind (He would not call them thieves and robbers. He was speaking about Messianic pretenders). This ties in with the Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming David who will be the shepherd of His people (Ezekiel 34.23-24). The chapter is thus dealing with the Messiah, the new David, working in partnership with His Father, the Gatekeeper. They work in unison together. Here the Shepherd is presented as the Saviour (verse 9) and the lifegiver (verse 10), themes previously connected with His Messiahship (4.42 with 4.25-26) and His Godhood (1.4). He points out that the Father loves Him because He has chosen to lay down His life of His own accord, in order that He may take it again, for He is the One Who has the power to lay down His life, and to take it up again (verse 17-18). This in itself is an essential claim to deity. He is the Lord of life.

His claim to Messiahship is recognised for what it is by the Judaisers (verse 24), and Jesus basically accepts their suggestion that He is the Messiah without making the open claim (which is in accordance with His usual pattern). This ties in with His reluctance found in the other Gospels to use the title in Judea and Galilee. His reply is that He has in effect told them that He is the Messiah, and that they should know it anyway by His works which He does in His Father’s Name which bear testimony to Him (verses 25-26; compare Matthew 11.5). He thus indirectly accepts the title.

He then differentiates them from His true sheep. His true sheep are those who hear His voice, He knows them and they follow Him. The Judaisers in contrast are not known by Him and do not hear His voice and follow Him. Jesus is by this making Himself the centre around which all men should gather. (This has indeed been the constant emphasis of the author all through as is seen in the constantly reiterated call to believe in Jesus Christ). And once again He then emphasise His total oneness with the Father in that His sheep are both in His hand and in ‘His Father’s’ hand (verse 28-29). They are thus totally secure in the joint hand of Father and Son. Aligning Himself with the Father in this way in total responsibility for the sheep furthers the idea of His true Godhood. As He has constantly revealed He and His Father always act as one. And He then underlines this with the statement, ‘I and the Father are one’ (verse 30). In context this signifies a unity of thought, will and action in all that Father and Son do. They work together in equality and total unity. Once again the Judaisers recognise in this a claim to deity (verse 31). They recognise that He, as a man, is claiming to be God (verse 33).

In His reply Jesus uses of Himself the term ‘Son of God’, and describes Himself as the One Whom the Father had set apart as holy to Himself and had sent into the world (verse 36). He then underlines this by pointing out that He is doing the works of His Father (revealed especially in His ‘signs’), which should make them realise that He is in the Father, and His Father is in Him in a unique way (verses 37-38; compare 14.10 in context). This is a very different matter from our being in the Father and in Christ (17.21). We are not in such total oneness and are not capable of such signs. Ours is a spiritual unity, but, unlike that of Jesus, is not so perfect that we always do the will of the Father.

Chapter 11 commences with an indication that what is about to be described will bring glory to God and cause the Son of God, that is, Jesus Himself, to be glorified (verse 4). The significance of what He is about to do is made clear at the beginning. This then leads on to His activity in relation to the matter of the death and raising again of Lazarus. Jesus’ supreme confidence is revealed in that He allows Lazarus to die (for, as we know from 4.46-54, He could have healed him at a distance). Such supreme confidence would not have been becoming in a mere man. With the Son of God it was acceptable in order to advance the glory of God.

When Martha comes to Jesus He tells her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me, though he were dead, yet will he live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die’ (11.25-26). We note immediately that He speaks of believing, not in God, but in Him, and does it on the basis that He has the power to raise the dead (He is the resurrection) and to give ‘life’ (‘in Him was life’ - 1.4). Thus He is calling on men to centre their thoughts on Him, and on Him alone. Such a demand could only be made by One Who was the Son of God, and co-equal with the Father, especially when the consequence of that belief was eternal life. We thus again have His deity shining through. To this Martha replies, ‘Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Christ (Messiah) the Son of God, Who should come into the world’ (11.27). She recognises the significance of His claim. So even before the giving of the final sign it has twice been made clear to the readers Who Jesus is (11.4, 27), so that when the miracle takes place they will rightly interpret the sign.

