Our Indescribable and Inexplicable God

15 Now as I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them. 16 As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of beryl. And the four had the same likeness, their appearance and construction being as it were a wheel within a wheel. 17 When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went. 18 And their rims were tall and awesome, and the rims of all four were full of eyes all around. 19 And when the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose. 20 Wherever the spirit wanted to go, they went, and the wheels rose along with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. 21 When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those rose from the earth, the wheels rose along with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.

22 Over the heads of the living creatures there was the likeness of an expanse, shining like awe-inspiring crystal, spread out above their heads. 23 And under the expanse their wings were stretched out straight, one toward another. And each creature had two wings covering its body. 24 And when they went, I heard the sound of their wings like the sound of many waters, like the sound of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of an army. When they stood still, they let down their wings. 25 And there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads. When they stood still, they let down their wings.

26 And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. 27 And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. 28 Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around.

Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. – Ezekiel 1:15-28 ESV

For centuries, artists have attempted to recreate the fantastic scene described in Ezekiel’s vision, and their efforts have resulted in a host of ethereal, otherworldly depictions that almost defy the range of man’s imagination. Their depictions border on the surreal and illustrate man’s incapacity to understand or explain the glory of God. But in their defense, each of them based their artwork on the words of Ezekiel. They simply illustrated what Ezekiel attempted to elucidate. But this young priest was at a great disadvantage because he was trying to describe the indescribable and explain the inexplicable. Hampered by a finite human mind and a limited vocabulary, Ezekiel did his best to recreate his vision with words. But his efforts would prove futile because he was attempting to describe “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord” (Ezekiel 1:28 ESV).

While Ezekiel appears to be describing a series of different individuals and objects, the scene is meant to illustrate the glory of the Lord. This entire chapter should be viewed as a depiction of the majesty and magnificence of Jehovah, the Creator-God who rules and reigns over all. The all-mighty, transcendent God of the universe was providing Ezekiel with a composite picture of His essence that was intended to engender a response of awe and reverential fear. And it worked, because Ezekiel claims, “When I saw it, I fell face down on the ground” (Ezekiel 1:28 NLT).

Ezekiel got the big picture. He correctly viewed the entire scene as a divine depiction of his God. And, as a priest, Ezekiel would have known that it was impossible for any human being to see God and live to tell about it. He would have been well versed in the words that God spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai. The man whom God had chosen to liberate His people from their captivity in Egypt had expressed his desire to see God’s glory. Moses had seen God’s glory displayed in the burning bush and had repeatedly spoken with Him, but he longed for something greater.

Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” – Exodus 33:18 ESV

But God let Moses that his request was not only impossible, but it would also be suicidal. So, He provided Moses with a viable alternative.

…and he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” – Ezekiel 33:19-20 ESV

Like Moses, Ezekiel would see God’s glory and live to tell about it. He would see indescribable things and attempt to explain them with words that could never do them justice. The four living creatures, the wheels within wheels, the crystal expanse, and the sapphire thrown were all intended to depict God’s glory. Ezekiel was being given a rare opportunity to see the Almighty but in a way that produced awe and wonder instead of death.

It was the apostle Paul who described Yahweh as “the blessed and only almighty God, the King of all kings and Lord of all lords” (1 Timothy 6:15 NLT). And he went on to explain God’s transcendent, unapproachable nature.

He alone can never die, and he lives in light so brilliant that no human can approach him. No human eye has ever seen him, nor ever will. All honor and power to him forever! – 1 Timothy 6:16 NLT

It is impossible to know exactly what Ezekiel saw but that has not stopped artists from trying to depict it. But no painting, engraving, or illustration will ever be able to capture the glory of God.

Every aspect of Ezekiel’s vision was meant to reinforce the greatness and glory of God. The four different faces of the four living creatures reveal that God is sovereign over all creation. He rules over humanity, the wild beasts, domesticated animals, and the birds of the air – because He made them all. And the wheels within wheels were intended to depict God’s omnipresence; completely unhindered by time or space. According to Ezekiel, the wheels “went in any of their four directions without turning as they went” ( Ezekiel 1:17 ESV). The rims of the wheels were covered with eyes, illustrating the omniscience of God. He knows all because He sees all.

And He accomplishes all this while sitting on His throne above the great expanse. Ezekiel’s focus becomes fixed upon “a figure whose appearance resembled a man” (Ezekiel 1:26 NLT). But He is far from human in nature.

From what appeared to be his waist up, he looked like gleaming amber, flickering like a fire. And from his waist down, he looked like a burning flame, shining with splendor. All around him was a glowing halo, like a rainbow shining in the clouds on a rainy day. – Ezekiel 1:27-28 NLT

This is no ordinary king seated on a man-made throne. It is the King of kings and Lord of lords. Ezekiel is being given a glimpse of God Almighty, but it is a representation and not the real thing.

“It was a deeply-held tenet of Israelite religion from Moses onwards that God could not be visibly expressed, and for that very reason idolatry was out. But given the possibility of a theophany, no form but the human form could conceivably have been used to represent the Deity. It was, however, no mere human that Ezekiel saw: His radiance was surrounded by the glory of a rainbow, and the prophet could show his awe in no other way than by falling on his face in the dust before his God.” – L. E. Cooper Sr., Ezekiel

It is interesting to note that Ezekiel does not attempt to describe God’s face or countenance. All he writes about is the appearance of gleaming metal, fire, and brightness. According to Paul, God “dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16 ESV). The psalmist states that God “wraps Himself in light as with a garment” (Psalm 104:2 BSB). The prophet Daniel was also given a vision of God and he described it in similar terms.

…the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. – Daniel 7:9 ESV

Both Daniel and Ezekiel were given the privilege of seeing God’s glory, and both found it nearly impossible to put it into words. They were struck by the brightness of His very presence. He emanated light so bright that it could only be described as burning fire. It was intense and virtually unapproachable. This imagery reflects the holiness and purity of God. It was the apostle John who wrote, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 ESV).

This majestic, all-knowing, holy, omnipresent God of the universe was reminding Ezekiel that He was still on His throne and well aware of the fate of the people of Judah. He had not turned His back on them. His power had not diminished and His love for them had not faded. The all-powerful, ever-loving, always-faithful God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was about to deliver a message to His chosen people and He had chosen Ezekiel as His messenger. God had gotten Ezekiel’s attention, and now Ezekiel was ready to listen to what his glorious God had to say.

Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. – Ezekiel 1:28 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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 Sufficiency of the Gospel

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. Colossians 2:8-15 ESV

Paul now warms to his primary task: Warning the Colossian believers about the dangers of the doctrinal heresy that was threatening their congregation. He has established the preeminence of Christ and emphasized the foundational nature of His divinity and humanity. Now Paul presents a stinging indictment of the false teachers, labeling their rhetoric concerning Jesus as nothing more than captivating a purely human-based philosophy based on tradition and filled with empty deceit. Paul’s use of the term “philosophy” was not meant to refer to an academic or scientific study of thought, but the teaching of “certain Jewish Christian ascetics, which busied itself with refined and speculative inquiries into the nature and classes of angels, into the ritual of the Mosaic law and the regulations of Jewish tradition respecting practical life” (The Online Bible: Outline of Biblical Usage).

Paul was emphasizing that the teaching that had infiltrated the Colossian church was purely speculative in nature and not based on divine revelation. It was not according to or in keeping with the prophetic pronouncement concerning Christ found in the Old Testament. And it was not in line with Christ’s teachings concerning Himself. No, these men were propagating false doctrines based on “the elemental spirits of the world” (Colossians 2:8 ESV). The word translated as “spirits” is στοιχεῖον (stoicheion), which might be better translated as “principles.” Paul seems to be juxtaposing teaching that is Christ-centered focus with that which is worldly and man-centered. According to Paul, the elemental or fundamental theories of a non-Christian, fallen world were insufficient to explain or guide the Christian life. The false teachers were attempting to use human reasoning to explain spiritual truths.

