What Is That to You?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Feed my lambs.” – John 21:15 ESV

“Tend my sheep.” – John 21:16 ESV

“Feed my sheep.” – John 21:17 ESV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just As God Intended

1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.” 10 Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) 11 So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” John 18:1-11 ESV

For 17 chapters, John has gone out of his way in establishing the identity of Jesus as the Son of God. But at this point in the story, it would be easy to understand if a reader of John’s gospel began to question whether Jesus really was who He claimed to be. After all, Jesus Himself has admitted that He is going to die. He has warned that His own disciples are going to desert Him. For an uninformed observer, this could all begin to raise doubts about the validity of John’s claims about the divinity of Jesus.

And the scene described in chapter 18 will raise further doubts. But, in fact, John would argue that the scene that took place in the garden that fateful night, which he witnessed and later recorded, would be one of the greatest proofs of Jesus’ identity.

The scenes of betrayal, humiliation, suffering, and death that mark the end of Jesus’ life are not meant to call into question His identity, but to confirm it. While they appear to the human eye as evidence of defeat and failure, they are actually powerful proofs of God’s divine strategy for bringing about Satan’s fall and Christ’s victory over sin and death.

Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. – Hebrews 2:14 NLT

He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins.
 – Romans 8:3 NLT

When reading the gospels, many Christians find themselves wishing these graphics scenes could have been left out. They would prefer to skip all the gory details concerning Jesus’ humiliating trials, merciless beatings, and agonizing crucifixion and death. Why couldn’t John just have fast-forwarded to that Hallmark-card image of the empty tomb? After all, isn’t that the point of the whole story? Jesus rose again.

But John wants us to understand that, without the crucifixion, there would have been no resurrection. And as painful as it may be to read about all that Jesus had to suffer and endure, it is essential that we understand the high price that Jesus paid. The apostle Peter would have us remember that our salvation didn’t come cheaply.

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life you inherited from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or spot. – 1 Peter 1:18-19 BSB

And Paul told the believers in Corinth, “God paid a high price for you…” (1 Corinthians 7:23 NLT). That image of the empty tomb came with a hefty price tag.

So, as we read these all-too-familiar chapters, may we do so with a sense of awe and gratitude for what God ordained and Jesus fulfilled. Every step Jesus took, every blow He suffered, every nail driven into His body, and the very last breath He breathed were all part of the price He paid that we might be made right with God. Do not hurry through these uncomfortable moments in your rush to get to the empty tomb. Savor every painful, agonizing moment, because not only do they represent the high price God paid for your salvation, but they reveal the staggering scope of the debt you could not pay.

After having complete His high priestly prayer, Jesus led His disciples to the garden of Gethsemane. And it was in this familiar spot that Judas decided to carry out his plan to betray Jesus into the hands of the religious leaders.

So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. – John 18:3 ESV

Don’t miss the stark contrast contained in this scene. Jesus, the faithful Lamb of God, is in the company of his disillusioned and dispirited disciples. But Judas, the unfaithful disciple, is accompanied by armed soldiers and the sworn enemies of Jesus. You can sense the tension. And the fear and confusion of the disciples are almost palpable. But Jesus was unsurprised and unmoved by this obvious display of force. John juxtaposes the heavy drama of the moment with Jesus’ calm demeanor and measured response.

Jesus fully realized all that was going to happen to him, so he stepped forward to meet them. “Who are you looking for?” – John 18:4 NLT

This simple question is the key to understanding the Gospel of John. By asking it, Jesus is demanding that Judas and his associates confess who they believe Him to be. Early in His ministry, Jesus had asked His disciples a similar question: “Who do people say that I am?” (Mark 8:27 ESV). And their answers had been all over the map. So, Jesus had followed that question up with another one: “But who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29 ESV). And to that question, Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV).

Now, in the darkness of the garden, illuminated by the glow of torches, the Light of the world asks Judas and his companions to reveal the identity of the one for whom they are seeking. And, unlike Peter, their response is neither bold or enlightened.

They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” – John 18:5 ESV

They are simply looking for a man, and nothing more. They had not come looking for the Messiah. They weren’t expecting to encounter the Son of God. And their answer revealed all that they knew and believed about Jesus: What He was called and where He was from.

And Jesus responds to their answer by confirming that He was the one for whom they were looking. But His simple answer carries tremendous weight.

Jesus said to them, “I am he.” – John 18:5 ESV

In Greek, it reads, “I am!” Why is this important? This was the very same phrase Jesus used when stating the various aspects of His identity.

I am the bread of life.” – John 6:35 ESV

I am the light of the world.” – John 8:12 ESV

I am the door.” – John 10:7 ESV

I am the good shepherd.” – John 10:11 ESV

I am the resurrection and the life.” – John 11:25 ESV

I am the way and the truth and the life.” – John 14:6 ESV

I am the true vine.” –John 15:1 ESV

Every time Jesus uttered this two-word statement, He was declaring Himself to be God. He was echoing the very words spoken by Yahweh when He had appeared to Moses in the burning bush. When God had commissioned Moses to return to Egypt and lead the people of Israel out of captivity, Moses had asked, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Exodus 3:13 ESV).

And God had responded, “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14 ESV). That was His name. It was a declaration of His transcendency and eternality. He was God, the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. As God would later reveal through the prophet Isaiah, “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god” (Isaiah 54:6 ESV).

And just to make sure Moses heard what He had said, God repeated His answer. “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14 ESV).

So, when Jesus declared Himself to be “I am,” He was not-so-subtly declaring that He was far more than just Jesus of Nazareth. He was the very one Philip had told Nathanael about.

“We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” – John 1:45 ESV

And John reveals the power inherent in Jesus’ self-proclaimed statement of identity by describing what happened when the words left His lips.

When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. – John 18:6 ESV

This was not a voluntary act of reverence or submission. It was an uncontrollable response to the power and presence of God almighty. Of no choice of their own, they were driven to the ground in submission and subjugation to the Son of God. It was a foreshadowing of a future day when all mankind will acknowledge Jesus as who He really is.