In passing we should note that in this chapter Jesus is called ‘Lord’ by people seven times (with an eighth reference being found in the narrative in 11.2). Previously He has only been called ‘Lord’ by people four times in the Gospel up to this point. This was by the crowd who sought Him in wonderment after the miraculous provision of bread (6.34), by Peter when the disciples were challenged about the possibility of leaving Him (6.38), and by the man blind from birth when Jesus made Himself known to him (9.36, 38), all moments of crisis and tension and by those in awe of Jesus. Thus it is now being brought home to the readers by the continual emphasis that Jesus is not just a prophet, but is ‘the Lord’. It is used by the sisters, Martha and Mary, in 11.3; by His disciples in 11.11; by Martha in 11.21, 27, 39; by Mary in 11.32; by guests in 11.34. All is leading up to what He is about to do.

Jesus now approached the tomb, and commanded that the stone be removed from its entrance. Then at this point He prayed. We are, however, informed that His spoken prayer was only for the benefit of the crowd so that they would be aware of the significance of what was happening (11.41-42). With regard to Himself He knew that He did not need to pray. He had only to speak and Lazarus would arise. For as we know He has already stated that He has the power to make alive whom He would (5.21). Jesus’ uniqueness is thus again brought out. And sure enough at His command Lazarus did appear from the tomb. Jesus had demonstrated in embryo His power to raise men at the last day (5.28-29), something that was normally seen as the act of God. The consequence was that many truly believed because they not only saw the sign but understood it (11.45). The assumption from what had been said before (verse 27) is that they have now recognised in Him the Messiah, the Son of God. What Martha had previously believed, these new believers now also believed.

Meanwhile others who had failed to appreciate the sign reported it back to Jesus’ enemies (verse 46). This resulted in hostility against Him, and a remarkable prophecy that ‘it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and that the whole people perish not’ (verse 50). This the author then interprets as signifying, ‘and not for that nation only, but also that He should gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad’ (11.52). Thus he sees Jesus as fulfilling the prophecies concerning the Servant of the Lord in Isaiah 49.5-6. In the Targum of Jonathan (an Aramaic paraphrase of the Old Testament) the Servant of the Lord is called ‘Servant Messiah’, and many see a similar connection with the Servant made at Qumran. Thus this too is a reference to the Messiah.

In chapter 12 Jesus’ position as Messiah is emphasised by His entry into Jerusalem on an ass which the author relates to the promise of the Coming King found in Zechariah (verse 15; compare Zechariah 9.9). It is thus a further presentation of Jesus as the Messiah, although not as at this stage fully recognised. This leads on to Jesus’ words that the hour had come for ‘the Son of Man’ to be glorified (verse 23). The glorification of the Son of Man has in mind Daniel 7.13-14 where the son of man comes to God’s throne in order to receive a kingdom and be glorified. This too has Messianic overtone, something emphasised by the reaction of the festive crowds as they questioned Jesus about whether, with His talk of death, He could be the Messiah, for in their view the Law stated that ‘the Messiah abides for ever’ (verse 34). Again the reader knows the answer to their question. He is aware of the resurrection. Thus he knows that this is no hindrance to regarding Jesus as the Messiah. This is then followed by the application to these people of certain prophecies in Isaiah which speak of men’s spiritual blindness (verses 38-41). Of especial significance here is that one of them is from Isaiah 6 where Isaiah had his vision of the glory of God, and the author comments, ‘Isaiah said these things when he saw His glory and spoke of Him’. In context the pronouns ‘His’ and ‘Him’ appear to refer to Jesus. Thus here the author is identifying Jesus with the God of Isaiah’s prophecies. If that be so then we have in this a direct statement of Jesus’ essential deity.

The chapter closes with Jesus’ claim that He has come as ‘a light into the world’ (an idea repeated from verse 35 and thus emphasised by repetition) in order that men may escape darkness by believing on Him (verse 46). He stands unique in history. And the consequence is that in the last day men will be judged by their response to that light as found in His words, words which His Father has put into His mouth (verses 48-50). No mere prophet had ever identified himself so closely with God as his Father.