Paul explained to the believers in Corinth that “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18 ESV). He followed up this statement by quoting Isaiah 29:14.

For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Then Paul excoriated the false teachers and religious traditionalists of his day.

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. – 1 Corinthians 1:20-25 ESV

There were those who found the apostles’ teaching concerning Christ to be illogical and unacceptable. For some of them, the idea that Jesus was fully God and fully man was untenable and indefensible. For others, the idea of Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection was little more than wishful thinking or a fairy tale. But Paul refers to his teaching concerning Christ as the power and wisdom of God.

Paul considered the false teachers’ denial of Christ’s divinity as a particularly egregious sin. That’s he unapologetically stated, “in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body” (Colossians 2:9 ESV). This was a foundational truth concerning the doctrine of salvation and, without it, the validity of Christ’s substitutionary death was rendered impotent. The sinlessness of Christ was based on His divinity. He was the unblemished God-man who was “tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 ESV).

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

To deny Jesus’ deity was to invalidate His entire ministry. He was the sinless and fully righteous Son of God who took on human flesh so that He might do what no man had ever done: Fully obey every one of the commands of God found in the Mosaic Law.

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh… – Romans 8:3 ESV

The deity and humanity of Christ were both non-negotiable aspects of His character. Jesus was fully divine and fully human. He was not a phantom or a god masquerading as a man. There were those who taught that Jesus only appeared to be human. And this erroneous teaching led to a distorted understanding of Jesus’ death on the cross. If He wasn’t truly human, then His death was a sham or little more than a show. And that would mean the substitutionary nature of His death was invalid. Not only that, if Jesus didn’t die, then there was no resurrection. And if there was no resurrection, then mankind has no hope.

if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. – 1 Corinthians 15:17-19 NLT

Paul assures the Colossians believers that the resurrection of Jesus was real and that its implications for their lives were substantial.

…you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead. – Colossians 2:12 NLT

He wanted them to understand that they needed nothing more than Christ. Despite the claims of the false teachers, the believers in Colossae were lacking nothing in their spiritual experience. They had been filled with the fulness of Christ. The Spirit of Christ indwelled them, making the nature of Christ available to them. The righteousness of Christ had been imputed to them. And, unlike the Judaizers, who were teaching that Gentiles needed to be circumcised in order to be fully saved, Paul emphasized a  circumcision of the heart.

When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature. – Colossians 2:11 NLT

This was the same thought Paul had shared with the believers in Rome.

For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people. – Romans 2:28-29 NLT

Paul reminded the Colossians that, prior to encountering Christ, they had been spiritually dead because their “sinful nature was not yet cut away” (Colossians 2:13 NLT). But that problem had been taken care of by God.

God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. – Colossians 2:13-14 NLT

And in doing so, God “disarmed the rulers and authorities” (Colossians 2:15 ESV). This is most likely a reference to “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV). Paul describes them as “the cosmic powers over this present darkness” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV). In conquering sin and death on the cross, God has effectively silenced Satan and his minions, voiding the accusations of guilt and shame they level against God’s people. In Revelation 12:10, Satan is described as the accuser of the brethren, “who accuses them day and night before our God.” But, because of the atoning nature of the cross, Satan’s accusations carry no weight. His weapons lack any power against the children of God. But, as Paul warned the believers in Ephesus, the Colossians were to “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11 ESV).

The false teachers were attempting to undermine the effectiveness of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection by questioning its validity. These godless men were acting as pawns of the enemy by sowing doubts among the believers in Colossae. But Paul exposed their so-called truths as nothing more than cleverly disguised lies meant to deceive and destroy the faith of God’s people.

For Paul, the gospel was enough. There was no new teaching required. And the power of the cross required no additional enhancement or improvement. As Paul told the believers in Corinth, the message of the gospel required no help from human reasoning and cleverly-crafted rhetoric.

When I first came to you, dear brothers and sisters, I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan. For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified.

Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God. – 1 Corinthians 2:1-2, 4-5 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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Where Is Your Faith?

22 One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, 23 and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. 24 And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. 25 He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?” – Luke 8:22-25 ESV

Luke has made it quite clear that by this time in His ministry, Jesus had garnered a large following. There were people coming from all over Galilee and even as far away as Jerusalem to witness the miracles and listen to the preaching of this Rabbi from Nazareth. Jesus had even attracted the attention of the Jewish religious leaders, including the high priest and members of the Sanhedrin. They were watching Him like a hawk, carefully scrutinizing everything He said and did. His growing popularity among the common people had become especially concerning to these powerful men because it threatened their power and control. Until Jesus had appeared on the scene, the Pharisees and other religious sects had enjoyed a kind of religious celebrity status. They were viewed as the spiritual superstars of their day and they had enjoyed the power and prestige that came with their elite standing among the people.

There were others who followed Jesus out of curiosity. They found Him to be intriguing and profoundly interesting, but they weren’t quite sure what to make of Him. His miracles amazed them and His preaching entertained them, but they weren’t quite ready to accept His claim to be the Son of God or the long-awaited Messiah of Israel.

As news of Jesus’ miracles began to spread, the sick, diseased, disabled, and demon-possessed began to flock to Jesus like moths to a flame. They showed up in droves, some requiring the assistance of friends or family members. In Jesus, they saw hope for healing. He became a light that attracted all those who were trapped in the darkness and despair that accompanied their physical condition. They were social outcasts, forced to live in solitude and separation from their community because they were considered unclean and cursed by God. But they had heard that Jesus healed the sick, restored the lame, and even freed those who were under the control of demons – no questions asked. He had even raised the dead back to life. To these people, the debate over whether Jesus was the Messiah took a backseat to their physical and emotional needs. They were far less interested in whether Jesus had come to restore the kingdom of Israel than if He could restore them to health.

Jesus found Himself surrounded by people of all kinds and their interest in Him ran the gamut. Some were simply curious. Others were convinced that He was the Messiah they had long hoped for. Still, others were like rubber-neckers at a car wreck, hoping to witness the next confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders. To them, Jesus was a rabble-rouser and trouble maker who was upsetting the status quo and irritating the ruling elite, and they loved it.

And in the midst of this mass of different individuals with varying agendas, there were the 12 men whom Jesus had hand-picked to be His disciples. Since choosing to follow the Rabbi from Nazareth, these men had been His constant companions. They had been eyewitnesses to every miracle. They had listened to every word He had spoken, questioned the meaning of every parable He had told, and wondered why He had not yet set up His kingdom on earth. These men were committed but they were also confused. Jesus was an enigma to them. They knew He possessed great power because they had witnessed it firsthand. They were convinced that He was wise and spoke with an authority greater than that of the scribes and Pharisees. And yet, they couldn’t understand why the Messiah was wasting His time up in the rural region of Galilee rather than entering Jerusalem, ousting the Romans, and restoring Israel to power and prominence.

And Jesus was fully aware of His disciples’ confusion and growing consternation. He understood their frustration and knew they were anxious to see Him take His show on the road – all the way to the gates of Jerusalem. But there was much more they needed to understand. Their concept of the Messiah had been skewed by centuries of misguided expectations. They were longing for a political and military leader who would conquer Israel’s enemies and re-establish the Davidic dynasty. But Jesus seemed to be spending all His time in the backwater towns of Galilee, wasting His power on the helpless and the hopeless. When was He going to get serious about His mission to be Israel’s Messiah?