…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:10-11 NLT

But their submission proved to be shortlived. When they recovered their senses, they arrested Jesus but allowed His disciples to go free. And John reveals that this was in keeping with the declaration Jesus had made to His Father: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one” (John 17:12; 18:9 ESV).

Throughout this tension-filled scene, Jesus exhibits a strong sense of calm and composure. But Peter reveals the turmoil taking place within the hearts of the disciples. He draws a sword and cuts off the ear of one of the high priest’s servants. Rather than wield his sword against one of the armed guards, Peter attacks a defenseless slave. It was likely his attempt to prove his earlier boast to Jesus, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you” (Matthew 26:23 NLT).

But Jesus calmly responded, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (John 18:11 ESV). John ignores the fact that Jesus healed the ear of the servant. For him, the salient point behind this encounter was the willingness with which Jesus faced His God-ordained fate. What He was about to do, He would do willingly because, as He had told His disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34 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

Give God Time

12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

16 “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” 17 So some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” 18 So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” John 16:12-18 ESV

Verse 12 almost sounds as if Jesus is feeling pressed for time. He has so much He wants to tell His disciples, but with His death just hours away, He won’t be able to. Yet, that is not what John is trying to convey. Jesus is not running out of time. His disciples have run out of capacity. They can’t handle any more information because their brains and emotions are on overload.

For three years, Jesus had been revealing Himself to His disciples. By means of His messages and miracles, He had displayed His glory “as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 ESV). Everything He had said and done had been intended to reveal His identity as the Son of God and to help bolster the disciples’ belief in Him. But even though His death was imminent, Jesus wanted them to know that His self-revelation was not coming to an end. There was so much more they needed to know about Him, but they were not yet ready to receive it.

That led Jesus to return to His discussion of the Holy Spirit. His own death and eventual departure would pave the way for the Spirit’s coming. And Jesus assures them that “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13 ESV). Jesus does not promise His disciples that the Spirit will give them an encyclopedic knowledge of all things. He lets them know that, with the Spirit’s divine assistance, they will know the truth about the Son and the Father. All their questions regarding the Kingdom of God will be answered. Their confusion about Jesus’ identity will be cleared up. Because the Spirit will pick up where Jesus left off, revealing the glory of the Son “by telling you whatever he receives from me” (John 16:14 NLT).

One of the primary roles of the Spirit of God is to reveal the truth concerning the Son of God. Because it is only through the Son that we can know the Father. And the apostle Paul reminds us that the indwelling Spirit of God makes it possible for believers to grasp the deep truths concerning the will and the ways of God, including the redemptive plan made possible through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard,
    and no mind has imagined
what God has prepared
    for those who love him.”

But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us. – 1 Corinthians 2:9-11 NLT

And Jesus attempts to comfort His disillusioned and dispirited disciples with the same reassuring news concerning the Spirit.

“All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.’” – John 16:15 NLT

All the while Jesus had been with them, He had been speaking the words of God. Every word He had spoken to them had come directly from the Father.

“My message is not my own; it comes from God who sent me. Anyone who wants to do the will of God will know whether my teaching is from God or is merely my own.– John 7:12-16 NLT

“I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it.” – John 12:49 NLT

“…remember, my words are not my own. What I am telling you is from the Father who sent me.” – John 14:24 NLT

Ultimately, Jesus had come to reveal God to mankind. He was “the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 NLT). His incarnation had been intended to make the unseen God seeable and knowable.

No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us. – John 1:18 NLT

The author of Hebrews states that, in His incarnation, Jesus revealed the very glory and character of God. But when His work was done, He returned to His Father’s side.

…in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe. The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven. – Hebrews 1:2-3 NLT

But Jesus wanted His disciples to know that when He returned to heaven, He would be sending them special assistance in the form of the Holy Spirit. And, as He had told them earlier, the Spirit would not just be with them, He would take up residence within them (John 14:17). And in Jesus’ absence, the Holy Spirit will take over the role as the revealer of all truth. He will provide the disciples with divine insight into everything, including the deep thoughts of God. For the first time, they will be able to discern the truth behind all that Jesus had said during His time with them. They will recall His miracles and messages and, for the first time, comprehend the deep truths they contained. And, as a result, their faith in Him will increase all the more.

Sadly, these words of comfort went over the heads of the disciples. They were still struggling to take in all that Jesus was telling them. And His words continued to leave them confused and conflicted. And the somewhat cryptic manner in which Jesus spoke didn’t make things any easier for them.

“In a little while you won’t see me anymore. But a little while after that, you will see me again.” – John 16:16 NLT

This statement would have sounded like a riddle to them. Was He leaving and then returning? Was He really going away? Had all the talk about His death been some kind of metaphor or analogy?

John had been there that evening, so he knew from personal experience just how perplexed the disciples had been by Jesus’ words. And he records exactly what they were thinking at that moment.

Some of the disciples asked each other, “What does he mean when he says, ‘In a little while you won’t see me, but then you will see me,’ and ‘I am going to the Father’? And what does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand.” – John 16:17-18 NLT

“We don’t understand!” That just about sums it up. They were literally and figuratively “in the dark.” They were most likely standing somewhere outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem, on their way to the Garden of Gethsemane. They were tired and confused. Their minds were reeling from the tsunami of information Jesus had dumped on them over the last few hours. Their hearts were heavy as they thought about the possibility of their friend dying. And to make matters worse, with His death, all their hopes that He was their long-awaited Messiah would disappear.

None of this was what they had expected. Their concept of the Messiah had not included His suffering and death. The triumphal entry had been the highlight of their time with Jesus. The shouts of the crowds, the victory parade, the pomp and circumstance surrounding Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem had raised their hopes to an all-new high. In those glorious moments, they had assumed that Jesus was about to set up His Kingdom on earth. But in no time, their hopes had been turned to despair. Their joy had given way to sorrow. And there they stood, in the darkness of night in the company of the Light of the world, wondering what had happened to their hopes and dreams. But little did they know that their gloom would soon be replaced by gladness. Their confusion would be replaced by a Spirit-inspired clarity and confidence. Their sorrow would be transformed into unspeakable joy. And their fear would give way to unshakeable faith.

