Which is Easier?

1 And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 12 And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” Mark 2:1-12 ESV

Mark has noted that Jesus “went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons” (Mark 1:39 ESV). One of the miracles He performed on that ministry junket was the healing of the man with leprosy. Jesus had physically touched the unclean man, removing all traces of the disease and leaving him completely whole and ceremonially pure. And while he had been warned by Jesus to tell no one, the man couldn’t keep his mouth shut. Eager to spread the news about his restored condition, “he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter” (Mark 1:45 ESV).

Eventually, Jesus returned to Capernaum, the small town on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, where He had established His base of operations. But as news of His miracles continued to spread throughout the region, the crowds grew in number and intensity. They had heard the rumors describing how Jesus had “healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons” (Mark 1:34 ESV). 

These fantastic reports created a sense of hope and longing among others suffering from sickness and affliction. Their desperate desire for healing and restoration drove them to seek out this miracle-working Rabbi from Nazareth. And Mark indicates that they showed up in Capernaum, surrounding the place where Jesus was staying. This was most likely the home of Simon and Andrew, where Jesus had healed Simon’s mother-in-law.

The emboldened crowd pushed its way into the home, filling it to capacity and spilling out into the street. And Jesus took advantage of this captive audience by “preaching the word to them” (Mark 2:2 ESV). The Greek word is logos and it can literally be translated as “word.” But it refers to the communication of a particular concept or idea. Earlier in his gospel, Mark indicated that Jesus had picked up the ministry that John the Baptist had begun by “proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:14-15 ESV).

So, those who had crowded their way into the home of Simon and Andrew were forced to hear a sermon from Jesus. They had come seeking healing but were given a lesson on their need for repentance. The good news was that the kingdom of God was near. The bad news was that they were not prepared to enter that kingdom. They had sins for which they needed to repent. That had been the whole purpose behind John the Baptist’s ministry in the Judean wilderness.

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. – Mark 1:4-5 ESV

And it seems likely that “the word” that Jesus spoke that day contained ample references to the need for confession of sin. But confession without forgiveness is incomplete. As John wrote in his first letter, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV).

Confession and repentance, while necessary, will not provide anyone with entrance God’s kingdom. Without forgiveness, the stain of their sins will remain, leaving them unworthy to enter into God’s presence. The whole sacrificial system of the Jews was based on the fact that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV). Sacrifices had to be made. An innocent life had to be taken. Blood had to be spilled.

So, as Jesus preached to the people, He likely declared their need for forgiveness. They had come seeking physical healing but He made sure that they understood their need for something far more significant. And in the sovereign will of God, an opportunity presented itself to demonstrate just what Jesus was trying to communicate.

As Jesus was preaching, four men showed up carrying their paralyzed friend on a pallet. When they found it impossible to get through the mass of people crowded into the small home, they made their way to the roof. In an act of desperation, they created a hole in the roof and lowered the pallet into the room where Jesus was speaking. The noise they made and the debris that rained down as a result of their frantic efforts must have brought Jesus’ sermon to an abrupt end. All eyes were fixed on the ceiling as the bed containing the paralyzed man was lowered into the room.

What happens next is significant. Mark states that upon “seeing” the faith of the friends who had lowered the man into the room, Jesus spoke. But before we look at what Jesus said, it’s essential that we examine how He “saw” their faith. Like everyone else in the room that day, these men had come with a specific purpose in mind. They had gone through all the effort to carry their friend to the home, dig a hole in the roof, and lower him into the room because they believed that Jesus could heal him. Their faith was clearly evident. They longed to see their friend made whole and they believed that Jesus had the power and authority to make it happen.

They believed that Jesus could heal. But what they did not know was that Jesus could also forgive sin. And, upon seeing their faith, Jesus spoke. He turned to the man laying on the pallet and said, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:6 ESV). Rather than offering the man physical healing, Jesus declared him to be spiritually whole. Jesus gave him something no one in the room had ever expected to receive that day.  And this statement left the crowd in stunned silence. They didn’t know what to say.

But Mark lets us know that there were some scribes in the room who heard what Jesus said and immediately declared Him to be a blasphemer.

“Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” – Mark 2:7 ESV

They had come expecting to see Jesus perform some miracles. They were curious as to whether the rumors about Jesus were true. But when Jesus offered the paralyzed man forgiveness for his sins, they were shocked and appalled. In the minds of the Jews, sickness was directly correlated to sin. Sickness and disease were considered punishments from God for sins committed against Him. And the worse the disease was, the more egregious the sin that caused it must have been. They considered this man’s debilitating paralysis a punishment from God and here was Jesus declaring that his sins were forgiven. And yet, they must have keenly observed, the man remained completely immobilized and unable to move from his pallet.

Jesus, well aware of the debate that His words had stirred up, posed a question to the scribes:

“Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?” – Mark 2:8-9 ESV

In their minds, Jesus had committed the unpardonable sin. He had dared to place Himself on equal standing with God, who alone could offer forgiveness for sins. But Jesus pointed out that offering forgiveness of sins was easy. Anyone could do it. The question was, did He have the power and authority to do so. If given the chance, they would have responded with a categorically emphatic, “No!”

But to prove that He had the power and authority to forgive the man’s sins, Jesus proceeded to do what was obviously the more “difficult” thing. And He makes sure they understand the motive behind the miracle He is about to perform.

“So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” – Mark 2:10 NLT

Then He proceeded to do something that was going to leave everyone in the room slack-jawed and surprised.

Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!” – Mark 2:10-11 NLT

Again, speaking those words was easy. Anyone could have done it. But when Jesus spoke amazing things happened, and this time would be no different than all the others. As soon as the words left Jesus’ mouth, “the man jumped up, grabbed his mat, and walked out through the stunned onlookers” (Mark 2:12 NLT). In a split second, the man’s paralysis was completely gone. He had been miraculously restored to full health and vitality. And, if this man’s sickness had been the result of sin, then his sins must have been forgiven. It would have been obvious that he was no longer under any form of divine punishment or condemnation.

By doing what He did, Jesus was not confirming the scribes’ belief that the man’s illness was a result of sin. He was demonstrating that He had the God-given power and authority to restore both physical and spiritual health. He could irradicate the effects of sickness and eliminate the condemnation of sin.