This sets up Luke’s record of Jesus’ calming of the storm. After yet another full day of performing miracles among the “least of these,” Jesus and His disciples got into a boat and began to sail to the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. And this little excursion was Jesus’ idea.

“Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” – Luke 8:22 ESV

Mark indicates that they began their journey at the end of the day and were accompanied by other boats. Everywhere Jesus went, the crowds attempted to follow Him. And it would not be long before they realized that following Him was going to prove costly and potentially dangerous.

As the disciples guided the boat along the shore of the sea, Jesus, exhausted by the activities of the day, fell asleep. But while He slept, a storm suddenly appeared as if out of nowhere. In no time at all, the disciples found themselves battling gale-force winds that turned the sea into a boiling cauldron of waves that threatened to sink their small vessel. Luke indicates that “they were filling with water and were in danger” (Luke 8:23 ESV). Despite the fact that at least four of the disciples were experienced fishermen, the severity of the storm caused these men to panic. They were in fear for their lives. So, in desperation, they decided to wake up Jesus and elicit His help.

“Master, Master, we are perishing!” – Luke 8:24 ESV

Mark reveals that they were more than a bit put out with Jesus’ apparent apathy. How could He sleep through such a life-threatening circumstance? They even questioned His concern for their well-being.

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” – Mark 4:38 ESV

Whether they realized it or not, these men were expressing their doubt in the goodness and compassion of the Son of God. They were accusing the Messiah of complacency and callousness. In the heat of the moment, they allowed their less-than-ideal circumstances to cloud their thinking and dictate their view of Jesus. In the midst of the storm, their faith in the Messiah evaporated and was replaced with incredulity and doubt. Without even realizing it, they had suddenly become the hopeless and the helpless. They found themselves in desperate circumstances and in need of rescue. The storm was more than they could handle and they realized they couldn’t save themselves. But notice that these men didn’t call out to Jesus in faith. Compare their response to that of the Roman centurion: “say the word, and let my servant be healed” (Luke 7:7 ESV). Or consider the statement made by the man who suffered from the incurable disease of leprosy: “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean” (Luke 5:12 ESV).

The disciples express no faith in Jesus. They question His integrity and empathy. But rather than read the disciples the riot act for their faithlessness, Jesus “rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm” (Luke 8:24 ESV). Jesus attacked the source of their doubt: The storm. They had allowed the circumstances of life to determine their faith in Jesus. As the storm raged, their faith faltered. For a brief moment, they ceased to believe in Jesus.

But notice that Jesus spoke to the wind and the waves, not the disciples. He addressed the problem. He used His power to alleviate the source of their doubt. But then, He turned to His fearful and faithless disciples and asked, “Where is your faith?” (Luke 8:25 ESV). The presence of the storm had caused an absence of faith. In the face of adversity, the disciples had displayed a lack of fidelity. Trials have a way of testing the quality of our faith. Difficulties put our faith to the test and reveal its efficacy and stability. For the disciples, the sudden storm had exposed the anemic nature of their faith. In the face of adversity, fear had replaced faith. Confronted with what appeared to be a life-threatening scenario, the disciples had displayed a fickle faith that had been blown away by the winds of the storm. 

Luke reports that they were fearful and amazed. For some reason, this episode made a greater impact on them than Jesus raising a dead man back to life. Maybe it was because this particular miracle had a personal touch to it. It was their lives that had been threatened, and the words of Jesus had suddenly turned certain death into life. And this unexpected but highly appreciated miracle left them wrestling with new questions regarding Jesus’ identity.

“Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?” – Luke 8:25 ESV

These are the same men who believed Jesus to be the Messiah. But His ability to command the wind and the water left them baffled. They believed Him to be their deliverer from the Romans but were blown away to learn that He had the power to control nature. In doing so, Jesus had clearly displayed His divinity. And the disciples were not sure what to make of this powerful demonstration of Jesus’ deity. Jesus had done what only God could do, and the disciples were forced to wrestle with the implications of this mind-blowing experience. Just when they thought they knew who Jesus was, they had to rethink all their presuppositions and could only ask, “Who then is this?”

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

Authority & Power

21 And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. 22 And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. 23 And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.

29 And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. 31 And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

32 That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered together at the door. 34 And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. Mark 1:21-34 ESV

In his gospel account, Luke reports that “Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Reports about him spread quickly through the whole region. He taught regularly in their synagogues and was praised by everyone” (Luke 4:14-15 ESV). And Mark provides a glimpse into one such occasion.

After calling Andrew, Simon, James, and John to be His disciples, Jesus and His new recruits made their way to the town of Capernaum on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. On the Sabbath, Jesus and His disciples made their way to the local synagogue. The synagogue was the building in each community where the Jews gathered for worship, prayer, and instruction. The Hebrew word is beit k’nesset (literally, House of Assembly). The Jews typically referred to this building as a synagogue, which is the Greek translation of  beit k’nesset.

The synagogue came into existence during Israel’s Babylonian captivity. After the Babylonians defeated Judah in 597 B.C., they took tens of thousands of Israelites captive and transported them to Babylon. With no access to the temple, the Jews were forced to come up with an alternative place of worship. Even after the Jews returned to Judah and rebuilt the temple which had been destroyed by the Babylonians, they continued to build synagogues in their local communities.

The synagogue was a place of prayer and instruction. And when the Jews gathered on the Sabbath, they would read from the Torah, the five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). After the reading of the sacred Scriptures, there would be a time of teaching or instruction.

Mark indicates that Jesus was teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. Because Jesus was recognized as a Rabbi, it would have been quite normal for the leadership of the synagogue to extend Him this honor. But while Mark makes much of the peoples’ reaction to what Jesus’ taught, he provides no details concerning its content. He simply states, “they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:22 ESV). The Greek word Mark used conveys the idea that they were “blown away” by the force of Jesus’ words. It seems that they were astonished or amazed, not so much by what Jesus said than by how He said it. He taught with authority (exousia). The people in the synagogue that day had never heard anything like it. In a sense, they felt like Jesus spoke as if He knew what He was talking about.

Mark purposefully contrasts the instruction of Jesus with that of the scribes. These men were considered the experts in the Law of Moses. Their job was to study the Law, transcribe it, and provide written commentaries about it. But Mark infers that these well-educated men lacked the authority and power that Jesus possessed. This will be the first of many contrasts that Mark establishes between Jesus and the religious leaders of Israel.

And, as if to illustrate that Jesus didn’t just have a way with words, Mark describes an encounter between Jesus and a man with an “unclean spirit.” Mark indicates that as soon as Jesus had finished speaking, this demon-possessed man interrupted the service, crying out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24 ESV).

Evidently, this man had been in the room the entire time. But it was Jesus’ authoritative teaching that caused the demon(s) within the man to react in fear and anger. They had literally been struck by the power of Jesus’ words. The demon’s use of the plural pronoun, “us” may indicate that the man had more than one demon or that there were other demons present in the synagogue that day. Whatever the case, the demon had immediately recognized the identity of Jesus, referring to Him as “the Holy One of God.” This demonic being clearly knew who Jesus was and why He had come. He even asked Jesus if He planned to destroy him and his fellow demons right then and there.

With his description of this encounter, Mark establishes yet another point of conflict that will characterize Jesus’ earthly ministry. Not only will Jesus find Himself at odds with the Jewish religious leaders, but He will also be engaged in a battle with what Paul describes as “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

But these spiritual forces were not relegated to the invisible world. They had infiltrated the realm of men and were wreaking havoc among God’s chosen people. This will not be the last of Jesus’ encounters with demons. But these other-worldly invaders were going to prove no match for the Holy One of God.