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

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

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

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Promise of Fruitfulness

If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:6-11 ESV

So, what does Jesus mean when He says that those who do not abide in Him will be taken away, thrown out, and left to whither, then collected and burned? Whatever He is trying to say, it doesn’t sound good. And these enigmatic verses have caused generations of believers to speculate and debate over their exact meaning. The sad result is that the church has ended up placing far more emphasis on what it might mean to not abide rather than finding comfort and encouragement from Jesus’ call to remain in Him.

This entire passage is about fruitfulness. And Jesus establishes that fact from the onset.

Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” – John 16:2 ESV

His message to His disciples is that He fully expects them to bear fruit because they are in a relationship with Him. They share a special bond with Him that is intended to result in fruitfulness. But the key to their fruitfulness will be their continued relationship with Him. To leave Him would be disastrous. It would sever the tie to the vine and result in a life of unfruitfulness. It would destroy any sense of purpose for their lives. And Jesus’ mention of the branch that fails to abide is meant to sound absurd and ridiculous. No branch would ever choose to remove itself from the vine. To do so would be to go against its very purpose for being.

This passage recalls an earlier conversation between Jesus and His disciples. In His lengthy discourse on the bread of life, Jesus mentioned that “Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him” (John 6:56 ESV). This rather cryptic and confusing statement from Jesus resulted in many of His followers leaving Him. And He turned to His disciples and asked them if they were going to leave Him as well. To which Peter responded:

Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.” – John 6:67-68 ESV

Yes, the words of Jesus had been difficult to understand. His talk of eating His body and drinking His blood had sounded strange to the disciples. But they believed in Him. He was the Holy One of God, and to walk away from Him would make even less sense than some of the things He said. So, they were sticking with Jesus.

Notice that Jesus had told the crowds that day that if they ate His flesh and drank His blood, they would remain in Him and He would remain in them. Jesus used the very same word that is found John 15:4.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.

For all who partake of Jesus’ body and blood, by believing in His sacrificial death on their behalf, they will experience a permanent and irrevocable bond with Him. And that bond will make possible a life filled with fruitfulness and spiritual prosperity. This message from Jesus was meant to be a source of encouragement to the disciples. In the dark days ahead, they were to recall these words from Jesus and find hope.

But sadly, the church has tended to turn the act of abiding into a work. We have made it a mandatory requirement for experiencing fruitfulness. In other words, if we don’t abide, we don’t bear fruit. Which tends to convey the idea that any fruitfulness in our lives is completely up to us. But that is not what Jesus is saying. In fact, He is conveying jus the opposite message. He told His disciples, “you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me” (John 15:4 NLT). In other words, it is the relationship that results in fruit, not the act of abiding. No branch can produce any fruit on its own. And at the same time, no branch has to work at remaining attached to the vine. It is a natural relationship that requires no effort on the part of the branch.

Yet, when we find our lives spiritually fruitless, we tend to question what we might be doing wrong. We begin to wonder what it is that we need to do to get the spiritual juices flowing so that we might be more productive and fruitful. And rather than abiding in the relationship we have, we begin to act as if the fruit production is all up to us. But what does Jesus say?

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. – John 15:5 NLT

No branch can produce fruit apart from the vine. And no Christian can live a life of spiritual abundance apart from His relationship with Jesus. The key to fruitfulness is recognizing our dependence and complete reliance upon Jesus. That is exactly what Paul meant when he wrote, “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13 NLT).

Don’t miss what Jesus said in verse 5: “Those who remain in me, and I in them.” That is exactly what He said in John 6:54: “Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.” The remaining or abiding to which Jesus refers is not an act of the flesh, but a work of the Spirit. It takes place through belief, not effort. That is the point Paul made to the believers in Ephesus.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. – Ephesians 2:8-9 (NLT)

Our fruitfulness is not a result of our strenuous efforts to abide. It is the byproduct of believing that our sanctification or fruitfulness is entirely up to Jesus, just as our salvation was. The entire point of this passage is to remind us that it is our relationship with Jesus that matters most. There is no hope of salvation apart from Him. There is no chance of living a life of fruitfulness except through our relationship with Him. He does it all. And like a branch, the degree of our fruitfulness is entirely up to the vine and the vinedresser. The less productive branch will receive special attention from the vinedresser, resulting in pruning and careful cultivating so that the end result will be increasing fruitfulness. That is what means when He says, “he [God] prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more” (John 15:2 NLT).

The goal is fruitfulness. And Jesus is assuring His disciples that they will be fruitful because their God is faithful.

So, what about the branches that bear no fruit? It would seem that these branches were never truly attached to the Vine. They had no lasting relationship with the Vine and, therefore, no hope of producing fruit. Like the people in the crowd who heard Jesus declare Himself to be the bread of life, they walked away from the very source of life and fruitfulness.

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

They had been curious but not committed. They appeared to be branches but lacked a true relationship with the Vine. And Jesus had clearly communicated the non-negotiable requirement for a life of fruitfulness.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. – John 6:53 ESV

Belief in who He was and what He had come to do was the key to having a true relationship with Him. Following after Jesus without having faith in Jesus will never produce fruit. Claiming to be a branch is not the same as abiding in the Vine. And all those so-called branches will one day find themselves judged. And the basis for their judgment will be their fruitlessness. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus referred to the fate of these false branches.

“On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you.” – Matthew 7:22-23 NLT

They will brag about their fruit, but it will be the wrong kind. They will boast in their knowledge of the Lord, but He will declare that He doesn’t even know them. And these false branches will be “gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:6 ESV). But for those branches that remain attached to the Vine, Jesus has some outstanding news.

“…ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” – John 15:7 ESV

They will have access to power like they have never known before. But because of their relationship to the Vine, their desires will be the same as the Vine. They will want what Jesus wants and ask for those things that Jesus desires. And Jesus clarifies exactly what they will ask for.

