From Darkness to Light

33 And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” 36 And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Mark 15:33-39 ESV

At Noon on Friday, as Jesus hung on the cross, His life slowly ebbing away, the sky was suddenly darkened. Luke described it rather poetically: “the sun’s light failed” (Luke 23:45 ESV). For three hours Jesus had suffered in broad daylight, in full sight of the high priest and the other members of the Sanhedrin, who mocked Him relentlessly. The crowd that had gathered to watch this macabre spectacle, cast their eyes and their ire on Jesus, taunting Him to save Himself by coming down from the cross. The soldiers looked up at Him with scorn as they gambled over His garments. Even the two criminals who were being crucified on either side of Him couldn’t resist the temptation to revile this so-called King of Israel. For three long hours, Jesus hung in broad daylight, facing the judgment of sinful men. Then. suddenly and unexpectedly, the sky grew dark. And for the next three hours, Jesus would face the righteous judgment of God.

Jesus had been charged with the crime of blasphemy by a religious council made up of mere men. He had been condemned to die by the earthly authority of another man, an official representative of the Roman government. And Jesus had been scourged, mocked, beaten, and nailed to a cross by men who wore the uniform of the Roman Legion, serving at the behest of the Emperor. But none of these men were responsible for what was taking place that day. This entire scene had been the pre-ordained plan of God. He had orchestrated the whole affair so that His sinless Son could bear the righteous judgment that must be poured out on mankind’s rebellion. With the darkening of the sun, the wrath of men was replaced by the wrath of God. What transpired at high Noon that Friday was the pouring out of God’s judgment against the sin and rebellion of mankind, just as the prophet Amos had predicted.

“And on that day,” declares the Lord God,
    “I will make the sun go down at noon
    and darken the earth in broad daylight.” – Amos 8:9 ESV

Isaiah had also prophesied about this dark day when “the Lord laid on him the sins of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 NLT). Paul would later describe the nature of Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice in terms that we could understand.

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT

At that very moment, the full weight of God’s divine retribution for the sin and rebellion of mankind was poured out on His Son. Jesus hung on the cross as the sacrificial Lamb, destined to bear the full brunt of God’s just and righteous anger for the centuries-worth of open disdain and disregard for His rightful rule and reign. Paul tells us that “God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Romans 1:18 NLT). And one of the ways God revealed His anger against mankind’s rebellion was to abandon them to a life of futility and hopeless slavery to sin. “God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired” (Romans 1:24 NLT). 

But ultimately, mankind would be forced to pay for their sin and rebellion, and the payment required would be death, “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 NLT). But the payment God would demand would involve much more than just physical death. It would require eternal separation from Him. Mankind’s rejection of God would eventually result in their permanent and painful casting from His presence. But God had a plan to remedy this problem. He had arranged to send His Son to act as the ransom for the sins of many.  He would give His life as the sinless substitute for a humanity that had been justly condemned by its own stubborn refusal to honor God.

And when the sun darkened, it was a visible display of God’s glory departing the scene. As the Son took on the full sum of humanity’s sin, the Father was forced to look away. As Isaiah put it, “the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.” The guilt and condemnation for every sin – past, present, and future – was placed upon Jesus. But not only did He bear the guilt, but He also experienced the full measure of God’s displeasure and divine judgment. And that is what led Jesus to cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34 ESV). At that precise moment, Jesus experienced the unbearable reality of being separated from His Heavenly Father, for the first time in His eternal life.

Back during God’s deliverance of His people from their captivity in Egypt, He had brought a series of plagues against Pharaoh and the Egyptians. The tenth plague was darkness. God had told Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt” (Exodus 10:21 ESV). And that pervading darkness lasted for three long days. Interestingly enough, the plague of darkness was followed by the death of the firstborn. And in the same way, the three hours during which all of Israel was plunged into darkness would be followed by the death of the firstborn Son of God.

Even in His cry of despair and pain, Jesus quoted Scripture. He cited Psalm 22:1, demonstrating that His sacrificial act on the cross was in fulfillment of God’s Word. Jesus was not questioning the actions of His Heavenly Father. He was simply acknowledging that this moment had been pre-ordained and was a non-negotiable part of the redemptive plan of God. Jesus had to be forsaken so that mankind’s sins could be forgiven.

For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. – Hebrews 9:22 NLT

Jesus knew that His suffering for sin was necessary. He also knew that His Father would be forced to turn His back on Him as long as He bore the sins of mankind. And the only thing that would satisfy the just demands of His Father would be the sacrifice of His own life as payment. The author of Hebrews reveals that the death of Jesus was the only solution to mankind’s sin problem.

For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. That is why, when Christ came into the world, he said to God,

“You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings.
    But you have given me a body to offer.
You were not pleased with burnt offerings
    or other offerings for sin.
Then I said, ‘Look, I have come to do your will, O God…” – Hebrews 10:4-7 NLT

Jesus had come to do God’s will. And that required Him to suffer the unbearable reality of separation from His own Father. And during that three-hour interval, when darkness covered the land of Israel, God provided yet another visible sign to demonstrate the efficacy of His Son’s sacrifice. Mark indicates that “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (Mark 15:38 ESV). This massive curtain, that hung in the temple, and separated the Holy of Holies from the Most Holy Place, was torn in two. This rending of the curtain symbolized that the barrier that separated sinful men from a Holy God had been removed. With His death, Jesus was making access into God’s presence possible for all who would accept His sacrifice on their behalf.

…he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. – Hebrews 9:12 ESV

He poured out His own blood on the mercy seat located within the Most Holy Place. He atoned for the sins of mankind by offering His sinless life as the all-sufficient sacrifice, once for all. And as the darkness receded and the light was restored, Jesus breathed His last. His mission complete, He laid down His life and died. And one of the men who had assisted in His crucifixion and bartered over His garments looked on in wonder. And all he could say was, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39 ESV). The doubter became a believer. The one who had mocked Jesus became His follower. Into the darkness of his life, the Light of God shone bright and clear. This man experienced exactly what Jesus had told Nicodemus.

“…whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” – John 3:21 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Exposed and Condemned

35 And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? 36 David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
    until I put your enemies under your feet.”’

37 David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” And the great throng heard him gladly.

38 And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces 39 and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 40 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” Mark 12:35-40 ESV

Up until this point, it has been the Jewish religious leaders who have been asking all the questions, but now Jesus turns the tables on them. In verse 34, Mark indicated that, as a result of their three failed attempts to entrap Jesus, “no one dared to ask him any more questions.” They simply gave up. But they didn’t go away.

As Jesus continued to teach in the temple, He posed a question of His own. Matthew indicates that He directed it at a group of Pharisees standing nearby. This was probably the same group who had shown up with the scribe who asked Him which was the greatest commandment. These men are still standing close enough to hearJesus but are most likely plotting their next move against Him. They have completed discounted any notion that Jesus might be the Messiah. This fact is important because it sheds light on the question that Jesus poses.

“How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? – Mark 12:35 ESV

It’s interesting to note that the three gospel writers who cover this event each word Jesus’ question slightly differently. Matthew reports that Jesus directed His question at the Pharisees, asking them, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” (Matthew 23:42 ESV). And Luke has Jesus asking, “How can they say that the Christ is David’s son?” (Luke 20″41 ESV). It seems likely that this was a series of questions that Jesus posed. First, He asked the Pharisees what they believed about the Messiah or Christ. After all, these men were the religious conservatives of their day and were supposed to be highly knowledgeable of the Hebrew Scriptures.