The formerly paralyzed man was not made sinless by Jesus’ actions. He was made physically whole. The sad reality is that, in his newly restored state, that man went on to live a life marked by sin. It was inevitable and unavoidable. But by healing the man, Jesus was demonstrating His divine power. If He could restore a paralyzed man’s capacity to walk, He could also restore the spiritual health of a humanity paralyzed by sin. And that is exactly why Jesus had come to earth.

The people “were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We never saw anything like this!’” (Mark 2:12 ESV). But which was easier, “to say to the paralyzed man ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk’?” (Mark 2:9 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

Completely Cleansed

1 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.” John 13:1-11 ESV

As Jesus senses the day of His death drawing closer, He begins to focus His attention more directly on the men He has chosen to carry on His work in His absence. His public ministry is officially over. The raising of Lazarus from the dead would be His last miracle. There would be no more debates with the religious leaders or discourses with the people in the temple. At this point, with just days remaining before He went to the cross, Jesus’ primary mission became the preparation of His disciples for all that was about to happen.

In his account of Jesus’ final week on earth, John diverges from the narratives found in the Synoptic Gospels. While Matthew, Mark, and Luke place considerable emphasis on the institution of the Lord’s Supper, while John chooses to leave it out. It would appear that John wrote his account late in the 1st-Century, likely making it the last of the four gospels to be written. Having had access to the accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, John knew that they had amply covered the institution of the Lord’s Supper so, rather than echoing the same content, he focused his attention on Jesus’ teaching to the disciples. His record of the Passover meal shared by Jesus and His followers contains material not found in the other three gospels. In fact, he is the only one who records the well-known scene of Jesus washing the feet of His disciples.

It is important to remember that John’s purpose for writing his gospel was to support the very important doctrine of the deity of Jesus. Even by the end of the 1st-Century when John likely wrote his gospel, there were those who had begun to reject or repudiate the doctrine of the deity of Jesus. And because John had addressed his gospel to a Christian audience, he was attempting to reassure them that Jesus truly was who He claimed to be. John even reminded his readers of his purpose for putting pen to paper:  “that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God” (John 20:31 NLT).

So, while the Lord’s Supper was important to John, it was not pertinent to what John was trying to convey to his audience. Instead, he chose to focus on an event that the other gospel writers left out of their accounts: The powerful object lesson of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet.

John presents a very compressed and compacted account of what took place that night. He sets the scene by juxtaposing the heart of Judas with that of Jesus.

the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him – John 13:2 ESV

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper… – John 13:3-4 ESV

The heart of Jesus was motivated by love for His own. He knew He was about to leave His disciples and He greatly desired to provide them with some final words of encouragement and insight. Jesus, knowing “that his hour had come to depart out of this world” (John 13:1 ESV), performed an act of unspeakable humility and love.

So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him. – John 13:4-5 NLT

The Son of God visibly placed Himself in the role of a servant and willingly washed the feet of His disciples. He provided them with an object lesson that left them stunned, embarrassed, and confused. Jesus even washed the feet of the one who would betray Him. And He did so with full awareness of His deity and superiority. He was living out the words He had spoken earlier.

“…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:28 ESV

But the disciples were shocked by Jesus’ actions, as evidenced by Peter’s response.

“Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” – John 13:6 NLT

Always the first to speak his mind, Peter exhibited reticence at the thought of his master washing his feet. He knew this was not appropriate. Jesus was doing the work of a common slave and this embarrassed Peter. But there is far more going on here than first meets the eye. John describes Jesus as laying aside His outer garments. John did not use the normal Greek word for the removal of a piece of clothing. In fact, he will use this very same word again, when Jesus asks Peter, “Will you lay down your life for me?” (John 13:38 ESV). It is the same word Jesus used when speaking of His coming death.

“I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” – John 10:17-18 ESV

This imagery of Jesus laying down and taking up His life is played out in the upper room, as Jesus lays down of His outer garments and then takes them back up again. And in-between doing so, He performs a sacrificial act of cleansing. But Peter and the disciples didn’t grasp the significance of what Jesus was doing. They didn’t make the connection. And Jesus makes this point perfectly clear.

“What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” – John 13:7 ESV

When Peter vehemently refused to be cleansed by Jesus, he was unknowingly exhibiting the prideful, self-righteous attitude of the religious leaders.

In Peter’s response we see the pride and self-will that is at the heart of all sin and that is the very thing for which the cross will atone and bring healing. Peter is working from a worldly point of view, and not for the first time. – Rodney A. Whitaker, John: The IVP New Testament Commentary Series

But Jesus responded to Peter with a word of warning: “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me” (John 13:8 ESV). It would only be through Jesus’ death on the cross that true cleansing from sin could be attained. And without it, no one could have a right relationship with Christ or the Father.

Jesus’ words seemed to have gotten Peter’s attention because he immediately demanded that Jesus wash his hands and his head as well. If getting his feet washed by Jesus was a non-negotiable requirement, Peter wanted to show his enthusiasm by requesting even more cleansing. But he was missing the point.

Yet, Jesus doesn’t exactly clear up Peter’s confusion. His next statement is rather cryptic, providing the disciples with little clarity as to what He is talking about.

“The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” – John 13:10 ESV

It would seem that Jesus is trying to let Peter and his companions know that they belong to Him. By having been chosen by God and placed in the care of His Son, the disciples have been set apart as His servants. In a sense, they have been cleansed, but not completely. The final phase of their cleansing will take place on the cross. And when that happens, they will be made ready for the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Their lives will have been completely purified and made worthy vessels for the Spirit of God. It would not be until Jesus died, was raised again, and ascended, that the Holy Spirit would be poured out on His followers.

But there was one of them who would not experience this cleansing. He would not live to enjoy the coming of the Spirit of God. Judas was not clean. He was not a true believer in Jesus. He was a betrayer. And the death of Jesus would provide Him with no further cleansing from sin. As Matthew recorded in his gospel, Peter had clearly expressed His belief in Jesus when he stated, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV). But evidently, Judas did not share that belief. He was not fully convinced by Jesus’ claims to be divine. He likely began following Jesus because he had hopes that He was the Messiah. But as time went by and Jesus failed to announce His Kingdom on earth, Judas lost patience and interest. And he would walk out that very night with a preconceived plan to make the most of his relationship with Jesus by betraying Him to the religious authorities. But for the time being, Peter and the rest of the disciples would remain by Jesus’ side.