“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” – John 15:8 ESV

Faithful branches desire nothing more than fruitfulness. They long to fulfill the wishes of the Vinedresser and act as willing agents in carrying out the work of the Vine. And Jesus describes all of this as nothing less and nothing more than abiding in His love. The very act of the branch remaining in the Vine is a beautiful picture of the love of the Father flowing through the Son into the branch and out into the world. And Jesus assured His disciples that His words were meant to encourage them.

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” – John 15:11 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 Promise of Peace

22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.

25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. 30 I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, 31 but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.” John 14:22-31 ESV

The disciples were good men. They legitimately loved Jesus and, over the last three years of living with and listening to Him, they had come to believe that He was the Messiah. But their synagogue-sponsored religious education as boys had not prepared them for what they were hearing from the lips of Jesus. Their concept regarding the Messiah was being turned on its head. All of Jesus’ talk about His pending death at the hands of the Jewish religious leaders was disturbing because it made no sense. When the long-awaited Messiah finally appeared on the scene, He was supposed to be welcome as a King and the Savior of His downtrodden and oppressed people. And when Jesus had entered into Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (John 12:13 ESV), the disciples must have ecstatic. Their King had come. And they had assumed that, as His faithful disciples, they would be part of the Messiah’s royal retinue.

But within hours, their joy had turned to sorrow and confusion. At their celebration of the Passover, Jesus had announced the news that one of them would betray Him. Peter had been informed that he would end up denying Jesus. Their newly announced King had begun talking about being “lifted up” and even leaving them. And His repeated calls for them to believe in Him must have come across as an indictment of their faith. Was He questioning their commitment to Him? Did He doubt their love for Him?

And their growing confusion and concern are evident in the words of one of His lesser-known disciples, who was also named Judas.

Judas (not Judas Iscariot, but the other disciple with that name) said to him, “Lord, why are you going to reveal yourself only to us and not to the world at large?” – John 14:22 NLT

His question was in response to Jesus’ earlier statement: “Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me” (John 14:19 NLT). He was perplexed by Jesus’ words because he believed that when the Messiah came, He would reveal Himself to every nation on earth. The Messiah’s coming would have worldwide significance.

He was thoroughly confused by all of Jesus’ talk about leaving and appearing. He was hung up on all the references about going, coming, disappearing, and revealing. But rather than answer Judas’ question, Jesus returned to the subject of loving and obeying.

“All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them. Anyone who doesn’t love me will not obey me. – John 14:23-24 NLT

Jesus is narrowing the playing field. While Judas is thinking globally and has an image in his mind of a Messianic Kingdom with worldwide implications, Jesus is focused on the flock that had been given to Him by God. In His role as the Good Shepherd, Jesus was committed to caring for those whom the Father had called and for whom He had come to die.

“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

It is interesting to note that this question came from a man named Judas. The other disciple who shared that same name had just departed the upper room, under the direct influence of Satan himself, and was in the process of preparing to betray Jesus. But this Judas, while struggling with understanding all that was happening, was still by Jesus’ side. And like his fellow disciples, Judas was being called by Jesus to continue believing. Jesus was encouraging them to trust Him in spite of all the questions they wanted to ask Him. And He reminded them that His words were not His own. He was not making this stuff up, but everything He was telling them was directly from God the Father.

“And remember, my words are not my own. What I am telling you is from the Father who sent me.” – John 14:24 NLT

And while Jesus knew they were having a difficult time accepting what He had to say, He assured them that the day would come when it would all make sense to them.

“But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.” – John 14:26 NLT

When the Holy Spirit came, He would clear up any remaining confusion by providing the disciples with a divine enablement to recall and comprehend all that Jesus had ever said to them. The “comforter” would become their instructor. And Jesus describes this coming ministry of the Holy Spirit as a “gift.”

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” – John 14:27 NLT

Yes, for the moment, Judas and his friends were wrestling doubt and fear. But if they would keep believing and trusting, they would eventually experience an overwhelming sense of peace when the Holy Spirit came to dwell in them and began to minister to them. Jesus was leaving, but He was not going to leave them alone or empty-handed. He was going to leave them with a parting gift – the Holy Spirit of God – who would come alongside them, providing them with power, insight, and the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7).

One of the most difficult things the disciples would have to do was to believe and wait. Jesus expected them to trust Him. But that was going to require that they remember all that He had said to them while their whole world seemed to collapse around them.

“Remember what I told you: I am going away, but I will come back to you again. If you really loved me, you would be happy that I am going to the Father, who is greater than I am. I have told you these things before they happen so that when they do happen, you will believe.” – John 14:28-29 NLT

The day was coming when the proverbial light would come on and they would see with a new Spirit-induced clarity. All the pieces would come together. The clouds of confusion would pass away and be replaced with a faith-building, belief-stirring sense of understanding of everything. And as John penned the words of his gospel, he was doing so from the other side of the cross. He had experienced the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. His eyes had been opened and all the cryptic-sounding, mind-numbing messages of Jesus had suddenly made sense. All the miracles and messages of Jesus had taken on a whole new meaning. As a result, John’s belief in Jesus had grown exponentially. And as John reflected back on all that He had seen and heard, He couldn’t help but tell others of the glories of Jesus, the Son of God.

We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us. We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy. – 1 John 1:1-4 NLT

But Jesus, knowing that the time for His death was fast-approaching, abruptly ended His farewell discourse and set His mind on the task at hand.