Jesus refused to answer or even acknowledge the demon’s question, choosing instead to shut the demon up by casting him out. The Greek word translated as “rebuke” can actually mean “to censure or silence.” Rather than verbally castigate the demon, Jesus simply removed his ability to speak by forcing him to vacate the man’s body.

“Be silent, and come out of him!” – Mark 1:25 ESV

With no host to occupy, the demon found itself with no means of communication.

And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. – Mark 1;26 ESV

This strange and disturbing scene left those who had witnessed it even more amazed and astonished than ever. But notice that they connected what they had seen to the teaching of Jesus.

“What sort of new teaching is this?” they asked excitedly. “It has such authority! Even evil spirits obey his orders!” – Mark 1:27 NLT

Jesus’ words carried real power. It could not be said of Jesus that He was “all talk, no action.” Unlike the scribes, who could probably describe what the Scriptures had to say about demons, Jesus could control them. He had power over them. His words had authority. And this distinction did not go unnoticed. Mark indicates that “at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee” (Mark 1:28 ESV). And that means that it wasn’t long before news of what Jesus had done made its way to the religious leaders in Jerusalem. As Jesus’ fame spread, so did His infamy. And before long, Jesus would find Himself doing battle on multiple fronts.

But Jesus was not done demonstrating His power. After His exorcism of the demon in the synagogue, Jesus made His way to the home of Andrew and Simon. Mark indicates that Simon’s mother-in-law was ill. It is likely that Simon (Peter) told this story to Mark and that is why it is included in his gospel account. When Jesus was informed of her illness, He simply took her by the hand and she was immediately healed. Without a word being said, she went from suffering to serving. This point should not be overlooked. In the scene that took place in the synagogue, the emphasis was on Jesus’ words. He spoke as one having authority. But on this occasion, Jesus said nothing. He took the woman by the hand and she was immediately healed. It was another case of Jesus demonstrating His power and authority, but this time without words.

This latest episode only increased Jesus’ notoriety and further inflamed the curiosity of the people. Mark reveals that by the end of the day, the crowds had gathered outside the home of Simon and Andrew. News had spread and it wasn’t long before “all who were sick or oppressed by demons” made their way to Jesus. And Mark indicates that “the whole city was gathered together at the door” (Mark 1:33 ESV).

And what did Jesus do? He “healed many people who were sick with various diseases, and he cast out many demons” (Mark 1:34 ESV). He demonstrated His power and authority – over disease and demons. In a sense, Jesus gave proof of what the demon had said. He really was the Holy One of God and the source of His authority and power was divine, not human. He was able to do what He did because of who He was. But the people, while impressed by what they saw, were not yet convinced of His divinity.

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

What Is That to You?

20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” 23 So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”

24 This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.

25 Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. John 21:20-25 ESV

Jesus has just called Peter to follow Him. But Peter received this somewhat innocuous invitation immediately after hearing the kind of death he would suffer for feeding and caring for Jesus’ sheep. For Peter, following Jesus was to come with a death sentence. And Peter seems to have understood exactly what Jesus had inferred when He had said, “when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go” (John 21:18 ESV).

John even clarifies that Jesus’ words were intended “to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God” (John 21:19 ESV). In the Roman-dominated culture in which they lived, the term “stretch out you hands” had become a euphemistic and more palatable way of referring to crucifixion. It was a word picture that described the victim’s arms being stretched out and tied to the upper beam of the cross (Ernst Haenchen, A Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2:226-27).

Peter’s immediate response to this news reveals that he fully understood the import of what Jesus had said to him. As he and Jesus walked along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Peter turned and saw John following close behind. And the sight of “the disciple whom Jesus loved” seems to have filled Peter with jealousy. Peter was a natural-born competitor. He was always jockeying for position, trying to establish himself as the lead-dog among the rest of the disciples. Yet, John always seemed to be the teacher’s pet, the obvious favorite of Jesus, and this must have infuriated and frustrated the highly-competitive Peter.

So, like a petulant child, Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” (John 21:21 ESV). Peter’s unbridled and impetuous nature was on full display. He always had a difficult time controlling his impulses and words proved to be a particularly thorny problem. He habitually struggled to get his brain in gear before he put his lips in motion. Thinking before speaking was not a strong suit.

Peter, having heard the less-than-pleasant ending to his own life, wants to know what John’s fate will be.  What does God have in store for “the disciple whom Jesus loved?” Will he have his “hands stretched out?” Is John going to have to suffer death for following Jesus? It seems that Peter felt like he had been singled out. Perhaps he believed the death that Jesus had predicted he would suffer was a form of punishment for his earlier denial. Whatever the case, Peter was not asking out of concern for John. He was trying to determine whether the other disciples were going to end up like him. And the tone of Jesus’ response reveals that He understood the self-centered nature of Peter’s question.

“If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? – John 21:22 ESV

In a sense, Jesus told Peter, “that’s none of your business.” Jesus had just had a personal and intimate conversation with Peter, yet none of the other disciples were demanding to know what they had discussed. Jesus had plans for each of His disciples, but all Peter needed to know was what Jesus had in store for him. Obviously, Peter was not particularly pleased with how Jesus described the ending to his life’s story. There’s little doubt that Peter had always envisioned some much more positive. But he was discovering the difficult truth that God’s will was not obligated to mirror his own. In time, he would learn to pray as Jesus did in the garden, “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine” (Luke 22:42 NLT).

But for now, he was struggling with the twin demons of comparison and competition. He was jealous of John and his intimate relationship with Jesus. And his competitive nature made it difficult for him to accept the outcome Jesus had described. Peter didn’t want to die a martyr, despite his earlier claim that he would lay down his life for Jesus (John 13:37). Peter was naturally attracted to glory and gain. He was prone to seek credit for anything that he did. His actions tended to be driven by reward and recognition. But this brings to mend the words spoken by Jesus spoke in His sermon on the mount.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. –Matthew 6:1 ESV

Peter didn’t need to worry about John. He needed to focus on the mission Jesus had given to him.

“Feed my lambs.” – John 21:15 ESV

“Tend my sheep.” – John 21:16 ESV

“Feed my sheep.” – John 21:17 ESV

If Jesus willed for John to live a long and prosperous life, that was none of Peter’s business. Even if John were divinely destined to live long enough to see the return of Jesus, that should be of no concern to Peter. He had his marching orders. He knew exactly what Jesus required of him. But he was allowing jealousy and envy to blind him from the task at hand. And James warns what happens when believers allow these twin temptations to take over their lives.

But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind. – James 3:14-16 NLT

John adds an interesting side note that reveals how easy it is to draw false conclusions from God’s word. It seems that Jesus’ words regarding John had been wrongly interpreted to mean that John would never die. This statement from the lips of Jesus had taken on a life of their own, spreading throughout the early church in the form of a rumor that John would outlive all the disciples, being miraculously kept alive until the return of Jesus.

So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die. – John 21:23 ESV

But John put that rumor to rest by restating and clarifying what Jesus had said. The key word in Jesus’ statement had been the first one: “If…” Jesus had been making a propositional statement. It could have gone either way. If John lived until Jesus returned, it would have been God’s will. If he didn’t, that too would have been God’s will. Jesus had not guaranteed one or the other. He had simply been encouraging Peter to keep his mind focused on the revealed will of God for him.

As John prepares to wrap up his gospel account, he restates that he is its author. He has been an eyewitness to all that he has written. While he has constantly referred to himself in the third-person throughout his gospel, John had first-person knowledge of all that he has recorded. And because he is writing near the end of the 1st-Century, years after the events recorded in his gospel had taken place, he can boldly state that his testimony is true. They have been verified by time and the testimonies of others.