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

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

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

It Pays To Listen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The True Offspring of Abraham

31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”

34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”

39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41 You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” John 8:31-41 ESV

This entire encounter between Jesus and His adversaries has taken place in the treasury of the temple, the area located in the Court of the Women. Between the colonnades of the courtyard were placed 13 boxes that were used for the collection of voluntary monetary contributions to the care and maintenance of the temple. Two of the boxes were dedicated to the collection of the half-shekel tax, which was required of every male Israelite of age, including proselytes and slaves. Mark describes the use of these offering boxes in his Gospel.

And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. – Mark 12:41-42 ESV

It was in this environment, the only area on the temple mount where women were allowed to enter, and where vast sums of money were collected and stored, that Jesus chose to address the crowd about His role as the “light of the world” (John 8:12 ESV). He had come to shed the light of God’s glory through His sinless life but, ultimately, through His sacrificial death. As the Son of God, He would become the offering that would pay the debt owed by sinful mankind and satisfy the just demands of His holy Father in heaven.

Jesus had come to earth in order to accomplish the will of His Father, which required that He give His life as a ransom or payment for a sinful and condemned humanity. He even alluded to His death and the role the religious leaders of the Jews would play in bringing it about.

“When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he…” – John 8:28 ESV

And John indicates that, as a result of Jesus’ message, “many believed in him” (John 8:30 ESV). John doesn’t elaborate on what he means by this statement. But it seems clear that the belief of these people was limited in nature. They were becoming increasingly more convinced that Jesus was someone special, perhaps even the Messiah. But so much of what Jesus was saying still made no sense to them. They knew there was something special about Jesus but His claim to be the Son of God was outside their capacity to grasp. And Jesus was well aware that their belief in Him had its limitations. Which is why He addressed them directly.

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:31-32 ESV

It is almost as if Jesus is expecting their belief to be short-lived. After all, He has already seen what happens when the content of His message becomes too difficult to understand or accept. Earlier in chapter six, John recorded the reaction of Jesus’ followers then they heard Him speak about eating His body and drinking His blood.

“This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?” – John 6:60 ESV

At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. – John 6:66 ESV

So, knowing that His message was going to become increasingly difficult to accept, Jesus warned His so-called followers that the proof of true discipleship would be to remain committed to hearing and keeping His word. It wasn’t enough to accept the parts they found attractive. When Jesus had spoken of a bread from heaven that gives life, the people had been eager to get their hands on it. But when He had elaborated on His meaning by saying He was that bread and they would have to eat His flesh and drink His blood, they found His words distasteful and too difficult to accept. So, they had walked away.

The freedom Jesus offered would not be available until He had completed the task assigned to Him by His Heavenly Father. He was going to have to finish His mission by sacrificing His life on the cross. And all those who believed His death to be a satisfactory payment for their sins would find true freedom. Jesus states that they  “will be free indeed” (John 8:36 ESV).

But even this message of freedom becomes difficult for His audience to hear and accept. They immediately begin to reject His assessment of their condition, saying, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” (John 8:33 ESV). They found His words to be offensive, not attractive. As Jews, they were extremely proud of their heritage as descendants of Abraham. They viewed themselves as the recipients of all the promises made by God to Abraham. In their minds, they were the chosen people of God and the rightful heirs to all the blessings God had guaranteed to shower on His children.

They even viewed their current occupation by the Romans as a temporary setback. They refused to view their condition as that of slaves and found Jesus’ offer of freedom offensive. But Jesus didn’t have the Romans in view either. The freedom He was offering them was spiritual in nature. And He clearly points out the difference.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” – John 8:34 ESV

Remember what Jesus said: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.” He had told them that a true disciple would continue to accept what He had to say, regardless of how difficult it might be to hear. Now, He accuses them of being slaves to sin. As Jews, they would have recognized the reality of their sinfulness, but they would have also taken great comfort in the forgiveness made possible by the sacrificial system. They counted on receiving atonement for their sins by dutifully presenting their offerings to God. But what they failed to understand was “impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4 ESV).

The author of Hebrews goes on to say, “every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins” (Hebrews 10:11 ESV). The sacrificial system could only offer temporary absolution for sin. It could not provide a permanent release or freedom from the pervasive presence and power of sin. The very fact that the Jews had to continually offer their sacrifices was evidence that they were actually slaves to sin. But Jesus was offering them a different kind of sacrifice, that would provide a permanent solution to their sin problem – something the author of Hebrews points out.

But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. – Hebrews 10:12-14 ESV

What the people believed about Jesus was incomplete and insufficient. Even if they believed Him to be their Messiah, they failed to understand that He had come to set them free from slavery to sin, not to offer them release from Roman oppression. They viewed themselves as children of God, but Jesus makes it clear that they are simply the descendants of Abraham.

“I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you.” – John 8:37 ESV

They were Jews by birth and right, but that did not mean that they were children of God. And this is where Jesus began to address their real problem. Because they refused to accept Him as the Son of God, they were proving their lack of relationship with His Father in heaven. And Jesus is about to blow away all their preconceived notions regarding their identity as God’s chosen people. He makes a somewhat cryptic comment that is going to leave them furious when they finally understand what He implies by it.

“I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” – John 8:38 ESV

Their immediate response was to claim Abraham as their father. But Jesus counters that if this was true, they would be reacting to Him in a far different fashion.

“If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. – John 8:39-40 ESV

They wanted to claim descendency from Abraham, but Jesus was revealing that they lacked the faith of Abraham. They failed to understand and believe in the promises of God as Abraham had. And the apostle Paul later explains what Abraham came to know and believe about the promises of God.

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. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made…” – Galatians 3:16-19 ESV

The promises made to Abraham were to be fulfilled in Christ – the Messiah of Israel. While Abraham did not understand the full import of God’s words, he chose to believe and trust all that God had to say. And the book of Genesis records that Abraham “believed the LORD, and the LORD counted him as righteous because of his faith” (Genesis 15:6 NLT).

Yet the people listening to Jesus in the Court of the Women were having a difficult time receiving and accepting what He had to say. And while they would vehemently defend themselves, claiming to be the children of God, Jesus was about to drop another bombshell on them that would turn their belief in Him to anger and resentment.

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

A Sinner Condemned, Unclean

53 But They went each to his own house, 1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”John 7:53-8:11 ESV

This section of John’s gospel is a bit controversial because it is not found in the oldest of the extant Greek manuscripts. While there are more than 900 ancient manuscripts that include the story of the woman caught in adultery, it is significant that none of the early church fathers referred to this encounter in their commentaries on the Gospel of John. It is the belief of most modern commentators that this story was a later addition to the Gospel, which raises the question of whether it should be considered as inspired by the Holy Spirit.