“I don’t have much more time to talk to you, because the ruler of this world approaches. He has no power over me, but I will do what the Father requires of me, so that the world will know that I love the Father. Come, let’s be going.” – John 14:30-31 NLT

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

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

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

The Best is Yet to Come

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” John 14:15-21 ESV

Jesus has just assured His confused and shell-shocked disciples that they will do “greater works” than He has done. But this amazing promise is only for those who believe in Him and will only be available after He has returned to His Father (John 14:12). And Jesus further assures then that when that day comes, they will be able to ask Him anything “in His name” and He will do it (John 14:14). The ability to do greater things and the promised of answered prayer. Those two promises were meant to encourage the disciples but, like so many of His other statements, they went right over their heads. All throughout His time with them, Jesus had fielded all kinds of questions from these men. They had constantly bombarded Him with requests about everything from the nature of the kingdom to the meaning of His parables. They were naturally curious and filled with childlike inquisitiveness, anxious to know more about who Jesus was and what He had come to do. But the closer He got to the cross, the less they seemed to comprehend His true identity and purpose.

But Jesus is letting them know that things are about to change, and not just for Him. While His life will end in death, it will be followed by His miraculous resurrection. Then, when Jesus has returned to His Father’s side, their lives will be forever changed. They will end up doing “greater things” than He has done. But what does this mean? Is this a promise that they will raise the dead just as He did? Will followers of Jesus have the capacity to walk on water or turn water into wine? While some believe that is exactly what Jesus is promising, the context seems to indicate something far different. While the “great things” that Jesus did had amazed His onlookers, what truly made them great was that they were done in the power of God, according to the will of God, and for the glory of God. They were intended to be signs of who Jesus was and were meant to bring glory to the one who had sent Him. And Jesus is telling His disciples that the same will be true for them. They will do “greater things” because they will be greater in number. And their numbers will grow. But the point of emphasis is not the nature of things they will do, but the power in which they will do it and the fact that what they do will be done in God’s power and for His glory.

And they will still be able to make requests of Jesus, but now they will ask in His name and according to His will. They will no longer be driven by selfish concerns but will pray according to the will of God and in keeping with the character of Jesus Himself. Their motivations will shift from self-gratification and personal pleasure to asking for those things that will bring glory to God.

But how will the death and resurrection of Jesus make all this possible? How will His departure bring about such radical transformations in the lives of His disciples? The answer is found in verses 14-31. Jesus introduces His disciples to the secret that will allow them to do greater things and pray in His name.

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth.” – John 14:16 ESV

Jesus informs His dispirited disciples that His departure will be followed by the Spirit’s arrival. This “helper” or “advocate” will be the Spirit of truth. The Greek word is paraklētos, and it refers to “one who comes alongside.” This word has been translated as counselor, helper, assistant, and intercessor. But Jesus is referring to the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Yet Jesus is not insinuating that the Holy Spirit’s arrival will be the first time He has come to earth. He is letting the disciples know that the Spirit, who has been with them all along, will take up residence in them.

You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” – John 14:17 ESV

Their relationship with the Spirit will change. As long as Jesus was with them, He served as their helper or advocate. But with His departure, they would need “another helper,” one who would step in and guide the followers of Jesus in His absence. The Spirit of God would play a more integral and intimate role in their lives. He would not only be with them, but he would also come to dwell within them. And once again, the full weight of this news escaped the disciples. They had no way of understanding what Jesus was talking about. But it would be the Holy Spirit’s presence within them that would empower them to do the greater things that Jesus promised.

And this power would only be available to those who believe in Jesus – those who love Him and keep His commandments. But what are the commandments to which Jesus is referring? It would seem that, based on the context, Jesus is referring back to His two earlier statements concerning belief.

“Believe in God; believe also in me.” – John 14:1 ESV

“Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.” – John 14:11 ESV

The greatest expression of their love for Jesus would be their willingness to believe in who He was – all the way to the end. Notice that Jesus provided them with a conditional statement:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper…” – John 14:15-16 ESV

The conjunction, kai can also be translated as “then,” and it would seem that Jesus is letting them know that their love for Him will allow them to believe in Him, in spite of all that is about to happen. And their belief will not be in vain. He will rise from the dead, ascend to His Father, and send the Holy Spirit to comfort, guide, and empower them for future service for God.

Knowing exactly what is going through His disciples’ minds, Jesus assures them that He is not going to leave them to live in the world like abandoned children. While His death will seem like the end of the world to them, He lets them know that they will see Him again. The world, referring to all those who refused to believe in Him, would never see Jesus again. The Pharisees would assume that their adversary was permanently gone. The Jews who had followed Jesus would return to their old lives and, in time, would forget that Jesus ever existed. But after His resurrection, Jesus would appear to hundreds of His followers – those who loved Him and had continued to believe in Him.

And Jesus provides His disciples with a powerful message of encouragement.

“Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” – John 14:19 ESV

His resurrection would be life-changing for them. And it would fulfill what He had said to Martha just prior to raising her dead brother back to life.

“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

With His resurrection and the subsequent coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the disciples would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus and the Father were one. And they would know it because they would experience unity with the Father and the Son through the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God.

Jesus is encouraging His disciples to keep believing. He knows they are struggling with doubt and fear. They are confused by all that He has been saying and are finding it difficult to understand how any of this could be in the will of God. And as the events unfold in the hours ahead, it will only appear to get worse. But Jesus assures them:

“Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” – John 14:21 ESV

While the disciples would continue to display fear and doubt, even abandoning Jesus at His moment of greatest need, they would never stop loving Him. And even in their weakness and filled with all kinds of questions, they would continue to believe in Him. And their belief would not be disappointed. Their love and belief would be rewarded by the love of the Father, expressed in the gracious gift of His Son as the payment for their sin debt. And when Jesus had fulfilled His mission, God would raise Him to life again, guaranteeing the hope of eternal life to all those who loved and believed 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

All You Need to Know

1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:1-7 ESV

Jesus has just told Peter that he will deny Him, not once, but three times. Then He followed this painful pronouncement with a rather incongruous statement that seems a bit out of place.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” – John 14:1 ESV

Everyone in the room that night was troubled, including Jesus (John 13:21). Jesus’ mind was filled with knowledge about all that was about to take place. He had been aware of Judas’ betrayal. He knew that Peter, one of the members of His inner circle, would end up denying any knowledge Him. Jesus knew His disciples would all desert Him in His hour of greatest need. The crowds that had eagerly flocked to watch Him perform signs and wonders would be long gone. And He was fully aware that the hours ahead would be filled with humiliation, insufferable pain, and the agony of the cross.