And John adds that his gospel was anything but comprehensive. He is not inferring that it is somehow incomplete or inadequate, but only that it would have been impossible to record all that Jesus had said and done during His earthly ministry. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, John had carefully and purposefully chosen which details to include. And they all supported his overall thesis.

these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. – John 20:31 ESV

The lofty goal John had set out for his gospel had been to establish Jesus as the Son of God and the Savior of the world. He began with his claim that Jesus was the Word of God made flesh. He was the second person of the Trinity, the very Son of God who, by becoming a man, made the invisible God visible. Jesus manifested or revealed the Father by demonstrating the Father’s love for mankind. And He did it by willingly taking the form of sinful man and dying as the sinless substitute required to satisfy the just demands of His Heavenly Father. Jesus became “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29 ESV).

And John painstakingly recorded the words and works of Jesus so that those who came to faith in Him long after His ascension would continue to believe in who He was and what He had come to do. The early church was under attack and believers were constantly being tempted to walk away from the faith. They struggled with doubts about Jesus’ true identity because false teachers were constantly bringing into question either His divinity or His humanity. Some claimed Him to be God, but not a man. Others taught that He was a man, but not God. But John has spent 21 chapters defending the deity of Jesus while, at the same time, strenuously defending His humanity. Jesus was the God-man. And it was that one-of-a-kind nature that allowed Him to do what He came to do: Give His life as a ransom for many.

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

I Am!

51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55 But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. John 8:51-59 ESV

The longer Jesus spoke, it seems that the frustration of the religious only intensified. And their growing anger with Him seems to support His accusations against Him. He has claimed to be the light of the glory of God, but they prefer to remain covered by the darkness of their own pre-established notions of righteousness and holiness. He has offered Himself as the only solution to mankind’s sin problem and the key to eternal life. But they have refused His offer, choosing instead to label Him as a blasphemer and sinner, operating in league with Satan himself. He has declared Himself to be the Son of God, yet they accused Him of being illegitimate, and not even knowing the name of His own earthly father. Jesus had described them as being the children of Satan, and now they return the favor by declaring Him of being demon-possessed.

This entire section of John’s gospel is intended to support Jesus’ claim to be the light of the world. He has been standing in the courtyard of the temple of God, speaking to the people of God, and allowing the glory of God to illuminate what has become one of the darkest places within the nation of Israel: God’s own dwelling place.

The location for this latest conversation between Jesus and the religious leaders is extremely important. He is standing in the temple treasury, where all the voluntary and obligatory financial gifts given to the temple were kept. Earlier, in chapter two of his gospel, John described Jesus cleansing the temple of “those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there” (John 2:14 ESV). The Son of God had been appalled to find His Father’s house turned into a marketplace. In His anger, He literally cleaned house.

And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” – John 2:15-16 ESV

The temple was to have been the place where God’s glory dwelled. All the way back at the dedication of the original temple, the glory of God had descended upon the magnificent structure built by King Solomon.

As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. And the priests could not enter the house of the Lord, because the glory of the Lord filled the Lord‘s house. When all the people of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the Lord on the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the ground on the pavement and worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” – 2 Chronicles 7:1-3 ESV

In response to Solomon’s prayer of dedication over the newly constructed temple, God had told him:

“I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever.” – 2 Chronicles 7:12-16 ESV

But God’s people had proved to be unfaithful. They failed to remain obedient to His commands and chose to worship false gods, even erecting idols to them within the temple Solomon had dedicated to God. And Solomon had been one of the chief instigators behind the nation’s rebellion against God. In time, God destroyed the temple that bore His name. He used the Babylonian Empire as His agent of judgment against His chosen people, turning the capital city of Jerusalem and the glorious temple into a heap of ruins.

The temple where Jesus spoke was the same one that had been rebuilt by the Jews who had returned to Judah after 70 years of captivity in Babylon. That much smaller and less ornate temple was greatly expanded by King Herod during the 1st-Century AD. And it was on the grounds of this temple where Jesus had His confrontation with the Jewish religious leaders.

In a sense, Jesus was presenting Himself as the replacement for the temple. With His coming, the primary purpose of the temple was being eliminated. It was no longer the dwelling place of God. Jesus had made the invisible God visible. He was God in human flesh, manifesting the glory of God through His miracles and messages. And, in time, He would offer His life as the ultimate and final sacrifice for the sins of mankind. The earthly temple would be replaced by the bodily temple of God’s own Son. That is why Jesus had said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19 ESV). His death would accomplish what the temple and the sacrificial system could have never done. And the author of Hebrews makes this point perfectly clear.

…those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year. 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—as is written about me in the Scriptures.’”

First, Christ said, “You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings or burnt offerings or other offerings for sin, nor were you pleased with them” (though they are required by the law of Moses). Then he said, “Look, I have come to do your will.” He cancels the first covenant in order to put the second into effect. For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time. – Hebrews 10:3-10 NLT

One of the things that infuriated the religious leaders was Jesus’ claim that He could offer eternal life. They had been shocked by Jesus’ audacious and ridiculous claim: “if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death” (John 8:51 ESV). His statement was illogical and, therefore, unacceptable. Abraham and all the prophets had died, they reasoned. So, who was He to think that He could offer a life free from death? They even ask Him, “Who do you make yourself out to be?” (John 8:53 ESV). Their question reveals that they know exactly what Jesus was saying. He was claiming to be God. And, almost as if to support their suspicions, Jesus responded, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God’” (John 8:54 ESV).

Jesus brings the conversation back to the issue of His relationship with God. He was not just another son of God, as they believed themselves to be. He was the actual Son of God, the second member of the Holy Trinity. He was claiming divinity and authority, provided to Him by His Heavenly Father. But, as Jesus pointed out, their failure to recognize and accept Him was due to their ignorance of God. They didn’t know God as their Father, so how would they ever recognize His Son when He showed up?

But Jesus emphasized that Abraham, their great patriarch, had looked forward to the day when the promise of God was finally fulfilled through Jesus. God had told Abraham, “All the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your offspring” (Genesis 12:3 BSB). And the apostle Paul had clarified the meaning of this promise when he wrote, “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ” (Galatians 3:16 ESV).

Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, and He claims, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad” (John 8:56 ESV). In a sense, Jesus is saying, “If Abraham could ‘see’ and rejoice in my coming, why can’t you?”

And when His detractors scoff at Jesus’ words, He adds fuel to the fire by boldly asserting, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58 ESV). And the magnitude of this statement did not escape them. They knew exactly what He was saying. Jesus was claiming to be God, which is why John states that “they picked up stones to throw at him” (John 8:59 ESV). They distinctly heard Jesus using the self-designation used by Yahweh when He had spoken to Moses at the burning bush.

Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” – Exodus 3:13-14 ESV

At this point in the story, John has presented a turning point in the life and ministry of Jesus. The confrontation between Jesus and His adversaries has entered a new and darker phase. Jesus has clearly stated His identity. No more cryptic answers. No more veiled references to deity. He is the great “I am.” And John ends this scene with a simple sentence that is pregnant with meaning: “but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple” (John 8:59 ESV). 

The glory of God, in the form of the Son of God, departed the temple. He vacated the premises, leaving the religious leaders still holding the stones in their hands with which they had intended to kill Him. The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, had walked away from the very place where tens of thousands of sacrifices had been offered for hundreds of years. But this Lamb would be offered on a hillside outside the city, providing atonement for the sins of mankind – once for all.

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

Fairweather Followers

60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” 

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.John 6:60-66 ESV

The message Jesus delivered in the synagogue regarding “the bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:57 ESV) had made an impression on His audience. His bizarre comments about eating His flesh and drinking His blood had not gone unnoticed. His offer of eternal life definitely piqued their interest. But there appears to be no one who heard Jesus speak who grasped the meaning behind all that He said.