While the evidence seems to indicate that the story was edited into John’s Gospel by some unknown source, it does not necessarily invalidate its authenticity. And there is no reason to assume that its inclusion by someone other than the apostle John means that it was uninspired and, therefore, unworthy to be considered a part of the Canon of Scripture. Perhaps it was part of the oral tradition of the early church and later placed within the text of John’s Gospel to further support the theme of Jesus’ power and authority as the Son of God.

There are those who consider this an apocryphal story, spurious in its authenticity and therefore, unworthy to be considered as the inspired Word of God. But the story does provide insight into the growing hostility between Jesus and the religious leaders, a theme that John is gradually unfolding.

Chapter seven ended with a tense exchange between Nicodemus and his fellow members of the Sanhedrin. They were frustrated that their guards had failed to arrest Jesus while He was on the temple grounds. Instead, they had let Him go because they had been mesmerized by His teaching. When Nicodemus had suggested that Jesus be given a fair hearing, his colleagues mocked him for being as uneducated and lawless as the Galileans who mindlessly followed after this huckster from Nazareth.

John has made it clear that Jesus’ hour had not yet come. The Sanhedrin, while determined to have Jesus arrested, were powerless to thwart God’s divine timeline for His Son’s mission. So, Jesus left the temple grounds and headed east to Mount of Olives, just opposite Jerusalem across the Kidron Valley. Evidently, He and His disciples spent the night there, rising early the next morning to return to the temple grounds, where He resumed His teaching.

One can only imagine the frustration of the Sanhedrin as they woke that next morning only to find Jesus sitting in the middle of the temple courtyard, surrounded by a large and attentive audience. His persistent presence and uncanny ability to attract a crowd wherever He went caused these religious leaders great angst. So, as was quickly becoming their habit, they devised a plan by which they might trap Jesus into saying or doing something that might give them grounds for having Him arrested. Because of His growing popularity, it was necessary that they devise a plan that would expose Jesus as a fraud and cause the people to turn against Him.

On this occasion, they chose the controversial topic of adultery to “test” Jesus. This was a hot-button issue among the Jews. The people knew what the Mosaic law had to say about the matter, but there was a lot of debate concerning how to interpret and enforce this particular law. Leviticus 20:10 reads: “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.”

But in this case, the religious leaders drag a woman into the temple courtyard and throw her down in front of Jesus. There is no mention of her male companion in crime. This might be because this woman was guilty of violating another aspect of the law concerning adultery. In the book of Deuteronomy, there is another scenario described in which a man marries a woman only to discover on their wedding night that she was not a virgin. In that case, the law prescribed the following punishment:

The woman must be taken to the door of her father’s home, and there the men of the town must stone her to death, for she has committed a disgraceful crime in Israel by being promiscuous while living in her parents’ home. In this way, you will purge this evil from among you. – Deuteronomy 22:21 NLT

It is impossible to know the true nature of this woman’s crime. But she is publicly shamed, dragged by the religious leaders into the temple courtyard, and thrown at Jesus’ feet. To them, she was nothing more than a prop, a nameless tool in their effort to discredit and destroy Jesus. They were not interested in seeing that justice was done. They simply wanted to create a no-win situation in which Jesus would be doomed no matter how He responded. So, using the woman as bait, they set their trap and waited for Jesus to condemn Himself.

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” – John 8:4-5 NLT

These men were experts in the law. They were not interested in Jesus’ views on legal matters but were hoping that He would say something that violated the law or infuriated the people. And John makes their intentions quite clear.

They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him… – John 8:6 NLT

They already viewed Jesus as a law-breaker, because He had already violated the prohibition against working on the Sabbath by healing a man and then instructing him to carry his bedroll. So, they must have been convinced that Jesus would choose to violate the law once again, and hoped that He would recommend releasing the woman. If He did, they could accuse Him of being in violation of the Mosaic Law and have Him arrested on the spot. But if Jesus surprised them and announced that the woman should be stoned for her crime, the crowd would probably turn on Him. Adultery had become commonplace among the Jews and the laws concerning its punishment were rarely enforced. And if Jesus had condoned the stoning of this woman, He would have been suggesting that they violate the Roman law which prohibited the Jews from enacting any form of capital punishment.

The religious leaders believed they had Jesus in a conundrum. In their minds, they had Him caught between a rock and a hard place. No matter what He said, He would end up condemning Himself. But rather than speak, Jesus knelt down and began to write in the dirt with His finger. As he did so, the religious leaders demanded that He give them an answer to their question. So, He stood up and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” (John 8:7 NLT). Then, He knelt back down and continued to write something in the dirt.

There has been a great deal of speculation concerning what Jesus wrote in the dirt that day. But the text provides absolutely no insight into the content of Jesus’ message. We are simply told that when Jesus said, “let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone,” the crowd began to disperse, including the men who had instigated the whole affair. Perhaps Jesus had written the Ten Commandments in the dust. We will never know. But whatever Jesus scrawled in the dirt that day had caused the woman’s self-righteous accusers to slink away one by one, starting with the oldest among them.

Some have speculated that Jesus had shamed these men by writing down a list of specific sins each of them had committed. Embarrassed at having their personal sins exposed, they quickly vacated the premises. While this is an interesting proposal, there is nothing in the text that supports it. All that is clear is that no one was able to pick up a stone because no one was without sin.

This seems to be the main point behind the entire story. Jesus had come to earth in order to provide forgiveness for sin. And, according to Scripture, all men are guilty of sin. Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV). And the apostle Paul reiterated that truth when he wrote, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV).

The religious leaders considered themselves to be pure and holy, fully righteous before God because they painstakingly and pridefully kept the law of Moses. But Jesus exposed the truth about their spiritual condition, revealing their sinfulness and their need for a Savior. These men had arrogantly set themselves up as judges over the people, looking down their noses at the irreligious rabble who were incapable of living up to God’s holy standards like they did. They saw Jesus as no better than the woman they had dragged before Him. He was a lawbreaker and worthy of condemnation and death just as she was. But they failed to recognize their own guilt and their need for cleansing. The sad reality is that they chose to leave rather than face the truth about their own sinfulness. Only the woman remained. She stood before Jesus and the crowd, accused and condemned, her sin openly acknowledged for everyone to know.