But what about the disciples? They were unaware of most of these details but they were still reeling from all that Jesus had just told them. They were disturbed by the news that one of them would betray Him. But even when Judas left the upper room, they remained unsure as to what he was about to do. Yet their hearts were troubled. Because they knew something ominous was about to happen. They just couldn’t put their finger on what it was.

And when Jesus had announced His imminent departure, He added the disconcerting news that they would not be joining Him. After three years of constant companionship with Jesus, He was going to abandon them. And then He tells them, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled.”

And poor Peter must have taken this statement particularly hard. He had just been outed as the one who would deny Jesus. How was he supposed to be untroubled by this news? And was Jesus’ statement about belief aimed at him? Was Jesus insinuating that Peter lacked faith?

Jesus, in His compassionate and caring way, is attempting to encourage His dismayed and discouraged disciples. He knows they are struggling. And as the Good Shepherd, He cares deeply about their physical and spiritual well-being. His love for them is a primary factor behind His pending death for them.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. – John 10:11 NLT

“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” – John 15:13 NLT

But in their greatest moment of confusion and consternation, Jesus encourages them to believe. The darkness is closing in but He remains the light of the world. While everything around them is looking bleak and foreboding, He remains the same. He is still “the Christ, the Son of the living God” just as Peter had confessed Him to be (Matthew 16:16). He was still “the Messiah,” just as Andrew had announced to Peter three years earlier (John 1:43). And He was still “the Son of God” and “the King of Israel” as Nathanael had proclaimed (John 1:49).

But now, they were beginning to get a glimpse into His true mission. He had not come to set them free from slavery to Rome. His advent as the Son of God was not so He could set up His Kingdom on earth. He had come to offer His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). And the time had come for Him to fulfill His God-ordained mission.

There was so much they didn’t know or understand. But it is not as if Jesus had kept them in the dark about His future. In fact, Matthew records that immediately after Peter had made His public confession that Jesus was “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 NLT), Jesus “began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead” (Matthew 16:21 NLT).

And yet, the very same man who had boldly confessed Jesus to be the Messiah pulled Him aside and rebuked Him.

“Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!” – Matthew 16:22 NLT

Jesus’ plains words concerning His death left Peter stunned and appalled. It was not what he expected or wanted. It didn’t fit into his concept of the Messiah. So, he simply rejected it.

And this had not been the last time Jesus shared news of what was going to happen. Even as they had made their way to Jerusalem and before His triumphal entry into the city, Jesus had reiterated to His disciples all that was about to happen.

“Listen,” he said, “we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die. Then they will hand him over to the Romans to be mocked, flogged with a whip, and crucified. But on the third day he will be raised from the dead.” – Matthew 20:18-19 NLT

He couldn’t have made it much clearer. But they had refused to accept what He had to say because His words were not what they wanted to hear. And it is interesting to note that, immediately after Jesus made this announcement to His disciples, John’s own mother had approached Jesus with a rather presumptuous request on behalf of John and his brother, James.

“In your Kingdom, please let my two sons sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.” – Matthew 20:21 NLT

She obviously expected Jesus to set up an earthly kingdom and was hoping to convince Him to award her two sons with places of prominence in His administration. But Jesus informed her and her two sons who were standing right beside her, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?” (Matthew 20:22 NLT). 

They had the timeline all wrong. They had been expecting a Messiah who would come as a conquering King. But Jesus had come to play the part of the suffering servant. And, once again, Jesus had made this aspect of His earthly ministry quite clear.

When the other 10 disciples had gotten wind of what the mother of James and John had done, they had been furious. They all shared an expectation that they would play major roles in Jesus’ coming kingdom. But Jesus had new for them.

“You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:25-28 NLT

Jesus had come to earth so that He could hang on a cross, not sit on a throne. He had taken on human flesh so that He might bear a crown of thorns, not one made of gold and precious stones. His incarnation had been so that He might suffer the humiliation of crucifixion, not the joy of His own inauguration as king. That time would come, but it would not be now.

But Jesus wanted His disciples to know that they could still trust Him. Despite all that was happening around them, they could take Him at His word as the Son of God. And while much of what they had heard Him say had been less-than-encouraging, He wanted them to know there was good news. This dark cloud had a silver lining.

“In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” – John 14:2-3 ESV

Yes, Jesus would be leaving them, but for a very good reason. He would be returning to His Father’s side where He would begin preparations for the day when they would each join Him. And when the time was right, Jesus assured them, He would return for His own.

Like so many of Jesus’ other statements, this one flew right over the heads of His disciples. It would only be after Jesus had died, been resurrected, and returned to heaven, that the disciples would put all the pieces together and understand the significance of His words. With the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, John and the other 10 disciples received a divine capacity to comprehend all that Jesus had said and done in their three years with Him. For the first time, it all began to make sense.

But on that night in the upper room, when Jesus insinuated that they knew where He was going, Thomas had confessed, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5 ESV). He was confused and concerned. How would they find Jesus if they didn’t know where He was going?

Then Jesus dropped the bombshell that destroyed all their preconceived notions concerning righteousness, salvation, forgiveness, and justification before God.

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

He boldly and unequivocally proclaimed Himself to be the one and only source of access to God. And the pathway to the Father would pass through the shadow of the cross. Jesus assures His disciples that it is their relationship with Him that assures them of having a permanent relationship with God. Verse seven might better be translated, “If you have known me, you will know my Father too” (John 14:7 NET). And the inference seems to be that they since they have known Jesus, they most certainly have known and seen God. It was their belief in Jesus as the Son of God that made possible their access to and relationship with God. So, when Thomas had said they didn’t know the way, Jesus assured them He was wrong. They knew Him and that was all they needed to know.  