According to Matthew, these men quickly responded, declaring that the Christ would be “The son of David” (Matthew 22:42 ESV). Jesus then asked the Pharisees to explain how the scribes, the experts in the Mosaic law, would justify their belief that the Christ would be the son of David. All of these men were supposed to have a strong grasp of the Old Testament Scriptures and they shared a common belief that the Messiah would be a descendant of King David. But how would they justify it from God’s Word? One of the passages they would use was 2 Samuel 7:12-16, which records a promise that God had made to King David.

“I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’”

While this promise was fulfilled in part with the birth of Solomon, the Jews believed it had longer-term implications that would ultimately come about through the arrival of the Messiah, the anointed one of God.

Keep in mind that Jesus has already publicly shamed these men, declaring them to be ignorant of God’s Word and strangers to the power of God.

“…you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God.” – Mark 12:24 NLT

Their understanding that the Messiah would be a descendant of David was what drove their expectation that He would be a powerful king and ruler just like His predecessor. They were fully expecting the Messiah to arrive on the scene and wield a sword just as David had, conquering the enemies of Israel and restoring the people of God to their former position of prominence in the Middle East.

But Jesus turns to the Old Testament Scriptures in order to teach a vital truth regarding the Messiah. He quotes from the opening verse of Psalm 110, a psalm written by King David himself.

The Lord says to my Lord:
    “Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.” – Psalm 110:1 ESV

Through His ongoing confrontations with the religious leaders, Jesus has been subtly revealing the justification for HIs authority. This whole situation had begun when the chief priests, scribes, and elders confronted Him over His unacceptable behavior in cleansing the temple. They demanded to know, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” (Mark 11:28 NLT). And in every subsequent conversation Jesus had with these men, He had gave them glimpses of who He was by revealing His knowledge of God’s Word and declaring Himself to be “The stone that the builders rejected” (Mark 12:10 ESV). Through use of a parable, Jesus had described Himself as the son of the master of the vineyard. And the Pharisees had fully understood His meaning,

But here, Jesus uses the words of King David to make an important point about the Messiah that these learned men had somehow missed in all of their studies of the Scriptures.

Jesus notes that, in the psalm, David refers to his coming descendant as “my Lord.” In Hebrew the text reads, “Jehovah has said to my Lord (‘adown).” In other words, David records that God had spoken a promise to his future descendant. But Jesus wants to know why David would call this man his “Lord” or Adonai, one of the most common names in the Old Testament Scriptures used to refer to God Himself.  So, Jesus wants to know why David used this particular word to refer to a man. And why would God offer a mere man a position of prominence at His side?

Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet?” – Mark 12:36 ESV

There was more going on in this passage than the scribes and Pharisees understood. Jesus is revealing that the Messiah would not only be the son of David, He would be David’s Adonai (Lord and Master). The Messiah would be the Son of Man and the Son of God, the God-man who was fully divine and fully human. Even King David understood that his future descendant would have a unique relationship with God that was greater than anything he had ever experienced.

And Jesus summarized His point by asking these experts in the Hebrew Scriptures to explain how this could be.

David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” – Mark 12:37 ESV

But they refuse to answer. They had already discovered that their attempts to debate with Jesus had left them looking like fools. Yet Mark indicates that the crowd who overheard this conversation loved what Jesus had to say. To a certain degree, they probably enjoyed watching the public humiliation of these arrogant men, who prided themselves in their vast knowledge of the Bible and flaunted their superior righteousness. And, to their delight, Jesus dropped another bombshell.

“Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” – Mark 12:38-40 ESV

Mark presents a very abbreviated recounting of Jesus’ teaching, leaving out the seven “woes” that Matthew records. After putting up with a constant barrage of condemnation from these religious leaders, Jesus turned the spotlight on them. And, according to Matthew’s account, Jesus essentially told the crowd to “do as they say, but not as they do.”

“The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.” – Matthew 23:2-4 NLT

In other words, these man taught the law of God, but failed to live up to it. They could proclaim the truth of God’s Word but had no desire to let it influence the way they lived their lives. And in Matthew’s account, He records that Jesus called these men hypocrites and blind guides. They were frauds. And, not only that, they were like blind men futility attempting to provide guidance to others.

Jesus declares that these men were more interested in their reputations than they were in living according to God’s will. They loved being recognized for their fine robes and coveted their status as celebrities. They were addicted to honor and recognition. It was all about them. And Jesus declares that these men will receive greater condemnation. God would hold them accountable for their pride and arrogant mistreatment of His people.

These men had no right to question the authority of Jesus. He was the Son of God and was doing the will of God. But they were supposed to be the servants of God, caring for the flock He had placed under their care. Yet, they had failed miserably.

But Jesus, the Son of David and the Son of God, would faithfully fulfill the the will of His Father, sacrificing His life for the sake of His Father’s flock.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

1 “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.

“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. John 16:1-11 ESV

It must have pained Jesus greatly to watch His disciples struggle as they tried to take in all He was telling them. He knew their hearts were troubled and their minds were reeling from all that He had shared with them. Jesus was fully aware that little of what He had told them made sense to them. His announcement that one of them would betray Him had stunned them. His repeated mentions of His coming death had left them depressed and disillusioned. And His warning that, in His absence, the Jewish religious leaders would turn their attention and anger on them, must have petrified them. It had all been more than they could handle. But Jesus assured them that He had told them these things for a reason: “so that you won’t abandon your faith” (John 16:1 NLT).

It’s difficult to comprehend exactly what Jesus is trying to convey to His disciples. The Greek word is skandalizō and it has a variety of meanings. It is a verb that typically refers to someone’s reaction to an unexpected event or circumstance. It is often translated as “offended.” If a person accidently stumbles over a rock or other unseen impediment, they they may react with anger, frustration, or resentment. Their response may even result in sin.

Jesus knew that the events of the next few days were going to be difficult for His disciples. And He did not want them to be taken by surprise. So, He was going out of His way to bring them up to speed on what to expect. Even so, there was a good chance that they might respond in anger and resentment, regretting their decision to have followed Jesus in the first place. One of the other meanings of the Greek word skandalizō is “to cause a person to begin to distrust and desert one whom he ought to trust and obey.” This seems to be the very thing Jesus is trying to prevent.

And once again, in an effort to remove any possibility of surprise, Jesus tells them exactly what is going to happen to them once He is gone.

“For you will be expelled from the synagogues, and the time is coming when those who kill you will think they are doing a holy service for God.” – John 16:2 NLT

With Jesus out of the way, the Jewish religious leaders will simply refocus their hatred onto His disciples. Remember, these men had been willing to murder Lazarus, just because he had been raised from the dead by Jesus. So, the disciples were going to find themselves facing the full brunt of the irrational and unrelenting anger of the Sanhedrin. It would begin with their excommunication from their local synagogues. They would be ostracized as heretics and prevented from gathering with other Jews as they had done since they were little boys. But Jesus warns them that their persecution will not end with their physical removal from the synagogues. They will likely suffer the same fate as their Lord and Master.