But rather than judging her, Jesus asked her where her accusers had gone. He points out that no one stood before her, stone in hand, ready to condemn her for her crime. They had all disappeared, meaning there were no witnesses left to verify her guilt. So, Jesus, acknowledging that her accusers were nowhere to be found, announced to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11 ESV). There were no witnesses left to condemn her, so there was no evidence to convict her. And on that basis, Jesus encouraged her to go and to sin no more. She had been given a reprieve. While evidently guilty of the crime and worthy of death, she had been graciously given a second chance to change the way she lived. Her sin, while real, was forgivable. Her guilt, though undeniable, was survivable. All thanks to Jesus.

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

Do Not Marvel At This

25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. – John 5:25-29 ESV

The Jewish leaders have deemed Jesus as worthy of death. His claim of equality with God has left them no other choice. According to the law, He has blasphemed and the prescribed penalty for that crime was death. But Jesus, fully aware of their plans for Him, has decided to address their concern by further emphasizing His claim to be the Son of God. Even when facing the threat of death, He refuses to deny His identity. In fact, Jesus only escalates the tension between He and His adversaries by establishing Himself as the judge of all mankind.

For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son…” – John 4:22 ESV

To the Pharisees and Sadducees, this bold claim would have sounded not only blasphemous but highly offensive. Who was this uneducated Rabbi from Nazareth to think that He could stand in judgment over them? They represented the religious elite of Israel and considered themselves to be the epitome of righteousness and holiness. Yet, here was Jesus telling them that He, not God, would be their ultimate judge and the determiner of their eternal fate.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” – John 5:24 ESV

It seems quite apparent that the Pharisees and Sadducees failed to understand the nature of Jesus’ claim. And all His talk about future judgment and eternal life would have caused a major rift within their ranks. These two religious sects, while united in their hatred of Jesus, were divided over several key doctrines, and one of them was the idea of the bodily resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees rejected this doctrine along with the concept of any kind of afterlife. They preferred to believe that, upon death, the soul simply perished. But the Pharisees fully embraced the idea of an afterlife that would be preceded by a physical resurrection of the body and include a judgment by God that would be followed by either reward or punishment according to the deeds done in this life.

So, you can imagine how the words of Jesus must have created an uncomfortable tension between these two disparate factions within His audience. For the Sadducees, just the mention of eternal life would have left them shaking their heads in disbelief and disgust. But the Pharisees, while fully on board with the idea of an afterlife and a future judgment, would have been appalled by Jesus’ claim that He would be their judge.

And Jesus refuses to let up. He continues to expand on this controversial topic, throwing additional fuel on the fire of their anger.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” – John 5:25 ESV

With this statement, Jesus brings the timeline back into the present. With the minds of the Pharisees and Sadducees firmly fixed on the idea of the resurrection and the future judgment, Jesus adroitly shifts the focus to the here-and-now. He is letting them know that the key to securing a reward in the future judgment is to be found in the present. While the Pharisees were convinced that their acts of righteousness were enough to secure their eternal state in God’s kingdom, Jesus is debunking that myth.

He had come to bring new life to the spiritually dead. All who stood in His presence that day were dead in their trespasses and sins, including the Pharisees and Sadducees (Ephesians 2:5; Colossians 2:13). They were totally incapable of earning their way into God’s good graces because, according to the prophet Isaiah, all their works were no better than filthy rags in the eyes of God (Isaiah 64:6 ESV).

But Jesus is announcing that the spiritually dead can receive new life in this life, if they will only “hear the voice of the Son of God.” He promises that all who hear and believe will live. This claim would have been radical and heretical to the Pharisees. That Jesus would dare to hold the key to eternal life was one thing, but for Him to seemingly negate the need for doing works of righteousness to earn that reward was unthinkable and unacceptable.

But as difficult as it was for them to accept Jesus’ claim, He assures them that this was all part of the Father’s plan. God had granted His Son the divine authority to bestow the gift of eternal life.

“For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.” – John 5:26 ESV

Later on in his gospel, John records the words of Jesus, when He claims to be the door through which all must go if they want to find access to the Father and enjoy the promise of abundant life.

“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” – John 10:9-10 ESV

The key to eternal life is to be found in this life, but only through belief in the giver of life. John opened up his gospel with the bold claim concerning Jesus:

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. – John 1:4 ESV

And John went on to declare that “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12 ESV).

According to Jesus, the Father has not only given Him the authority to bestow eternal life but to also execute future judgment.

“And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.” – John 5:27 ESV

Jesus has the right to execute judgment, not just because He is the Son of God, but because He is the Son of Man. Jesus was God incarnate, deity in the form of humanity. The Son of God had humbled Himself by becoming one of us and choosing to dwell among us. And He would live His earthly life in complete obedience to His Heavenly Father, without sin and in full compliance with every command given by God to Moses. And it would be His sinless perfection that made Him the acceptable sacrifice to pay for the sins of men. That is why John the Baptist had referred to Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV).

Jesus would eventually “give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28 ESV). He would pour out His blood “as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many” (Matthew 26:28 NLT). And because He would willingly give His life as payment for the sins of man, He would become the ultimate judge of all mankind. And the future judgment that all mankind must face will be based on belief in Jesus’ death and resurrection. That is the point Jesus had tried to make with Nicodemus.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 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 3:16-18 ESV

The key to eternal life is to believe in Jesus as the giver of life. It is to believe that His sacrificial death satisfied the just demands of a holy God and paid in full the debt owed by the sinner. But that belief must take place in this life. The guarantee of eternal life comes when we place our faith in Jesus in this life. And Jesus assures the confused and consternated religious leaders standing before Him that there will be a resurrection of the dead and a future judgment.

“Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” – John 5:28-29 ESV

But the key to earning entrance into the Kingdom of God will be based on belief in the Son of God. This final statement from Jesus could easily leave the impression that He is tying eternal life to good works. After all, He seems to state that eternal life is reserved for “those who have done good.” But Jesus will later clarify the only “work” that will earn anyone entrance into God’s Kingdom.

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

Belief. It’s as simple as that. But for the Pharisees and Sadducees, the content of this message from Jesus was anything but simple and it would prove far from acceptable. And Jesus, aware of their stubborn refusal to believe in who He is and what He is claiming to offer, will go on to expose them for their disbelief and inform them of their future fate.

