All Part of the Plan

21 After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. 23 One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side, 24 so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25 So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” 28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29 Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. 30 So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. John 13:21-30 ESV

What immediately followed Jesus’ washing is His disciples’ feet was His betrayal by Judas. But this shocking and unexpected event did not catch Jesus by surprise because He had always known it was part of His Father’s plan. In fact, all the way back in chapter six, John recorded Jesus’ first allusion to this fateful but necessary event.

Jesus had just finished delivering a very revealing yet confusing message regarding His pending death. He left the audience in the synagogue stunned when He described Himself as the bread of life and told them that their consumption of His body and blood would be the key to eternal life.

“For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” – John 6:55-58 ESV

As a result of this rather strange pronouncement, many of Jesus’ followers left Him. And once again, Jesus was not surprised by their reaction. He simply stated, “there are some of you who do not believe” and John added an aside, “For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him” (John 6:64 ESV). Jesus had always been aware that there would be unbelievers, even among His 12 disciples. And He reminded these men that true believers were those who had been called by His Father.

“This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” – John 6:65 ESV

Even the ability to believe in Jesus was a gift from God. That is why Jesus had told them, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all” (John 6:63 ESV). 

So, as Jesus watched His former “followers” walk away, He asked His disciples if they wanted to leave Him as well. To which Peter responded, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69 ESV). Peter, speaking on behalf of the 11 other disciples, declared their belief in Jesus as the Son of God. But Jesus knew something Peter did not know. One of the 12 was an imposter and an unbeliever.

Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him. – John 6:70-71 ESV

This news did not register with Peter or the other disciples. It is even possible that Judas was nonplussed by this announcement because he had yet to make his fateful decision to betray Jesus. But the point Jesus seemed to be making is that He knew exactly what was going to happen because it had always been a part of God’s sovereign plan. Even Jesus’ choosing of Judas had been for his future role as a betrayer, not as a believer. It was all part of the preordained will of God and it had been foretold by the prophets of God. Jesus made this point clear that evening in the upper room.

“I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ – John 13:18 ESV

The role Judas would play had been foreordained by God and would be in fulfillment of the prophecy contained in Psalm 41:9. And Jesus, as the Son of God, was fully aware of this aspect of His Father’s plan and unsurprised by what was about to take place.

Yet John described Jesus as being “troubled in his spirit” (John 13:21 ESV). It seems likely that Jesus’ was visibly moved by the thought of all that was about to take place and His outward demeanor was evident to the disciples. This would be His final meal with His disciples before His betrayal, arrest, trials, and crucifixion. And while Jesus was fully God and completely aware of how things would turn out, He was also fully human and impacted by the thought of all that faced Him in the hours ahead. He was about to be betrayed by one who had spent three years at His side. The rest of His disciples would end up deserting Him. And He would undergo a series of humiliating trials, brutal beatings, and an excruciating death on a Roman cross.

And Jesus, moved in spirit, announced to His disciples, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me” (John 13:21 ESV). As expected, His disciples were shocked by this news and began to speculate who among them would dare to do such a thing. Matthew records in his gospel that the disciples were saddened by this news “and began to say to him one after another, ‘Is it I, Lord?’” (Matthew 26:22 ESV).

And Peter, anxious to know who the guilty party might be, got the attention of John, who was reclining at Jesus’ right side at the table. John, the disciple “whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23 ESV), leaned back against Jesus and asked, “Lord, who is it?” (John 13:25 ESV). To which Jesus responded, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it” (John 13:26 ESV). This was in direct fulfillment of Psalm 41:9.

There are some scholars who believe that Judas was seated to Jesus’ left hand, a place of honor. So, all Jesus had to do was dip the morsel of unleavened bread into the paschal stew and hand it to His betrayer. And John reports that as soon as Jesus gave the bread to Judas, “Satan entered into him” (John 13:27 ESV).

Metaphorically, Jesus, as the bread of life, personally handed Himself over to His betrayer. In passing the morsel of bread to Judas, Jesus was symbolically offering His life to the very one who would reject His offer of eternal life in exchange for “the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things” (Mark 4:19 ESV). Judas was going to sell Jesus out for 30 pieces of silver.

In his first letter, John would warn of the danger of allowing a love of the world to replace our love for God and His Son.

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. – 1 John 2:15 NLT

And he would go on to describe the destructive and unfulfilling nature of this love affair with the world.

For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. – 1 John 2:16 NLT

Judas was a sell-out. It seems likely that his decision to follow Jesus had been motivated by what he thought he could get out of it. And when Jesus failed to manifest Himself as the conquering warrior and made no effort to establish His kingdom on earth, Judas lost interest. He was driven by a love of the world and a desire for fame and fortune. And knowing that the religious leaders were anxious to arrest Jesus, Judas had decided to turn his wasted three years into a financial windfall. But Jesus warned that this decision by Judas would have deadly consequences, and not just for Him.