Jesus pulls no punches. He is brutally honest with His disciples about what they can expect in the days, weeks, and months ahead. Their continued relationship with Him would cost them. These men were going to become outcasts and social pariahs, even facing death at the hands of their fellow Jews. And “the world” – the unbelieving and unrepentant Jewish population out of which they had been called – will think they are doing God a favor by killing the followers of Jesus. This is exactly the attitude that Paul had before He came to faith in Christ. In his former life as a Pharisee, he had persecuted the followers of “the Way,” rounding up Christians and putting them in prison – all out of His zeal for God. His own testimony provides insight into the mindset Jesus is trying to describe.

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up and educated here in Jerusalem under Gamaliel. As his student, I was carefully trained in our Jewish laws and customs. I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today. And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison. The high priest and the whole council of elders can testify that this is so. For I received letters from them to our Jewish brothers in Damascus, authorizing me to bring the followers of the Way from there to Jerusalem, in chains, to be punished.” – Acts 22:3-5 NLT

And Jesus informs His disciples that this intense hatred will not be motivated by love for God, but will stem from their ignorance of Him. The Jews will think they are doing God a favor but, in reality, they will be opposing the very will of God. Like their ancestors, they will end up resisting the sovereign will of God by putting to death those who have been by God with His message of repentance and salvation.

You can almost hear the disciples asking, “Why didn’t you tell us this earlier?” They had to have been shell-shocked by these last-minute revelations from Jesus. And He answers their unspoken question by telling them, “I didn’t tell you earlier because I was going to be with you for a while longer” (John 16:4 NLT). As long as Jesus was physically with the disciples, there was no need for them to know this information. His main focus over the last three years with them was to reveal His identity to them. He had spent all His time manifesting His glory to them through His miracles and messages, so that they might believe Him to be the Son of God.

Now, it was time for Him to manifest His glory one final time. The hour had come for Him to fulfill the will of His Father by offering His life as a ransom for many. He was about to lay down His life for the sheep. And when His work was done, He would be restored to life by the power of the Holy Spirit and glorified by His Father by returning to His rightful place at His side in heaven.

But the disciples are filled with sorrow. Nothing they have heard Jesus say has left them with any sense of hope. And He is fully aware of their inability to see the light at the end of the tunnel. So, He reminds them of His earlier promise concerning the coming Holy Spirit.

“…it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” – John 16:7 ESV

Once again, the words of Jesus must have left the disciples scratching their heads in confusion, wondering how He could possibly think His death could be to their advantage. But what they didn’t yet realize was that His leaving would make possible the Holy Spirit’s coming. And as Jesus had told them earlier, “He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth…he lives with you now and later will be in you” (John 14:17 NLT). They were going to experience a new and profoundly different relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ, His Son. The Holy Spirit of God would take up residence within them, providing them with the permanent manifestation of God’s power and presence. And while they couldn’t fully comprehend that news, they would soon discover just how life-transforming and world-changing the Spirit’s coming would be.

And Jesus provided them with a brief synopsis of the Holy Spirit’s coming ministry.

“…when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me. Righteousness is available because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more. Judgment will come because the ruler of this world has already been judged. – John 16:9-11 NLT

When the Holy Spirit takes up residence in the followers of Jesus, He will empower them in such a way that their lives will end up convicting the world of sin. Their very lives will become evidence of the truth. They will be lights shining in a dark world, reflecting the glory of God as they share the good news concerning salvation by grace along through faith alone in Christ alone. These men were going to become God’s messengers, preaching the truth that a right standing with God is only available through a relationship with His Son. By preaching the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the disciples would force the world to make a decision. They would have to choose belief over unbelief. With His death and resurrection, Jesus would make a restored relationship with God available, but it would require belief in Him. And the disciples were going to become the main purveyors of that redemptive message. Through the indwelling power and presence of the Holy Spirit, they would become ambassadors for Jesus, taking His message of salvation to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

It Pays To Listen

44 And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. 45 And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. 46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. 47 If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. 49 For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” John 12:44-50 ESV

In this passage, John describes Jesus as crying out. He literally shouted, as if to ensure that everyone within the sound of His voice would not only hear what He had to say but understand its importance. The reason for raising His voice seems clear. Jesus is explaining the dramatic consequences that come with belief in Him. Earlier, in His late-night encounter with Nicodemus, Jesus had explained some of the other outcomes of expressing belief in Him.

“…whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” – John 3:15 ESV

“…whoever believes in him [God’s Son] should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 ESV

“Whoever believes in him is not condemned…” – John 3:18 ESV

Later in his gospel, John records the words of Jesus spoken to the crowd who had experienced the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000.

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. – John 6:35 ESV

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.” – John 6:47 ESV

And sometime later, on the final day of the Feast of Booths, Jesus declared another benefit or consequence of believing in Him.

“Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” – John 7:38 ESV

On another occasion, after having arrived in Bethany and hearing the news that His friend Lazarus had died, Jesus informed Martha:

“Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” – John 11:25-26 ESV

Belief in Jesus comes with some fairly significant benefits: Eternal life, freedom from judgment, release from death’s grip, and complete spiritual satisfaction and sustenance.

But now, with His voice raised for added emphasis, Jesus announces another vital consequence that accompanies belief in Him: Access to God.

“If you trust me, you are trusting not only me, but also God who sent me. For when you see me, you are seeing the one who sent me. – John 12:44-45 NLT

With this emphatic statement, Jesus stresses His unity with the Father. He wants His audience to know that to believe in Him is really an expression of belief in God because He had been sent by God. And, by inference, a failure to believe in Jesus would be nothing less than a refusal to believe in the one who sent Him. Jesus was not operating on His own initiative. He was on a divine mission, sanctioned by God Himself.

It’s important to note that John placed this statement from Jesus immediately after his notation about those who believed.

Many people did believe in him, however, including some of the Jewish leaders. But they wouldn’t admit it for fear that the Pharisees would expel them from the synagogue. For they loved human praise more than the praise of God. – John 12:42-43 NLT

Their belief was mixed with timidity and fear – primarily a fear of man. But, as John’s careful ordering of events suggests, there was much more going on than meets the eye. These people had failed to understand the vital link between Jesus and His Heavenly Father. While they believed Jesus to be someone of great significance, possibly even the Messiah, they were less convinced of the indisputable reality of Jesus’ deity and unrivaled unity with God. To believe in Him was to believe in God. To see Him was to see God. Jesus was boldly declaring His identity as the Son of God.

Just days later, Jesus would respond to a request from Phillip, one of His own disciples.

“Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.” – John 14:8-11 NLT

This link between God the Son and God the Father was to be a vital element of their belief. Believing Jesus to be a supernaturally gifted man who had been sent by God was not enough. Even believing that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah promised by God was insufficient. Jesus was differentiating Himself from everyone else. He was not merely a well-spoken Rabbi. He was much more than a miracle-working teacher from Nazareth. And, even in His role as Messiah, He was far more than they could have ever imagined. He was the Son of God and the light of the world.

“I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.” – John 12:46 NLT

What these people needed to understand was that they were living in spiritual darkness, completely separated from God because of their sin. Their attempts to satisfy God through law-keeping had been completely unsuccessful and could do nothing to mitigate their state of condemnation and spiritual separation from God.

So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” – Galatians 3:11 NLT

For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are. – Romans 3:20 NLT

Jesus was simply reiterating what John stated in the opening verses of his gospel.