Chapter 13 commences with the words ‘Jesus knew that his hour had come that He should depart out of this world to His Father’ (verse 1), and the remainder of the Gospel (chapters 13-21) then goes on to deal with the circumstances of that departure. This is in itself remarkable. It brings out the emphasis laid by all the Gospel writers on Jesus’ final hours. They were seen as highly significant, in that they not only signalled His own departure, but were a preparation for the future. And this is nowhere made more apparent than in John’s Gospel. For it makes clear that Jesus’ life is not to be seen as being a small, self-contained part of history which is to end with His death after His own small contribution to history (the fate of all men), but is rather to be seen as of such vital importance that His final hours must be seen as preparation for what lies ahead through the ministry of His Apostles and beyond as they take the message of His forgiveness to the world (20.22-23), a message based on His cross which is in the centre of that preparation. For it has already been made clear that it is His death on the cross, followed by His resurrection, that is crucial for the future of mankind. ‘See the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world’ (1.29). ‘So must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but should have eternal life’ (3.14b-15). ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He’ (8.28). ‘I if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all men to me’ (12.32). The world’s hopes are based on His ‘lifting up’.

13.1 separates what has gone before, the self-revelation of Jesus, from what follows, His preparation for the establishment of the New Vine (15.1-6), the new Israel. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are thus seen as unique in that, having revealed Himself for what He is, His death and resurrection are a turning point in history. It brings out that what would appear at first sight to be a tragic end, will finally result in the establishment of a new work of God which will be the consequence of His own activity as the resurrected Christ as He gives His Spirit to His followers (20.20-23).

Nevertheless the self-revelation continues. We learn immediately that Jesus knew that ‘the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He was come from God and went to God’ (13.3). His life has been a kind of interlude between His previously having been with the Father (compare 17.5), and His going to be with His Father, during which He would accomplish what the Father had given into His hands. Having descended from Heaven He would now ascend to Heaven (3.13). For a while the Word had been made flesh and had dwelt among us (1.14) for the fulfilling of His purposes, but now He was going back to His Father. Nothing brings out more the uniqueness of Jesus, as both pre-existent and the arbiter for the future.

We note that Jesus is now still being addressed as ‘Lord’ (13.9), as in chapter 11, something which Jesus takes up when He declares that He is their ‘Lord and Teacher’ (13.13-14). Note His switch from ‘Teacher and Lord’ in verse 13 to ‘Lord and Teacher’ in verse 14. He is now emphasising His unique authority over them. They had seen Him as their Teacher. Now they must recognise Him as their Lord. He will later speak of them as ‘friends’ (15.1-14), but for now His emphasis is on the fact that He is their Lord (compare 13.16; 15.20). His Lordship is even brought out by the fact that He is depicted as in control of His own destiny as He commands Judas to go about his act of betrayal (13.27-28).

Once Judas has left Jesus turns to His other disciples and declares, ‘Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him. And God will glorify Him in Himself, and will immediately glorify Him’ (13.32). The ‘now’ connects with Judas departure on his evil errand, and indicates that what is to result from the betrayal is for the glory of God and of for the glory of Jesus as the Son of Man. Once more Daniel 7.13-14 is in mind. Jesus will come out of suffering in order to approach the throne of God and receive glory and kingship. The idea of Messiahship is thus included. This idea of the glory of Jesus being revealed is an essential part of the author’s portrayal of precisely Who Jesus is (1.14; 2.11; 11.4, 40; 12.41; 17.5, 24). But for God to ‘glorify Him in Himself’ goes beyond just Messiahship, as 17.5 reveals where Jesus will pray, ‘glorify Me with Your own self, with the glory which I had with You before the world was’. The idea is that as the Son of God He will once more be united with His Father in His supreme glory.