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

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

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

In Spirit and Truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gift of God

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” – John 4:7-15 ESV

It is interesting that John makes special note that Jesus stopped in “a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph” (John 4:5 ESV). This reference to Joseph has special significance because of the role he played as Israel’s “savior” hundreds of years earlier. Joseph had been sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, and he ended up in Egypt. But through a series of divinely orchestrated events, Joseph eventually became the second-highest-ranking official in all of Egypt. Years later, when a famine struck the land of Canaan, Jacob sent his remaining sons to Egypt to seek food. But what they discovered was their long-lost brother. And to their surprise, rather than use his position and power to punish them for their past treatment of him, Joseph showed them mercy and grace. He provided them with forgiveness for their sins against him as well as well-watered land for their flocks. So the Israelites, just 70 members strong at that time, settled in Egypt. And, in response to his brothers’ concern that he might seek to harm them, Joseph told them:

Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” – Genesis 50:20 ESV

Jacob and Joseph would both die in Egypt. But, years later, when the sons Jacob returned to the land of Canaan, they brought the bones of Joseph and buried them in Shechem (Sychar), near the spot where Jesus had chosen to take His midday rest stop.

John mentions, almost in passing, that Jesus was weary from His journey. This rather oblique reference is intended to remind the reader that Jesus, while fully God, was also fully human. And in His humanity, Jesus experienced the same physical attributes as any other man, including hunger, thirst, fatigue, and pain. In this little scenario, Jesus would have looked like any other travel-worn Jew making his way through the region of Samaria. So, when the Samaritan woman appeared on the scene, she would have taken very little interest in this unknown Jewish man – until He spoke to her.

John indicates that Jesus was the first to speak, saying to the woman, “Give me a drink” (John 4:7 ESV). While this scene may appear somewhat innocuous to us, for the original readers of John’s gospel, this encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman would have been shocking. Here was Jesus, a Jewish male, daring to strike up a conversation with a Samaritan woman. This kind of thing wasn’t done in Israel. First of all, Jesus broke social protocol by speaking to a woman in public. And to make matters worse, the woman to whom He spoke was a lowly Samaritan. She would have been considered idolatrous and, therefore, unclean. Yet, shockingly, Jesus chose to speak to her. 

Even the woman reveals her surprise that this Jewish man would dare to address her.

“How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” – John 4:9 ESV

Just so his audience understands the gravity of the moment, John adds an important aside: “For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” (John 4:9 ESV). This entire encounter was out of bounds and unexpected. Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, was smack-dab in the middle of Samaria, in the middle of the day, and speaking to an unclean Samaritan woman. Not only that, but He was also asking her to serve Him water from the vessel she used to draw from the well. What Jesus was about to do would render Him ceremonially unclean and in need of purification.

But Jesus shows no concern for His own spiritual well-being. Instead, He seems focused on the plight of the woman and replies to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10 ESV). 

In a sense, Jesus was informing the woman of His true identity. He was much more than an unidentified Jewish man asking for a drink of water. He was someone who had the power and authority to offer her “the gift of God,” a source of “living water.”

Confused by Jesus’ words, the woman responded, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?” (John 4:11 ESV). At this point in the exchange, the reader should recall the earlier conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, the highly orthodox member of the Pharisees. He too had been perplexed by the words of Jesus concerning the new birth from above and had quizzically replied, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4 ESV). 

Don’t miss the contrast: A well-educated Jewish Pharisee and an idolatrous Samaritan woman. Both found themselves in a conversation with Jesus, the Son of God. But their minds were stuck on a horizontal plane, and incapable of understanding the spiritual nature of Jesus’ words. The woman, well-acquainted with the task of drawing her daily water from the well, could not understand what Jesus meant by His reference to “living water.” In her mind, Jesus was offering her a source of free-flowing water, like that found in a mountain stream. It stood in stark contrast to the well water to which she was accustomed. Access to water from a stream would mean she would no longer have to go through the arduous task of drawing stagnant water from a well. But as far as she could see, Jesus had no means of providing the “the gift” of which He spoke.

The woman not only found Jesus’ words confusing, but also a bit off-putting. Who was He to denigrate the water from Jacob’s well? Was it not good enough for Him? It had served to meet the needs of Jacob, so it was good enough for her. But Jesus pointed out the limitations inherent in Jacob’s well and the water it provided.

“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again…” – John 4:13 ESV

Remember what Jesus said to Nicodemus: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6 ESV). Jesus was trying to get Nicodemus to understand that there was a physical and a spiritual dimension to life. Being born into the family of Israel was not going to be enough to earn Nicodemus entrance into the kingdom of God. And drinking water from the well of Jacob was not going to satisfy the Samaritan woman’s spiritual thirst. Both of these individuals had a need that could only be met through Jesus. He was the light of life and the source of living water.

And Jesus informed the woman that the gift He was offering her was far greater than any water she might draw from a well.

“…whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” – John 4:14 ESV

At this point in the story, we know nothing about this woman, other than her status as a Samaritan. Her very presence at the well reveals her need for and dependence upon water in order to survive. But Jesus knew there was a much greater need in this woman’s life. Her thirst was far more than physical. Just as Nicodemus was going to need a different kind of birth if he wanted to enter God’s kingdom, the Samaritan woman was going to need a different kind of water if she ever wanted to have her deep spiritual thirst satisfied. But the woman’s response to Jesus reveals just how blind she was to her own neediness.

“Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” – John 4:15 ESV

She was intrigued by the thought of a source of free-flowing water. And if this unknown Jewish man could tell her where to find it, she was all ears. The thought of never having to draw water from the well again was appealing to her. But like Nicodemus, she was missing the point. She was neglecting to see her real need. Nicodemus had seen himself as fully righteous and fully deserving of entrance into God’s kingdom. But he had been wrong. Just like everyone else, he required a birth from above. And this woman was never going to satisfy her real spiritual need with water from a well. Her sins, like those of Nicodemus, were great. Yes, they may have been of a different sort, but they were sins nonetheless. And she, like Nicodemus, stood before the Son of God, condemned by her sin and in need of a Savior.

Which brings us back to the story of Joseph and his brothers. The day came when they found themselves standing in front of the brother they had sold into slavery and left for dead. They were guilty and deserving of judgment. But Joseph showed them mercy. He extended grace. He used his power and authority to reward rather than punish them.