The Word gave life to everything that was created,
    and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
    and the darkness can never extinguish it. – John 1:4-5 NLT

In the natural realm, darkness is an absence of light. But the same thing is true of the spiritual realm. To live in darkness is to live apart from the light of God. It is to experience an absence of His presence, provision, and power. Much later in life, John would discuss this important reality in a letter he wrote to believers living in the late-1st-Century.

This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. – 1 John 1: 5-7 NLT

And Jesus was saying it was impossible to have fellowship with the Father without understanding that He was the Father’s Son. He was the very light of God illuminating the darkness of men’s lives and revealing the glory of the Father. Through belief in Him, sinful men and women could experience the joy of walking in the light of God’s glorious presence.

As the light of God, Jesus did not come to expose the sins of men, but to cleanse and forgive them. As He has stated before, His mission was not to judge the world but to provide salvation. But there would be dire consequences for those who refused to walk in the light. They would remain in spiritual darkness, condemned by their sin, and facing a future day of judgment that would result in eternal separation from God the Father.

“I will not judge those who hear me but don’t obey me, for I have come to save the world and not to judge it. But all who reject me and my message will be judged on the day of judgment by the truth I have spoken.” – John 12:47-48 NLT

Again, Jesus is simply expanding on the message He delivered to Nicodemus.

“…anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.” – John 3:18-21 NLT

Notice what Jesus said. Those who refuse to believe in Him are really refusing to believe in “God’s one and only Son.” They are rejecting the Son of God. They are turning their backs on the light of God and, in so doing, they are expressing their love for the darkness. And Jesus closes out His short but vital discourse with a reminder that His words were not His own. He was acting as the mouthpiece for God. All that He has said was directly from the lips from His Father in heaven.

“I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it. And I know his commands lead to eternal life; so I say whatever the Father tells me to say.” – John 12:49-50 NLT

So, in other words, it would pay to listen to what He had to say. These were not the words of a mere man. They were the very words of God Almighty and they came from the lips of His one and only Son.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Resurrection and the Life

17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” 

28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. John 11:17-29 ESV

Jesus delayed. Lazarus died.

Those two statements sum up the first 16 verses of this chapter. After having received the news that His good friend Lazarus was ill, Jesus had chosen to delay His departure for two days. When He had finally decided to leave Bethany beyond the Jordan for Bethany near Jerusalem, it took another whole day to make the journey. So, by the time Jesus arrived on the scene, Lazarus had been dead and buried for four days.

This entire scene is intended to create an emotional disconnect in the mind of the reader. The mental picture John paints is meant to elicit feelings of pity, confusion, and even frustration. And these emotions are given voice by the two sisters who had sent word to Jesus about their brother’s desperate condition. Martha was the first to become aware of Jesus’ arrival, and she rushed out to greet Him, immediately expressing to Him her despair.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. – John 11:21 ESV

Martha’s if-then statement to Jesus reveals her firm belief that had He arrived sooner, He could have healed her brother. But He was too late. There are some who read a hint of anger in her words and assume that she is berating Jesus for His late arrival. While that reaction would be understandable considering the circumstances, it seems unlikely based on the rest of Martha’s statement to Jesus.

“But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” – John 11:21 ESV

She is not angry and she has not lost faith in Jesus. In spite of what has happened, she still believes that Jesus has the ear of His Heavenly Father and is able to ask and receive whatever He requests. With this statement, Martha is not suggesting that Jesus could ask God to raise her brother from the dead. She is simply expressing her continued belief in Jesus despite her devastating disappointment. That Martha harbored no expectations of resurrection is made evident when Jesus later commanded the stone to be moved from the tomb. Martha immediately responded, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days” (John 11:39 ESV). Her brother’s resuscitation was the last thing Martha expected.

This scene is filled with contradictions and contrasts. Mary and Martha are accompanied by mourners and friends who have gathered to console them. There is an overwhelming sense of loss and sadness because of the death of Lazarus. But for the reader, there should be a sense of eager expectation because the light of the world has just arrived on the scene. The words that Jesus spoke to His disciples take on a special significance at this point in the story.

“This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” – John 11:4 ESV

But the 12 men who had accompanied Jesus to Bethany would have wrestled with the meaning behind those words because they had just heard the same news that Jesus had: Lazarus was dead. How would God receive glory now? How did Jesus intend to be glorified through the death of His friend? It all made no sense. The entire situation seemed hopeless and maddeningly pointless.

Yet the reader has been provided with 10 chapters of information that should act as a corrective filter through which to view this unfolding scene. John had opened his gospel with the declaration that Jesus, the Word of God, had taken part in the creation of all things.

All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” – John 1:3-4 ESV

He was the original giver of life. And His incarnation had not diminished His capacity to bestow life. In fact, Jesus had told Nicodemus that He had come to earth so that He might provide eternal life.

“…whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 ESV

The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life…” – John 3:35-36 ESV

Yes, Lazarus had died. But in spite of what Martha, Mary, their friends, and the disciples of Jesus believed, Lazarus’ death was not the end of the story. Yet when Jesus informed Martha, “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23 ESV), the full import of His words escaped her. From her limited perspective, Lazarus’ death had been final, but she believed that she would one day see him again at the final resurrection. Her belief in the future bodily resurrection of the dead was based on several Old Testament passages.

Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise.
    You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!
For your dew is a dew of light,
    and the earth will give birth to the dead. – Isaiah 26:19 ESV

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. – Daniel 12:2 ESV 

That Martha was thinking of this future form of resurrection is made clear by her response to Jesus.

“I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” – John 11:24 ESV

And rather than refute her belief in that future reality, Jesus provides her with additional information intended to clarify the nature of that future resurrection.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” – John 11:25-26 ESV

While Martha’s mind was focused on a future event, Jesus was redirecting her attention to a present reality: Him. The very one who was life and had the power to give life was standing right in front of her. And He declared Himself to be the resurrection and the life. There was no present life or future resurrection apart from Him. His power had not been impacted by the death of Lazarus. And while physical death was an inevitable and unavoidable reality for every human being, it was not the end. The death of Lazarus was not final. It was not the end of the story. And Jesus makes it perfectly clear that, though Lazarus had died, he would live again. It was just as Jesus had told the religious leaders.

“For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.” – John 5:29 ESV

But the key to resurrection and eternal life was belief. Jesus had made that point perfectly clear: “everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:26 ESV). And when Jesus asked Martha whether she believed, she responded, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (John 11:27 ESV).

Martha responded affirmatively. She verbally confessed to her belief that He was the Son of God and the long-awaited Messiah of Israel. He was the fulfillment of all the prophets had promised. But it seems clear that Martha had not fully comprehended all that Jesus had said to her. His declaration that He was the resurrection and the life had gone over her head. And the way she describes Jesus to her sister seems to verify that little had changed regarding her assessment of Jesus and His identity. John describes Martha as running to get her sister Mary and telling her, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you” (John 11:28 ESV).

Martha says nothing about Jesus being the resurrection and the life. There is no hint in her words that she anticipated something supernatural was about to happen. She simply informed her sister that “the Teacher” had arrived.