In chapter 14 Jesus makes a fuller revelation about Himself. The disciples have been growing in understanding, but now He makes clear to them that He is the One Who can provide a place for His followers in His heavenly resting place, and can bring them there because it is His Father’s house (14.1-3; compare 17.24). Indeed He stresses that He is the One Who, as the truth and the life, is the only way to the Father (14.4-6). By this He is making clear that truth is no longer to be sought in the Law of Moses, but in the living Word (1.17), and He will go on to point out that this truth will come from the work of ‘the Spirit of truth’ within them (14.17; 15.26; 16.13). This will be because Jesus is Himself the Way into God’s presence, being both the Truth and the Life (14.6). Thus full truth now resides in Jesus, and will be made clear to the disciples by the Spirit of truth as He reveals Jesus to them, while true life, life which comes from the Spirit and illuminates men, must also come from Him.

And this is because Jesus is in Himself a complete revelation and manifestation of the Father (compare 1.18). That is why He can now say to His disciples, ‘If you had known Me you would have known My Father also, from now on you know Him and have seen Him’ (14.7). In other words, to know and to have seen Jesus in His fullness is to know and have seen the Father, and from now on they will recognise that they have both known and seen the Father, as the Spirit of truth gives them illumination. Note the advancement from ‘knowing the Father’ to ‘knowing and seeing’ Him.

Had it been left there we might have seen this as simply saying that through His own life and teaching they had received a glimpse of what the Father was like. But that is ruled out by what follows. For Philip seizes on Jesus’ words and cries out, ‘Lord, show us the Father and it will suffice for us.’ He wants to see God as men had in ancient times. Outwardly Philip might have appeared to be pedantic, but the conversation that follows specifically brings out that Jesus saw Philip’s cry as reasonable, and that He was in fact intending Philip to see His words as signifying far more than that. For He stresses to Philip that if only he had truly known Him for what He is, he would have recognised that all that the Father is has been portrayed in Him, and this could only be because He shared His Father’s Being and Essence. His insistence on this fact goes far beyond the idea that somehow men could see God as they looked at the life of Jesus. It is rather indicating that in seeing Him in action they have ACTUALLY SEEN the Father operating on earth. He is not here, of course, speaking of His bodily form, but of His and His Father’s essential Being.

That Jesus intended Philip and the other disciples to take His words literally and not ‘spiritually’ is brought out by His next statement. He does not rebuke Philip for taking Him too literally, He gently rebukes Him for not having recognised the truth about Him. ‘Have I been with you such a long time, and yet you have not known Me Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father, how then can you say show us the Father’. The final phrase ‘how can you say show us the Father’ can only signify that He considers Philip’s objection to be invalid, because he has already seen the Father. But He could not have said that if He had not literally meant ‘seen’, for on any other interpretation of ‘seen’ Philip’s objection would have been reasonable, and have been a cry for a literal sight of the Father. In other words he wanted the disciples to see the Father with their own eyes, as the leaders of Israel had seen Him at Sinai (Exodus 24.10). Had Jesus simply been speaking ‘spiritually’ or ‘parabolically’ He would have explained to Philip that no man can see the Father (1.18), but that they should be satisfied that they had seen a reflection of the Father in Him. His comment thus makes clear that that was NOT what He meant. What He meant was that in seeing Jesus they had actually seen the Father, because Jesus and the Father were one in essential being. He is saying that while His bodily form might be that of a man, they need to recognise that in His essential Being He is God. He ’as He is in Himself in His inner being’ is to be seen as a full portrayal of the Father. That this is an indication of Jesus’ own unique Godhood is certain, for no one could claim to fully reveal God in this way Who was not Himself God. And there is nothing more important than for us to see this. Jesus was now demonstrating that the time for ambiguity and slow unveiling had passed. Now His disciples needed to recognise more than ever Who He essentially was. Here we have an amplification of His earlier claim that ‘I and My Father are one’ (10.30), making clear that it did not just mean one in purpose and intention, but one in essential nature and being such that to see one was to see the other.

Note that He feels a little concerned that Philip and the other disciples have not gathered this from what He had said earlier, e.g. in 5.17-29, for He says, ‘Have I been with you so long and yet you have not known Me?’ (14.9). In other words while they had recognised Him as the Holy One of God (6.69) and as God’s Messiah (Matthew 16.16 and parallels), what they had failed to recognise was His true Godhood.