“The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” – Matthew 26:24 ESV

Both men were fated for death. Jesus would be betrayed by Judas so that He might fulfill the will of His Heavenly Father and suffer for the sins of mankind by His death on a tree. And Judas, after selling out the sinless Lamb of God, would also suffer an ignoble death by hanging himself from a tree. His crime and its punishment would be remembered throughout the centuries.

Jesus, after handing the bread to Judas, whispered to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly” (John 13:27 ESV). His hour had come and it was important that Judas fulfill his role. The betrayal of Jesus by Judas was going to set into motion the final phase of God’s grand redemptive plan. And John simply records: “after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night” (John 13:30 ESV).

Darkness descended. The night had come. With the last four words of verse 30, John reminds his readers of the words spoken by Jesus in regards to His pending death.

“My light will shine for you just a little longer. Walk in the light while you can, so the darkness will not overtake you. Those who walk in the darkness cannot see where they are going. Put your trust in the light while there is still time; then you will become children of the light.” – John 12:35-36 NLT

The time had come for the light to be extinquished. The moment for Jesus’ death was fast approaching. But it was all part of the divine plan to bring salvation to sin-darkened world.

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 Hour of Decision

36 When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. 37 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us,
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

39 Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,

40 “He has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
    and understand with their heart, and turn,
    and I would heal them.”

41 Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. 42 Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. John 12:36-43 ESV

Jesus has just informed the crowd that the hour has come. The time of His death was drawing closer. And when He was “lifted up” on the cross to die for the sins of mankind, it would accomplish a God-glorifying victory in the supernatural realm.

“Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.” – John 12:31 ESV

When His death eventually took place, the Jewish leadership would take it as victory. They had judged Jesus to be a blasphemer and He had gotten what He deserved. But they would not be alone in their rejoicing. Their father, the devil (John 8:44) would also celebrate the death of the Messiah. But only because he was ignorant of what Jesus death really meant. From a spiritual perspective, it would appear that Satan had won the day.

Yet Jesus informs His disciples and all those within His hearing that Satan, the ruler of this world, will be cast out. Jesus projects onto Satan his ultimate defeat which will take place at the end times. But He also suggests that His death will destroy Satan’s power once and for all. The enemy’s vice-like grip on mankind will be broken by Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross. The payment for mankind’s sin debt will be made in full. God’s just and righteous requirement of a blood sacrifice will have been satisfied by the offering of His own Son’s sinless life.

But Jesus informs His audience that His death will bring judgment upon the world. At first glance, this seems to contradict an earlier statement made by Jesus. In his nighttime encounter with Nicodemus, Jesus told assured him that “God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17 NLT). Now He is declaring that His death will be accompanied by judgment. To better understand what Jesus means, we have to consider all that He said to Nicodemus on the matter.

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

“There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But 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.” – John 3:16-19 NLT

Jesus was letting Nicodemus know that God had sent Him into the world to bring salvation to mankind. In a sense, the judgment of mankind has already taken place. All humanity stands before God as guilty and condemned, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10 ESV). And because of their guilty state, all men face the same fate because “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 ESV). 

But the good news Jesus tried to convey to Nicodemus was that He had come to offer an alternative. His death was going to provide a way for condemned sinners to escape the inevitable and unavoidable judgment of God. Paul explains it this way:

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. – Romans 3:23-25 ESV

The only way to escape judgment will be through faith or belief in Jesus Christ. That is what Jesus meant when He told Nicodemus, “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him” (John 3:18 NLT). Through belief in Jesus, the sinner moves from condemnation to justification. He or she is made right with God because they have placed their faith in the sacrificial death of Jesus. As John wrote in one of his later letters, “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7 ESV).

The death of Jesus would bring judgment upon the world because it would force sinful men and women to make a decision The only way they could escape judgment would be through faith or belief in Jesus. But John reveals that “despite all the miraculous signs Jesus had done, most of the people still did not believe in him” (John 12:37 NLT). Even after witnessing Jesus raise a dead man back to life, some would still refuse to believe He was the Messiah. And John, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, sees this failure to believe as a fulfillment of Isaiah 53:1.

Who has believed what he has heard from us?
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? – Isaiah 53:1 ESV

As John wrote in the opening chapter of his gospel, Jesus “came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11 ESV). Jesus had come, speaking His Father’s words and displaying His Father’s power. But they refused to believe. The light had appeared in their midst, but they refused to acknowledge Him. It was just as Jesus had told Nicodemus.