And like the brother’s of Joseph, this unidentified woman was going to discover the joy of having her sins forgiven. Jesus was about to let her know that God “brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people” (Genesis 50:20 NLT). And she would be graciously and unexpectedly included among the saved.

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

Not What He Expected

19 “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”– John 3:19-21 ESV

Nicodemus’ head must have been ready to explode. In just a few short minutes, Jesus has delivered some of the most shocking and paradigm-shifting news this Pharisee has ever heard. Nicodemus’ entire belief system has been shaken to its core. For starters, Jesus has informed him that unless he is born again, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That was news to Nicodemus. As a Jew and a well-respected member of the Pharisees, he believed himself to already have full rights and privileges to a place in God’s coming kingdom. When the Messiah finally came and restored the Jews to power and prominence, Nicodemus believed he would be among those who enjoyed the joys and delights of a reinvigorated kingdom.

But Jesus had put a strange and unexpected condition on anyone who hoped to be a part of the coming kingdom of God: “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3 ESV). Then Jesus upped the ante by adding a further requirement: “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5 ESV).

Nicodemus was having a difficult time understanding what Jesus was saying. He was mind was focused on earthly, temporal concepts of the kingdom, while Jesus was speaking of spiritual matters. His concept of the coming Messiah was centered around a human deliverer who would lead Israel in an overthrow of the Roman occupying forces and reestablish the Davidic dynasty and Israel’s dominance in the region. But all that Jesus has shared with this highly esteemed religious leader has been spiritual in nature. It is not that Jesus is eliminating the idea of an actual physical kingdom of God, but He is letting Nicodemus know that something new is happening. The kingdom was coming, but not in the form Nicodemus expected. And entrance into that kingdom was going to require far more than Nicodemus could ever imagine.

While Nicodemus was secretly longing that Jesus was the Messiah and had come to set up the kingdom of God on earth, Jesus let him know that the real reason for His coming was to offer eternal life.

“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

In all his study of the Hebrew scriptures, what Nicodemus had failed to understand was that when the Messiah came, His mission would be to suffer and die, not rule and reign. He would come to wear a crown of thorns, not a crown of gold. He would be lifted up and nailed to a Roman cross rather than placed on a royal throne in David’s palace.

Jesus, the Son of God, had come to earth in order to provide sinful mankind with a means to escape the coming condemnation of God. He was going to become “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV). He would sacrifice His life in the place of humanity, taking on the sins of the world in order to satisfy the just and righteous judgment of God. The apostle Peter would later describe the full impact of Jesus’ sacrificial death on our behalf.

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. – 1 Peter 2:24 NLT

And Peter was presenting the atoning death of Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophecy that Isaiah had penned centuries earlier.

But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. – Isaiah 53:5 ESV

But Jesus reveals a sad truth to his mystified and mind-muddled guest.

“…the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” – John 3:19 ESV

Jesus’ reference to Himself as the light ties directly back to the opening lines of John’s gospel.

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

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:9-11 ESV

Now we can see where John got the idea of Jesus being the light of men and the true light that shines in the darkness. He had heard it directly from the lips of Jesus Himself. And Jesus reveals that his entrance into the darkness of this world would be met with disbelief and indifference. His life, death, and resurrection would fail to convince many that He truly was the Son of God and the Savior of the world.

Everyone, including Nicodemus, recognized that there was something remarkable about this itinerant Rabbi from Nazareth. His message and miracles were like nothing they had ever heard or seen before. Some were impressed. Others were intrigued. A few were even convinced. But the majority continued to reject the light because they preferred to continue living in the darkness of sin.

But Jesus had come to illuminate the darkness of sin and to eliminate the penalty that accompanied it. And throughout the years of His earthly ministry, He continued to declare His divine mission to bring light to a sin-darkened world and life to a spiritually dead people.

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

“As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” – John 9:5 ESV

“I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. – John 12:46 ESV

And Jesus makes it clear that the peoples’ refusal to believe in Him would be based on their love affair with sin.

“…people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” – John 3:19 ESV

No one likes having their sins exposed. So, they try to keep them concealed. They attempt to hide them from others. Darkness serves as a metaphor for the secrecy that accompanies a life of sinfulness. But that darkness takes a variety of forms. Too often, we can try to veil our sinfulness with acts of self-righteousness. That is exactly what Jesus accused the Pharisees of doing.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.” – Matthew 25-28 NLT

So, we can attempt to cover our sins with a thin veneer of righteous-looking deeds or we can simply commit our sins in secrecy, hidden away from the sight of others. As long as no one sees what we are doing, our reputations remain intact. The apostle Paul warns that even believers can find themselves attempting to harbor secret sins, hidden away from the eyes of others. But light has a way of exposing what is hidden.

Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, for the light makes everything visible. – Ephesians 5:11-14 NLT

Jesus made it painfully clear that “everyone who does wicked things hates the light” (John 3:20 ESV). Their sinful natures crave hiddenness and despise exposure. Like a roach that scatters when a light is turned on, a sinner will tend to run from the illuminating light of the gospel “lest his works should be exposed” (John 3:20 ESV).

One of the most indicting statements Jesus ever made was directed at the sect to which Nicodemus was a member. Luke records a scene in which Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees for having eaten with tax collectors and sinners. They were appalled by His actions and arrogantly asked, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum?” (Luke 5:30 NLT). And Jesus simply responded:

“Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.” – Luke 5:31-32 NLT

The Pharisees were living in darkness, convinced that their outward displays of righteousness were enough to cover up their inward need for repentance and restoration. They were diseased, dying, and in need of a doctor, but refused to admit it. Because they loved the darkness rather than the light. 

Even Nicodemus would refuse to have his deeds exposed by the light. He had come under the cover of darkness, attempting to find out if Jesus was the Messiah. But he would walk away, still in the dark, both physically and spiritually. He had come into the presence of the light but would walk away just as he had come.

Jesus leaves Nicodemus with a final word that re-emphasizes the spiritual nature of all that He has said.

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

Salvation is a work of God. And this would have been a foreign concept to Nicodemus. He had been raised to believe that human effort was the essential ingredient for finding acceptance with God. Good works were the criteria by which men were judged by God and deemed worthy of His love. But Jesus was letting Nicodemus know that no man could earn a right standing with God through self-effort. The apostle Paul, a former Pharisee himself, put it this way:

Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. – Ephesians 2:9 NLT

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

For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law. – Galatians 2:16 NLT

This would have been shocking news to Nicodemus. And he would walk away that night with his head spinning from all that he had heard. Jesus had just enlightened him as to the true means by which sinful men can be made right with a holy God. Now, Nicodemus had a decision to make.