He then confirms this position by saying, ‘Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak from Myself, but the Father abiding in Me does His works’. Here He makes clear that He and His Father are in such close union (‘the Word was face to face with God’ - 1.2) that what His mouth speaks are not His own words but the words of His Father, and that His works are also in fact done by the Father Who is abiding in Him. Then He adds, ‘Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the very works sake.’ In other words they should recognise that He could not have performed the things that He had, unless it was the Father doing it through Him because they were in such close union.

Those who refuse to recognise the truth of what Jesus is saying here, that Jesus is truly God, seize on this verse with glee (ignoring what has just been said). They point out that elsewhere Jesus says that He and the Father dwell in true believers (14.23), and that ‘in that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you’ (14.20; compare also 17.21-23). That, they say, is what Jesus meant here. But that is simply not correct. It is to take the words out of context. For had Jesus meant that He would not have asked Philip how he could possibly have said what he did, He would rather have said to Philip that He had not intended him to take His words so literally. For had Jesus simply meant what these people say, Philip’s plea would have been justified. The only reason why it was not justified was because Jesus considered that they should have recognised that in seeing Him in action they had actually and literally seen His Father in action in all that He did. That is far from true of believers.

Jesus then goes on to promise that He will pray the Father to give them another Helper to take His place when He is gone. The word ‘another’ indicates ‘another of the same kind’. And that other is to be the Spirit of truth Whom they know because He dwells with them and will be in them (14.17). And He then immediately adds, ‘I will not leave you without help, I will come to you’ (14.18). Once again we are faced with the fact that Jesus not only aligns Himself with the Father in close union, but also with the Spirit. For the Spirit Whom ‘they know because He dwells with them’ can only refer to Jesus, something confirmed by the fact that the coming of the Spirit of truth will be the same as Jesus coming to them again. It is a reminder that all the members of the triune God (Matthew 28.19) work as One, and that where One is all are.

From this point on Jesus then moves on to deal with the relationship that the disciples (and subsequent believers - 17.20) will enjoy with Himself and the Father. In a lesser way they will enjoy a union in the Spirit. They will even be able to do the works that Jesus had done. But their experience will not be the same as that of Jesus with the Father, for they will reveal the Father inadequately. While someone might see a hint of what the Father is like from the finest of believers, no such believer could truly and humbly say, ‘he who has seen me has adequately seen the Father’. But the important lesson from this for our theme is that the believer’s relationship with God is now defined in terms of the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit all working equally together. Jesus and the Father will come to them and dwell in them (14.23). The coming of the Spirit of truth to them will be the coming of Jesus (14.16-18). This implies Jesus’ omnipresence, and equality with the Father and the Spirit. They are One.

Initially this may appear to be contradicted by 14.28 where Jesus says to His disciples, ‘if you loved Me you would rejoice because I said that I go to the Father, for my Father is greater than I’. But there is no real contradiction. Jesus’ point in these words is that while He is living on earth He has taken a subsidiary position. He has been made lower than the angels and has become man (Hebrews 2.7). At this stage, while He walks and suffers as a man, His status, and enjoyment of the glory that was intrinsically His, is below that of His Father (see 17.5). He has taken a humble place as the Servant in order to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10.45). Thus at this point in time He is of a lower status than His Father Who rules in the heavens and is subject to no such limitations. And that is the reason why the disciples should rejoice for Him at His going to the Father, because then He would be restored to His former status (see Philippians 2.5-11). He would be glorified with the glory which He had had with the Father before the world was (17.5). The Father being ‘greater than He’ was thus temporary.

Chapter 15 continues the theme of chapter 14. Jesus and the Father are seen as continuing to work together for our salvation. That salvation, however, is found by our being made one with Jesus, something only possible because of His omnipresence. The fact is often overlooked that what Jesus promises for the day by day future requires Him to be omnipresent. Furthermore Jesus will make known to them ‘all things that He has heard from His Father’ (15.15), and whatever they ask the Father in His Name, He will give it to them (15.16). Jesus is thus to continue His ministry to them, and to all believers, from Heaven. The relationship with His Father from chapter 14 continues. But especially prominent in this chapter is the fact that it is Jesus Who will send the Helper to them from the Father, even the Spirit of Truth (15.26). Previously it has been the Father Who would send Him at the request of Jesus (14.16) or ‘in Jesus’ name’ (14.26). Now Jesus is also seen as performing the role.