“…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. – John 3:19-20 NLT

Again, John reaches back into the writings of the prophet Isaiah to show that the rejection of Jesus by the people of Israel was inevitable. It was part of the will of God. Paraphrasing the words of Isaiah, John announces that the stubborn refusal of the people of Israel was the handiwork of God.

“He has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
    and understand with their heart, and turn,
    and I would heal them.” – John 12:40 ESV

Their disbelief, pre-ordained by God, was essential to His redemptive plan. It was essential that Jesus be rejected and, ultimately, crucified. His death was absolutely necessary if mankind was to have any hope of escaping future judgment.

But many of the Jews continued to stubbornly cling to their own way of doing things. They could not bring themselves to believe that Jesus was offering them a means of being made right with God that did not require their strict adherence to the law. And the apostle Paul would later describe that their continued belief in law-keeping as the means for achieving a right-standing with God was preventing them from believing in Jesus.

Dear brothers and sisters, the longing of my heart and my prayer to God is for the people of Israel to be saved. I know what enthusiasm they have for God, but it is misdirected zeal. For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law. For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God. – Romans 10:1-4 NLT

Belief and disbelief. That is the crux of the matter. Belief brings salvation and a right standing with God. Disbelief brings the judgment of God because it rejects the gracious gift of the Son of God.

But John indicates that there were those among the Jews who believed in Jesus. But he adds that they kept their belief to themselves, out of fear.

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

Belief and disbelief. Light and darkness. The closer Jesus gets to the cross, the more intense the contrasts become. The day of reckoning is quickly approaching. When the time comes for Jesus to hang on the cross, it will be a watershed moment in history. Jesus said, “when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32 ESV). All eyes will be fixed on Him. And, from that moment forward, His death will force every man and woman to make a decision, a choice to believe or disbelieve. To embrace the light or to continue to dwell in the darkness of sin, to face judgment or accept the free gift of a right standing with God through faith in His 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

For This Purpose I Have Come

20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.” John 12:20-27 ESV

Back in chapter 10, John records Jesus’ revealing of Himself as the “Good Shepherd.” In doing so, He presented Himself as the model leader, one who selflessly cares for those under His care, even to the point of laying down His life for them.

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” – John 10:14-16 ESV

As part of this discourse, He made a surprising revelation that His flock would contain sheep from outside the fold of Israel. Even to His disciples, who were all Jews, this would have been a shocking disclosure. And although they had been eyewitnesses to His ministry among the Samaritans, they would have had a difficult time accepting the fact that their long-awaited Messiah would include Gentiles in His Kingdom.

But as Jesus makes His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, John records a brief and seemingly unimportant scene involving “some Greeks.” These were likely Gentiles who were recognized as being Greek for their appearance or accents. John indicates that they were there to worship at the feast. So, they were likely proselytes to Judaism who had come to participate in the celebration of Passover. But upon seeing all the commotion surrounding Jesus’ entry into the city, they approached Philip, one of Jesus’ disciples, and said, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” (John 12:21 ESV). And then, mysteriously, they disappear from John’s record, never to seen or heard from again. 

Yet, their simple request speaks volumes and sets up a short, but significant pronouncement from Jesus regarding His pending death.

“Now the time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.” – John 12:23-24 NLT

These unidentified “Greeks” expressed their desire to see Jesus. And while John never reveals whether they got their wish or not, their request indicates that they had been drawn to Jesus. Even as Gentiles, they found themselves mysteriously attracted to this Jewish Rabbi from Nazareth. And when Jesus was told that the Greeks wished to see Him, He disclosed it as further proof that His hour had come.

It was time. His death was fast approaching. And it would usher in a remarkable paradigm shift that would forever alter the spiritual landscape of the world. He had told the Samaritan woman, “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” (John 4:23 ESV). Jesus had come to offer His life as a ransom for many, preparing the way for Jews and Gentiles to be restored to a right relationship with God the Father through faith in Him.

And when the Greeks expressed their desire to see Jesus, He saw it as a simple sign of a significant change to the status quo. His death would turn the religious world on its ear. No longer would Gentiles have to seek the God of Israel through the practice of Judaism. They would find access to Him through Jesus, His Son. The sacrificial death of Jesus would level the playing field, making salvation available to all, regardless of their ethnicity, religious background, gender, or economic status. The apostle Paul would rejoice in the homogeneous nature of God’s redemptive plan made possible through Jesus’ sacrificial death.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:28 ESV

Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. – Romans 3:29-30 ESV

It is interesting to note how Jesus described what was awaiting Him. He saw His pending death as the pathway to glorification.