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

Nothing to Fear

1 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 ESV

As chapter five opens, Paul shifts his focus from the Rapture, the end-times event when the church is “caught up” to meet the Lord in the air, to the “day of the Lord.” Though closely related and timed to happen in sequence, these are two separate events, and Paul treats them as such. The Rapture of the church will usher in the Tribulation, a literal seven-year period of intense judgment from God upon the earth. With the church removed, He will turn His attention to the lost who will make up the entire population of the planet, including His original chosen people, the nation of Israel. Prophetically, the “day of the Lord” begins with the Tribulation, includes Christ’s Second Coming at the end of the seven years, and concludes with the Millennium, the 1,000-year reign of Christ on earth.

Having encouraged the Thessalonians regarding the fate of their deceased brothers and sisters in Christ, Paul begins to address the living rather than the dead. He wants them to have a well-developed understanding of the sequence of events that will make up the end times. He has already addressed the Rapture, and with that reality firmly fixed in their minds, the Thessalonians have nothing to fear regarding the day of the Lord. Yes, it “will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2 ESV), unexpectedly and surprisingly.

Jesus also warned His disciples about the sudden and unexpected nature of this end-times event.

“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” – Luke 21:34-36 ESV

Jesus was not suggesting that His disciples would live to see that day. Obviously, none of them did. He was also not teaching that believers would experience the day of the Lord. But notice that He does suggest that they pray for “strength to escape all these things” so that they might “stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36 ESV). Jesus was encouraging His disciples and all true believers to live their lives with a sense of soberness and alertness, eagerly anticipating His return for them. He assures them that those who remain in Him will “escape all these things that are going to take place.”

But Paul describes a drastically different fate for all those who are alive when the day of the Lord begins: “sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:3 ESV). Living with a false sense of peace and security, they will be caught completely by surprise at the sudden and unexpected nature of God’s judgment. And the prophets provide sobering details regarding the extent of the wrath God will pour out on sinful mankind in those days.

For see, the day of the Lord is coming—
    the terrible day of his fury and fierce anger.
The land will be made desolate,
    and all the sinners destroyed with it.
The heavens will be black above them;
    the stars will give no light.
The sun will be dark when it rises,
    and the moon will provide no light.

“I, the Lord, will punish the world for its evil
    and the wicked for their sin.
I will crush the arrogance of the proud
    and humble the pride of the mighty.” – Isaiah 13:0-11 NLT

“That terrible day of the Lord is near.
    Swiftly it comes—
a day of bitter tears,
    a day when even strong men will cry out.
It will be a day when the Lord’s anger is poured out—
    a day of terrible distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and desolation,
    a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and blackness,
    a day of trumpet calls and battle cries. – Zephaniah 1:14-16 NLT

Even Jesus described the devastating nature of God’s judgment.

“For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.” – Matthew 24:21 ESV

But Paul is informing the Thessalonians that they have no reason to fear those dark days. Not because they will die long before the events take place but because, as followers of Christ, they will be protected and preserved from judgment.

For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ – 1 Thessalonians 5:9 ESV

The period of the Tribulation is intended as a divine judgment against sinful mankind. With the church removed at the Rapture, the remaining population of the earth will be made up solely of unbelievers. And as Jesus indicated, the divine judgment that God will bring upon them will be like nothing anyone has ever seen before. The book of Revelation outlines the nature of these catastrophic judgments.

…hail and fire mixed with blood were thrown down on the earth. One-third of the earth was set on fire, one-third of the trees were burned, and all the green grass was burned. – Revelation 8:7 NLT

…a great mountain of fire was thrown into the sea. One-third of the water in the sea became blood, one-third of all things living in the sea died, and one-third of all the ships on the sea were destroyed. – Revelation 8:8-9 NLT

a great star fell from the sky, burning like a torch. It fell on one-third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star was Bitterness. It made one-third of the water bitter, and many people died from drinking the bitter water. – Revelation 8:10-11 NLT

…and one-third of the sun was struck, and one-third of the moon, and one-third of the stars, and they became dark. And one-third of the day was dark, and also one-third of the night. – Revelation 8:12-13 NLT

In the chronicle of his divinely inspired vision, John goes on to describe days marked by darkness, disease, intense suffering, unprecedented meteorological events, devastating natural disasters, and demonic activity. John leaves no doubt as to the intensity of these judgments and their impact on the inhabitants of the world.

In those days people will seek death but will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them! – Revelation 9:6 NLT

They will be days of darkness, literally and figuratively. But Paul reminds his readers:

But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. – 1 Thessalonians 5:4-5 ESV

The judgments of the Tribulation are not for Christ-followers. They are reserved for all those who have rejected God’s offer of salvation through faith alone in Christ alone. And yet, God in His mercy will make His offer of salvation available to those living during the Tribulation. John describes 144,000 Jews who will come to faith in Christ and become witnesses during the days of the Tribulation (Revelation 7:1-8). And, as a result of their evangelistic efforts, many will turn to Christ, even in the midst of all the pain and suffering. John describes seeing “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9-10 ESV). And when he inquires who these people are, he is told, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14 ESV).

Even while pouring out His wrath on rebellious mankind, God will extend mercy to those who accept His gracious offer of salvation.

But for believers this side of the Rapture, there is no need to fear the coming wrath of God. But at the same time, Paul warns that we are not to live with a sense of misplaced confidence. He warns the Thessalonians, “let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:6 ESV). They were to live with a sense of keen awareness and sober-minded seriousness regarding their new life in Christ. Paul reminds them, “you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness” (1 Thessalonians 5:5 ESV).

This is the same message Paul gave to the church in Colossae.

For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins. – Colossians 1:13-14 NLT

And the Ephesian believers were not left out.

Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, for the light makes everything visible. This is why it is said,

“Awake, O sleeper, rise up from the dead, and Christ will give you light.” – Ephesians 5:10-14 NLT

As children of light and those who have been transferred into the Kingdom of Christ and, as a result, “we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation” (1 Thessalonians 5:8 ESV). We have the resources necessary for living godly lives. And we have the assurance of our future glorification. We have no reason to fear death or to worry about ever having to face God’s judgment.

Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever. So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing. – 1 Thessalonians 5:10-11 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