These thoughts continue into chapter 16. It is Jesus Who will send the Helper (the Holy Spirit) to them (16.7). And the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, will glorify not God but Jesus (16.13), for He will receive of what is Jesus’ and will show it to them. But this is because ‘all things that the Father has are Mine, that is why I said He will take of Mine and show it to you’. That all things that the Father has belong also to Jesus is a further indication that He is God, for Who else could possess all that belonged to the Father? And to speak of the Spirit as being sent to glorify Him in men’s eyes without mention of God would be blasphemy if He were not God.

Having then explained something of what the future holds for His disciples, Jesus confirms that, ‘whatever you shall ask the Father in My Name, He will give it to you’ (16.23; compare 15.16). For they will be asking in order to further the Father’s purposes in Jesus. And He assures them that while what He has been saying to them has been to some extent parabolic (they must have been showing that they were in some confusion), He will make it all plain to them in the future. For He will show them plainly from the Father (16.25).

Then as His discourse approaches its close He assures them, ‘I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world. Again I leave the world, and go to My Father’ (16.28). Here, if words mean anything, we have a further clear statement of His pre-existence (compare 3.13; 8.56-58; 17.5), and an indication that when He was ‘sent’ it meant literally from another place, not just that He was spiritually sent like the prophets were. The Word, Who had existed in the beginning with God, and was God, had been made flesh, but was now returning to His former glory.

In chapter 17, Jesus’ discourse to His disciples being over, He now prays to His Father. The opening words of His prayer continue the theme that Jesus is the Son of God, and indeed is God the Son, for He calls on the Father to glorify Him as the Son, in order that He as the Son may glorify His Father (17.1). Once again it is apparent that far more than Messiahship is in mind, for Jesus is asking to be restored to His former glory, a glory which He had had with the Father before the world was (17.5). And through this occurring the Father will also be glorified.

We have already noted that the glory of Jesus has been revealed on earth, both in the life that He lived (1.14), and in the signs that He gave (2.11; 11.4). It will also be revealed by His death and resurrection by which the Son of Man will be glorified (7.39; 13.31) and in those who will be saved by His activity (17.10). But that is a limited glory. What is spoken of here is a glory that far surpasses that glory. It is unlimited. It is the glory referred to in 12.41, the glory that was always His as God before He ‘emptied Himself’ (Philippians 2.7), the glory that has been His from eternity past. It is the glory of the eternal Word, which He had for a while put aside in order to bring about redemption, but would now be receiving again. < p> He then describes the power that the Father has given Him over all flesh, the power to give eternal life (compare 5.26) to all whom the Father has given Him (6.37-39). Thus ‘the Father’ and ‘the Son’ are seen as working closely together in the plan of redemption, the aim of which is to give to men eternal life. The Father chooses them out and allocates them, the Son gives them eternal life, and He does this by making Himself and His Father known to them in such a way that they respond (17.2-3). For to truly know the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom He has sent, is to have eternal life (17.3). The distinction that is being made in these words (as the remainder of the Gospel has made clear), is not that Jesus Christ is somehow distinct from God, but that He is the manifestation of God on earth which has made it possible for men to know God. If this were not so then the idea that knowing the Father alone would be insufficient would also be blasphemy. Rather He wants them to know that the Father has sent Him from within the Godhead to carry out His part in the plan of redemption, and the consequence is to be that they will know the only true God, Who in context is ‘the Father’ (‘You the only true God’), but is also inclusive of Jesus Christ as the One Who has manifested the Father. For as has already been revealed, to know the Father is to know the Son, and to know the Son is to know the Father (14.7-9). Jesus Christ has been the appointed representative from within the Godhead Whose task was to make the Father, in His invisibility, known (1.18; 14.7-9). Note that here we have the first mention by John of the combined Name ‘Jesus Christ’ since 1.17. Jesus is now openly revealed as the distinctive Messiah, God’s ‘sent one’, God’s ‘anointed’ instrument for bringing salvation to the world.