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” – John 12:23 ESV

Jesus was not just referring to His resurrection and ascension. Because those two events would be impossible without His death. The cross was the means by which His future glorification would take place. The cross was intended to be the focal point of the redemptive plan of God. It was only by willingly sacrificing His sinless life on behalf of sinful mankind that Jesus could experience glorification. Paul put it this way:

He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross! As a result God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow—in heaven and on earth and under the earth—and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:8-11 NLT

The death of Jesus would be the greatest expression of God’s love for mankind. It would be on the cross that Jesus revealed God the Father with the greatest clarity. Jesus would glorify the Father by expressing His love in the starkest of terms. And John would later write of this remarkable manifestation of God’s love in his first letter.

By this the love of God is revealed in us: that God has sent his one and only Son into the world so that we may live through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. – 1 John 4:9-10 NLT

And Jesus explains the seeming incongruity of His death as an expression of God’s love.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24 ESV

Even within the natural realm, death plays an essential role in the creation of life. And so, His own death would serve a vital and necessary role in producing new life among the spiritually dead. Jesus was expressing His willingness to sacrifice His life so that others might live. He was fully confident that His death would be efficacious, resulting in abundant fruit – the transformed lives of countless individuals.

But Jesus was also using His death as a model for those who would enjoy the fruit of His labors. It would be His willing obedience to give up His earthly life that would result in eternal life for others. Even His future glorification and return to His Father’s side was dependent upon His giving up of His earthly life. So, He tells His disciples that they too will be expected to follow His example of divine prioritization.

“Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” – John 12:25 ESV

The Greek word translated as “life” is psyché rather than the more common word zoe. It refers to far more than just physical life. It encompasses the entire nature of man, and was often used to describe the soul or heart, including the feelings, desires, and affections. Jesus was letting His disciples know that there would be a sacrifice required for all those who chose to follow Him. There is no place in the life of a Christ-follower for love of self. Had Jesus modeled self-love, He would never have gone to the cross. But rather than focusing on self-preservation, Jesus committed Himself to selfless oblation, the sacrifice of Himself for the good of others. And He expected His followers to do the same. A point He made perfectly clear.

“If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” – John 12:26 ESV

As usual, this disclosure went over the heads of His disciples. They were not yet able to grasp the meaning or significance of His words. But in time, they would. Most of the disciples would eventually follow Him by giving their lives for the cause. It is believed that most of the disciples ended up being martyred for their faith. They too would become grains of wheat that fell to the earth and died, resulting in much fruit. And, in death, they would follow Jesus in glorification, being honored by God for their faithful service and enjoying fellowship with He and the Son for eternity.

But the knowledge of how His death would result in fruitfulness did not prevent Jesus from wrestling with the reality of the suffering He was about to face. With His next statement, Jesus reveals the human side of His nature, providing us with a glimpse into the battle going on between His desire to obey His Father and the natural desire to avoid the pain and suffering that awaited Him.

“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. – John 12:27 ESV

His humanity was expressing its natural desire to preserve self. But Jesus’ divinity would not allow Him to give in to the temptation. It would have been the height of rebellion for Jesus to attempt to escape what God the Father had planned. And Jesus knew that the entire purpose behind His incarnation had been the cross and all the suffering and pain it entailed. It was for this reason He had come. And it was for this reason He would overcome His fear with faithful obedience to His Father’s will. Because He understood all that His death would accomplish

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.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all. – Isaiah 53:5-6 ESV

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

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

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

The Resurrection and the Life

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

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

Jesus delayed. Lazarus died.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Believe the Works

32 Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” 34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— 36 do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” 39 Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands.

40 He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained. 41 And many came to him. And they said, “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” 42 And many believed in him there. John 10:32-42 ESV

Darkness and light, life and death, truth and lies. John’s gospel is a book of contrasts, and at the heart of it all is the disparity between Jesus and the religious leaders of Israel. He is the Good Shepherd who feeds and cares for the sheep, while they are the hireling, who have proven themselves to be nothing more than thieves and robbers who steal, kill, and destroy. And while these men were supposed to be the experts in the Mosaic Law and students of the Hebrew Scriptures, they were incapable of recognizing the very Messiah spoken of by Moses and the prophets. Yes, they were religious, but they had no relationship with God the Father. Jesus accused them of being the offspring of the devil because they bore a greater resemblance to Satan than they did to God. They were liars and murderers, and the proof is clearly seen in their latest reaction to Jesus’ teaching.

The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. – John 10:31 ESV

This was not the first time their anger with Jesus had turned to thoughts of murder. Back in chapter eight, John records another encounter between Jesus and the religious leaders where His words had left them confused and frustrated. Angered by His cryptic claims to be greater than their revered patriarch, Abraham, they had shouted, “Who do you make yourself out to be?” (John 8:53 ESV). And when Jesus had responded, “before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58 ESV), they had picked up stones to kill Him.