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 In Me

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” – John 6:35-40 ESV

When Jesus told the crowd gathered around Him that His Father could give them the true bread from heaven, their response was enthusiastic and somewhat expected:

“Sir,…give us that bread every day.” – John 6:34 NLT

When the people had asked Jesus to show them a sign so that they might believe in Him, they had something very specific in mind. They wanted to be fed. They were looking for another supernatural meal just like the one they had enjoyed the day before. The thought of Jesus providing them with bread from heaven was exactly what they had in mind, and it conjured up images of their ancestors waking up each morning to a seemingly endless supply of manna.

But Jesus was revealing a source of nourishment that was far far more significant and would feed their souls and not their stomachs. He told them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35 NLT).

Jesus was echoing the words of the prophet Isaiah, who had declared God’s gracious invitation to His rebellious children, the nation of Israel.

“Is anyone thirsty?
    Come and drink—
    even if you have no money!
Come, take your choice of wine or milk—
    it’s all free!
Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?
    Why pay for food that does you no good?
Listen to me, and you will eat what is good.
    You will enjoy the finest food.” – Isaiah 55:1-12 NLT

Jesus had offered the woman at the well living water, a never-ending source of sustenance and refreshment.

“…those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” – John 4:14 NLT

For this woman, who had to draw water from the well each and every day, His offer sounded too good to be true. Eager to have what He had to offer, she pleaded, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water” (John 4:15 ESV). She greatly desired this miracle water that could slake her thirst, and the crowd couldn’t wait to taste the supernatural bread from heaven. But Jesus was offering them something far more valuable and life-transforming. 

Yet, the people remained oblivious to what Jesus was saying. They were seeking a sign, a supernatural display of power from the hands of Jesus that would benefit them personally. But Jesus accused these people of unbelief. They had been in the crowd when He had multiplied the loaves and fishes. They had eaten their fill. But they remained unconvinced because they desired something more. That’s why Jesus flatly told them, “you haven’t believed in me even though you have seen me” (John 6:36 NLT).

It seems quite obvious that the people believed Jesus could perform miracles, or they would not have made the trip from Bethsaida to Capernaum looking for Him. They would not have asked for a sign and given the not-so-subtle hint about manna if they did not believe Jesus could pull it off. Their problem was not a lack of belief, it that they failed to believe in Him. They had no problem believing in miracles because they had seen them with their own eyes. It was believing that Jesus was the Son of God sent from heaven that proved difficult for them. This was the very same problem the religious leaders had, and it why Jesus had condemned them for their unbelief.

“…the Father who sent me has testified about me himself. You have never heard his voice or seen him face to face, and you do not have his message in your hearts, because you do not believe me—the one he sent to you.” – John 5:37-38 NLT

Over and over again in his gospel, John has declared that Jesus was sent to earth by His Father in heaven. He was the Son of God and the Savior of the world.

the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. – John 1:14 NLT

No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven. – John 3:13 NLT

God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. – John 3:17 NLT

God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. – John 3:19 NLT

He has come from above and is greater than anyone else. We are of the earth, and we speak of earthly things, but he has come from heaven and is greater than anyone else. – John 3:31 NLT

For he is sent by God. He speaks God’s words, for God gives him the Spirit without limit. – John 3:34 NLT

Jesus said to them, My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. – John 4:34 NLT

The Father gave me these works to accomplish, and they prove that he sent me. And the Father who sent me has testified about me himself.” – John 5:36-37 NLT

For I have come to you in my Father’s name, and you have rejected me. Yet…you don’t care about the honor that comes from the one who alone is God.” – John 5:43, 44 NLT

“…you do not believe me—the one he sent to you. – John 5:38 NLT

Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” – John 6:29 NLT

“The true bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” – John 6:33 NLT

But this message had been missed by the people. They were enamored with His miracles but failed to fully accept His claim to be the Son of God. It was the idea of Jesus’ deity that escaped them. They could almost imagine Him to be the Messiah, an ordinary man sent by God, but they were having a difficult time accepting that Jesus was God in human flesh. Yet, Jesus had declared that belief in Him was the key to having their hunger and thirst satisfied.

But the satisfaction Jesus offered was not temporal and physical. It was eternal. That’s why He had told Nicodemus, “…everyone who believes in him [God’s one and only Son] will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NLT), and “anyone who does not believe in him [God’s one and only Son] has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son” (John 3:18 NLT).

But Jesus revealed that there would be some who believed in Him. And their belief would be the result of the sovereign will of God.

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. – John 6:37 ESV

Jesus is clearly stating that salvation is the work of God, not men. Yes, men must play their part and willingly express their faith in Jesus, but even the capacity to do so comes from the Father. Jesus states that His Father’s will is that there will be those who look on “the Son” and believe. They will have their spiritually blind eyes opened so that they can see Jesus for who He really is, the Son of God, and believe in Him.

“…this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” – John 6:40 ESV

It is belief in the Son that brings eternal life. Yet, many of the people in the crowd that day suffered from hardened hearts and spiritual blindness. They couldn’t see Jesus for who He truly was. Even the disciples of Jesus were having difficulty seeing Him as the Son of God. Even after having watched Him feed the 5,000, they remained unconvinced as to His identity. Mark records, “they still didn’t understand the significance of the miracle of the loaves. Their hearts were too hard to take it in” (Mark 6:52 NLT). They had no trouble believing in the miracle because they had watched it happen. But they were not yet able to believe in Jesus as the Son of God. 

Man, due to the presence of indwelling sin, is spiritually dead and incapable of doing anything that God would consider righteous. Even belief in the Son of God is impossible apart from the regenerating work of the Spirit of God. Dead men cannot revive themselves. It is only by the grace of God that the spiritually dead can have their eyes opened and their hardened hearts restored so that they can see the Son of God and believe. And Jesus will make this point even more clear a few verses later.

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” – John 6:44 ESV

God draws. Man believes. Jesus raises up. It is the miracle of salvation. And it is the work of God from beginning to end. Lest any man should boast.