But little did Martha know that Jesus was about to back up His words with action. He was going to put on a never-before-seen display of power that would not only defy their limited expectations but the laws of nature. The Teacher was about to give them a lesson they would never forget.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Light of the World

12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” 13 So the Pharisees said to him, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.” 14 Jesus answered, “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. 16 Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. 17 In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. 18 I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.” 19 They said to him therefore, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” 20 These words he spoke in the treasury, as he taught in the temple; but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come. John 8:12-20 ESV

In this passage, Jesus issues the second of seven “I am” statements recorded in the book of John. Standing in the treasury of the temple, He states, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12 ESV). These declarations by Jesus are intended to clarify His unique relationship with mankind as the Savior of the world. In the course of time, Jesus will portray His identity as the Messiah sent from God using these seven descriptive and declarative statements:

I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” – John 6:35 ESV

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12 ESV

I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” – John 10:9 ESV

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. – John 10:11 ESV

I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” – John 11:25-26 ESV

I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6 ESV

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.” – John 15:5 ESV

Each of these statements reveals a relational aspect of Jesus’ ministry. He presents Himself as a source of sustenance, illumination, access, care, life, and fruitfulness. With each one of them, He clarifies His unique role as the Father’s personal emissary who had come to offer sinful mankind a means of being restored to a right relationship with a holy God. It is only through Him that sinners can discover all they need to be made right with God.

Chapter six records Jesus’ offering His body and blood as the sole source of spiritual nourishment that, when consumed, produces everlasting life. But this gift of eternal life is predicated on belief. Jesus clearly stated, “whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35 ESV). Yet, sadly, Jesus revealed the truth about those who had witnessed His power but had failed to accept His claim to be from God:  “you have seen me and yet do not believe” (John 6:36 ESV).

Now, Jesus announces Himself as “the light of the world” (John 8:12 ESV). In doing so, He reinforces the theme that John used to begin his Gospel.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:4-5 ESV

Jesus has compared Himself to water and bread, two non-negotiable staples necessary for sustaining life. Without bread and water, human life is unsustainable. Jesus, the author of life, came to earth so that He might offer Himself as the sole source of eternal life. His body, which He would willingly sacrifice on behalf of sinful mankind, would become the means by which all those deprived of righteousness might “be filled.”

Now, Jesus uses the metaphor of light to describe the illuminating nature of His incarnation. He was God in human flesh. And, as John wrote in his first letter, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 ESV). As the Son of God, Jesus manifested the sinless perfection of His Heavenly Father. With His appearance in human form, Jesus brought the light of God’s presence to earth, making the full glory of God visible and accessible. The author of Hebrews describes put it this way:

The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God. – Hebrews 1:3 NLT

That is why Jesus was able to say, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9 ESV). He made the light of God’s glory visible. But one of the unique qualities of light is its ability to both illuminate and expose. With His incarnation, Jesus brought the glory of God to earth and, in doing so, His very presence exposed the darkness that had enveloped the world. Darkness is the absence of light. And when the light of life appeared, the pitch-blackness of man’s spiritual condition was dramatically exposed.

The prophet Isaiah had written about the day in which the darkness would be penetrated by a great light.

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone. – Isaiah 9:2 ESV

It would be Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist who, upon hearing of his wife’s pregnancy, would testify regarding his son’s ministry.

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
    whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.” – Luke 1:76-79 ESV

Jesus brought the light of God’s glory to bear on the darkness of man’s condition. His sinless, fully obedient life stood in stark contrast to the sinful and disobedient character of fallen humanity. As a man, Jesus provided the perfect example of godliness lived out in daily life. He was the model man, accomplishing what no other man had ever been able to do: Live in sinless, perfect obedience to the will of God.

The apostle Paul provides a stark contrast between the life of Adam and Jesus.

For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. – Romans 5:19 ESV

But the righteousness Jesus offered was going to require sinful men and women to place their hope and trust in Him, rather than relying on their own ability to live up to God’s holy standards. Jesus required complete dependence upon Him. “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12 ESV). Those who would reject Him as the light and the source of eternal life would condemn themselves to a life of eternal darkness, separated from God and doomed to suffer the consequences for their rebellions against Him.

But the Pharisees rejected Jesus’ words. As far as they were concerned, His testimony was worthless because it was based on His own opinion. They did not believe He had corroborating testimony to support His claims. In essence, they called Him a liar.

“You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.” – John 8:13 ESV

But Jesus rejects their assessment, defending His claims as true because they are fully supported by His Father in heaven. This line of defense must have infuriated the Pharisees because it was further proof that Jesus was a heretic and a blasphemer. By declaring Himself to be the Son of God, Jesus was claiming to be on equal standing with God. For them, this was proof of Jesus’ guilt. But for Jesus, it was evidence of His deity and divine calling.

Jesus accused them of judging according to the flesh. In other words, they were limited in their perspective. They couldn’t see the truth of who He was because their eyes were blinded by sin. When they looked at Jesus, all they could see was a man standing in front of them. But Jesus was declaring Himself to be the very light of God’s glory, shining in the darkness that permeated the nation of Israel and the lives of those who claimed to be children of God.

As far as Jesus was concerned, He knew His claims were true because He had the full support of His Heavenly Father. And, according to their own laws, two witnesses were all that was required to support the veracity of a claim.

“Your own law says that if two people agree about something, their witness is accepted as fact. I am one witness, and my Father who sent me is the other.” – John 8:17-18 NLT

But the Pharisees subtly reject His claim to be the Son of God by asking, “Where is your father?” (John 8:19 ESV). They may have intended this as a slap in the face to Jesus, raising the rumors concerning Jesus’ “illegitimate” birth. It had probably become known that Joseph had not been Jesus’ birth father, which had led to rampant speculation that His birth was the result of an adulterous affair. But this question further illustrates their ignorance of who Jesus really was. A fact that Jesus makes perfectly clear.

“You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” – John 8:18 ESV

These were strong words coming from the lips of Jesus. He accused these self-righteous religious leaders of having no knowledge of Yahweh. Because they were ignorant of God, they were clueless as to the identity of the Son of God. The light of God’s glory was standing right in front of them, but they remained blinded by sin and doomed to walk in darkness.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Return to Sender

32 The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering these things about him, and the chief priests and Pharisees sent officers to arrest him. 33 Jesus then said, “I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to him who sent me. 34 You will seek me and you will not find me. Where I am you cannot come.” 35 The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we will not find him? Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks? 36 What does he mean by saying, ‘You will seek me and you will not find me,’ and, ‘Where I am you cannot come’?” John 7:32-36 ESV

The Pharisees were among the growing number who found Jesus’ claims to be preposterous and potentially dangerous. As members of the religious leadership of Israel, they had convinced themselves that Jesus posed a serious threat to the nation. His words and actions were stirring up the people and giving them the hope that their Messiah had finally come. The Pharisees saw this as a problem because the people expected the Messiah to be a military leader who would free them from Roman oppression and reestablish Israel’s prominence as a nation. If enough people were swayed into believing that Jesus was the Messiah, His followers could insight a rebellion against the Roman authorities and bring down the wrath of Caesar.

Their fear was well-founded. Even John alluded to the fact that there was a movement among some of Jesus’ followers to make Him their king. Immediately after His miraculous feeding of the 5,000, the awe-struck crowd came up with a way to use His supernatural powers to even greater advantage.