The very fact that these men were so ready to kill Jesus with their own hands is evidence of their intense hatred for Him. Had they done so, they would have been in violation of Roman law which prohibited the Jews from enacting any form of capital punishment. Driven by uncontrollable anger, they were willing to throw caution to the wind and suffer the consequences.

But on this latest occasion, Jesus looked calmly at His antagonists, holding the stones in their hands, and calmly asked them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” (John 10:32 ESV). With this question, Jesus exposed the hypocrisy of their response to Him. All that He had done, from His many miracles to His messages concerning living water, the bread of heaven, and eternal life, gave clear evidence of His claim to be the Son of God.

Even the blind beggar who had been given the gift of sight from the hands of Jesus had been able to recognize that there was something special about this man.

“We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but he is ready to hear those who worship him and do his will. Ever since the world began, no one has been able to open the eyes of someone born blind. If this man were not from God, he couldn’t have done it.”  – John 9:31-33 NLT

But the religious leaders were more concerned about the words of Jesus than they were with His works. It wasn’t what He did that bothered them, it was what He said.

“It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” – John 10:33 ESV

It didn’t help that Jesus had done many of His “works” on the Sabbath. According to their very strict interpretation of the Mosaic Law, He was a Sabbath-breaker and therefore, worthy of condemnation. But when Jesus excused His behavior by claiming to be the Son of God, that was more than they could stand. He was a blasphemer. And the evidence was clear. Jesus had been arrogant enough to describe Himself as “I am,” the very words God had used to describe Himself to Moses.

But rather than refuting their accusation, Jesus calmly responded by using their own Scriptures as validation for His claim. He was fully in HIs rights to call Himself the Son of God, and He used Psalm 82:6 as proof. Quoting that verse, Jesus reminded His enemies, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’?” (John 10:35 ESV). These men would have been intimately aware of this passage and known that it read, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you.” In fact, they would have taken great pride in including themselves among the “sons of the Most High.”

What is fascinating about the verse which Jesus chose to quote is its surrounding context. Asaph, the author of Psalm 82, is addressing the judges of Israel, those men who were responsible for the spiritual care and physical well-being of the flock of God. But the psalmist reveals that these men were not doing their job.

“How long will you hand down unjust decisions
    by favoring the wicked?

“Give justice to the poor and the orphan;
    uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute.
Rescue the poor and helpless;
    deliver them from the grasp of evil people.
But these oppressors know nothing;
    they are so ignorant!
They wander about in darkness,
    while the whole world is shaken to the core.” – Psalm 82:2-5 NLT

And what follows is the part Jesus quoted. But consider closely what He chose to leave out.

I said, “You are gods,
    sons of the Most High, all of you;
nevertheless, like men you shall die,
    and fall like any prince.” – Psalm 82:6-7 ESV

Once again, Jesus reveals the contrast between Himself and His antagonists. They are sons of God, but they are merely men. And like all men, they will die. But Jesus was a different kind of man. He was the God-man, fully human, and yet fully divine. He had every right to refer to Himself as the Son of God, just as they did. But what set Him apart was that He was “the one and only Son, who is Himself God” (John 1:18 BSB).

Jesus had repeatedly declared Himself to be God’s “one and only Son” (John 3:16, 18 ESV). He was not just another Israelite who could claim to be the offspring of Abraham and, therefore, membership in God’s family. He “was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1 ESV).

But Jesus knew they were incapable of recognizing His identity as the Messiah, the Son of God. They refused to accept His words, so He challenged them to consider His works.

“If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” – John 10:37-38 ESV

Which brings us back to Psalm 82. The works Jesus did were in keeping with the will and the works of God the Father. Jesus was showing justice to the poor and the orphan. He was upholding the rights of the oppressed and the destitute. He was rescuing the poor and the helpless. In fact, when John the Baptist, confined to prison, had sent His disciples to ask Jesus if He was actually the Messiah, Jesus had responded, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Luke 7:22-23 ESV).

On another occasion, Jesus had stood in the synagogue in Nazareth and read from the scroll of Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” – Luke 4:18-19 ESV

And then He had proclaimed to those in the synagogue, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21 ESV).

Jesus had come to do the works of His Father. And He challenged the religious leaders to consider carefully all that He had done. It was evidence enough to prove that He was the Son of God. If they would compare His works with the words expressed in their own Scriptures, they might come to believe and to “know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (John 10:38 ESV).