When Jesus had attempted to tell Nicodemus about the need for a new birth “from above” in order to enter the kingdom of heaven, the well-educated Pharisee had responded, “How can these things be?” (John 3:9 ESV). And Jesus answered with a question of His own: “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12 ESV).

Nicodemus had been unable to grasp the spiritual nature of Jesus’ words. His mind was stuck on an earthly plane, limiting his ability to hear the wonderful news that Jesus was conveying in His message. And he had walked away confused, but not converted.

The same was true for those who heard Jesus speak in the synagogue in Capernaum. John has made it clear that a good portion of the audience “grumbled about him, because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven’” (John 6:41 ESV). They saw Jesus as a man from Nazareth, not some divine being who had descended from the sky. And when they heard Jesus claim that eating His flesh would result in eternal life, they had “disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’” (John 6:52 ESV).

If one were to judge the effectiveness of Jesus’ communication skills based on the peoples’ response, the conclusion would have to be that He failed miserably. His sermon appears to have produced no converts. No one asked to receive the bread that He offered. No one came forward eager to drink His blood. Instead, they disputed, grumbled, and struggled to understand what Jesus was talking about. John even indicates that even those who considered themselves followers of Jesus were having a difficult time taking in all that He had said.

These “disciples” as John describes them were made up of those who had traveled all the way from Bethsaida, eager to see Jesus perform another miracle. They had eaten the bread and fish He had multiplied and had shown up in Capernaum hoping to receive more of the same. Others had heard the rumors about His miracles and were anxious to see Him perform a sign with their own eyes. In the gospels, the term “disciple” is used to refer to all those who followed Jesus. It does not necessarily mean that these people were believers. In fact, John will make it clear that many of these disciples or followers of Jesus ended up abandoning Him as a result of His message in the synagogue.

“…many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” – John 6:66 ESV

They had been attracted by His miraculous works but repulsed by His words. They proved to be fairweather followers who chose to walk away from Jesus when they didn’t get what they wanted from Him.

When Jesus overheard the grumbling among His followers, He responded, “Does this offend you? Then what will you think if you see the Son of Man ascend to heaven again?” (John 6:61-62 NLT). Here Jesus reveals the true nature of their contention. It was not so much that He had offered His body and blood as food, but that He had claimed to be the Son of God sent from heaven.

This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” – John 6:29 ESV

the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven…” –John 6:33 ESV

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” – John 6:38 ESV

“I am the bread that came down from heaven.” – John 6:41 ESV

“This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” – John 6:50-51 ESV

Jesus reveals that this was the crux of the matter. They just couldn’t bring themselves to believe that He was divine. They could possibly accept the fact that He was a prophet sent from God or even the Messiah. But in either case, He would have been a mere man, and not God in human flesh.

But as difficult as it was to accept that Jesus had come down from heaven, He prophetically reveals that the day will come when He returns. Once again, Jesus was speaking rather cryptically, using language that left His audience scratching their heads in confusion. But there was a small contingent within the crowd who would one day understand the full import of His words. The men who would later become His apostles and the emissaries of His message would be eyewitnesses to His future ascension. 

So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs. – Mark 16:19-20 ESV

But Jesus’ mention of His ascension most likely included a veiled reference to His crucifixion. He had told Nicodemus, And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15 ESV). John also records Jesus restating this claim and adds an important note of clarification.

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. – John 12:32-33 ESV

Jesus’ return to heaven would be preceded by His sacrificial death. He had come to die so that others might live. His death had been the sole purpose behind His coming. He had been sent from heaven to offer His life as a ransom for many so that they might be restored to a right relationship with God. His body would be broken and His blood would be poured out for the sins of many. And one day, His true followers would fully comprehend the meaning of His words. Luke records that when His disciples saw Him ascend into heaven, “they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God” (Luke 24:52-53 ESV).

But that day in the synagogue in Capernaum, there was no one who comprehended the meaning behind Jesus’ words. And there were none who rejoiced at what they heard. And Jesus revealed that their inability to understand His words was because they lacked insight from the Spirit of God.

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” – John 6:63 ESV

Not only were they unable to comprehend His words, but they were also incapable of achieving eternal life. Without the Spirit’s help, they would remain blind to the reality of what Jesus was saying. It was just as Jesus had told Nicodemus:

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” – John 3:6 ESV

There were some in Jesus’ audience who would eventually end up understanding the words of Jesus and believing His claim to be the Son of God. But as Jesus revealed, there were others who would not and could not believe. And John adds further proof of Jesus’ deity by stating that He “knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him” (John 6:64 ESV).

The crowd that followed Jesus was about to grow smaller. And Jesus revealed that following after Him was not the same as coming to Him. Anyone could join the crowds that lined up to see Him work miracles. But only those called by God and empowered by the Spirit of God could become true disciples of the Son of God. And Jesus reiterated His earlier claim.

“no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” – John 6:65 ESV

Many would follow, but not all would believe. Miracles may attract a crowd, but they don’t transform a sinner into a saint. Only the Spirit of God can do that. he opens the eyes of those blinded by sin so they can see the truth of Gospel:

“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

The Man Believed the Word

46 So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. 48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” 49 The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. 51 As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. 52 So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” 53 The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household. 54 This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee. – John 4:46-54 ESV

After their two-day, unplanned stopover in Samaria, Jesus and His disciples left for the northern region of Galilee. He did so, in spite of the popular proverb He had quoted to His disciples: “a prophet has no honor in his own hometown” (John 4:44 ESV). Jesus was returning to Galilee, but He made His way to Cana, rather than His own hometown of Nazareth. He returned to the scene of His first miracle, where He had turned the water into wine.

In verse 45, John indicates that Jesus received a warm welcome in Galilee because many of the people had been eyewitnesses to the signs He had performed in Jerusalem during the Feast of Passover. With this reference to Jesus’ signs, John provides a link back to the miracle performed at the wedding feast in Cana. While the guests at the feast had no idea that Jesus had transformed ordinary water into wine, His disciples were fully aware of what had transpired.

This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. – John 2:11 ESV

And when Jesus had gone on to perform additional signs in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, John records, “many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing” (John 2:23 ESV).

The basis for their belief was the nature of the miraculous signs Jesus performed. And John makes it clear that the warm reception Jesus received in Galilee was due to “all that he had done in Jerusalem” (John 4:45 ESV). They too were attracted to and enamored by the miracles of Jesus. And His reputation as a miracle worker was spreading rapidly throughout all Israel. Which sets up the next encounter Jesus will experience.

While in Cana, Jesus received a visit from an unnamed government official who came seeking healing for his deathly-ill son. While we know little about this man, it is likely that he was a Jew who was in the employment of Herod Antipas, the unofficial “king” of the Jews, appointed by the Romans. This distraught father had made the 13-mile journey from Capernaum to Cana in the hopes that he could convince Jesus to return with him and heal his son.

But this man’s impassioned plea for help was met with what a somewhat caustic response from Jesus.

“Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” – John 4:48 ESV

While it is unclear in our English translation, Jesus used the plural pronoun “you,” indicating that His comment was aimed at the Jewish people. Their belief in Him was fickle and focused solely on His ability to entertain them with His supernatural miracles. They loved the idea of a miracle-working Messiah. But Jesus had made it clear to Nicodemus that the key to eternal life was to believe in Him, not just the miracles He performed.

“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” – John 3:18 ESV

They were believing in the miracle-performing reputation of Jesus, but not in the name of Jesus. It was not enough that He came declaring Himself to be the Son of God. They needed proof. They demanded signs. And the apostle Paul would later condemn his own people for their stubborn refusal to acknowledge the greatest sign ever given that proved the deity of Jesus.

Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense. – 1 Corinthians 1:21-23 NLT

Undeterred by the seeming slight from Jesus, the desperate father begged Jesus to come to Capernaum and heal his son before it was too late. He was running out of time. His son was at death’s door and they still had a 13-mile journey ahead of them. If only he could get Jesus to agree to accompany him back to Capernaum, there might still be a chance that his son could live.

And Jesus answered the man’s impassioned plea with the simple response, “Go; your son will live” (John 4:50 ESV). On that matter-of-fact statement from the lips of Jesus, the official “believed what Jesus said and started home” (John 4:50 NLT). He didn’t argue. He didn’t continue to plead with Jesus to come with him. He simply turned and began the 13-mile return trip home – believing the words of Jesus. No sign. No miracle. No proof.

The belief this man exhibited was of a different sort that those in Cana who believed because of the signs Jesus had performed in Jerusalem. It stood in stark contrast to the belief of Jesus’ disciples which had been based on His ability to turn water into wine. This man had believed the words of Jesus. And this distinction is significant. It brings to mind the testimony of God Himself, spoken at the baptism of Jesus.

“This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him! – Luke 9:35 ESV

The Jews were enamored by the works of Jesus but they refused to listen to His words. As long as He kept performing miracles, they kept believing, but that belief was misplaced. They were so busy seeking a sign, that they missed the Savior.

Later on in his gospel, John records the words of Jesus declaring the divine origin of His message.

“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.” – John 12:49 ESV

And this was not the first time Jesus had claimed His words to be divinely inspired and spoken on behalf of His heavenly Father.

“My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. – John 7:16-17 ESV

The people should have been listening to the words of Jesus, but they were too busy focusing their attention on the works of Jesus. And with their obsession over His miracles, they were missing the meat of His message.

“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 14:10-11 ESV

In a sense, Jesus was stating that there were two sources of belief: His miracles or His message. But the truest form of belief was to receive the words of Jesus as the words of God because He spoke as God. And Jesus went on to assure His disciples that they too would go on to perform miracles and signs.

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” – John 14:12-13 ESV

Their ability to perform miracles would be based on their belief in Him and who He claimed to be. He was the Son of God and had the full authority of God to share His power with those who placed their faith in Him.

John’s entire gospel is focused on the divinity of Jesus. He is declaring the divine Sonship of Jesus and providing indisputable proof that this Rabbi from Nazareth was indeed who He claimed to be: The Son of God and the Savior of the world.

And as further evidence of Jesus’ deity, John describes the scene that took place when the father ran into his servants on his way home. They met him alone the way with the good news that “his son was alive and well” (John 4:51 NLT). And when the father asked at what time his son had begun to improve, he was told, “Yesterday afternoon at one o’clock his fever suddenly disappeared!” (John 4:52 NLT). And John closes his account with the following words:

Then the father realized that that was the very time Jesus had told him, “Your son will live.” And he and his entire household believed in Jesus. – John 4:53 NLT

When Jesus had said, “Your son will live,” the man had taken Him at His word and headed home. Now, he received confirmation that His faith had been rewarded. His son was well. Jesus had spoken, the man had believed, and his son had been healed. But notice how John ends this story with the words, “he and his entire household believed in Jesus.”

Their belief was not in the miracle but in the one who had spoken the miracle into existence. They believed in Jesus. Their faith was not focused on the healing of their family member. It was directed at the one who spoke with the authority of God.

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

No Comparison

19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing. – John 1:19-28 ESV

Beginning with verse 19, John provides a more detailed introduction to the life and ministry of John the Baptist. He first alluded to this important character in verses 6-8.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. – John 1:6-8 ESV

As John continues to establish the unique identity of Jesus as the God-man, he will use John the Baptist as a point of contrast. Like Jesus, John the Baptist was a man sent from God. But unlike Jesus, John the Baptist was just a man. He had been commissioned by God to prepare the way for the Messiah, by testifying to the people of Israel about His imminent arrival. The one for whom they had long waited had arrived. But as the text makes clear, John the Baptist was not the light. And John will confirm the contrast between the light and the witness to the light by using the testimony of the witness himself.

Unlike the three synoptic gospels, John’s gospel provides few details concerning John the Baptist’s ministry. He seems much more interested in using the testimony of John the Baptist concerning Jesus as proof of Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God and the son of man. Yet a bit of background into John the Baptist’s unique ministry and message can be helpful. So, Matthew provides some essential details concerning this rather strange character who had suddenly appeared on the scene in Judea.

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
    make his paths straight.’”

Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. – Matthew 3:1-6 ESV

Luke records that the appearance of John the Baptist attracted large crowds of people who made their way to the Judean wilderness in order to be baptized by him. But there was tremendous speculation regarding his identity.

Everyone was expecting the Messiah to come soon, and they were eager to know whether John might be the Messiah. – Luke 3:15 NLT

As John the Baptist proclaimed the imminent arrival of the kingdom of heaven, the people couldn’t help but wonder if he was the Messiah. And John records that even the Jewish religious leaders were curious about this strange-looking individual who was proclaiming the arrival of the kingdom.

the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” – John 1:19 ESV

Notice that John prefaces this exchange between John the Baptist and the religious leaders with the words: “And this is the testimony of John.”  What follows is the clear testimony from John the Baptist that clarifies the identity of the Christ (Greek: Messiah). First and foremost, John the Baptist wanted to squelch any rumors about himself.

He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” – John 1:20 ESV

John the Baptist had come to witness, not be worshiped. He had no interest in passing himself off as the long-awaited Messiah. But if he was not the Christ, then who was he? And why had he suddenly appeared on the scene preaching about the coming kingdom? The religious leaders were perplexed and continued their questioning by asking if he was Elijah or the prophet.

Their first inquiry had to do with an Old Testament prophecy found in the book of Malachi.

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” – Malachi 4:5-6 ESV

Based on this passage, the Jews expected the long-dead prophet, Elijah, to reappear and his arrival would signal the imminent arrival of the Messiah. But John the Baptist confession that he was not Elijah led the religious leaders to ask whether he was “the Prophet.”

As students of the Hebrew Scriptures, these men were well-versed in those passages that were associated with the coming Messiah. And they were familiar with the promise that God had made to the people of Israel during their days in the wilderness, prior to the arrival in the land of promise.

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” – Deuteronomy 18:15-18 ESV

The Jews had long believed that the arrival of the Messiah would be accompanied by the return of Elijah and the appearance of the Prophet of God. And this threesome would usher in a period of great revival and renewal in Israel. They would lead the people of God and help reestablish the nation to its former glory. But John the Baptist denies being the Prophet.

John the Baptist’s inquisitors were perplexed and knew that they were going to have to give a report to their superiors back in Jerusalem. So, they simply asked John: “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” (John 1:22 ESV). If he was not the Messiah, Elijah, or the Prophet, then who was he? And John the Baptist gives them the only answer he knows.

“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’” – John 1:23 ESV

Knowing that these men were highly knowledgeable of the Hebrew Scriptures, John the Baptist identifies himself by quoting from the writings of Isaiah. In doing so, he affirms that they were right in assuming that his arrival had something to do with the Messiah. He quotes from what the Jews considered to be Messianic passage and applies it to himself.

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
    that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord‘s hand
    double for all her sins.

A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all flesh shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” – Isaiah 40:1-5 ESV

John the Baptist was nothing more than a voice crying in the wilderness. He was the witness, testifying to the arrival of the glory of the Lord. He was not the Word but was simply the voice. He was not the Messiah but was the one who had been chosen to announce His arrival. And that led the religious leaders to ask the next logical question.

“Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” – John 1:25 ESV

This was a question regarding authority. If John the Baptist was not the Messiah, Elijah, or the Prophet, he had no right or authority to baptize anyone. The Jews understood baptism to be reserved for ritual cleansing. So, why was this unknown and unqualified individual “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3 ESV)? The Jews, because they were God’s chosen people, believed they had no need for repentance. They viewed themselves as already in right standing with God by virtue of their status as descendants of Abraham and as heirs of the promise.

But Luke goes on to record that John the Baptist saw through the over-confident self-righteousness of his audience, and he delivered a stinging indictment against the religious leaders.

“Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” – Luke 3:8-9 ESV

Their heritage was no guarantee of righteousness. And their identity as Jews was not going to preserve them from the coming wrath of God against all those who have sinned against Him. That is why John the Baptist had come on the scene preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2 ESV).

John confesses that his authority to baptize came from a source far superior to himself or the religious leaders of the Jews. And this supreme source was about to make Himself known.

“I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” – John 1:2-27 ESV

John was just a man who baptized repentant people with physical water. But there was another one who would follow who had the authority to offer true cleansing from sin and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The messenger was proclaiming the arrival of the Messiah.

“I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
” – Matthew 3:11 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

God In Human Flesh

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. – John 1:14-18 ESV

In verse 14 John returns to the focal point of his entire gospel: The Word of God. But now, he adds another crucial element to the identity of this one who “was in the beginning with God” (John 1:2 ESV). This life-giving “light” penetrated the darkness of the sin-saturated world.

He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. – John 1:10 ESV

And adding an important point of specificity, John states:

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:11 ESV

But how did He He come? In what form did the Word of God appear? In verse 14, John shares the incredible truth regarding the incarnation – the miraculous moment when God took on human flesh. In this one verse, John brings together the two seemingly opposing doctrines of God’s transcendence and immanence. The holy and wholly righteous God of the universe not only made Himself known to mankind, He became one with them.

…the Word became flesh and dwelt among us… – John 1:14 ESV

God had made Himself known before. He had regularly conversed with Adam and Eve in the garden. He spoke to Noah and Abraham. He appeared to Moses in the form of the burning bush. He revealed Himself to the people of Israel through the pillars of fire and smoke that led them through the wilderness. And God had repeatedly spoken to His prophets, providing them with the words to convey to His rebellious people, warning them of the judgment to come.

But what John is describing here is something different altogether. He is declaring that deity and humanity became one. The God of the universe stepped out of His heavenly palace and took up residence among us. Jesus, the Son of God, left His throne in glory and willingly assumed the nature of an ordinary human being. The apostle Paul describes this remarkable transformation this way:

…though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. – Philippians 2:6-7 ESV

At the time at which John wrote his gospel, there would have been few who denied the existence of Jesus. His ministry had made Him a celebrity throughout Judea. His miracles and messages had attracted huge crowds which gained Him the attention of the religious and political leaders. Ultimately, Jesus’ growing celebrity status had threatened the powerful Jewish religious leaders, so they had Him crucified. And even that fateful event had been well-attended and well-documented. So, there would have been little debate over the humanity of Jesus.

But the deity of Jesus was a whole other matter. One of the primary reasons Jesus had been crucified was because the Jewish religious leaders had deemed Him guilty of blasphemy, for having claimed to be God. At one point, Jesus had said to a group of Pharisees, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30 ESV). And their immediate reaction had been to stone Him to death. And they had justified their action by saying, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God” (John 10:33 ESV).

On another occasion, Jesus had said to the religious leaders: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58 ESV), and again, they responded by picking up stones to kill Him. Why? Because with His seemingly innocuous statement, Jesus had identified Himself as God. He had purposefully used the identifier “I am,” a direct reference to God’s own self-identification spoken to Moses at the burning bush.

God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” – Exodus 3:14 ESV

The religious leaders had picked up on Jesus’ meaning and immediately understood that He was claiming to be divine. But they refused to accept that Jesus was anything but a man. He was nothing more than a non-descript, uneducated rabbi from the backwater town of Nazareth. He may have been a nuisance and a threat, but He was anything but God.

But for John, the deity of Jesus was essential to understanding the humanity of Jesus. God had taken on human flesh and John claims to have been one of many eye-witnesses to the reality of Jesus’ divinity.

…we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14 ESV

This is most likely a reference to the transfiguration of Jesus that John, James, and Peter had been privileged to witness. Matthew describes this event in his gospel account.

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. – Matthew 17:1-3 ESV

John had been given an eye-witness glimpse of the glory of Jesus. The humanity of Jesus had been transfigured right before John’s eyes, revealing the full divinity and holiness of the one he called master and friend.

John even recalls how John the Baptist had recognized the unique nature of Jesus, describing Him as far more than just another man. When John the Baptist had stated, “He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me” (John 1:15 ESV), he was declaring the divinity and eternality of Jesus.

But why is all this so important? Why is John beginning his gospel account by stressing the deity and humanity of Jesus? Because there were those who denied that Jesus had been divine. Just like today, there were many who were willing to admit that Jesus had been a good man, a wise teacher, and a worker of miracles. They would even confess that Jesus had lived a life worth emulating. But they could not bring themselves to believe that He had been God in human flesh. That was outside their capacity to comprehend and accept.

But for John, the deity of Jesus was a non-negotiable aspect of His identity. If Jesus was not God in human flesh, then He was just another man who died a martyr’s death. And that death accomplished nothing of long-lasting value.

Yet, as his gospel will reveal, because Jesus was who He says He was, His death did have value. It was efficacious. There was a reason why God sent His Son to earth to live and die as a human being. The author of Hebrews reminds us, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV). The entire Jewish sacrificial system had been ordained by God as a means for sin-stained men and women to receive atonement and cleansing for their sins. But those sacrifices had always been temporary and imperfect. The blood of the animals sacrificed on behalf of sinful men and women was incapable of providing permanent deliverance from the penalty of sin. They provided temporary cleansing from ceremonial impurity and nothing more. Again, the author of Hebrews provides us with an explanation.

Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. – Hebrews 9:13-14 NLT

Jesus, the Word of God, had to become a man so that He could become the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of man. As John will share later on in this same chapter, when John the Baptist first saw Jesus, he described Him as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV). Jesus said of Himself, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 ESV). When the angel appeared to Joseph, letting him know that his fiance was pregnant, he announced, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Mathew 1:21 ESV).

Jesus took on human flesh so that He could live as a man. But He was born as a Jew so that He would be required to live according to the law given by God to Moses. And because He was divine, He was able to live in perfect obedience to God’s law, making Him the sinless, unblemished, perfect sacrifice to atone for the sins of man.

According to John, Jesus had been “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 ESV), and that fulness expressed itself in the form of “grace upon grace” (John 1:17 ESV). What John seems to be saying here is that Jesus provided a new measure of God’s grace that was greater than that which had been made available through the law. Rather than temporary forgiveness from sin, God was making available permanent forgiveness and the right sinful men and women to be justified before Him. And it was all made possible through the God-man, Jesus Christ.

Up until the incarnation, the law reigned supreme. It was the only means by which sinful men could receive forgiveness. But as the apostle Paul states, “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). He communicated the same idea to the believers in Galatia.

“…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

John states that Moses brought the law, but that Jesus made possible grace and truth. It is only through faith in Jesus, that sinful men can receive the grace of God and be truly freed from the penalty of sin. The law could never save. But Jesus, the God-man can and does save. And He made salvation possible by taking on human flesh and making God known to man. He made the invisible God visible. He made the unapproachable God approachable. Because He was God in human flesh.

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!” – John 14:6-7 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