When the people saw him do this miraculous sign, they exclaimed, “Surely, he is the Prophet we have been expecting!” When Jesus saw that they were ready to force him to be their king, he slipped away into the hills by himself. – John 6:14-15 NLT

So, it’s easy to see why the Pharisees were anxious about Jesus’ growing fame. And whenever they heard the people says things like, “When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?” (John 7:31 ESV), their fears increased exponentially. Any reference to Jesus as the Christ or Messiah was considered to be a red flag to these men that signaled danger ahead. That’s why they immediately responded by sending officers to arrest Jesus. They wanted Him off the streets and under lock and key. In their less-than-humble opinion, Jesus was a menace to society, not the long-awaited Messiah of Israel.

The entire scene described in chapter seven takes place on the temple grounds. This was the home turf of the Pharisees and the other members of the Sanhedrin and they viewed Jesus as a dangerous interloper who was trying to incite rebellion among the people. They had already tried to get their hands on Him, but John indicates that their efforts had been unsuccessful “because his hour had not yet come” (John 7:30 ESV).

There was a divine timeline associated with Jesus’ earthly ministry. No one was going to crown Him king prematurely or have Him arrested ahead of schedule. God had ordained a specific sequence for the events that were to mark the last days of Jesus’ life. They could not be rushed, prevented, or altered in any way. And Jesus continued to speak with a complete sense of calm, informing His audience of what was about to happen.

I will be with you only a little longer. Then I will return to the one who sent me. You will search for me but not find me. And you cannot go where I am going. – John 7:33-34 NLT

As usual, Jesus spoke in rather cryptic terms that left His listeners more confused than comforted. In a sense, Jesus was simply articulating that His hour had not yet come. He would be leaving them, but now was not the time. The religious leaders would eventually get their hands on Him, but it would be according to God’s timing, not their own. And Jesus informs His audience that His next destination would not be a throne or a jail cell. He would be returning to His Father’s side in heaven.

Jesus was fully aware that death awaited Him. His whole purpose in coming to earth had been to die on behalf of sinful mankind. He had come to offer His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). But His death would not signal the end of His ministry. It would be just the beginning. The Pharisees and their peers believed that if they could put Jesus to death they would eliminate His influence over the people. But they were wrong. And the people believed that if they could force Jesus to be their king, they could eliminate the oppressive rule of the Romans. But they too were wrong.

In a sense, everyone was seeking Jesus. The crowds were seeking to make Him their king. The Pharisees were seeking to make Him a martyr. But God had other plans for Jesus. The Father was preparing to offer His Son as Lamb who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). And once Jesus accomplished that objective, He would be restored to His Father’s side. And no matter how hard the crowds or the Pharisees searched for Him, their efforts would prove fruitless.

And as expected, the words Jesus spoke made no sense to those who heard them. They wracked their brains trying to figure out where Jesus intended to go so that they could not find Him. Was He thinking of leaving Judea permanently? Did He have plans to go beyond the borders of Palestine and join other Jews who had been dispersed among the Gentile nations? In their minds, none of this made any sense. Why would the Messiah of Israel leave the borders of Israel? Why would He go where they could not find Him?

Even the Pharisees in the crowd must have been stunned by Jesus’ announcement. Was He really leaving? Was their problem about to go away for good? Was their worst nightmare about to turn into a dream come true?

Everyone was left asking the same question: “What does he mean when he says, ‘You will search for me but not find me,’ and ‘You cannot go where I am going’?” (John 7:36 NLT). With this final question, John drives home the point that the Jews had no clue as to Jesus’ true identity. They had no idea where He had come from and they had no idea where He was going because they had no clue that He was the Son of God. Over and over again, Jesus had explained that He had been sent by God. Now, He was declaring that the plan was for Him to return to His Father’s side.

When Jesus stated, “I will return to the one who sent me,” He was declaring once again His divinity. He was not really from Nazareth in Galilee. And while He had been born in Bethlehem in Judea, He was actually the Son of God sent from heaven. He was the true light that had come into the world (John 1:9).  He was the true bread from heaven (John 6:32). He was the living bread that had come down from heaven (John 6:51). He had been sent by God and He would one day return to His rightful place at His Father’s side. The deity of Jesus is central to John’s gospel. He was the Son of God who had been sent by His Heavenly Father with a task to perform that no mere man could accomplish. If Jesus was just a man, His death would have proved Him to be nothing more than a martyr but not the Messiah. If Jesus was just a man, crowing Him king would have made Him a sovereign, but not a Savior. Jesus had come to offer His sinless life as a ransom for many. And the apostle Paul reminds us of the staggering significance of what Jesus accomplished by taking on human flesh and dying on behalf of sinful men and women.

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. – Romans 5:6-8 NLT

 English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Savior of the World

39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

43 After the two days he departed for Galilee. 44 (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.) 45 So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast. – John 4:39-45 ESV

Like the Samaritan woman, Nicodemus, a prominent Jewish religious leader, had enjoyed a personal, one-on-one encounter with Jesus. He had heard with his own ears how Jesus described the requirement for entrance into the kingdom of God:

“…unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” – John 3:3 ESV

Jesus had gone on to explain the need for spiritual new birth – a birth from above – made possible by God and accessible only through belief in His Son.

“…whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” – John 3:15 ESV

But Nicodemus had simply walked away from that late-night discussion with Jesus. There was no indication by John that this prominent member of the Pharisees had accepted what Jesus had said and believed in Him for eternal life. But John had opened his gospel with the sad, but accurate news that Jesus would find few among His own people who would receive Him as their Messiah and Savior.

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:11-13 ESV

Yet in the case of the Samaritan woman (who was considered a non-Jew), she had literally run away from her encounter with Jesus, leaving her water jar behind, and making her way into her village so that she could tell them about her experience.

“Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” – John 4:29 ESV

And John indicates that many of her fellow villagers “believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4:39 ESV). When they had heard her story of how Jesus had somehow known all about her five former husbands and had exposed the truth behind her current adulterous relationship, they had believed. Their belief was based on her words and nothing else. It was on the basis of the woman’s personal testimony that they made their way to the well to see Jesus for themselves. Their curiosity was piqued and they wanted to see if Jesus just might be the Christ, the Messiah.

As Samaritans, they worshiped the same God as the Jews and shared a common belief with them concerning the Messiah. So, when their neighbor had come to them with her story about an encounter with a strange Jewish man who had revealed hidden secrets concerning her life, they had wanted to know more. According to John, they were so intrigued by Jesus that they convinced Him to remain with them for two more days. And the result was that “many more believed because of his word” (John 4:41 ESV).

John makes it clear that the nature of their belief had changed. They had gone from believing what the woman had said about Jesus to believing in Jesus.

They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” – John 4:42 ESV

Her story had led them to believe that Jesus just might be the Christ. But, now that they had heard Him for themselves, they were convinced that He was the Savior of the world. This designation concerning Jesus is unique to the writings of John. It appears here and in one other place: 1 John 4:13-14.

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.

It coincides with the message the angel gave to Joseph concerning his betrothed’s unexpected pregnancy.

“do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:20-21 NLT

In Greek, the word “save” is sōzō and it means “to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction.” It is the root word from which the designation “Savior” is derived. This was a common term among the Greeks and Romans and used to refer not only to their deities but to men of great distinction.