But rather than believe Him, they sought to arrest Him. Their minds were made up. So, Jesus departed once again. John closes this first half of His gospel account by describing Jesus leaving Jerusalem and returning to where His ministry had begun, the wilderness of Judea. And yet, despite His remote location, the people continued to seek Him. And they recognized that all John the Baptist had said about Him had proven true. And the result was that many believed. Unlike the religious leaders, the people saw Jesus’ works and believed.

The second half of John’s gospel will chronicle the final phase of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It will begin with Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead and culminate with His own death and resurrection in Jerusalem. His “hour” was quickly coming. The purpose of His incarnation was imminent. The Son of God was preparing to do the will of God, and His final work would be the definitive proof of His identity.

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 Man Born Blind

1 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. John 9:1-7 ESV

As has been noted before, John does not attempt to adhere to a strict chronologically accurate timeline. He has chosen to arrange his Gospel according to a theme, selecting those stories that best illustrate and prove the point he is trying to make. Since John is most interested in establishing the deity of Jesus, the stories he has included are those that best support his premise. As a result, there are many events recorded in the Synoptic Gospels that do not appear in John’s record of Jesus’ life. And, in today’s passage, John provides the details surrounding a miracle that none of the other Gospel writers include.

But John’s placement of this particular miracle at this precise point in his narrative was not without purpose. For several chapters, he has chronicled the ongoing and quickly intensifying conflict between Jesus and the Jewish religious authorities. As the light of the world, He has entered the sin-darkened land of Israel, revealing the glory of God with words of truth concerning His ministry, mission, and identity as the Son of God. But the religious leaders have repeatedly rejected His claim to have been sent from God. They have scoffed at His offers of living water, true bread, and eternal life. And they had found his most recent statement particularly off-putting.

“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

Who did this man think He was?  What right did He have to question the spiritual integrity of the nation’s preeminent religious scholars? They were incensed by His offer to set them free because they were slaves to no one. And, of course, they weren’t exactly flattered when He had called them sons of the devil. He had accused them of being murderers and liars, completely out of touch with God, and incapable of hearing or accepting His claim to be the Son of God. And John closed chapter eight closes with a not-so-subtle summary of their reaction to Jesus’ words.

So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. – John 8:59 ESV

Jesus simply walked away. The light of the world departed the temple grounds, symbolically leaving the area bathed in darkness. But the story does not end there. John records that “As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth” (John 9:1 ESV). it just so happened that as Jesus left the temple and the company of the belligerent religious leaders, He came across a man who suffered from physical blindness. But don’t miss the fact that this man had been born blind. This detail is what will set this particular miracle apart. While there are other accounts of Jesus restoring people’s sight, this is the only instance in which we are told that the man had been blind since birth. In a sense, he had born into darkness. He had never seen the light of the sun. He had never experienced the joy of seeing his parents’ faces. This man had been born into a world marked by an all-pervasive darkness and he was completely incapable of doing anything about his condition.

This man was about to become a visible symbol for the plight of all humanity. He had been born with his debilitating condition. It was not as if he had once had sight and then lost it. He had never had the capacity to see. And he would have remained in darkness had he not encountered Jesus, the light of the world.

For the Jews, physical blindness was closely associated with sin. Because of the egregious nature of this particular disorder, most Jews assumed that it was a form of divine punishment for sin. That is why the disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2 ESV). In their minds, it wasn’t a matter of whether sin had been involved, it was a case of who was the guilty party. Since the man was born blind, the logical conclusion would be that his parents were responsible for his pitiable condition.

It seems quite evident that the disciples made no connection between this man’s condition and the spiritual state of the religious leaders who had just tried to stone their master. To them, this was just another blind man, one of many anonymous sufferers that filled the streets and alleys of Jerusalem. Their only interest in this man was as a point of theological discussion. But Jesus reveals that this man’s condition and his appearance at that moment in time was all God-ordained.

“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.” – John 9:3 NLT

This simple statement carries a powerful punch, revealing the sovereign hand of God over every detail of human existence. This man’s very existence had been orchestrated by the will of God Almighty. And his encounter with the Son of God had been providentially prearranged. He had been placed in the path of Jesus, not so that his sight be could be restored, but so that the power of God could be revealed. Jesus was about to give this man something he had never possessed: The ability to see. He had been born into darkness, but he was about to have his eyes opened for the very first time in his life.

Jesus took the opportunity to address His disciples, reminding them that time was of the essence. His days on earth were quickly drawing to a close. And in the time remaining, they would need to keep their attention focused on “the light of the world.”  While so many of Jesus’ conversations had been with the religious leaders, His words had been directed at His disciples. They had been His primary audience, and everything He had said had been for their benefit.