Had 17.3 stood alone with no context we might well have seen it as distinguishing ‘the only true God’ from ‘Jesus Christ’. But it does not stand alone. It is immediately made apparent that, in His being sent, Jesus Christ had forsaken the glory that was His as the eternal God (17.5). Thus the separateness is to be seen as one of office and not of essence. The Father was representing the Godhead in Heaven as ‘the only true God’, too Whom men should look in worship. The Son, having ‘emptied Himself’, was representing the Godhead as a man on earth, as the Messiah, revealing the Father (14.7-9). But the essential oneness of the Father and the Son has already been emphasised (10.30; 14.7-9), while the idea that there were two Gods had to be avoided.

Jesus now turns to His mission on earth. He prays that just as He has glorified the Father on earth by accomplishing His work, so the Father will glorify Him with His own self, with the glory which He had with Jesus before the world was (17.4-5). Here it is made openly apparent that it was Jesus’ temporary task that was the reason why He at this stage did not enjoy the glory of His Godhood. It was because He had ‘emptied Himself’ of His Godhood (whatever that means, for it is outside our understanding, as indeed God Himself is) in order to become man, in accordance with the Father’s purpose, that He had a temporary lower status. But now He was to be restored to His former position and status again. It is not, of course, possible for us to understand all the ramifications involved. That is a mystery beyond the ability of our limited comprehension to fully appreciate.

He then goes on to pray for His disciples. The prayer reflects the partnership between the Father and the Son in the work of redemption already described. Jesus has manifested His Father’s Name to the men whom the Father has given Him out of the world, and they know that everything that the Father has given Him has come from the Father (17.6c). In the eternal purposes of God, the Father has made the gift to His Son of all true believers, the Son has manifested the Father to these true believers. ‘Everything that he Father has given Him’ may refer to the believers themselves as the Father’s gift (17.6a), or it may refer to the words and works that He has accomplished, but the outworking of the partnership is made quite clear for He is the Son working in His Father’s Name (verse 2). And such an idea continues throughout the prayer.

We note that once again He speaks of the Father being in Him and He in the Father (17.21), but this time it is to lead on to the fulfilling of God’s purpose by His people also becoming ‘in us’ (17.21), and consequently, as a result, one with each other (17.23). Thus in specific contrast with the oneness in chapter 14, where the literalness of the oneness was made clear, this oneness is a spiritual oneness, although very real for all that (compare 1 Corinthians 12.12 ff). There is no suggestion that to see these believers will be to see the Father. The oneness is of a different kind.

Towards the close of His prayer He then prays concerning believers, ‘Father I pray that they also whom you have given Me, may be with Me where I am, to behold My glory which you have given me in your love for me before the foundation of the world’ (17.24). Once again we have reference to His eternal glory (it was before the world began), which the Father would be restoring to Him (17.5), a situation based on the love that the Father had had for Him from before the foundation of the world. We note from this that the Father’s love for the Son is eternal, being a part of their essential relationship from all eternity. ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was face to face with God, and the Word was God’ (1.1) This unique relationship between Father and Son is revealed as distinct from all others.

In contrast true believers are only to behold that glory (‘only’ being used by us to distinguish their secondary position, not to signify that to behold that glory is anything less than stupendous). Yet what a privilege is this. Those who are His will enjoy the revelation of His glory (compare Revelation 21.23; 22.3-5).

Having reached the height of revelation in chapter 17, we are immediately brought back to earth in chapter 18. What is glorious in Heaven must be worked out on earth. But even here the glory of Heaven shines through, for when the soldiers arrive to arrest Jesus He reveals Himself as the ‘I am’, and they fall back before Him (18.6). John clearly intended this event to be seen as essentially significant. That having occurred, however, (demonstrating that Jesus was still in control of events), the arrest goes on as normal, and Jesus is borne away for trial, where it is made clear that the charges against Him are unjustified (18.23). The interweaving of the trials with Peter’s denials bring out Jesus’ total forsakenness (18.12-27). All have forsaken Him, both the religious leaders on the one hand (exemplified in Annas the High Priest), and His own disciples on the other (exemplified in Peter). The Lamb of God (1.29), having been shown to be without blemish (something which will be even more drawn out in the trial before Pilate), is being set apart for death.