But the Samaritans were using this term to describe Jesus as their long-awaited Messiah. Like the Jews, they believed He would come to redeem God’s people from their oppression at the hands of foreign powers. The Samaritans, as half-Jews, were just as anxious to see the arrival of the Messiah because they believed He would restore order to the entire world by establishing His kingdom and righting all wrongs.

It’s interesting that these verses contain no mention of the disciples. But it seems obvious that they would have remained with Jesus throughout His two-day stay among the Samaritans. And it seems equally clear that they would have been appalled at the idea of spending an additional 48 hours among a people whom they believed to be unclean and unacceptable to God. Yet, here was their Rabbi and teacher spending extended time with these unworthy “dogs” and sharing with them His message of new birth from above and the promise of eternal life.

John would have been one of the ones who stood by in amazement as he watched Jesus interact with the Samaritans. And his emphasis on their “belief” in Jesus is intended to drive home the words that Jesus spoke to Nicodemus: “so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life” (John 3:14-15 NLT).

Jesus had made it perfectly clear to Nicodemus that the Son of God had come to offer salvation to “the world,” not just the Jews.

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” – John 3:16-17 NLT

And the Samaritan woman and her neighbors were evidence that the Son was no respecter of persons. His message of salvation, while offered to the Jews, was not reserved for them alone. He had come to provide salvation to all who would believe in Him, regardless of their country of origin, economic status, religious affiliation, or educational background.

It was the prophet Isaiah who wrote concerning the coming Messiah:

God, the Lord, created the heavens and stretched them out.
    He created the earth and everything in it.
He gives breath to everyone,
    life to everyone who walks the earth.
And it is he who says,
“I, the Lord, have called you to demonstrate my righteousness.
    I will take you by the hand and guard you,
and I will give you to my people, Israel,
    as a symbol of my covenant with them.
And you will be a light to guide the nations.
   You will open the eyes of the blind.
You will free the captives from prison,
    releasing those who sit in dark dungeons.” – Isaiah 42:5-7 NLT

Jesus had come to fulfill the words of that prophecy and the Samaritans were living proof that He was a light to guide to the nations, opening the eyes of the spiritually blind, setting free those held captive by sin, and bringing release to all those sitting on death row, condemned to suffer the consequences of their rebellion against God. Jesus was the Savior of the world. And while not everyone living in the world would accept His offer of salvation, He made it available to all, and “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

In Spirit and Truth

16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” – John 4:16-26 ESV

The woman wanted what Jesus had to offer. The thought of a source of freely flowing water that would eliminate her constant need to draw water from the well of Jacob was more than appealing to her. But, like Nicodemus, she was missing the point of Jesus’ words. She had come to the well to meet a physical need. Her mission had been to draw water from the well for use in drinking, bathing, and cleaning. Water was a daily necessity that made living in that arid region possible. Without it, life would be impossible.

But even water has its limitations. It can be consumed to quench thirst, but in time, the thirst will return. Water can be used to wash away the dirt and grime of life, but it can’t prevent one from becoming filthy again. That’s why the woman was forced to return to the well on a daily basis. Her need for water was insatiable.

Yet Jesus had piqued the woman’s interest with His mention of  “living water.” But don’t miss how He had opened His conversation with her.

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” – John 4:10 ESV

The woman was clueless as to Jesus’ identity. When she had arrived at the well, she was surprised to find an unknown Jewish man waiting there. And her surprise turned to shock when this stranger dared to speak to her – “For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” (John 4:9 ESV). Yet Jesus assured her that, had she known who He was and the nature of the gift He had to offer, she would have been the first to speak that day.

Jesus, in need of water to satisfy His thirst, had stopped at the well. But as the woman pointed out, He had “nothing to draw water with” (John 4:11 ESV). So He had asked her for help because she was the only one who had the means by which to satisfy His need. Yet, the inference behind the story is that the woman had a need for something far greater than water. And if she had only known the true identity of the stranger at the well and what He was capable of offering her, she would have been begging Him for the gift of God. 

It is easy to overlook the fact that both Nicodemus and this woman were worshipers of Yahweh. He was an orthodox member of the sect of the Pharisees. She was a Samaritan. He worshiped the God of Abraham at the temple in Jerusalem. Her people chose to worship Him at Mount Gerizim. Nicodemus prided Himself on his identity as a purebred Jew and a strict adherent to the Mosaic Law. The Samaritan woman, though viewed as a half-breed by the Jews, believed that her people were worshiping Yahweh in the manner prescribed by Moses. But what both failed to take into account was their need for a Savior. While the Jews and the Samaritans believed in the prophecies concerning the coming Messiah, they were clueless as to His real mission. 

The primary message found in chapters 3 and 4 is that of need, and Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman had the same need in common. The need for eternal life. But in order to have eternal life, they would have to experience cleansing from their sin. Jesus had described it to Nicodemus as birth from above. He described it to the woman at the well as living water. Both of these individuals, despite their obvious differences, would be denied access into God’s kingdom for the very same reason: Sin.

Nicodemus, while outwardly righteous in appearance, was guilty of hypocrisy, just like the rest of his fellow members of the Pharisees. Jesus would have some harsh words of indictment against these well-respected members of Israel’s religious elite.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence!” – Matthew 23:25 NLT

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity.” – Matthew 23:27 NLT

But the woman at the well had her own set of issues. Not only was she a Samaritan and, therefore, guilty of practicing idolatry, but she was also guilty of violating the law of God. As Jesus was about to point out, she was an adulteress. When he asked her to go get her husband, she confessed that she was unmarried. But Jesus knew more about her than she could have ever imagined, and He revealed to her the true nature of her need.

“You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” – John 4:17-18 ESV

Suddenly, Jesus shifted the topic of conversation away from water to sin. He made it painfully personal. And while the woman’s statement had been anything but a confession, Jesus declared that what she had said was more true than she realized. She had no husband because she was in an adulterous relationship. She was guilty of sin.

But in a somewhat awkward attempt to change the subject, the woman declared, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet” (John 4:19 ESV). She desperately wanted to talk about something other than her five failed marriages and her current live-in relationship. So, sensing that Jesus had some kind of prophetic powers, she decided to ask Him about an important point of controversy between the Jews and the Samaritans.

“Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” – John 4:20 ESV

By refocusing the topic of conversation, she was hoping to divert attention away from her own personal problems. But Jesus was not going to allow that to happen. He addressed her question, but in a way that brought the focus right back on her. In essence, Jesus let her know that the issue had less to do about where God should be worshiped, but the motive behind the worship. The Jews and Samaritans were busy debating about location, but Jesus was far more interested in motivation. Why were they worshiping God?

And Jesus dropped a bombshell on her that must have left her reeling.

“Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. – John 4:21 ESV

The worship of God wasn’t about a temple in Jerusalem or a shrine on Mount Gerizim. It was a matter of the heart. While the Jews had a more accurate understanding of God, they were guilty of worshiping Him falsely. Jesus would later declare of the Jews, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God” (Matthew 15:8-9 NLT).

And He told the Samaritan woman, “You worship what you do not know” (John 4:22 ESV). The Samaritans practiced a form of syncretism that blended the worship of Yahweh with that of false gods. Their doctrine was polluted and filled with pagan ideas that rendered Yahweh virtually unrecognizable.