“We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work. But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.” – John 9:4-5 NLT

They didn’t yet realize it, but Jesus’ days on earth were quickly drawing to a close. They would not always have the luxury of His company. And He wanted them to take advantage of every single moment they had in “the light” of His presence because the night was coming.

As usual, Jesus did not explain His words. He left the disciples to wrestle with the meaning of His comments and turned His attention to the blind man. And every single action taken by Jesus is filled with powerful symbolism and meaning. John describes Him as spitting on the ground and making mud from the dirt and His own saliva. Then Jesus took the mud and spread it over the blind man’s eyes. When finished, He instructed the blind man to somehow make his way to the Pool of Siloam, where he was supposed to wash away the mud.

This entire scene was meant to instruct the disciples. Jesus had just told them, “We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us.” Now, He has shown them an example of the task they had been assigned by God. They didn’t understand it yet, but they had been chosen by God and been given the responsibility of opening the eyes of the blind. And Jesus was giving them a physical demonstration of the spiritual transformation that He had come to bring to those born into the darkness of sin.

John provides no explanation regarding Jesus’ actions. We are not told why He chose to mix His saliva with dirt and apply it to the man’s eyes. His instructions for the man to wash in the Pool of Siloam come with no commentary. But all of it had to have left the disciples scratching their heads in confusion. Yet, the blind man never utters a word. He simply stands there, blindly oblivious to what Jesus is doing, but faithfully willing to do whatever this unidentified and unseen man told him to do. When Jesus told him to wash in the pool, the man obeyed. And John describes what happened next.

So the man went and washed and came back seeing! – John 9:7 NLT

This man’s life had just been radically transformed by an encounter with the Son of God. Born into darkness, he was suddenly able to see for the very first time in his life. As amazed as this man must have been at the transformation he experienced, it was the disciples whom Jesus intended to impress with His actions. His healing of the man born blind was meant to be a powerful demonstration of the Father’s power and a sign of their future ministry and mission.

At one point the disciples of John the Baptist had approached Jesus with a question from their master.  “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3 NLT). And Jesus had responded, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matthew 11:4-6 NLT). Jesus was informing John that everything He did was in keeping with His Father’s will. The evidence for His identity was clearly visible in the things that He did. Jesus was fulfilling the words of the prophets.

In that day the deaf shall hear
    the words of a book,
and out of their gloom and darkness
    the eyes of the blind shall see.
The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord,
    and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel. – Isaiah 29:18-19 ESV

In a real sense, Jesus’ healing of the blind man was designed to open the eyes of His own disciples. The light of the world was illuminating the darkness of their own understanding, helping them to grasp the reality of who He was and what He had come to do. But their lesson was far from over.

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

Who Are You?

21 So he said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.” 22 So the Jews said, “Will he kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” 23 He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” 25 So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. 26 I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” 27 They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father. 28 So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. 29 And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” 30 As he was saying these things, many believed in him. John 8:21-30 ESV

Jesus has performed miracles. He has healed the sick. And He has repeatedly and unapologetically declared His identity as the Son of God. In spite of all the instances in which He has referred to God as His Father, alluded to His having come down from heaven, and of possessing authority over death and life, the people still can’t seem to figure out who He is. And as Jesus continued to reveal His identity to the Jewish crowd that had gathered to hear him in the treasury of the temple, all they could say to Him was, “Who are you?”

Jesus had just declared Himself to be “the light of the world” who came to offer “the light of life” (John 8:12 ESV). And He backed up His statement by claiming God Almighty as His witness. Not only that, He declared God to be His Father.

I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.” – John 8:18 ESV

The meaning behind His words escaped them. They couldn’t figure out what it was He was trying to say. When He referred to His Father, they could only think in earthly, human terms. Which is what had led them to ask, “Where is your Father?” (John 8:12 ESV). And Jesus had responded to this question by stating, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (John 8:19 ESV).

Their inability to recognize Jesus as the Son of God was because they lacked a relationship with His Heavenly Father. They were blinded by their own ignorance. They knew the Scriptures but had no true knowledge of the God whom the Scriptures revealed. Even the Mosaic law, provided by God to reveal His own holiness, had become little more than a list of burdensome regulations and rules to keep. Yet David had described the commands of God as intensely valuable and desirable because they came from God.

The instructions of the Lord are perfect,
    reviving the soul.
The decrees of the Lord are trustworthy,
    making wise the simple.
The commandments of the Lord are right,
    bringing joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are clear,
    giving insight for living.
Reverence for the Lord is pure,
    lasting forever.
The laws of the Lord are true;
    each one is fair.
They are more desirable than gold,
    even the finest gold.
They are sweeter than honey,
    even honey dripping from the comb.
They are a warning to your servant,
    a great reward for those who obey them. – Psalm 19:7-11 NLT

But because the people had no real understanding of God, they were incapable of comprehending the identity of His Son. Unlike David, the people of Israel had no love for God’s written Word. They found its content to be restrictive and overly demanding. So, how would they ever learn to love His Living Word?