But even His trial emphasises Who He is. For Pilate asks Him concerning the charge that He is the King of the Jews, that is, the Messiah (18.33), something which leads on to the revelation that Jesus’ kingship (and thus His Messiahship) is not of this world (18.36). Jesus then goes on to indicate that in fact His kingship on earth, which He admits to, has been fulfilled in the purpose for which He was born, and for which He came into the world, namely in His bearing witness to the truth (18.37). The chapter ends with Pilate declaring that Jesus is the King of the Jews (18.39).

The emphasis that Jesus is ‘the King of the Jews’ (and thus the Messiah) carries on through chapter 19. He is hailed as such, somewhat crudely, by the soldiers (19.3), indirectly acknowledged as such by His accusers (19.12), declared as such by Pilate (19.14-15), and described as such in the superscription on His cross (19.19). And along with this is an acknowledgement of His claim to be the Son of God (19.7). His association with the Lamb of God is brought out in that not a bone of Him was to be broken (19.32-33, 36).

Finally in chapter 20 Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene and explains that He has not yet ascended to His Father (20.17a), and tells her to inform His ‘brothers’ that, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God’ (20.17b). It is clear that the ascension is to be seen as significant (Peter will state that as a result He would be made both Lord and Christ’ - Acts 2.36). Note that Jesus does not say ‘our Father’ or ‘our God’. He distinguishes His own relationship with the Father from theirs. This distinction is real, for the distinction between ‘My Father’ and ‘your Father’ is constantly maintained by Jesus, and is especially brought out in Matthew’s Gospel, where the latter phrase dominates the early chapters, with the former taking over in the later chapters as Jesus’ self-revelation increases. Furthermore ‘My God’ indicates that God was Jesus’ God in a different way than He was the God of the disciples and of all other men. Inherent in Jesus’ incarnation was that He would pray to God as a true man. He could hardly have been a true human being had He not done so. But when He did so it was uniquely as the Son talking to the Father. It was a unique relationship. In the case of the disciples they prayed as adopted children talking to their Father, and they could pray ‘our Father’, something Jesus could never pray.

The chapter continues in an act reminiscent of Genesis 2.7. Just as God had there breathed into man so that he became a living being, now Jesus breathes into His disciples so that they receive the Holy Spirit (20.22). ‘In Him was life, and the life was the light of men’ (1.4). For this inbreathing of the Spirit is not only to be symbolic of the ‘eternal life’ that they have received from God, and of the new creation, but also brings them power and illumination (Luke 24.45). It is to be seen as a fulfilling of His promises concerning the Spirit of truth in chapters 14-16. These men are to be the foundation of the new creation. What follows at Pentecost will be an enduement of power (Acts 1.8).

These parallel acts, the one in Genesis 2.7 commencing man’s existence as a spiritual being in God’s creation , and the other commencing the bringing about of God’s new creation which will result in eternal life for all true believers, bring out what has already been stated in 1.1-13, that Jesus is both the God of creation (1.3) and the Source of life (1.4a), and the God of revelation (1.4b-11) and new creation (1.12-13).

The chapter, and the main part of the Gospel, now end with Thomas’ declaration concerning Jesus, ‘my Lord and my God’ (20.28), thus ending on the same note with which the Gospel began, ‘in the beginning was the Word --- and the Word was God’ (1.1). The truth has begun to come home to those Who follow Him.

The writer has thus fulfilled his promise to present his readers with ‘signs’ which had been witnessed by the disciples, which revealed that ‘Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God’, so that by ‘believing’ they might ‘find life in His Name’ (20.31). Yet even with his emphasis on these points we should note that there are parts of the narrative which were patently not required for this purpose. And the reason for this was that John saw them as so much a part of the true eyewitness tradition that he felt that he had to incorporate them. In the end it was not John who shaped the tradition, but the true historical facts which shaped John’s narrative, once he had selected his material. It was based on first hand experience, which was something he felt that he could not avoid, and which finally determined what John wrote.

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