“John 6:37-40 contains Jesus’ explanation of the process of personal salvation. These are among the most profound words He ever spoke, and we cannot hope to plumb their depths completely. He explained that salvation involves both divine sovereignty and human responsibility.” – Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary

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

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

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

The Light and the Right

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

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:6-13 ESV

Up to this point in his gospel account, the apostle John has yet to mention the name of Jesus, choosing instead to refer to Him as the Word, the life, and the light. It seems that John is attempting to establish, from the outset, the divinity and eternality of Jesus. The birth of Jesus, while important to John, was only significant because the Word of God who was God took on human flesh. The co-creator of the universe became one with His creation by assuming the lowly nature of a man. The apostle Paul describes this divine demotion in stark terms:

he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being… – Philippians 2:7 NLT

John was not trying to underplay the humanity of Jesus. He had spent more than three years of his life living with and learning from Jesus. John had shared many meals with Jesus and seen Him fall asleep in the bow of a fishing boat, exhausted from the day’s activities. He had watched as Jesus wept over Jerusalem and the death of His friend, Lazarus. And he had been an eye-witness to the gruesome crucifixion of Jesus, watching in helplessness as his friend and teacher endured excruciating pain and eventually gave up His life. But John knew that the birth, life, and death of Jesus were meaningless if Jesus was not the Word of God and the light of men.

And John recalls how God had prefaced the arrival of Jesus in human form by sending a witness, a martyria – one who testifies. Unlike Jesus, this witness was a mere “man.” But he had been sent by God. In that sense, he followed in a long line of other men, the prophets of the Old Testament, whom God had sent to proclaim His Word to His chosen people.

But the people of Israel had endured a nearly 400-year period of silence, with no prophets or witnesses for God appearing on the scene. Malachi, the last of the prophets disappeared off the scene around 400 B.C. So, for four long centuries, the people of God had no word from God. He had gone silent. And those years had been anything but pleasant. The Israelites had no king and found themselves under the successive rules of the Persians, the Greeks, and, eventually, the Romans. Their land was under constant occupation by enemy forces, and they were subjected to the humiliation of living under Gentile rule. In 63 B.C., the Romans conquered Israel and subjected the land to military occupation and heavy taxation.

The people of God were relegated to living as little more than slaves in what had once been the land of promise. And their dire circumstances created in them an intense desire for the arrival of their long-awaited Messiah. The prophets had spoken of one who would come and rescue them from their suffering. He would be a warrior-king like David had been, wielding his sword on behalf of the downtrodden people of Israel and delivering them from their enemies. But with each passing year, their hopes of rescue grew dimmer as the Messiah’s arrival failed to take place.

But John emphasizes that there was hope. A light had pierced the darkness. A baby had been born who would prove to be the very one for whom the Israelites had been waiting. And that baby’s birth had been heralded by angels, proclaiming “the good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10 ESV).

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” – Luke 2:11 ESV

The word, “Christ” is the Greek equivalent of “Messiah.” The angels were announcing the arrival of the Savior of Israel. The 400-years of silence had been broken. The long period of darkness had been broken by the arrival of the light of the world.

Eight days after His birth, the parents of Jesus took Him to the temple in Jerusalem to be circumcised. There, a “righteous and devout” man named Simeon pronounced a blessing on the baby.

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
    according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
   that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and for glory to your people Israel.” – Like 2:29-32 ESV

The light had come. And some 30 years later, John the Baptist would begin to testify of the arrival of the light. The infant had become an adult and the earthly ministry of Jesus was about to begin. John the Baptist was given the responsibility to act as God’s herald, announcing the arrival of the Messiah.

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

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
    make his paths straight.’” – Matthew 3:1-3 ESV

John makes it clear that John the Baptist “was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light” (John 1:8 ESV). He was the messenger, not the Messiah. His job was to proclaim the arrival of the King and His Kingdom. And John the Baptist knew his place, fully recognizing that Jesus was someone and something special. He humbly announced, “Though his ministry follows mine, I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandal” (John 1:27 NLT).

And yet, the apostle John records that the good news regarding the arrival of the light of men received an unenthusiastic response from the people.

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. – John 1:9-10 ESV

You can almost sense the disbelief and disgust in John’s words. How could these people fail to recognize the arrival of the light? The creator of the universe had penetrated the darkness of their world and they acted as if nothing had happened. They were completely oblivious to the momentous nature of what was taking place right in front of them. And, to make matters worse, John describes the failure of the Israelites to recognize and receive their long-awaited Messiah.

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

The one they had longed for had finally appeared and they had chosen to reject Him. But John makes it clear that not all had rejected Jesus. He had been one of a handful of Jews who had chosen to follow Jesus because they believed Him to be the Messiah. John had been joined by Peter, who had said of Jesus, “You have the words that give eternal life” (John 6:68 NLT). It was Peter who also said of Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV).

And John makes it clear that all those who received Jesus and “believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12 ESV). John is writing these words after the fact – long after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. He is writing after the events of Pentecost when the Spirit of God had descended upon the disciples gathered in the upper room. John is penning these words with full confidence that Jesus was who He had claimed to be and who Peter had testified Him to be: “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

And because Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, all those who believed in Him received life. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4 ESV). And that life was eternal in nature. The creator-God had given men their initial life, but the Son of the living God, the light of the world, had made it possible for men to have everlasting life. They were “were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13 ESV). 

John is describing the new birth, the Spirit-empowered transformation that takes place in an individual’s life when they place their faith in Jesus. It is what Jesus described to the Pharisee, Nicodemus.

“I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
 – John 3:3 NLT

And Jesus qualified His statement by adding, “Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life” (John 3:6 NLT). And that is John’s point in this passage. The new birth is not like human birth. It is not the result of human initiative. It is the miraculous work of God, made possible through the birth, death, burial, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. Those who received Jesus as the Christ and believed in His name as the Son of God enjoyed the amazing benefit of eternal life. They became children of God. Their acceptance of the Light provided them with the right to be adopted into God’s family. It was just as Jesus had told Nicodemus:

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

The Light had come. And He had made possible the right to become a child of God. But belief was the key. Faith was the means by which eternal life became accessible and possible.

to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” – John 1:12 ESV

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

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

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