God had graciously given the people of Israel His law in order to set them apart as His own prized possession. By living according to His holy commands, they would experience His blessings in the form of His ongoing presence and provision. Now, the Living Word of God was standing right in front of them, revealing the key to the ultimate blessing of God: eternal life.

During their years in the wilderness, God had provided the people of Israel manna, a miraculous source of nourishment that required no sowing, reaping, or baking on their part. It was a gracious gift, freely given, that was designed to meet their daily need for physical sustenance. Now, the Bread of Life was standing right in front of them, offering His body as the key to their spiritual nourishment – “the food that endures to eternal life” (John 6:27 ESV).

And the Creator God who had said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3 ESV) and had “separated the light from the darkness” (Genesis 1:4 ESV), and declared it good, had sent His Son to bring light into a world darkened by sin. But the people failed to see Jesus for who He was. Their spiritual blindness kept them from even recognizing the brightness of God’s Light shining right in front of them. And John opened up his Gospel with the sobering reality of their rejection.

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

And as Jesus stood in the treasury that day, He proclaimed to His sin-blinded audience, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come” (John 8:21 ESV). Jesus was announcing that God’s “light of life” was not going to shine forever. He had come to earth to illuminate the darkness with His perfectly sinless life. With His incarnation, He had made the invisible God visible. As John stated in the opening chapter of his Gospel, Jesus made God known.

No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is Himself God and is at the Father’s side, has made Him known. – John 1:18 BSB

But Jesus was letting the people know that His light was going to be extinguished. He had come to die. It was all part of God’s divine plan of redemption. His incarnation would be followed by His crucifixion and, ultimately, His resurrection and ascension. Jesus had not come to take up permanent residence on earth. He even told them, “I am not of this world” (John 8:23 ESV). He was the Son of God, who had been sent on a mission by His Heavenly Father, and once His task was complete, He would be returning to His rightful place at His Father’s side in heaven.

And Jesus made a sobering pronouncement to His audience that day:  “you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come” (John 8:21 ESV). The “Light” would be leaving and they would remain in the darkness of their sin, incapable of finding Jesus or a way to have eternal life. He was the key to gaining access to God the Father and the only hope they had of experiencing everlasting life. That is why He will later declare:

“My light will shine for you just a little longer. Walk in the light while you can, so the darkness will not overtake you. Those who walk in the darkness cannot see where they are going. Put your trust in the light while there is still time; then you will become children of the light.” – John 12:35-36 NLT

Jesus had been very clear about who He was and what He had come to do.

“I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” – John 8:23 ESV

He had been brutally honest about His identity and had openly declared their need to believe in who He was and to accept His offer of eternal life. But all they had to say was, “Who are you?” And Jesus patiently responded, “The one I have always claimed to be” (John 8:25 NLT). There were no secrets. Jesus hadn’t been hiding the ball or disguising His mission. Their failure to recognize Him was due to their own spiritual blindness.

They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father. – John 8:27 ESV

What they failed to understand was that Jesus had come from God. They could not bring themselves to believe that He was divine. All that He said and did was due to His identity as the Son of God. He had authority and power because He was God in human flesh. He could offer life because He was the author of life. He had power over the natural realm because He had created it. He had the ability to heal because He had all the power of heaven at His disposal.

But Jesus informed them that the true proof of His deity would come in an unexpected and spectacular form.

“When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. – John 8:28 ESV

His pending death, of which they were clueless, would become the greatest evidence of His deity because it would result in His resurrection. By rising from the dead, God would deem His Son’s sacrifice for the sins of mankind as worthy and acceptable. Jesus’ offering of His body and blood in the place of condemned sinners would satisfy the just demands of a holy God. And by raising His Son back to life, God would declare His righteous wrath as fully satisfied. And all those who believed in His Son’s death on their behalf would enjoy eternal life. Rather than facing condemnation for their sin and rebellion, they will enjoy complete forgiveness and a restored relationship with God. All because of Jesus, “who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25 ESV).

Jesus was on a mission. He had a job to complete. And the ability of the people to fully understand His identity would not come about until He had finished the task He had been assigned. It would not be until He had been “lifted up” and risen again that the full scope of His ministry would be revealed. And as Jesus will reveal to His disciples, it will only be through the coming of the Holy Spirit that sinful men and women will be able to see the glory of God’s gift of salvation through the death of His 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

Return to Sender

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fairweather Followers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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