Jesus fast-forwarded the conversation to the future, revealing that a day would come when “when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him” (John 4:23 ESV). Worship will no longer be about location and the ritual observation of rules and regulations. It will be about a relationship with God based on spirit and truth. And Jesus informed the woman that the future hour to which He referred was actually “now here.” It had arrived. And He had been the one to usher it in.

But what did He mean by “spirit and truth?” And how had His arrival changed the nature of man’s worship of God? The two terms “spirit and truth” are actually meant to convey one idea. Jesus is attempting to define worship that which is “truly spiritual.” In other words, it is not some physical activity practiced in a particular place and according to some man-made set of governing rules. It is a matter of the heart, not the head. It is spiritual in nature and not physical. Going through the religious motions either in Jerusalem or on Mount Gerizim was not going to cut it. Both the Jews and the Samaritans had been guilty of worshiping the one true God falsely and unfaithfully.

But Jesus had come to make the true worship of God possible, by restoring sinful men and women to a right relationship with Him. To do so, they would have to be born of the Spirit, just as He had told Nicodemus. They would have to have their spiritual thirst quenched by the living water Jesus would provide. And just a few chapters later, John will describe Jesus standing in the temple courtyard, shouting:

Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’”(When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him. But the Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet entered into his glory.).” – John 7:38-39 NLT

The true worship of God would be made possible by the presence of the indwelling Spirit of God. And to receive the Spirit, one would have to accept the gracious gift of salvation made possible through the sacrifice of God’s own Son.

These words left the woman in a state of confusion. She was having a difficult time following what Jesus had to say. But she proclaimed her belief in the coming of the Messiah and her hope that He would clear up all the confusion regarding where to worship God. And that’s when Jesus boldly proclaimed to her, “I who speak to you am he” (John 4:26 ESV). The not-yet had become the now. The long-awaited Messiah had shown up and He was talking to her. The answer to her question regarding the true worship of God was standing right in front of her.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

God Is True

31 He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. 33 Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. 34 For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. – John 3:31-36 ESV

These closing verses of chapter 3 act as a kind of closing statement that summarizes all that has taken place since the initial encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus. It appears that the apostle John is the one providing this summary, in an attempt to reinforce his overarching theme of Jesus’ divine nature. John takes various aspects of the chapter 3 chronology and uses them to support his premise that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah of Israel.

John the Baptist had clearly stated, “I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him” (John 3:28 ESV). He knew his role as the precursor to the coming Messiah. And with the Messiah’s arrival, John the Baptist knew that his role would naturally diminish.

“He must increase, but I must decrease.” – John 3:30 ESV

He would be little more than a friend of the bridegroom, a spectator watching as his friend took center stage. And John the Baptist found great joy in accepting his diminished importance because the one for whom the nation had long waited had finally appeared.

And John points out that the appearance of the Messiah was not an everyday occurrence. He had come “from above.” The Greek word John used is anōthen, and it is the very same word Jesus used when speaking to Nicodemus about the new birth.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” – John 3:3 ESV

Jesus had been trying to let Nicodemus know that entrance into the kingdom of God would require something other than physical birth into the family of Israel. It would require a spiritual birth – from above. That’s why Jesus informed Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6 ESV). Entrance into God’s eternal kingdom was going to require that all men be “born of the Spirit” (John 3:8 ESV), and Jesus had come to make that possible.

John goes on to emphasize Jesus’ divine nature by dispelling the long-held belief among the Jews that the Messiah would simply be a man, after the likeness of King David. Their expectation was like that of their ancient ancestors, who had demanded of the prophet Samuel, “Give us a king to judge us like all the other nations have” (1 Samuel 8:5 NLT).

Even after centuries of lousy leadership under a long line of human kings, the Israelites were still hoping for someone to show up who would follow in the footsteps of David. But John is emphasizing that Jesus, the Messiah, was from above and not of the earth. He had not only been sent by God, but He was actually God in human flesh. This further supports the opening statement of John’s gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1 ESV).

Two times in verse 31, John asserts that “He who comes from heaven is above all” (John 3:31 ESV). In other words, Jesus, because of His divinity, is superior to anything and everyone that is of this earth. He is the Word of God. He speaks on behalf of God and as God, and “He bears witness to what he has seen and heard” (John 3:32 ESV). Jesus was revealing divine truth, received directly from the throne room of God in heaven. He was not a mere mortal speaking man-made words, but He was the Son of God speaking the words of God. He would later claim: “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works” (John 14:10 ESV).  And Jesus would later expand on His divine authority to speak His Father’s words.

“For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” – John 12:49-50 ESV

And yet, John sadly notes that “no one receives his testimony” (John 3:32 ESV). Jesus was the incarnate Word of God, speaking on behalf of His Heavenly Father. And the gist of His message was the gracious offer of eternal life that would be made available through His death and resurrection. But the people did not believe His testimony. They refused to accept that He spoke for God.

But John counted himself among the few who had chosen to believe the testimony of Jesus. And, writing long after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and having experienced the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, John’s early belief in Jesus had been fully justified and proven well-founded. That is why he was able to say, “Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true” (John 3:33 ESV).

Verse 34 seems to be John’s personal testimony that his belief in Jesus had resulted in his anointing by the Holy Spirit.

For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. – John 3:34 ESV

The indwelling presence of the Spirit was all the proof John needed to believe that Jesus had been sent by God and had spoken on His behalf. John remembered the promise that Jesus had made to His disciples.

“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.” – John 14:12 NLT

Jesus rather obliquely refers to His ascension, indicating that His departure would be necessary in order for the Spirit of God to come. And just a few verses later, John records the further promise of Jesus that would be the key to accomplishing greater works than He had done.

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth.” – John 14:16 NLT

For John, this was all about authority. Jesus had been sent by God. He spoke on behalf of God. And all that He said was the truth of God. John is trying to get his readers to understand that Jesus was divine, which is why he states, “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand” (John 3:35 ESV). Jesus possessed divine authority over the wind, waves, disease, and demons. His word was greater than that of kings, religious councils, or political parties. God loved Jesus so much that He imbued Him with all His divine authority. And Jesus would later tell His followers that they would experience that same love of God and have access to the full authority of God.

“When I am raised to life again, you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them.” – John 14:20-21 NLT

Having received the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, John was fully convinced that Jesus was exactly who He had claimed to be. John knew the full extent of God’s love because He had been filled with God’s Spirit, just as Jesus had promised. God the Father and God the Son had taken up permanent residence in John’s life in the form of indwelling Holy Spirit (John 14:23). And it had all begun when John had believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God sent from above. So, he reminds his readers that it all begins with belief.

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. – John 3:36 ESV

His emphasis is on eternal life, which will be experienced within the coming kingdom of God. Jesus had not come to set up an earthly kingdom. He had not come to sit on a throne but to die on a cross. He had come “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 NLT). And John had witnessed that selfless, sacrificial act with his own eyes. He had seen Jesus crucified and buried. But he had also seen Him in His resurrected state and had stood by as Jesus ascended back into heaven where He was restored to His rightful place at His Father’s side.

John wants his readers to believe. He wants them to have the same remarkable experience he has had. And he warns them that, if they refuse to believe, they will remain under the righteous wrath of God. There was only one way to escape God’s pending judgment and that was through faith in Jesus Christ, His Son.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson