John F. Hart
Author. The Gospel of John is greatly beloved—probably because the author presents so clearly Jesus’ promise of eternal life for those who simply believe in Him.
Internal Evidence. The unnamed author was an eyewitness of Christ (1:14; 19:35; 21:24) and has identified himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (13:23; 21:7, 20). He was also one of the 12 apostles (Mt 10:2). On several occasions, the author is shown closely associated with Peter (20:2–8; 21:7), as the apostle John is in the Synoptics and Acts (Mt 17:1; Ac 3:1–4). In addition, the similarities with Revelation, written by John, reinforce the strong case made for the traditional view that the apostle John wrote the book.
External Evidence. The early church father Irenaeus (d. AD 200) claimed that John wrote the Fourth Gospel after he was released from prison on the island of Patmos (Rv 1:9) and lived in Ephesus. Irenaeus also wrote that he personally learned this information from the aged Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna (d. AD 155), who in turn was discipled by the apostle John.
Date. A first-century date for the writing of John has been confirmed by the 1920 discovery of the Greek ms fragment of John known as P 52, written c. AD 125. The original must have been penned much earlier, perhaps c. AD 80–90. This date is strongly supported by patristic testimony. However, Jn 5:2 states, "By the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem there is [present tense] a pool" (HCSB, italics added). This may point to a date even before the Roman destruction of Jerusalem (AD 70).
Recipients. The readers were likely non-Christians whom John hoped to win to faith (20:31). Many Semitic (Hebrew) expressions are given a Greek equivalent (e.g., Jn 1:38, 41), suggesting the readers were Greek-speaking. Sometimes Jewish concepts are left unexplained (e.g., "the Lamb of God," 1:29). The natural conclusion is that John was writing to Greek-speaking, Jewish non-Christians living outside Israel, perhaps in Ephesus.
Purpose and Theme. Faith in Christ for eternal life is central to John’s gospel, as his purpose statement reflects (20:30–31). The verb "believe" (pisteuo) is used about 100 times, with numerous synonyms of and symbols for "believe" such as "receive" (1:11), "know" (4:42; 6:69), "come to" (5:40; 6:35), "behold" (6:40), and "eat" and "drink" (6:54). Various other synonymous constructions include "believe in" (pisteuo eis) and "believe that" (pisteuo hoti). In the NT, the Fourth Gospel also presents the most extensive testimony that Jesus is the divine Son of God and prophesied Messiah.
While the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) contain much parallel material, over 90 percent of John is unique. Unlike the Synoptics’, John’s unique content (e.g., woman at the well, Nicodemus) was designed primarily for evangelism (20:30–31). In the OT, God demonstrated perfection and completeness by mentioning a number plus one (Ps 62:11; Pr 6:16; Dn 3:24–25; Mc 5:5). Three Synoptic Gospels plus one (John) implies a complete but not exhaustive revelation of Christ. See also the sidebar, "A Comparison of the Synoptics and John."
A Few Facts about the Apostle John
• John’s father was Zebedee,
and his older brother was James (Mt 4:21).
• Because of their fiery tempers, Jesus named John and James, “sons of thunder” (Mk 3:17).
• John worked in his father’s fishing business (Mk 1:19–20) and had Peter as a partner (Lk 5:10).
• John was the only disciple to witness the death of Jesus (Jn 19:26).
• While on the cross, Jesus told John to care for His mother after His death (Jn 19:26).
• John was the first of the disciples to see the empty tomb (Jn 20:1–3).
• John was a leader with Peter in the early church (Ac 3–4; 8:14–17, 25; Gl 2:9).
• His long life was prophesied by Jesus (Jn 21:20–23).
• John lived into his 90s, wrote the book of Revelation, and was the last apostle to die.
Background. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1948 proved that most of John’s concepts derive from Judaism, not Hellenism. Characteristics of John include stark contrasts (e.g., light/darkness, life/death), symbolism, and irony (see commentary throughout).
The term "the Jews" is recurrent in John and refers to (1) the Jewish people in general (e.g., 18:33); (2) the hostile Jewish people in Jerusalem (e.g., 11:54); or (3) the hostile Jewish leaders in Jerusalem (most references). The negative references have sometimes resulted in a charge of anti-Semitism. However, some passages use the term in a positive (8:31; 11:45; 12:11) or neutral way (3:1). Even when John presented the Jews negatively, the viewpoint is no more severe than similar denunciations of Israel by the OT prophets, who like John, were themselves Jewish.
After the prologue (chap. 1), chaps. 2–12 feature seven major signs that prove Jesus’ messianic identity (see comment on 2:11). After describing Christ’s farewell instructions to His disciples (chaps. 13–17) and His crucifixion (chaps. 18–19), John presented the climactic eighth sign (a number + 1; see above)—Christ’s resurrection (20:1–29; cf. 2:18–22). This account is immediately followed by John’s purpose statement (20:30–31). A final epilogue balances the prologue and completes the book (21:1–25).
A Comparison of the Synoptics and John
|Focus on Galilee||Focus on Judea|
|Numerous parables||Few parables|
|Theme of “the kingdom of God”||Only one use of “kingdom of God”|
|Genealogies of Jesus||No genealogy but the eternal origin of Jesus|
|Few “I am” claims||Seven “I am” claims|
|No uses of “truly, truly …”||Twenty-five uses of “truly, truly …”|
|Sixteen references to “the Jews”||Seventy-one references to “the Jews”|
|Mentions only the Feast of Passover at Christ’s death||Mentions three or four Passovers, the Feasts of Booths (7:2) and Dedication (10:22)|
I. Prologue (1:1–18)
II. Public Ministry: Miraculous Signs of Jesus’ Identity (1:19–12:50)
A. Preliminary Events to Jesus’ Ministry (1:19–51)
1. Testimony of John the Baptist (1:19–34)
2. First Disciples (1:35–51)
B. Premature Reception of Jesus’ Ministry (2:1–4:54)
1. Wedding at Cana (2:1–11)
2. Temple Cleansing (2:12–25)
3. Dialogue with Nicodemus (3:1–21)
4. Additional Testimony of John (3:22–36)
5. Samaritan Woman (4:1–42)
6. Official’s Son Healed (4:43–54)
C. Progressive Rejection of Jesus’ Ministry (5:1–12:50)
1. Events at the Unnamed Feast (Healing of the Lame Man) (5:1–47)
2. Events Near the Passover (6:1–71)
a. Feeding of the 5,000 (6:1–14)
b. Walking on Water (6:15–21)
c. Bread of Life Message (6:22–71)
3. Events at the Feast of Booths (7:1–8:59)
a. Preparation and Teachings at the Feast (7:1–44)
b. The Pharisees’ Council (7:45–52)
c. Woman Caught in Adultery (7:53–8:11)
d. Light of the World Message (8:12–59)
4. Healing of the Blind Man (9:1–40)
5. The Good Shepherd Message (10:1–21)
6. Events at the Feast of Dedication (10:22–42)
7. Events at the Final Passover (11:1–12:50)
a. Raising of Lazarus (11:1–54)
b. Anointing of Jesus’ Feet (12:1–11)
c. Presentation of the Messiah-King (12:12–19)
d. Gentile Openness and Israel’s Blindness (12:20–50)
III. Private Ministry: Farewell Instructions to Jesus’ Disciples (13:1–17:26)
A. Washing the Disciples’ Feet (13:1–20)
B. Identifying His Betrayer (13:21–30)
C. Revealing His Departure (13:31–14:31)
D. Abiding in the Vine (15:1–17)
E. Ministering in the World (15:18–16:33)
F. Praying for All Believers (17:1–26)
IV. Passion Ministry: Sacrificial Nature of Jesus’ Death (18:1–20:31)
A. Betrayal and Arrest (18:1–11)
B. Interrogation and Trial (18:12–19:16)
C. Crucifixion and Burial (19:17–42)
D. Resurrection and Appearances (20:1–29)
E. Purpose Statement (20:30–31)
V. Epilogue (21:1–25)
A. The Great Catch of Fish (21:1–14)
B. Future Roles of Peter and John (21:15–23)
C. Final Attestation to Truth (21:24–25)
COMMENTARY ON JOHN
I. Prologue (1:1–18)
The prologue introduces the Fourth Gospel by demonstrating the supremacy of Jesus as the unique One who should be believed. He is the Word (vv. 1, 14), true Light (v. 9), One and Only Son (vv. 14, 18, HCSB), Lamb of God (vv. 29, 36), Rabbi or Teacher (vv. 38, 49), Messiah (vv. 20, 25, 41), Son of God (vv. 34, 49), King of Israel (v. 49), and Son of Man (v. 51).
1:1. In the beginning (cf. Gn 1:1) was the Word (logos) already in existence in eternity past. John took the OT concepts of God’s spoken word and applied them to Jesus. The parallels between Gn 1 and Jn 1 demonstrate that the concept behind the "Word" in Jn 1 is drawn from the OT. God’s Word creates all life (Gn 1:11, 20, 26), and Jesus has the right to give eternal life (Jn 6:27; 10:28). God sends out His word, and it always accomplishes His will (Is 55:11), just as Jesus was sent out and accomplished the Father’s will (Jn 4:34; 6:38). God’s word in the OT is His divine self-expression (Ps 138:2). So Jesus is the divine self-expression of God. Since the Word was with God before all else existed, He had intimate companionship with the Father. This points to separate persons in the Godhead (the Trinity). Yet, since the Word was God, everything that God was in essence, the Word was also. This indicates the deity of Christ—a major theme of the Fourth Gospel.
1:2. Verse 2 subtly repeats v. 1. The Greek phrase was … with [pros] God places a stress on the loving companionship that has always existed between Jesus and the Father (another theme in John). As v. 3 implies, before what happened in the beginning, God was all that there was—and the Word was there personally with God.
1:3–4. The Word created all things—material and immaterial (e.g., angels). While the Father initiated creation, through Him confirms that Jesus was the direct agent of creation (cf. Rm 11:36; Col 1:16; Heb 1:2). John rephrased the thought of v. 3a in 3b to confirm the all-inclusive nature of Christ’s creative work. Since in Him was life (v. 4; cf. 14:6), all life derived from and is given by Jesus (5:21; 10:28; 17:2). The life that was in Jesus was to be a Light for people. In Scripture, light (a thematic word in this gospel) is the place of security and deliverance (Ps 27:1; Ac 13:47), and a figure for holiness, revelation, and truth (1Jn 1:5).
1:5. John stressed the ongoing reality that the Light shines [pres. tense] in the darkness. A spiritual battle exists between good and evil, God and Satan. All darkness (e.g., Satan, Judas, the unbelieving Jews) opposed Jesus. In His sacrificial death for sin, He gained the victory over darkness (cf. 19:30). Therefore, the darkness did not comprehend the light. Since the Greek word "comprehend" (katalambano) means "overtake" in a similar statement in 12:35 ("so that darkness will not overtake you"), it is best taken that way in 1:5 (i.e., the darkness "did not overcome" the light; NET, ESV).
1:6–8. The great forerunner to the Messiah is now introduced. As was the case with OT prophets, John was sent from God. That God "sent" John the Baptist begins the missionary outlook of the book. Witness, which appears for the first time (v. 7), fits into this theme of mission. John’s witness, like the testimony of the book itself (20:30–31), existed so that all might believe in Christ. This marks the first of nearly 100 uses of "believe" (pisteuo) in the book. To "believe" (pisteuo) means "to have confidence in" or "be fully persuaded about" (Ac 28:24; Rm 4:20–21). Even though John the Baptist never did any miracles (10:41), the fact that he came to testify about the Light (v. 8) gives the explanation for his greatness.
1:9–10. Coming into the world refers to Christ’s incarnation (cf. 6:14; 9:39; 11:27; 12:46; 16:28). This phrase does not describe when or in what sense Jesus enlightens every man. The primary point of the phrase is to describe who Jesus is. "The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world" (NIV; cf. ESV, NET). Since Jesus is Creator (vv. 3–4), He has given a measure of light to everyone through general revelation and an inner moral law (Rm 1:18–32; 2:14–15; Leon Morris, The Gospel of John, NICNT [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995], 84). Alternately, He may bring objective revelation to all, forcing people to accept or reject Him (D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, PNC [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991], 124). The world was made through Him (v. 10), including plants and animals. However, in John "world" (kosmos, a thematic word, used 78 times in John, 15 times in the Synoptics) primarily refers to people (e.g., Jn 3:16–17, 19), and the world did not know Him means that most people did not believe in Christ (17:3). The first two references to kosmos in this verse are neutral (cf. 17:24; 21:25), but more often kosmos carries negative overtones (third reference). The "world" is in need of forgiveness (1:29), a Savior (4:42), and eternal life (6:33; 8:12). It hates God (17:25) and Jesus (7:7) as well as believers (15:18, 19), and is ruled by Satan (14:30; 16:11). While believers are in the physical world (13:1; 17:11), they are separated out of the evil world system by their faith in Christ (17:6, 17).
1:11–13. Through the incarnation, Jesus came to His own nation and land (in Gk. "own" is neuter pl.). Ironically, the Jewish people, who were His own (Gk. masculine pl.) people, refused to accept their own Messiah. As many as (v. 12) stipulates a universal promise extending beyond the Jewish people. The promise is to all who have received [lambano, "welcome, take"] Him. "Receive Him" is parallel to believe in His name, showing the terms "receive" and "believe" are essentially synonymous (cf. 12:48; 13:20; 17:8). This is the first of over 35 uses of the phrase "believe in" (pisteuo eis)—a special Johannine construction that always means genuine faith (3:16, 18, 36; 6:40; 11:25). Becoming a child of God results in a spiritual "birth" produced by God’s Spirit (cf. 3:3–8; 1Pt 1:3, 23; 1Jn 5:1, 4) unlike human birth (v. 13). Spiritual birth is not of blood, i.e., it is not the result of human descent. Neither is it of the will of the flesh, as if human desires can bring it about. Nor is spiritual birth of the will of man (Gk. "male, husband"), negating any pride of males in producing children as was common in Jewish culture (and in most cultures). Contrary to anything innate, spiritual birth is an act of God.
1:14. John 1:1–13 and v. 18 focus on the deity of Christ; vv. 14–17 outline the humanity of Christ. The Word became flesh, i.e., He became fully human. The Word dwelt or "tabernacled" (skenoo) on earth. God’s glory, resident in the OT tabernacle, now became resident in Jesus as God’s NT temple (cf. 2:19–21). This begins John’s theme that Jesus has fulfilled the OT system of worship (cf. 4:21). Glory draws on the images of the OT when God manifested Himself to Israel (Ex 16:10; 24:15–17; 33:22), but also encompasses Christ’s incarnation, miracles (Jn 2:11; 11:4, 40), and death, resurrection, and ascension (12:16; 13:31–32; 17:1). The phrase only begotten (monogene) is used for the first of four times in John (1:18; 3:16, 18). NIV, NET, and HCSB translate this word, "one and only," because it looks at the uniqueness of the Son, not at a "birth." Isaac is called Abraham’s "only begotten son" (Heb 11:17), but was neither Abraham’s only nor first-born son, though he was certainly Abraham’s "one-of-a-kind" or unique son. Full of grace and truth is to be understood in light of the incarnation ("the Word became flesh"). See v. 17.
1:15–16. Next to Jesus, John the Baptist as the forerunner of the Messiah is the apostle’s chief example of one who boldly testified to the truth (see comment on 2:23). Like an OT prophet, John cried out in giving his message. Jesus was born after John the Baptist (He who comes after me). But Christ was superior to John (has a higher rank than I) on the grounds that He is eternally preexistent (for He existed before me). In light of the words His fullness (v. 16), the phrase grace upon grace means a maximized grace or "one gracious gift after another" (NET).
1:17. As did Paul (Rm 5:20; 6:14), John made a contrast between the law and Moses (not Judaism), and grace and Jesus Christ. Grace (used in John only in vv. 14, 16, 17) and truth may recall the OT concept of "lovingkindness [Hb. chesed] and truth [Hb. emet]" (Ex 34:6; 33:13, 18–19) and point to God’s covenant faithfulness to Israel. Moses was the indirect source of law; Jesus was the source of all grace, even God’s grace shown to Israel (cf. Ex. 34:6–7). (Note the preexistence of Christ in Jn 1:15). So ultimately, grace and truth were mediated (were realized, lit., "came") through Jesus Christ in both the OT and NT.
1:18. No one has seen God at any time (cf. 1Tm 6:16), though people have received partial revelations of Him in the person of the preincarnate Christ (e.g., Abraham, Gn 18:1; Moses, Ex 33:18–23). The only begotten God, "the only God" (ESV), or "the only one, himself God" (NET) reads a different set of Greek mss as opposed to "the One and Only Son" (HSCB, TNIV). The latter is more Johannine (cf. 3:16, 18), though many scholars think the antiquity of the manuscripts and the difficulty of the reading (a scribe probably would not have changed "Son" to "God") support the NASB translation. In the bosom of the Father is an idiom denoting the extreme intimacy that Jesus had with God the Father (cf. 13:23). Other versions translate the phrase "in closest relationship/fellowship with" (TNIV, NET), or "near/close to the Father’s heart" (NLTse, NJB, NRSV).
II. Public Ministry: Miraculous Signs of Jesus’ Identity (1:19–12:50)
The first major unit of John centers on the public ministry of Jesus with seven sign-miracles performed by Him (eight signs including Jesus’ resurrection; see chart at 2:1) that identify Him as the Christ. Verses 19–51 offer four witnesses (John the Baptist, Andrew, Philip, Nathaniel) to the truth presented in the Prologue: Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God who is fully God come in human form.
A. Preliminary Events to Jesus’ Ministry (1:19–51)
1. Testimony of John the Baptist (1:19–34)
1:19–20. The Jews sent to John the Baptist priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him about his identity. The "Jews" refers here to the Jewish authorities (cf. v. 24). Behind the question Who are you? is the thought that John the Baptist might be the coming Messiah (cf. Lk 3:15). The forerunner vigorously denied it (v. 20). Christ is the Greek term corresponding to the Hebrew and Aramaic word "Messiah." Both terms mean "anointed one."
1:21–23. Judaism had diverse opinions about what great leaders were promised in the OT to deliver Israel. Elijah was prophesied to return in the end times (Mal 4:5; Mt 17:11; Lk 1:17). Also, there was an eschatological Prophet (cf. Jn 1:45; 6:14; 7:40) predicted to be like Moses (Dt 18:15, 18). Peter and Stephen claimed this prophet was Jesus (Ac 3:22; 7:37), and while He certainly functioned in a way befitting a prophet, He was also much more.
1:23. John the Baptist (v. 23) literally preached in the wilderness as Is 40:3 indicated (cf. Mt 3:2–3; Mk 1:3–4; Lk 3:3–4). By calling for repentance, he was preparing the people’s hearts (Make straight the way) to receive Christ by faith (cf. Ac 19:4). Of the four Gospels, only John’s does not mention the word "repent" or "repentance."
1:24–25. That these men had been sent from the Pharisees contrasts radically with those sent from God, i.e., John the Baptist and Jesus Himself (cf. vv. 6, 19, 22, 33). The Pharisees (about 6,000 at the time) were laymen (not priests) who zealously followed the Mosaic law but added many extrabiblical traditions to it. As the largest Jewish religious-political party, they exercised considerable influence. While the Jewish people highly esteemed them, Jesus often unmasked their hypocrisy (cf. Mt 23:1–36). This is not surprising since even later rabbinic authorities, having sprung from Pharisaism, also criticize their hypocrisy (Babylonian Talmud Sotah 22b). John’s baptizing ministry (v. 25) grew out of the OT emphasis on symbolic cleansing with water (Lv 13–17; Nm 19; Ps 51:2, 7; Is 4:4). The form of the question presupposes that the Jewish leaders thought of baptism as a mark of the coming Messiah.
1:26–28. Among you stands One whom you do not know implies the Messiah could be easily overlooked (Is 53:2) and potentially rejected (v. 10). John acknowledged his unworthiness to serve Christ even as a slave who loosens the straps of another’s sandal. The location of Bethany beyond the Jordan (3:26; 10:40) is uncertain, though it may be the area northwest of the Sea of Galilee where there was a considerable amount of water that served as the headwaters of the Jordan River. The Latinized form of the name of this region was "Batanaea." At any rate, it is to be distinguished from the Bethany near Jerusalem (11:1). "Beyond the Jordan" recalls the time when Israel was positioned to conquer the promised land (Nm 22:1; Dt 3:20; Jos 1:14–15; 22). Israel is now positioned to be led by Jesus, the new Joshua.
1:29. Chronologically, the next day sets up a sequence of an entire week (cf. vv. 29, 35, 43; and "the third day" in 2:1). By referring to Jesus as the Lamb of God (cf. v. 36), John the Baptist alluded to the fulfillment of OT sacrificial imagery (Gn 22:8; Is 53:7, 12; 1Pt 1:19; Rv 5:12), especially the Passover lamb (Jn 19:36; Ex 12:1–13; 1Co 5:7). The substitutionary death of Christ takes away the sin of the whole world, including all Gentiles—a shocking revelation to the Jewish readers.
1:30. For the third time (cf. vv. 15, 27), the Baptizer confirmed that the Messiah would appear after him. The reason He has a higher rank than the forerunner is that He existed before John. Since John the Baptist was born before Jesus (Lk 1:26–31), this can only refer to the eternality (and therefore the deity) of Jesus—a theme in harmony with the purpose of chap. 1.
1:31. Unlike the Synoptics’, the Fourth Gospel’s record of John the Baptist downplays the role of his baptism (see comment on v. 22). Instead, the focus is on the forerunner’s testimony to Jesus’ true identity. As everyone else, John did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah at first. In the dialogues with the Jewish interviewers (vv. 19–27), he had offered very little information about his own identity. John’s role was that Jesus might be manifested to Israel as their Messiah.
1:32–33. The Spirit’s descent on Christ took place at the baptism of Jesus (not mentioned in John). The significance of the event was that the Spirit remained upon Christ. The wording recalls Isaiah’s prophecies where the Spirit rests on the Messiah (11:1–2; 42:1; 61:1). The Messiah had to be revealed to John (v. 33) from the Father (He who sent me) by means of the Spirit descending and remaining upon Jesus. This Jesus would be the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit (see the comments on 1Co 12:13). This is the only mention in John of the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Mt 3:11; Mk 1:8; Lk 3:16).
1:34. The title Son of God is reserved in the Fourth Gospel for Jesus alone, implies His deity, and is roughly synonymous to "Christ" (11:27; 20:30–31). It finds its background in the Davidic covenant (2Sm 7:14; Ps 2:7; see the comments there) where God promised an unending reign for His chosen King-Son (cf. v. 49). Jewish people rightly understood Jesus’ claim to being the Son of God as a claim to be being equal with God (5:18).
2. First Disciples (1:35–51)
1:35–37. For the next day, see v. 29. Jesus’ first disciples were originally disciples of John the Baptist. As such they had faith in the One true God of Israel. They now understood that Jesus is the Messiah they had believed would come to Israel (cf. 6:37). That John was standing (v. 36) while Jesus walked intimates that the movement of God was shifting to Jesus (Edwin A. Blum, "John," BKCNT [Wheaton: Victor, 1983], 275). For Lamb of God, see v. 29. Two of the forerunner’s disciples … followed Jesus (v. 37). In the Jewish culture, discipleship entailed physically following one’s teacher or rabbi to receive training.
1:38. Since Jesus turned and saw the two disciples following Him, they could not follow Him secretly (see the theme of the secret disciple at 2:24–25). Jesus asked them What do you seek? Jesus’ question was designed to draw out their commitment. What were they hoping to gain in life by following Christ? They asked, Where are You staying? The thought of "staying" (meno, "abide") with Jesus prepares the reader for the intimate relationship of abiding in Jesus, the True Vine (15:1–17).
1:39. Come, and you will see invited the disciples to investigate Jesus further, a pattern of evangelism and discipleship that should be imitated. Although it is often assumed, the text does not directly state that they stayed overnight. A debate exists over whether John used Roman or Jewish reckoning of time (the Synoptics use the Jewish system). By Roman reckoning, the tenth hour would be 10:00 a.m. (HCSB). The time indications in 4:6 and 19:14 best fit the Jewish system, making the "tenth hour" 4:00 p.m. (NET, TNIV, NLTse, TEV).
1:40–42. Only one of the two who followed Jesus is mentioned (cf. v. 37), Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. The other is unnamed, but is likely the apostle John (see Introduction: Author). Andrew, who found first his own brother (v. 41), became one who brought others to Christ (cf. 6:8–9; 12:22). Andrew’s confession (We have found the Messiah, v. 41) is the first direct declaration in John that Jesus is the Christ. For Messiah and Christ, see 1:20. In the OT, God changed the name of an individual to mark out his divine calling (e.g., Abraham, Gn 17:5; Jacob, Gn 32:28). Jesus renamed Peter as Cephas (v. 42), an Aramaic word meaning "stone." Peter would become a solid leader in the early church, despite his denials at the trials of Jesus.
1:43–44. On the next day, see v. 29. Since Jesus purposed to go into Galilee, He found another disciple originally from Galilee. Philip, the fourth disciple to follow Jesus, was from Bethsaida (cf. 12:21), a village on the northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee. Andrew and Peter (v. 44) were also from Bethsaida. Bethsaida (meaning "house of fish") was the scene of the feeding of the 5,000 (Lk 9:10–17) and the healing of a blind man (Mk 8:22–26). By this time, however, all three had taken up residence in Capernaum (Mk 1:21, 29).
1:45–46. Philip found Nathanael (21:2), probably the disciple named Bartholomew in other accounts (Mt 10:3; Mk 3:18; Lk 6:14; Ac 1:13). We have found Him begins Philip’s personal testimony. Personal witness brings people to Christ. Philip mentioned Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, i.e., the Messiah (see comment on 1:22). The "Law and the Prophets" was a common title for the whole OT (Mt 7:12; 22:40; Lk 16:16). Nathanael questioned whether any good thing could come out of Nazareth, so insignificant it was not even mentioned in the OT (cf. 7:52). Philip responded simply, Come and see, imitating Jesus’ own methods (v. 39; cf. 4:29).
1:47. Nathanael was a regenerate man of OT faith. Otherwise, Jesus could not have said of him that he was an Israelite indeed (cf. Rm 2:29) and that no deceit could be found in him. This faith would soon include a belief in Jesus as the Messiah (v. 49). Jesus made a wordplay on the name "Israel," the new name given to Jacob, the patriarch of the Jews (Gn 27:35; 31:26). Nathanael exemplified Jacob’s faith rather than his deceit (Heb 11:21).
1:48. Nathaniel’s question How do You know me? begins the Johannine theme of the Lord’s supernatural knowledge of people and events (2:24–25; 5:42; 6:15, 64; 13:1, 3, 11; 18:4; 19:28; 21:17). Before Philip called Nathanael and without being physically present, Jesus miraculously saw Nathanael under the fig tree. Jesus’ divine awareness of Nathanael’s heart brought about immediate faith in Jesus as Israel’s Messiah. In the OT, the fig tree symbolized peace and safety brought by the messianic kingdom (Mc 4:4; Zch 3:10). In addition, "being under the fig tree" is a rabbinic figure of speech for studying the Torah (Bab Talmud Erubin 54a, also Midrash Ecclesiastes 5:11 and Midrash Song 6:2; cf. Jerome H. Neyrey, The Gospel of John, NCBC [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006], 58). Perhaps Nathanael was busy studying his Torah when Jesus saw him.
1:49. Nathanael addressed Jesus first as Rabbi or teacher, then as the Son of God (see v. 34), and third as King of Israel. As King of Israel, Jesus will sit on the throne of David in the coming millennial kingdom (2Sm 7:12–16; Ezk 37:21–28). In contrast to Nathanael’s sincere confession, the Jewish people will falsely claim Jesus as King during the last week of His life (Jn 12:13), and the Romans will crucify Him for claiming to be King of the Jews (19:3, 14–21).
1:50. Jesus praised the simplicity of Nathanael’s faith. The new disciple believed merely because Jesus, without being present, saw him under the fig tree. The phrase You will see greater things is both a prophecy and a promise, and refers to Jesus’ sign-miracles (2:1–12:50), especially the resurrection (2:18–22). The fulfillment began at the wedding of Cana (2:1–11).
1:51. Truly, truly ("I tell all of you the solemn truth," NET) is found 25 times in John, never in the Synoptics. It is always spoken by Christ and introduces an earnest announcement that stresses His unique authority. The Greek word for "truly" is amen, from which we get the English word "amen" (cf. Jesus as the authoritative "Amen" in Rv 3:14). The Greek for you in v. 51 now becomes plural, addressing the group. The disciples will see "previews" of the coming kingdom (cf. Mt 16:28–17:8). See comment on 2:11. The heavens opened refers to a new phase in revelation (e.g., Is 64:1; Ezk 1:1; Mt 3:16; Rv 4:1; 19:11). Like Jacob’s ladder that mediated between heaven and earth (see the comments on Gn 28:12, 16), Jesus will be humanity’s access to God and God’s communication with humanity (Jn 14:6; 10:9). Son of Man is a messianic title of One (Jesus) who exhibits both human and divine characteristics and receives an eternal, earthly kingdom (Ps 8:4–5; Dn 7:13–14).
B. Premature Reception of Jesus’ Ministry (2:1–4:54)
1. Wedding at Cana (2:1–11)
Jesus traveled to Cana of Galilee with Mary, His mother, and His disciples. Jewish weddings were filled with festivity and occasionally lasted a week.
2:1–2. The third day is marked from the time Jesus found Philip (1:43; see comment on 1:29). Cana was about eight miles north of Nazareth, the home of Jesus and Mary. For the first time, Jesus is said to have disciples (never called "apostles" in John). Mary, the mother of Jesus (never identified by name in John), was fully aware by faith that her Son was the Messiah (Lk 1:26–56; 2:1–51). Apparently Mary thought the time for Jesus to reveal His identity had come. Since she gave directions to the servants (v. 5), she must have had some official responsibilities.
2:3. Mary told Jesus, They have no [more] wine. A failure of this kind was a serious offense against Jewish standards of hospitality. Mary’s request implied that she anticipated a miracle.
2:4–5. In the Jewish culture, woman was a respectful address (cf. 4:21; 19:26). Yet by asking, What does that have to do with us? Jesus distanced Himself from His earthly mother (cf. Mk 1:24; 5:7). The reference to Jesus’ hour or "time" (see also comment on 4:21) is not found in the Synoptics but is frequent in John. At first, His hour had not yet come (2:4; 7:6, 8, 30; 8:20), but later it had come (12:23; 13:1; 16:32; 17:1). The term refers to the glory displayed in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Since in v. 4 it had not yet come, the Lord was fully aware of its divine timing. This timing was set by the sovereign plan of the Father (12:27). Mary instructed the servants, Whatever He says to you, do it. This must also be our response to His will.
2:6–7. Symbolically, six may well represent the imperfection or insufficiency of Judaism (Andrew T. Lincoln, The Gospel According to Saint John, [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005], 129; Andreas J. Köstenberger, John, BECNT [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004], 96) and characterizes the Jewish legalistic custom of purification (cf. Mt. 15:1–2). Yet it is impossible to be certain that John intended such a symbolic use of the number "six." Such washings were for religious, not hygienic, purposes. The six stone waterpots holding twenty or thirty gallons each totaled 120 to 180 gallons. At Jesus’ directions, the servants were to fill the large waterpots with water. That the servants filled them up to the brim expresses the overabundance of joy (wine) that comes through the Messiah (cf. 1:17).
The Eight Signs in John
1. Turning water to wine (2:1–11)
2. Healing of the nobleman’s son (4:46–54)
3. Healing of the lame man (5:1–15)
4. Feeding of the 5,000 (6:1–15)
5. Walking on water (6:16–21)
6. Healing of the blind man (9:1–41)
7. Raising of Lazarus (11:1–44)
8. Christ’s resurrection (2:18–22; 20:1–29)
2:8–10. In obedience to Mary’s advice and Jesus’ instructions, the servants were to draw from the waterpots some water-turned-to-wine and take it to the headwaiter. Culturally, the poorer wine was served last when the sensibilities of the guests had become dull. To the headwaiter’s surprise (v. 9), he now tasted a wine that was far better than the bridegroom had been serving to this point. Jesus contradicted what every man does (v. 10) and corrected a conventional but unethical social custom.
2:11. This was the very first of the signs or miracles Jesus did and it manifested His glory (an attribute of God). The divine glory and presence that first dwelt in the OT tabernacle (1:14) was now residing in the person of Jesus. But the greatest display of glory, ironically, was yet to come in the humiliation and suffering of the cross (7:39; 12:16; 13:31, 32; 17:1). A "sign" (semeion), a special word in John (the Synoptics use dynamis, "power," for Jesus’ miracles), is a miracle designed to attest to the authority of a messenger and the validity of His message. The Evangelist recorded these signs to bring about faith in Christ (20:30–31). The words His disciples believed in Him show that at the earliest contacts with Jesus (cf. 3:24 with Mt 4:12, 17; Mk 1:14–15), His disciples (excluding Judas, Jn 6:70–71) had saving faith. A Jewish wedding symbolized the messianic kingdom (Is 54:1–8; 62:1–5; Mt 8:11; 22:2; Rv 19:7, 9), and the wine symbolized the joy and blessings of that kingdom (Is 25:6; Jr 31:12; Jl 2:19; 3:18; Mt 26:29). The water-to-wine miracle also revealed Jesus as the Creator (Jn 1:3, 10) and the Giver of Life (1:4; 4:14), and that He would be the One to provide the abundant fertility that would yield much wine (joy and celebration) in the millennial kingdom (see Am 9:13–15).
2. Temple Cleansing (2:12–25)
The temple cleansing reveals that Jesus is the "temple" of the New Era. The miracle of the new wine (2:1–11) was semiprivate; the cleansing of the temple was the first public presentation to Israel that Jesus is the Messiah.
2:12. Jesus went down from the mountains of Cana to Capernaum, some 16 miles NE of Cana. The author’s comment is brief since the Fourth Gospel is more interested in Jesus’ activities in Jerusalem. His mother and His brothers are mentioned (cf. Mt 13:55; Mk 6:3), but not Joseph, who apparently died before Christ’s public ministry. Although His brothers witnessed this miracle, they did not believe (cf. Jn 7:5). Since the Passover was near (cf. v. 13), they stayed only a few days in Capernaum.
2:13–14. This is the first of three explicit references to the Passover in John (though the feast mentioned in 5:1 is probably also a Passover), marking perhaps as many as three-and-one-half years of Jesus’ ministry (see comments on 5:1). The Synoptics refer to a second cleansing of the temple during the last week of Jesus’ life (Mt 21:12–13; Mk 11:15–17; Lk 19:45–46). The Greek for temple (hieron) designates the temple complex that included the large Court of the Gentiles where the money changers were seated. Money changers exacted a fee to exchange Roman and Galilean coins for acceptable temple coinage. Jewish worshipers could then pay the temple tax and purchase animals for sacrifice.
2:15. Jesus viewed this commerce inside the temple complex as a sacrilege since it exploited the poor to gain funds to beautify the temple, and it disrupted Gentile worship in the court of the Gentiles, their only place to worship (Köstenberger, John, 106). So He drove the merchants all out of the temple, including the animals. He also overturned the tables of the money changers, symbolically cleansing the temple. This act fulfilled Malachi’s prophecy of the sudden entrance of the Messiah into the temple to purify the nation (Mal 3:1–3). It also may have served as a symbolic act of judgment against the leaders who had allowed the corruption to go so far (see the comments on Mt 21:12).
2:16–18. Jesus’ command stop making My Father’s house a place of business alluded to Zch 14:20–21. Zechariah described the messianic kingdom as one in which there would be no "merchants" in the temple (see NASB footnote at Zch 14:21). "My Father’s house" set forth a clear messianic claim, as the quote (v. 17) from Ps 69:9 proves. For His disciples remembered, see v. 22. In Ps 69, David’s passion for the temple typifies the greater Zeal that the Messiah would have for protecting the sanctity of God’s house. Jesus’ actions invoked the anger of the Jews (v. 18)—the first note of antagonism toward Jesus in John. The Jews (the religious leaders of the temple) demanded an attesting sign (see comment on 2:11) by which He could validate His authority in having committed such a subversive act. Their question was understandable. No Jewish man would dare to do what Jesus did. But He was not simply a man.
2:19–22. As God’s foremost Prophet, Jesus predicted His own death (Destroy this temple) and the precise timing of His resurrection (in three days). The words I will raise it up present Jesus as the divine agent of His own resurrection. The temple (naos, "sanctuary," vv. 19, 20, 21) refers to the Most Holy place where God’s presence lived in the OT, not the entire temple complex. The sanctuary (naos) construction was completed in 18/17 BC. It took forty-six years to build this temple (v. 20) means "this sanctuary has been built (completed) for forty-six years" (i.e., AD 20–30). This helps date the crucifixion of Christ three years later in AD 33. Because Jesus was speaking of the temple (naos) that was His body (v. 21), the glory that resided in the OT sanctuary now resided in Jesus (cf. 1:14). Prompted by His resurrection to reflect on OT messianic prophecy, His disciples remembered (v. 22) these prophecies in Zch 14 and Ps 69 (see 2:16–18 above) and linked them to the word which Jesus had spoken about His death and resurrection (raising the "temple" in three days).
2:23–25. The Passover included the Passover itself (one day) followed by seven days for the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Some understand many believed in His name to be inauthentic faith because (1) faith based on miracles (the signs which He was doing) is insufficient, and (2) Jesus was not entrusting Himself to them (v. 24). But John declared that Jesus’ signs were intended to bring about faith (20:30–31). Also, the apostle used a Greek phrase (believed in His name) that clearly speaks of genuine faith (cf. Jn 1:12; 3:18; cf. 20:31). That Jesus was not entrusting Himself to them means that Jesus considered these new believers not yet prepared for further disclosures of spiritual truth. This begins John’s theme of the "secret disciple" (cf. 19:38–39). John’s declaration that He Himself knew what was in man (v. 25) underlines the Lord’s divine knowledge of people (see comments on 1:48). To demonstrate that knowledge of humanity, three interviews follow, with Nicodemus, a Jewish leader, the Samaritan woman, and a Gentile nobleman. In each one, Jesus demonstrated His supernatural understanding of their inner thoughts and needs. With Nicodemus, a scholar, Jesus saw his need for a faith that was not merely intellectual. With the woman, He saw a need for moral transformation. With the nobleman, He perceived the man’s need for a physical healing of his son.
3. Dialogue with Nicodemus (3:1–21)
Believers are fond of the encounter of Jesus with Nicodemus because it reveals the wonderful truth of being "born again" (or better, "born from above").
3:1. There was a man ties directly to chap. 2. Jesus "knew what was in man" (2:25), so He knew what was in Nicodemus. On the Pharisees, see comment on 1:24. As a ruler of the Jews, Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin (on the Sanhedrin, see comments on 11:47). Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus’s friend (cf. 19:38–39), was also on this council (Mk 15:43).
3:2. Although Nicodemus had not yet believed in Christ, he was moving toward faith. His remark We know that You have come from God reflects the growing conviction of sincere seekers among the Jews. Many eventually came to faith (12:42). Jesus’ role as a teacher contrasted with Nicodemus’s limitations as a teacher among the Jewish people (v. 10).
3:3–4. For truly, truly, see comments on 1:51. One needed more than the recognition that God was with Jesus (v. 2). The Pharisee needed a spiritual birth—to be "born from above." The word translated "again" (anothen) can also mean "from above," and this is the preferable understanding here. Jesus spoke of a spiritual birth "from above," but Nicodemus misunderstood this to be a physical rebirth ("born again"). The gospel of John records numerous misunderstandings of Jesus.
3:5. In the phrase born of water and the Spirit, "water" cannot refer to Christian baptism, as this would have been meaningless to Nicodemus at this point in salvation history. It also does not mean that baptism is necessary for eternal life since this would contradict the single requirement of faith for eternal life in John (1:12; 3:16, 36; 8:24; 20:31; see the comments on 1Pt 3:21). Water (v. 5) probably does not refer to human birth, being born through the amniotic fluids associated with birth, for there is no indication that the ancient world thought of birth in such terms. The better understanding is that Jesus alludes to Ezk 36:25–27, a passage that refers to God providing spiritual cleansing ("I will sprinkle clean water on you") and giving His Spirit. And this is a "new covenant" passage, one with which Nicodemus should have been familiar (hence Jesus’ reproof in Jn 3:10). To see [or enter, v. 5] the kingdom of God means to live in the future millennial kingdom on earth (Rv 20:1–6), and afterward, to live the eternal life that was received in this earthly life. For kingdom of God, see v. 3 and the comments on Mt 3:1–4.
3:6–8. Like original creation that can only bear after its kind (Gn 1:11–12, 24–25), whatever is born of the flesh is flesh. So only the Spirit can produce a spiritual birth. Jesus illustrated this concept with the wind. We do not doubt the reality of the wind (you hear the sound of it) even though it is invisible and mysterious. The Spirit’s work of new birth is also invisible and mysterious but must be readily accepted like the wind.
3:9–10. Since Nicodemus became a disciple who at first failed to verbally testify of Christ (see comment on 19:38–40), his last words with Jesus are recorded in v. 9. John did not include his response. Jesus rebuked Nicodemus for not knowing the OT Scriptures that teach the necessity of a new birth by the Spirit (e.g., 1Sm 10:9; Ezk 11:9; 36:25–27; Jr 31:33).
3:11–12. We speak could refer to (1) Jesus only (the editorial "we"); (2) Jesus and the OT prophets; or (3) the Trinity (best option). All of the persons of the Trinity know and testify of what they have seen. But the Jewish leaders did not accept this testimony. Jesus had explained spiritual events (new birth, the Spirit’s work) that take place on earth (earthly things) and Nicodemus did not believe them. If Jesus spoke of unseen things in heaven (heavenly things), this would not change.
3:13–14. To speak to people about things in heaven (v. 12), one would need to have ascended into heaven, or be from there and have descended from heaven. The Son of Man (see comment on 1:51) has done the latter. Moses lifted up (v. 14) a bronze snake on a pole when God judged Israel in the wilderness with venomous snakes (Nm 21:4–9). God healed instantly anyone who simply looked at the snake (Nm 21:9). The instrument of judgment and death (the snake) became the means of life. So it is with the Christ lifted up on the cross, the instrument of His death. One "look" of faith in Christ immediately heals and brings eternal life. This is the first of three lifted up sayings in John (8:28; 12:32). Jesus being "lifted up" refers both physically to the cross, and spiritually to His exaltation/glorification through His death (cf. 8:28; 12:32–34).
3:15. The phrase eternal life appears here for the first time of 17 times in John—four times more often than any other NT book. But the word "life" appears frequently by itself when it means "eternal" life. Some interpreters understand Jesus’ words to stop at v. 15 (cf. NET, NIV, NABRE), with 3:16 being comments provided by John and not Jesus. It is true that in 3:16ff. the third person, not the first person, predominates. But Jesus referred to Himself in the third person in 3:13–15. Why would this not continue in 3:16–18? Elsewhere in John, Jesus referred to Himself in the third person within a first-person discourse (5:19–30). A more natural break starts at v. 22, not v. 16 (cf. ESV, HCSB, NIV, CEB).
3:16. John 3:16 is perhaps the most well-known verse in the NT. God so loved the world includes all people, not just believers. God’s love is not sentimentality. "Loved" is an aorist tense, and traditionally is viewed as referring to the cross. It also anticipates the next phrase, that He gave His only begotten Son. God’s love is linked to His giving of Christ to die for sins (Gl 2:20; Eph 5:2, 25). For only begotten Son, see comment on 1:14. For believes in, see comment on 1:12. Whoever believes in Him is better translated "all who believe" or "everyone who believes," so that the death of Christ is for the purpose of providing escape from destruction and eternal life for believers. Perish contrasts with "eternal life" and involves an eternal conscious punishment (cf. Mk 9:42–48; Rv 14:9–11). Those who believe in Christ have (present tense) eternal life now, even while on earth.
3:17. The words God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world repeat v. 16 negatively: the Father’s heart is not predisposed initially to condemnation (cf. 1Jn 4:14; 2Co 5:19). The Son was "sent" by the Father (Jn 5:36; 6:57; 17:21; 20:21), a concept found about 40 times in John. Being sent by the Father marks out mission as a central focus of Christ. Saved or "salvation" is not a common term in John (used seven times).
3:18. One’s eternal destiny is determined on earth, not in heaven. Anyone who believes in Jesus is not judged or condemned in the future judgment. Anyone who does not believe has been judged already, here and now. The future judgment confirms but does not determine one’s eternal destiny. For only begotten, see comment on 1:14.
3:19–21. Jesus is the Light that has come into the world (cf. 1:4–9). Darkness is the place of hiding where evil deeds are done, either by non-Christians or disobedient Christians. Light is the place of openness and exposure. The unbeliever certainly hates the Light and totally avoids it. But even sinning Christians must see that they are, from God’s perspective, hating the light (cf. Jms 4:4) when they persist in their sins. They, too, do not come to the Light [a different concept from "coming" to or believing in Christ for eternal life] for fear that their deeds will be exposed and reproved (cf. 1Jn 1:6). For some time, King David hid his sins after he committed adultery and murder (see comments on Pss 32 and 51). Once a non-Christian comes to faith, he or she can be instead one who practices the truth and then comes to the Light (i.e., openly identifies with the truth) for fellowship with Christ (1Jn 1:7, 9). Only an obedient Christian can have his deeds become evident or manifested as having been wrought [produced] in God.
4. Additional Testimony of John (3:22–36)
Nicodemus who never told us of his response to Jesus’ message (see comments on 2:23–25; 3:9–10) was now contrasted with John the Baptist, the bold witness.
3:22–24. The time reference, after these things, is nonspecific, but the events took place before John’s imprisonment (cf. v. 24). John was imprisoned before Jesus began His public (Galilean) ministry (Mt 4:12–13, 17; Mk 1:14–15). Part of making disciples is spending time with them, as Jesus did. Jesus and the forerunner carried on parallel baptizing ministries (cf. 4:2), giving rise to the issue of vv. 25–26. Only John’s gospel mentions that Jesus was baptizing. The exact locations of Aenon and Salim are not known, despite the clue that there was much water there. They may have been located on the Jordan River forming the eastern boundary of Samaria. It is possible that Jesus’ effective ministry in John 4 in Sychar, a Samaritan city, may be because of the precursory work of John in the same vicinity. Christian baptism is distinct from John’s baptism (Ac 19:3–5) since it was not given until after the resurrection (Mt 28:18–20). Christian water baptism is designed to be a symbolic representation of what God has done for the believer in uniting him with Christ (see the comments on Rm 6:3–4; 1Co 12:13), but John’s baptism is a symbol indicating repentance and spiritual cleansing in preparation for the coming of the kingdom of God.
3:25–26. A debate between John’s disciples and an unidentified Jew regarding purification brought the group to the Baptist. Whether their motives (they came) were pure or tainted by jealousy or other sins, the resulting remark to John the Baptist was an enticement to compare his ministry with Jesus’: He … to whom you have testified … all are coming to Him. Comparisons with others are unwise (2Co 10:12).
3:27–28. The Baptizer’s answer to his disciples (v. 26) generalizes a truth applicable to all, particularly to ministry: A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven. Most directly, it applies to Christ’s gathering of disciples (6:37, 39). John’s own disciples could testify to his avowal that he was only the predecessor to the Messiah (see 1:15, 20, 23). For Christ, see comment on 1:20.
3:29–30. John likened Jesus to a bridegroom (cf. Mk 2:19; Mt 25:6) at a wedding. John’s role was like the friend of the bridegroom (the "best man"). He stands next to the groom and rejoices greatly on hearing the groom’s voice as he pledges his commitment to the bride (cf. 2Co 11:2; Rv 21:9). Recognizing his God-given role, John humbly remarked of Jesus, He must increase. John also realized that his ministry would not continue the same; he must actually decrease.
3:31–33. The NASB (contra HCSB, ESV) rightly continues the quotation of the forerunner through v. 36. Because Jesus comes from above, He is therefore above all other teachers of truth. Other religious leaders are of the earth and are earthly (imperfect, limited) in their teaching. Since He has been in the presence of the Father (1:1), Christ can testify of what He has seen and heard (v. 32). The words has set his seal to this (v. 33) mean "has confirmed clearly" (NET) that God is true.
3:34–36. Since God gives the Spirit without measure to the Son, Jesus will fulfill all of God’s intentions for the Messiah. The Father’s love-gift of all things (v. 35) to the Son gives Christ the right to grant eternal life. Eternal life begins now, as is evident in the present tense, has eternal life (v. 36; cf. v. 16). Does not obey the Son contrasts with "believe," and refers to disobeying the command to believe in Christ (12:36, 50; Ac 16:31). The wrath of God is presently on the unbeliever (Rm 1:18) and abides on (remains on) him as long as he refuses to believe.
5. Samaritan Woman (4:1–42)
Like the story of Nicodemus (3:1–21), the narrative of Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well is treasured as a wonderful example of an evangelistic encounter.
4:1–3. The narrative begins by describing the historical circumstances that led Jesus to leave Judea. The Lord knew that the Pharisees had received reports that He was making and baptizing more disciples than John. The forerunner’s words were being fulfilled (cf. 3:30). The Fourth Gospel downplays water baptism (cf. 1:6, 31) by noting that Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were (v. 2). Since the precise occasion for His death had not yet come (cf. 2:4), Jesus chose to avoid controversy with the Pharisees in Jerusalem. So He went away again into Galilee (v. 3).
4:4–6. The historic tensions between Jewish people and Samaritans usually (but not always) caused Jewish people to avoid traveling straight north through Samaria to Galilee. Instead they would circle around Samaria to the east, into Perea and the Decapolis east of the Jordan. Jews and Samaritans despised each other (cf. 4:9; 8:48). The reason for this hatred, from the Jewish perspective, was manifold. First, Samaritans were of mixed heritage with Gentiles, yet they claimed to be the "true" recipients of the Abrahamic promises. Second, they had violently opposed Cyrus’s restoration of the Jewish people to the land of Israel. Third, the Samaritans had built their own counterfeit temple on Mt. Gerizim and adopted their own priesthood and sacrificial system, all independent of the Jewish people. Fourth, during the Seleucid king Antiochus IV’s religious persecution of the Jewish people (167 BC), the Samaritans allied with the pagan attack on Judaism. In retaliation, Jewish leader John Hyrcanus (reigned 134–104 BC) destroyed the Samaritan temple. Clearly, the hatred ran both ways between these two people groups.
But Jesus had to [edei, "it was necessary"] pass through Samaria. By divine obligation, Jesus violated social, cultural, and religious conventions to demonstrate God’s love for an outcast people. Jesus stopped at Sychar (v. 5), where Jacob’s well was located (v. 6). Now after 1,800 years, Jacob’s well was still productive. Jesus was wearied from His journey (showing He was fully human) and sat down by the well at the sixth hour (noontime; see comment on 1:39).
4:7–8. It was customary in Jewish culture for women to draw water (Ex 2:16) and do it in the evening (Gn 24:11). That this immoral woman of Samaria came to draw water at noon by herself may suggest her intention to maintain anonymity. Jesus, now without His disciples (v. 8), initiated the conversation, opening with a question. Believers must take the initiative in evangelistic conversations, and questions are often the place to begin. The disciples were to buy food (v. 8; cf. the cost of discipleship in Lk 14:26–33), in contrast to the woman who will be offered the free gift of "living water" (eternal life, v. 10).
4:9. The Samaritan woman was amazed that Jesus spoke to her since (1) in that culture men did not talk to women, especially unknown women; and (2) Jews have no dealings with Samaritans (a comment by John and not the woman). Tradition taught that taking a drink from a vessel handled by a Samaritan woman would make Jesus ceremonially unclean. In reality, the water Jesus wanted to give the woman would make her spiritually and eternally clean.
4:10. Jesus gave the woman three conditions for gaining "living water": she needed to (1) know the free gift of eternal life that God gives; (2) know the identity of Jesus, the One who gives this gift on behalf of God; and (3) to ask Jesus for it (i.e., to believe in him). That Jesus claims to be the source of living water indicates that he viewed Himself as the God of the OT and the Messiah (Ps 36:9; Jr 2:13; 17:13).
4:11–12. Nicodemus and the woman both confused spiritual truths with physical realities. How could this unknown Jewish man be greater than their patriarch Jacob (v. 12)? And how could the water-gift He gives be greater than the well Jacob gave that watered even his cattle? The woman’s questions reflect her skepticism (the Greek construction of the question You are not greater than our father Jacob, are you? anticipates a negative response). Like so many others, the woman did not recognize who Jesus was (1:10, 26, 31, 33).
4:13–14. Jesus contrasted the temporal satisfaction of physical water that needs to be drunk repeatedly with the permanent, eternal satisfaction of the water He will give (v. 14). The one who drinks just once of the water (i.e., believes) Jesus gives will never thirst again because it will become in him a perpetual well (pege, an active "spring") of water springing up to eternal life. The Greek word, "springing up" (hallomai), is used of the lame "leaping" after being healed (Ac 3:8; 14:10).
4:15–16. The woman asked for this water, so that she would not be thirsty nor come all the way to the well to draw water again. The woman’s request was more to gain earthly contentment and convenience than eternal life (cf. 6:34). She had knowledge of the coming Messiah (vv. 25, 29). Jesus’ response (v. 16), Go, call your husband, is designed ultimately to lead her to identify Him as the Messiah (cf. v. 39).
4:17–18. The woman’s reply I have no husband both revealed and concealed truth. Jesus complimented the woman for telling the truth, but at the same time uncovered her immorality. Over her adult life, she was married to and divorced from five different husbands (v. 18). Presently, she was committing adultery with a sixth man not her husband. Little more is made of her sin in the narrative.
4:19–20. I perceive that You are a prophet marks an advance in the woman’s perception of Jesus. His knowledge of her marital status illustrated His prophetic abilities. It also suggests that what follows is not an attempt to change the subject. Instead, the woman wondered if this newly discovered prophet could solve an age-long dispute between Samaritans and Jews on the place of worship (v. 20). Was it this mountain, Mt. Gerizim, or was it Jerusalem?
4:21–22. On woman, see 2:4. If the woman considered Jesus a prophet (v. 19), she must have also believe[d] His prophecy about future worship. The phrase an hour is coming is used seven times in John (4:21, 23; 5:25, 28; 16:2, 25, 32) and here refers to the time beginning with His death and resurrection. For similar expressions, "My hour," see comments on 2:4; for "His hour," see comments on 7:30; 8:20; and 13:1. Soon the Father would be worshiped in any location, not just Jerusalem. The Samaritans (you is pl. in Gk., v. 22) worshiped in ignorance. The true message (as found in the Scriptures) and Provider (Messiah) of salvation comes from the Jews, not the Samaritans. Nevertheless, the provision of salvation would encompass all people who had faith in the Jewish Messiah, including the Samaritans.
4:23–24. Jesus, the Prophet, also predicted that the time for this transformation of worship was now. True worshipers are defined as those who will worship the Father in spirit and truth. In spirit does not mean "with enthusiasm" or "with spiritual gifts." In v. 24, Jesus explained that God is spirit. To worship in spirit and truth means, among other things, to worship with God in one’s life, to worship as one in whom God, who is a spirit, dwells. In truth indicates the full revelation now given through Christ (1:14, 17). The Father seeks (cf. v. 27) this kind of worshiper. Our worship (v. 24) must correspond to the nature of God: God is spirit and we must worship in spirit and truth.
4:25–26. The woman believed in a coming Messiah or Christ (see comment on 1:20) who would declare all things to them. Since Jesus had already exposed her past (v. 29) and had prophesied a radical change in worship (v. 23), her hopes ran high that He might be the Messiah. I who speak to you am He (v. 26) means, lit., "I am—the one who speaks to you" (there is no predicate or "He" in the Gk.). The statement is similar to Jesus’ "I am" claims in John. See comments on 6:35; 8:24, and 8:58. "I am" recalls the name of the self-existent God of the OT (Ex. 3:14–15; Is 41:4; 43:10, 13) and implies Jesus’ deity.
4:27. The disciples, influenced by the attitudes toward women in first-century Judaism, were amazed that He had been speaking with a woman. Their surprise might have been eliminated if they had not refused to communicate with Him (no one said). The answer to What do You seek? was that Jesus was seeking exactly what the Father was seeking (v. 23): true worshipers.
4:28–30. In the joy of her discovery, she left her waterpot to go into the city. That Jesus told her all the things that she had done (v. 29) was for the Samaritans the supernatural knowledge of the coming Messiah (v. 25). Her hesitancy (this is not the Christ, is it?) was because she needed to be cautious as a woman "teaching" men. By her testimony, the Samaritans started coming to Him (v. 30), both physically and spiritually.
4:31–33. The disciples were focused on physical needs (Rabbi, eat), while Jesus was concerned for spiritual needs. I have food to eat that you do not know about exposed their ignorance of His true inner sustenance (Mt 4:4). That is not to say that Jesus did not need to eat. Jesus was willing to forgo food for a time to engage in what truly energized and strengthened Him, namely ministry. The disciples still did not know the Lord intimately (cf. Jn 14:9). They again misunderstood Jesus’ attempt to communicate spiritual truth by means of physical analogies.
4:34–35. The disciples’ confusion presented the opportunity for Jesus to teach them. His spiritual food was to do the will of the One who sent Him (5:30; 6:38–40; 8:29) and to accomplish His work (9:4; 17:4). There are yet four months may be a proverb or used literally of the time of the year (December, before the harvest of winter crops in April). His followers must look at the masses of people (viz., the Samaritans coming, v. 30) as fields that are white (ripe) for harvest.
4:36–38. Even now (already), ahead of time, on earth, the disciple who leads others to faith in Christ is receiving wages, rewards, or blessings. "Wages" (misthos) is the same word translated as (future) "reward" (Mt 5:12; 6:1–2; 10:41–42). Paul’s identical teaching on future rewards (1Co 3:6–15) originated with the Lord. Sowing and reaping are both necessary for a spiritual harvest. So the planter and the harvester can rejoice together without jealousy and competition. Others have labored may refer to the OT prophets and John the Baptist, who ministered in Samaria previously (cf. 3:23).
4:39–40. From that city (Sychar, v. 5) specifies many of the Samaritans who believed in Him. When Philip later visited the area (Ac 8), many more Samaritans believed, likely because of the impact made by John the Baptist and Jesus before him. When a pastor enjoys great success, he and his congregation need to recognize that much of the credit is due to those who came before him and prayed and worked.
In contrast to Nicodemus (see comment on 3:9), the Samaritan woman boldly testified about Christ. With divine omniscience, Jesus had described all the things that the woman had done. At the request of the Samaritans (v. 40), Jesus stayed two days in Sychar. Perhaps He stayed at the Samaritan woman’s home (cf. Ac 16:14–15).
4:41–42. The wisdom of Jesus’ decision to stay in Sychar became evident: Many more believed because of His word. God’s Word is the stimulus to faith (Rm 10:17; Gl 3:2, 5). The woman’s reward (cf. v. 36) was to hear from those to whom she witnessed, now witnesses of their own faith. To believe in Christ is to know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world. The words "Savior of the world" include Gentiles.
6. Official’s Son Healed (4:43–54)
4:43–45. After Jesus’ successful two-day ministry among the Samaritans, He continued on to His original destination (v. 3), Galilee, about a three-day walk from Sychar. In contrast to the response of Samaria (v. 44), Jesus testified that a prophet (cf. v. 19) has no honor in his own country, in His case Galilee and Judea (cf. 1:11, 46). The Galileans received Him (v. 45) as a wonderful healer (but not with saving faith; a Greek word for "receive" is used here that is different from what is used in 1:12) because they had personally seen all the things (the miracles, 2:23) that He did in Jerusalem at the Passover feast.
4:46. Jesus went again to Cana. By this time, the townspeople would have learned how He had made the water into wine (2:1–11). The royal official was probably a high-ranking civil or military officer (he had slaves, v. 51) under Herod Antipas (4 BC–AD 39), tetrarch over Galilee. The healing of the centurion’s servant in Mt 8:5–13 and its parallels represents a different incident. Since the officer was likely a Gentile, John presented the movement of Jesus’ message to a Jew (chap. 3), then to a Samaritan (chap. 4), and finally to a Gentile (cf. Acts 1:8), signifying the relevance of the message and ministry of Jesus for all people groups. His son was sick at Capernaum with a severe fever (v. 52), so the official traveled 20 miles to Cana to seek Jesus’ help.
4:47–48. The official implored Jesus to come down and heal his son; for he was near death. While signs are designed to lead to faith (2:11, 23; 7:31; 20:30–31), requiring that God provide signs before one believes is reprehensible. It makes God into one’s slave, rather than making God into one’s Lord. Unless you people [Gk. pl.] see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe (v. 48) confronted the reluctance on the part of the official (Jesus said to him) and the Galilean Jews to believe that He was the Christ.
4:49–50. The official was not dissuaded by Jesus’ challenge but repeated his request for help. His petition was answered in a way that demanded faith. Go; your son lives (v. 50) was both a prophecy (vv. 19, 44) and a healing. "Your son lives" is reminiscent of the prophet Elijah, who pronounced the healing of the son of the woman from Zarephath (1Kg 17:23). But Jesus, as the greater prophet, healed the official’s son without even being personally present. The essence of faith is to believe the word that Jesus spoke—the very thing the official did. His faith was evident in that he started off to Capernaum.
4:51–53. The father did not have to reach Capernaum (about 18 to 20 miles from Cana) to learn the news of his son’s health. On his way down from Cana (a drop of 1,300 ft.), his slaves met him, saying that his son was living. To confirm that this was not mere coincidence (v. 52), he inquired of them the hour when his son began to get better. He learned that it was the previous day at 1:00 p.m. (the seventh hour) that the fever left him. For "the seventh hour," see comment on 1:39. Convinced (v. 53) that Jesus had healed his son at that precise time, he himself believed and his whole household, which included the now healed son. It was common in the NT era for whole households to come to faith together (cf. Ac 11:14; 16:31; 18:8). Since the word "life" appears three times in the narrative (vv. 50, 51, 53), the miracle points to Jesus as the messianic source of all life (1:4).
4:54. The healing of the official’s son was not the second sign Jesus did (cf. 2:23; 3:2; 4:45) but the second sign when He had come out of Judea into Galilee. The narrative brings the reader full circle back to Cana (2:11; 4:46).
C. Progressive Rejection of Jesus’ Ministry (5:1–12:50)
In chaps. 5–12, John described how Jesus as Messiah is Lord of the Sabbath and fulfills the imagery of the Jewish feasts such as Passover and Booths. With opposition growing against Him (cf. 5:16, 18), it was as if Jesus was being put on trial and needed to produce witnesses in His defense (5:31–36; 8:13–17). The signs provided that testimony. Ironically, it was His opponents who were put on trial by Jesus.
1. Events at the Unnamed Feast (Healing of the Lame Man) (5:1–47)
5:1. The feast to which John alludes is not identified except that it fell on a Sabbath (v. 9). It is impossible to be sure, but more than likely it was a Passover. Since all males were commanded to attend three feasts at the temple each year—Passover, Pentecost, and Booths (Ex 24:13–17; Dt 16:16)—Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
5:2–3a. The present tense in the phrase there is in Jerusalem helps identify the date of writing before AD 70 and the destruction of Jerusalem (see Introduction: Date). If the composition of the Fourth Gospel was after that date, the sheep gate would have been destroyed and the author would have used the past tense ("there was in Jerusalem a sheep gate"). The sheep gate (cf. "door of the sheep," 10:7) and Bethesda ("house of mercy") probably have spiritual, symbolic significance. The pool was on the northeast side of Jerusalem. It consisted of two trapezoid-shaped pools surrounded by covered walkways (porticoes) on four sides and a fifth separating the pools.
5:3b–4. Verses 3b–4 are not found in some important, early mss. Yet Morris writes (John, 267–68), "there is no reason for doubting that it explains the presence of the people (cf. v. 7)," i.e., why a multitude of the sick and crippled came regularly to the pool. Against including these verses, the external evidence clearly supports the omission. Much from these verses is repeated in v. 7, which does not need vv. 3b–4. And the omission is the harder reading, for it is unlikely that a scribe would remove these verses if they were originally in the text. Surely they were added to explain why people gathered there.
On the other hand, in support of including vv. 3b–4, first, Tertullian (AD 200) gives evidence of having known the verse. This means its inclusion in the mss can be dated just as early as P66 and P75 (around AD 200 and 400, respectively). Second, v. 7 cannot be understood easily if vv. 3b–4 are absent. Much is left unexplained. Third, it is highly likely that the verses were deleted because a scribe thought it reflected a pagan superstition. In the first century, the Greek god of healing, Asclepius, became associated with this place, and a scribe after this date may have removed the verses to avoid confusion or syncretism. Raymond Brown notes, "This ancient gloss, however, may well reflect with accuracy a popular tradition about the pool" (John, 207). On the balance, vv. 3b–4 were probably not written by John. In the OT, the angel of the Lord (v. 4) was the preincarnate Christ. Apparently on rare occasions, the angel of the Lord stirred up the water to heal graciously the first one who entered. John has already contrasted the role of angels with that of Jesus (1:51). Now the Angel of the Lord (Jesus) was personally present to heal just one.
5:5–7. Out of a multitude of ill people (v. 3), Jesus chose one who was ill for thirty-eight years. The number recalls Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness for 38 years (Dt 2:14). Jesus knew (v. 6) by His supernatural knowledge (cf. 1:47; 2:25; 4:39) that he had already been a long time in that condition. Jesus’ question Do you wish to get well? reveals the complete inability of the man to be healed. The question was also intended to prepare the man’s heart for faith; instead he complained. Since he was paralyzed, the sick man could not move quickly enough to get into the pool himself (v. 7), and had no one to put him in when the water was stirred up.
5:8–9. The healing was completed with the words Get up (rise up, egeiro) a term used of resurrection. In the following dialogue, Jesus will use this word of His life-giving power in the last day (v. 21). But the Lord also commanded, pick up your pallet and walk. Though no faith was expressed (the man did not even know who it was who healed him), the healing was instantaneous (v. 9). In the Synoptics, faith led to one’s healing (e.g., Mt 8:5–13; 9:2–7, 20–22, 27–29; 15:22–28; Mk 9:17–27). But Jesus’ three miraculous healings recorded in John (here; 4:46–54; 9:1–38) were noted by John to lead his readers to faith (cf. 20:30–31). The current narrative demonstrates that not all miracles will bring about faith in their recipients. It also indicates that the Son shows grace to those who do not deserve it. The comment, Now it was the Sabbath on that day, prepares the readers for the following controversy.
5:10–11. Since the paralytic was also Jewish, the term Jews must refer to the Jewish leaders (see Introduction). Carrying items such as a bedroll was not permissible on the Sabbath because it violated Jewish traditions added to the Mosaic law. Thirty-nine types of work are described in the Mishnah that violated the Sabbath, such as tying and untying a knot (cf. m. Sabb. 7:2). When questioned, the healed man replied (v. 11) that the One who had made him well was the same one who said to him, Pick up your pallet and walk. It appears that the man was seeking to shift the blame for his supposed violation of the Sabbath from himself to Jesus, so that his comment in v. 11 was designed to get Jesus in trouble and sidestep their reproof.
5:12–14. When questioned further, the healed man could not identify Jesus by name (v. 13). The man was so focused on his new condition, and apparently so devoid of gratitude, that he was not aware that Jesus had slipped away through the crowd to avoid publicity (cf. 6:15). But later, Jesus found him in the temple complex (cf. 9:35) just south of the pool of Bethesda. Do not sin anymore indicates that the man’s illness may have been the result of some unidentified sin 38 years before (cf. 9:2–3). Jesus knew his past life (cf. 4:39). Another worse physical disease or even physical death (cf. Pr 2:18; 11:19) might result if he engaged in a life of sin.
5:15–16. The man … told the Jews that it was Jesus. When these verses are taken with v. 11, it appears that the healed man continued his attempt to alleviate himself of the guilt of violating the Sabbath and place it fully upon Jesus. It is unlikely that the healed man came to faith (cf. 11:45–46). As a result of his report, the Jewish leaders were persecuting Jesus [i.e., slandering Him as a law-breaker], not because He did this healing on the Sabbath but because He was doing these things (pl.) repeatedly on the Sabbath.
5:17–18. The Sabbath commemorated God’s work in creation (Gn 2:2–3; Ex 20:8–11) and in redemption (Dt 5:15). For Jesus to say that My Father is working until now [e.g., babies are born on the Sabbath; He sustains the universe on the Sabbath], and I Myself am working implied that He, like His Father who is the Creator-Redeemer, is the source of all life and salvation. The words were seeking all the more (v. 18) show that the Jewish authorities were plotting to kill Him even before this attempt (cf. Mk 3:6). The plots to kill Jesus are frequently mentioned in John (7:1, 19, 25, 30; 8:37, 40; 10:39; 11:8). The charge was not only Sabbath violation. Jesus was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God—one of the clearest claims to deity in John.
5:19. John began a long response by Jesus, divided into two sections: Jesus’ equality with but subordination to the Father (vv. 19–30), and Jesus’ witnesses that testify to His authority. Although Jesus is equal in essence to the Father, nothing He does is independent of the Father’s initiative. For Jesus to do something He sees the Father doing affirms their unique, intimate relationship (1:1; 17:5). Whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner, accurately imitating the Father’s will and working in perfect unity. John’s purpose is to present a high Christology here. Some understand this section as a model for the Christian life—that one should see where God is at work and then join Him there in it. But John’s purpose is clearly Christological—to prove that the Son shares the Father’s divine authority (vv. 22–23).
5:20–21. The Father loves the Son. In 3:35 ("the Father loves the Son"), "loves" is the Greek verb agapao, but in 5:20 ("the Father loves the Son"), "loves" is a different verb, phileo. The two words in John’s gospel are essentially synonyms (though phileo can mean "to kiss" in Koine Greek), and neither here nor elsewhere can be pressed to show a distinction in meaning—a fact that has considerable implications for Peter’s interaction regarding his love for Jesus in 21:15–17. Elsewhere in John, the love of the Father for the Son is always the Greek word agapao (cf. 3:35; 10:17; 15:9; 17:24). The Father’s love causes Him to show Christ all things that He Himself is doing. The greater works are the right given to the Son to raise the dead (v. 21) and give life to whom He wishes, i.e., to those who believe.
5:22–23. As in the OT, the Father gives life and raises the dead. So He has the right to judge. Since the Father has given to the Son the right to raise the dead, He has also given all judgment to the Son. This shows the persons of the Trinity are distinct while perfectly united. All people must honor (v. 23) or worship the Son even as they honor the Father, substantiating Christ’s divine authority along with God the Father’s.
5:24–25. To have eternal life, one must believe in the God who sent Christ. Islam rejects this God, and Judaism’s view of Him is culpably insufficient. Has eternal life and has passed out of death into life communicate the immediacy of this divine transaction (see comment on 3:36). For does not come into judgment, see comments on 3:18. For an hour is coming and now is (v. 25), see comments on 4:21, 23. The dead who hear the voice of the Son of God and live are spiritually dead nonbelievers (Eph 2:1, 5; Col 2:13) who come to faith (hear, v. 25) and receive eternal life now. They, and those who have believed and who have died, will participate in the future resurrection (see the comments on v. 28).
5:26–27. Just as the Father has life in Himself begins another comparison in which Jesus claims to be the source of life (cf. 1:3–4; 14:6). Even so completes the comparison. Like the Father, Jesus has authority over life as well as over the Sabbath (cf. vv. 17–18). For all eternity past, the Father gave to the Son also to have life in Himself. Jesus’ authority to execute judgment is because He is the Son of Man (v. 27). Man will be equitably judged by Jesus not primarily as the Son of God but as the Son of Man (cf. 1:51; Dn 7:13–14).
5:28–29. An hour is coming refers to the future resurrection (all who are in the tombs … will come forth). In this passage, all Christians are considered to be those who did the good deeds (v. 29), namely, they exercised faith in Jesus (see the contrast between believing and disobeying in 3:36), and they will go to a resurrection of life. But all who fail to believe are also viewed from the perspective of eternity. Even though those who reject Christ may do many commendable things, those deeds are not oriented toward the glory of God and are not done in the power of the Holy Spirit. Those who do not embrace Christ are viewed as those who committed the evil deeds and go to a resurrection of judgment.
5:30–32. For I can do nothing on My own initiative, see v. 19. If Jesus judges only on what He hears from the Father, His judgment will be just (righteous) since God is just. The Son does not seek His own will (4:34; 6:38; 7:28; 8:29). He knows perfectly and seeks continually the Father’s will. In the Mosaic law, proper court procedure required two or more witnesses (Dt 17:6; 19:15; Nm 35:30). In submission to the law, Jesus agreed that His testimony alone (v. 31) could not be verified as true in a human court. But He was trusting another, the Father, to bring testimony to Him (v. 32).
5:33–34. For You have sent to John, see comments on 1:19–28. Jesus acknowledged that John the Baptist had testified to the truth of His identity as the Messiah. But the authoritative testimony He received was not a human testimony (v. 34). Christ needed to say these things about the Father’s true testimony (v. 32) so that those listening to Jesus (and the readers of John) may be saved.
5:35–36. John was a lamp, fulfilling the prophecy of the "lamp" that was to prepare for the Messiah (Ps. 132:17). While he was preaching (shining), the Jewish people were willing to rejoice for a while, hoping he would bring in a messianic ruler who would establish the kingdom and overthrow Rome. But the greater testimony to which Jesus appealed was the very works (pl., His teachings, miracles, and later His death and resurrection), which the Father had given Him to accomplish (cf. 4:34; 17:4).
to Jesus in John 5
• John the Baptist (v. 33)
• Jesus’ own works (v. 36)
• the Father (v. 37)
• the Scriptures (v. 39)
• Moses (v. 46)
5:37–38. The Father had testified in the OT Scriptures (cf. v. 39), by a voice from heaven at the baptism of Jesus (Mt 3:17; Mk 1:11), and by the descent of the Spirit like a dove on Christ (Jn 1:32–33). Yet these Jewish leaders (vv. 16, 18) had neither heard His voice spiritually at any time nor seen His form (i.e., nature) by faith, as proven in their failure to believe in the Son (v. 38).
5:39–40. The Pharisees held that those ignorant of the law were accursed (7:49). So they searched the Scriptures because they thought that in the mere knowledge of Scripture they had eternal life. Blinded by their self-righteousness, they missed the true Messiah about whom the Scriptures prophesied. This failure meant they were unwilling to come to Christ for eternal life, not merely that they were ignorant of the truth.
5:41–42. I do not receive glory from men corrects the opponents’ assumption that Jesus was disappointed that they did not give Him honor. Christ abandoned all self-righteousness and sought glory (see comments on 1:14; 2:11) from God, not from people. "Glory" carries slightly different emphases in John. Here, "glory" means "praise," "honor," or "recognition." The Pharisees sought admiration from their contemporaries by their knowledge of Torah. At the incarnation, Jesus willingly set aside His divine glory (17:5; see comment on Php 2:7). Now on earth, Jesus sought honor from God by His complete humiliation and obedience to the Father’s will (Jn 17:4). Contrary to sincere faith in Christ, religious systems surreptitiously promote seeking honor from contemporaries (cf. v. 44; Mt 6:5, 16; 23:5). Seeking honor from people and love for God (v. 42) are mutually exclusive.
5:43–44. In My Father’s name means Jesus was God’s supreme representative. The foremost act of love for God (v. 42) is to receive the representative He sent. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him may refer to the future Jewish reception of the beast (Dn 9:27; Rv 13:1–8) or the False Prophet (Rv 13:11–17), or even Simon bar Kokhba, who led the second revolt against Rome in AD 132–135. Seeking glory from one another seriously hinders faith in Christ (cf. Jn 12:42–43). For faith in Christ, one needs to seek after the glory [i.e., glorification/resurrection; cf. Rm 5:2; 8:21] that is from the one and only God.
5:45–47. In the future judgment, Christ does not need to bring a judgment against the Jewish leaders. Moses (i.e., the first five books of Scripture that he wrote) in whom they had set their hope for eternal life (v. 39) would testify to their guilt in failing to recognize Jesus as the Messiah he predicted. Moses frequently prophesied of the Messiah (cf. Gn 3:15; 49:10; Ex 12:21; Nm 24:17; Dt 18:15; cf. also Jn 1:45; 3:14; 8:56). Anyone who believed in the Scriptures Moses wrote (and therefore believed in the Lord) would have believed in Jesus as the Messiah (v. 46; see comment on 6:37).
2. Events Near the Passover (6:1–71)
In Jn 6, Jesus fed the 5,000, calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee, and in Capernaum explained the meaning of the feeding miracle. The feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle recorded in all four Gospels. The events took place about half a year after those of chap. 5, in spring, just before the Passover (v. 4). Jesus had just claimed that Moses spoke of Him (5:39, 46–47). In the following events, John showed how Jesus illustrated this claim. As in chap. 5, where a healing led to a discourse by Jesus on His true identity as the life-giver, (5:21, 24, 26), so the feeding miracle of chap. 6 led to a discourse on Jesus’ identity as the bread of life.
a. Feeding of the 5,000 (6:1–14)
6:1–2. The time reference, after these things, is vague but provides for Jesus’ unidentified movement from Jerusalem (chap. 5) to Galilee. The other side of the Sea of Galilee refers to the eastern shore. Only John identified the Sea of Galilee as also the Sea of Tiberias (cf. 21:1) after the major town on the southwestern shore. Jesus went to the eastern side to get some rest (Mk 6:30–32) and to avoid Herod Antipas, who had just killed John the Baptist (Lk 9:7–10). The miraculous signs (v. 2) that Jesus did for those who were sick drew a large, curious crowd of followers.
6:3–4. Mountain may refer to the sloping hills (cf. "went down" in v. 16) of the Golan Heights. As was common for rabbis, Jesus sat down with His disciples, probably to teach (Mt 5:1; 13:2; Mk 4:1; 9:35), the common rabbinic posture for instruction. This Passover (v. 4) would have been one year before Jesus’ crucifixion. The Passover commemorated the deliverance of Israel from the Egyptians through Moses (cf. v. 32), and messianic hopes ran high during this festival.
6:5–7. Jesus addressed Philip concerning where to buy bread since he was originally a local resident (1:44). The question was designed as a test (v. 6). Since God had provided manna for His people in the wilderness, Philip should have known that the Messiah would do the same for the multitude. Jesus did not feed the 5,000 based on a last-minute expedient, but He Himself knew ahead of time what He was intending to do. A denarius (a silver coin) was worth a day’s pay, and 200 denarii (v. 7) were worth about eight months of wages. Philip’s answer established the fact that a human solution was impossible.
6:8–9. According to Mk 6:38, Jesus had instructed the disciples to determine how many loaves were available. Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother (like Philip, both were from Bethsaida, 1:44), mentioned a lad there (v. 9) who has five barley loaves and two fish. While Jesus could have supplied food from nothing, He chose to multiply the barley loaves of the young boy (the loaves are identified as barley only in John), purposefully replicating a miracle done by the prophet Elisha (2Kg 4:42–44). The prophet Elisha fed 100 men with 10 barley loaves and verified he was sent by God. Jesus demonstrated by the feeding miracle that He is the Prophet sent from God (see the comments on Dt 34:10–12).
6:10–11. The springtime of the Passover season (v. 4) produced plenty of grass in the place. As the Good Shepherd, Jesus led His Jewish lost sheep (cf. 10:1–16; Mt 10:6) to lush pasture. The number, about five thousand (the number is rounded off), was the count of the adult men (Mt 14:21 mentions women and children). The total number of people may have been 15,000 or even 20,000. Before distributing the bread and fish (v. 11), Jesus gave thanks for the food (cf. v. 23).
6:12–13. Christ always supplies an overabundance for our needs. The people were all filled and there were many leftover pieces. "Leftover" is the Greek word perisseuo, lit., "abundance" (cf. v. 13; 10:10). Since John favors symbolism, the twelve baskets (v. 13) may symbolize the Messiah’s sufficiency for the twelve tribes of Israel. Only the leftover bread is mentioned since that alone relates to the bread of life teaching that follows (vv. 32–58).
6:14–15. Moses fed the Israelites in the wilderness with manna from heaven. When the people saw the sign (see comment on 2:11), which Jesus had performed, it reminded them of Dt 18:18, "I will raise up for them a prophet like you [Moses]." In disregard for the spiritual, they sought a political solution, deciding to take Christ by force to make Him king (v. 15)—a point not mentioned in the Synoptic parallels. Resisting the temptation for recognition and power, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.
b. Walking on Water (6:15–21)
6:16–17. Although John did not specifically call Jesus’ walking on water a sign, there is little doubt he presented it as such. According to the Synoptics, Jesus had instructed the disciples to sail ahead of Him to Capernaum while He spent time praying (Mt 14:22–23; Mk 6:45–46). So when evening came, the disciples set out on their trip (four to five miles). It had already become dark (v. 17) pictures the physical environment. But with the added phrase, and Jesus had not yet come to them, the clause "may also be symbol-laden: as in 3:2; 13:30, the darkness of night and the absence of Jesus are powerfully linked" (Carson, John, 274).
6:18–19. The Sea of Galilee is well known for its sudden storms. Cooler Mediterranean winds from the west get funneled through several valleys that descend to the lake, often colliding with hotter inland air, resulting in strong winds. As the winds increased, the disciples found that they had only rowed about three or four miles (v. 19), to the middle of the lake (Mk 6:47). The storm did not terrify them. But they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat; and they were frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost (Mk 6:49). John did not call Jesus’ walking on the water a "sign" (see comment on 2:11). Instead, it was a private manifestation of His messianic glory to His disciples.
6:20–21. Jesus’ walking on water is united with His unique claim to deity, It is I (lit., "I am"). See comments on v. 35 and 8:58. In the OT, the sea often represented anarchy and disorder. It was God who brought it under control (cf. Jnh 1:4–15; Pss 65:5–7; 93:1–4). Since they were in the middle of the lake, the words immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going carry a supernatural sense.
c. Bread of Life Message (6:22–71)
6:22–24. The disciples’ willing reception of Jesus (v. 21; cf. 1:11–12) contrasted with the response of the crowd that stood on the other [eastern] side of the sea (cf. vv. 26, 36, 41–42, 52), across the lake from Tiberias. They eventually discovered the disciples had left for Capernaum (on the northwest shore of the lake) without Jesus. But they also determined that Jesus was not in the area. The crowd had dwindled enough by now (Jesus had dismissed them; Mt 14:22; Mk 6:45) that they could all fit in the small boats that came from Tiberias on the southwest shore of the lake (vv. 23–24). They came to Capernaum seeking Jesus, and apparently all crowded into the synagogue at Capernaum (v. 59). The archaeological discovery in 1976 of a contemporary synagogue at Gamla (10 miles east of Capernaum) indicates it held about 300 people. The synagogue at Capernaum may have been a similar size.
6:25–27. Since Jesus had not taken a boat and could not have traveled on foot to Capernaum that quickly, the people knew something unusual had happened. Their question when did You get here? expressed their confusion. Jesus did not explain when He arrived but addressed their motive in seeking Him (v. 26). It was not because they saw signs, which could lead them to faith (20:30–31), but because they ate food and were filled. Two kinds of food must be distinguished (v. 27): food which perishes and food which endures to eternal life. Jews would recall that the manna given by Moses in the wilderness lasted only a day (Ex 16:19–21). For set His seal, see comment on 3:33. God’s seal on Christ is the Spirit (Jn 1:32–33; 3:34; Ac 10:38).
6:28–29. The command to "work" for eternal food (v. 27) prompted the question What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God? Jesus redefined the "works of God" (pl.) as the work of God (sg.): to believe in the Son (v. 29). By this wordplay on "work," Christ declared that eternal life is really not gained by works (Eph 2:8–9; Rm 4:4; Ti 3:5). Even the manna that Moses gave the Israelites was so that they might learn not to live by physical bread alone but also spiritual bread (Dt 8:3).
6:30–31. The crowd at Capernaum consisted of skeptics who had seen Jesus’ previous signs (v. 2) and the feeding miracle, and others who had not seen the feeding miracle (cf. those in the boats from Tiberias, vv. 23–24). Together they asked, What then do You do for a sign so that we may … believe You? In their thinking, if Jesus were the Prophet like Moses, then His miracles would be superior. Jesus provided one meal for 5,000 on a grassy hillside; Moses fed a nation manna (v. 31) in the wilderness for forty years. Jesus used earthly fish and bread, but Moses gave them bread out of heaven to eat (a quote from Ps 78:24). Later rabbis also saw a link between Moses feeding Israel manna in the wilderness with the future Messiah, as seen in the Midrash (the ancient rabbinic exposition of the Bible). "As the first redeemer (Moses) was, so shall the latter Redeemer (Messiah) be.… As the former redeemer caused manna to descend … so will the latter Redeemer cause manna to descend" (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 1:9).
6:32–33. The bread given by Moses in the wilderness was temporal. In that sense, it was not the bread out of heaven. Instead, it was My Father, Jesus said, who was giving them the true heavenly bread. "True" means spiritual and eternal as opposed to temporal and physical. The feeding miracle pointed to Jesus, the true bread of God (v. 33). This Bread is far superior because it gives eternal life to the world, not just temporal life to the Jews.
6:34–36. The woman from Sychar mistakenly asked for a continual supply of physical water (4:15). Similarly, these listeners requested never-ending physical bread (always give us this bread). Verse 35 (I am the bread of life) contains the first of seven "I am" statements in John (but cf. v. 20; 4:26). Will not hunger and will never thirst are emphatic in Greek and demonstrate that eternal life is a permanent possession. In v. 30, the Jews told Jesus that if they saw a sign, they would believe. Jesus contradicted this (v. 36), explaining that they had seen Him and His signs but still did not believe.
6:37. All that the Father gives to the Son will come to Him (i.e., believe). Similar statements are mentioned frequently in John (6:39; 10:29; 17:2, 6, 9, 24; 18:9). The "giving" could refer to a divine election that precedes the "coming" (cf. Eph 1:3–6) or to the certain reception of Jesus by those who genuinely seek the One True God (cf. "if you believed Moses, you would believe Me," Jn 5:46; cf. also 1:35–51; 5:24, 38; 10:27–29). Will certainly not cast out is clarified in the following verses. Cast out (two words in Greek, the first from the verb ekballo, "I throw out," and the second an adverb ekso, "outside") does not refer to how Jesus will receive people, but how He will keep people who have believed in Him. Though the blind man was cast out of the synagogue (ekballo and ekso also, 9:34), he will always be "in" Christ.
Jesus’ Seven “I
“I am the bread of life” (6:35, 48, 51).
“I am the light of the world” (8:12; 9:5).
“I am the door” (10:7, 9).
“I am the good shepherd” (10:11, 14).
“I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25).
“I am the way, the truth, and the life” (14:6).
“I am the true vine” (15:1).
6:38–40. Christ’s purpose in coming to earth was to do the will of the Father who sent Him (4:34; 5:30; 8:29). On the basis of His perfect obedience to the Father, Jesus promised (v. 39) that all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. The "last day" refers to the resurrection and final judgment. Verse 40 emphatically repeats v. 39. No clearer verses can be found that affirm the ultimate safekeeping of the believer. Our eternal security depends on Jesus fulfilling the will of the Father, which He will never fail to do.
6:41–42. Grumbling is reminiscent of Israel’s rebellion in the wilderness (Ex 16:2, 7–9, 12). The Jews stumbled over Jesus’ claim to be the bread that came down out of heaven. "Came down" is the language of incarnation (Jn 1:14; Gl 4:4; Php 2:7–8). Their familiarity with Jesus’ human lineage like His father and mother (cf. Mk 6:3; Lk 4:22) prevented them from seeing His true nature as God come in human flesh (cf. 1:14).
6:43–44. The crowd of skeptics grumbled against the assertion that Jesus had come down from heaven and that people were coming to Him because the Father "gave them to" Jesus (v. 37). Jesus both rebuked their complaining and corrected their ignorance. No one could come to Him unless the Father who sent Christ draws that person. Left to oneself, no one would ever seek God or Christ (see the comments on Rm 1:18–23 and 3:9–18). God provided that everyone who hears the message of Christ should be drawn (12:32), but that drawing does not last forever (cf. 12:40).
6:45–46. Jesus confirmed the universal drawing of God (cf. 12:32) by a quote from the writing of the prophets. Isaiah 54:13 declared that in the millennial kingdom, people will all be taught by God (Is 2:3; Mc 4:2). "Taught" clarifies how God "draws" people (v. 44). But it is not enough to be drawn or taught by God. Everyone who has heard and has actually learned from the Father comes to or believes in Jesus. Those who have "learned from the Father" will be given to the Son (v. 37). Because of a switch from the first person to the third person, v. 46 is regarded by the NET as a parenthetical note by John. But Jesus may use the third person of Himself (cf. Jn 5:19; 10:11; 17:1–2) here to explain that He is the only One who has learned from the Father by actually seeing Him.
6:47–48. Truly, truly alerts the listener to the significance of what follows. The one who does nothing more than believes has eternal life. In radical contrast, every other religion requires some works to gain eternal life or reach the "ultimate," whatever it might be. Christ’s claim I am the bread of life (v. 48; cf. vv. 35, 51) uses one of the most basic sources of nourishment to express metaphorically His role in sustaining everlasting life.
6:49–51. By referring to your fathers, Jesus identified His opponents with the rebellious Israelites who ate the manna in the wilderness, and died. For the first time of several in the chapter (vv. 50–54, 56–58), Jesus mentioned directly that one must eat of this bread (v. 50). To eat this bread is a metaphor for believing in Christ, since this thought is the central concern in the chapter (vv. 29–30, 35–36, 40, 47, 64, 69). Just as one takes in bread for physical life, one must "take in" Christ by faith for eternal life. One who eats living bread (v. 51) will live forever. The bread is now defined as His "flesh" or body that He will voluntarily offer (I will give) on the cross to bring salvation for everyone (for the life of the world). Since neither wine nor the cup is mentioned (Mt 26:27; 1Co 10:16; 11:26–28), there is no clear allusion to the Lord’s Supper.
6:52–53. Jesus’ analogy of eating His flesh was purposeful. Eating someone’s flesh is abhorrent. Likewise, sinful humanity is repulsed by the need to believe in Christ. Misunderstanding Jesus again (cf. v. 34), the unbelieving Jews question, How can this man give us His flesh to eat? To the need to eat the flesh of the Son of Man (v. 53), Jesus added an additional revolting image, the command to drink His blood. With the imagery of "eating" and "drinking," Christ helped communicate the need to assimilate by faith Christ’s death for one’s self.
6:54–56. The phrase He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood cannot refer to the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper since John (1) paid very little attention to sacraments (the Lord’s Supper is never mentioned in the book); (2) made faith alone the means by which one has eternal life; and (3) showed that interpreting Jesus literally and physically (as in a sacramental view) is a misunderstanding (a common literary feature in John). For true, see v. 32. As with food that our body completely absorbs, one who by faith eats Christ’s flesh and drinks His blood abides in Christ, and Christ abides in him. "Abiding" in Christ in v. 56 involves an ongoing fellowship with Jesus that begins at the moment of faith. But as 15:1–11 will show, "abiding" in Christ requires ongoing obedience (15:10). So 15:4 will give the command to remain or continue in this fellowship with Christ.
6:57–59. This is the only place in the Bible that God is called the living Father. The Son draws His life from the Father (I live because of the Father). Similarly, the believer’s eternal life is dependent on the Son (so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me). Verse 58 restates v. 49. Not as the fathers ate and died contrasts with Jesus’ reference to the "living Father." John informed us (v. 59) that Jesus’ message on the Bread of Life took place in the synagogue at Capernaum. Adult men competent in the OT Scriptures could speak in the synagogue service (Lk 4:16; Ac 13:15, 42; 17:2).
6:60–61. Many of Christ’s disciples found it difficult to accept the teaching that one needed to eat Jesus’ flesh and drink His blood (i.e., believe in Christ) to gain eternal life. "Listen" (Who can listen to it?) is better rendered "accept" (NIV, HCSB). Jesus (v. 61) was supernaturally conscious (Gk. "knew within Himself") that many of His disciples grumbled at His claims. Stumble (skandalizo) means "that which causes an obstacle" to faith, "that which shocks or causes anger." The cross (cf. v. 51) is the primary offense to man’s persistence in self-righteousness (1Co 1:23; Gl 5:11).
6:62–63. What then if you see the Son of Man ascending implies the crucifixion (cf. v. 61) and resurrection through which the ascension is accomplished will be more difficult to believe. Where He was before is part of the offense since it teaches Christ’s preexistence (cf. 1:1). The Spirit is the One who gives eternal life. The flesh (human nature associated with sin and self-righteousness) profits nothing as it relates to the attainment of eternal life, or even in evaluating who Jesus is. The truth about Jesus’ death by crucifixion seems unthinkable from a human perspective ("the flesh"). But the Spirit works through Jesus’ words, not fleshly reasoning.
6:64–65. Without pointing out individuals, Jesus told His disciples, There are some of you who do not believe. In His omniscience (cf. v. 61; also 1:47; 2:24–25; 6:15), Jesus knew the ones who did not believe. The parallel words and who it was that would betray Him identify Judas as an unbeliever (cf. 6:71; 13:11). The words no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him (v. 65) show again the divine side of human faith. Unless God brings about faith in the heart of a person, he or she will not believe. In salvation, God is the "prime mover" (i.e., "drawing," v. 44).
6:66–67. Many of Christ’s disciples withdrew and stopped following Him as their Teacher/Rabbi (i.e., stopped traveling with Him and learning His teachings). Jesus’ total disciples may not have been a large group (for an estimate of the total crowd, see 6:22–24). These followers were not rejecting the conditions of discipleship but the condition of eternal life as found exclusively in Christ (vv. 30, 35–36, 40, 47, 64, 69). But Judas continued as a disciple (vv. 70–71), yet also never believed. Although Jesus questioned (v. 67) the twelve (including Judas), this does not imply that all His other disciples left. His question called for a confession of faith from His closest followers.
6:68–69. Peter’s spontaneity results in testimony. Lord, to whom shall we go? rightly assesses the exclusive role of Christ in receiving eternal life (cf. 14:6). You alone ("alone" is implied in the context) have words that lead to eternal life. Peter announced as the representative for the others (v. 69), We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God. For "know" as a synonym for "believe," see 4:42. Faith in Christ for these eleven disciples began at least as early as 2:11.
6:70–71. Peter thought that all twelve disciples had believed ("we have believed," v. 69). Jesus corrected him, Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil [or just possibly "the Devil"]? Jesus stated that among the twelve (not among the disciples who left), there was one controlled by the Devil, or Satan. This is the first mention of Judas (v. 71), identified as the son of Simon Iscariot, and thereby distinguished from another apostle (Lk 16:16) and Jesus’ half brother (Mt 13:55). Since both Judas and his father, Simon, are called Iscariot, "Judas" may be a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew for "man of Kerioth" (Jos 15:25), the town from which they came (Carson, John, 304).
3. Events at the Feast of Booths (7:1–8:59)
a. Preparation and Teachings at the Feast (7:1–44)
7:1–2. After these things marks about six months since the Passover (6:4). Jesus stayed in Galilee because in Judea the Jewish authorities were seeking to kill Him (cf. vv. 19–20, 25, 30, 32, 44). The Jewish Feast of Booths (v. 2), also called the Feast of Tabernacles, Tents, or Ingathering, was celebrated by building leafy tents in which Jewish families camped out in fields or on rooftops. It was an eight-day celebration in the autumn after harvest (Sept. or Oct.) in remembrance of when Israel lived in tents during their wanderings in the wilderness (Lv 23:33–43).
7:3–5. Jesus had four half-brothers (Mt 13:55; Mk 6:3). Some or all of His brothers (Jn 2:12) instructed Him to go into Judea, so that His disciples also might see the works He was doing. Their worldly suggestion (v. 4) placed before Jesus the temptation to seek to be known publicly for personal gain—a temptation He overcame (v. 10). If He claimed to be the Messiah, in their opinion He should now show Himself to the world. John’s explanatory comment (v. 5) reveals that not even His own brothers were believing in Him (cf. 1:11). His brothers did not come to faith until after the resurrection (Ac 1:14).
7:6–7. Jesus was conscious of right timing. His words My time is not yet here (and v. 8; see comment on 2:4) reflect His concern as to when and how He will present Himself as Messiah. It was to lead to His death, not His fame. Your time is always opportune means Jesus’ brothers could go to the feast anytime without threats on their lives. The unbelievers of the world practice evil, and love others who do the same. But the world hates Jesus because He testifies that its deeds are evil.
7:8–9. Although debated, the better mss contain "yet" (omitted in the NASB) and read, I do not yet go up to this feast (v. 8; NKJV, HCSB, NIV). Jewish men were required by the Mosaic law to attend the feast (Ex 23:17; 34:23; Dt 16:16). Jesus would not have left the impression of violating the law. "Go up" has a double sense in that the same Greek word is used of Jesus’ ascension (Jn 3:13; 6:62; 20:17). It was not Jesus’ time to go up (i.e., "to ascend"—Jerusalem is 2,500 feet above sea level, and one went topographically "up" to get to it) to the feast; but it also was not the time for His death, resurrection, and ascension (7:30). For a few more days, Jesus stayed in Galilee to avoid a premature death.
7:10–11. Jesus waited until His brothers had gone up to the feast. Afterward, He Himself also went up … in secret, successfully triumphing over the satanic temptation to seek human glory (cf. v. 4). The wisdom of choosing initially to remain obscure is confirmed by the fact that the Jewish authorities (v. 11) were seeking Him at the feast so they might kill Him (cf. v. 1).
7:12–13. The reference to much grumbling indicates that unbelief had divided the people (cf. 6:41, 61) and recalls the feast’s theme of Israel’s wilderness wandering during which the people also grumbled because of their lack of faith (Ex 15:24; 16:2; Nm 14:2; see comments on 7:1–2). Some were judging Him to be a good man, though not necessarily the Messiah. Others were saying that He leads the people astray—a charge punishable by death (Dt 13:9–10). No one was speaking openly of Him for fear of the Jews (v. 13). As this statement implies, "grumbling" (v. 12) also carries overtones of suppressed conversation. Any favorable opinions about Jesus expressed openly might bring reprisal.
7:14–15. Jesus chose the midst of the feast to be the opportune time (cf. v. 6) to go into the temple, and to begin to teach. The Jewish leaders were astonished that Jesus had such a thorough grasp of Scripture (How has this man become learned …?), since He had not been educated formally under a rabbi according to tradition (cf. Ac 4:13).
7:16–17. The Jews reasoned that Jesus’ teaching must be His own. Jesus countered, My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me. This fact could be confirmed. If anyone is willing to do the Father’s will (v. 17), i.e., believe in Christ for eternal life (6:40a), he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself. Faith authenticates and internalizes God’s testimony (1Jn 5:10). The Word, when it is believed, is a life-giving seed (1Pt 1:23), bringing assurance through the Holy Spirit that God’s promises are true (cf. Heb 11:1).
7:18–20. He who speaks from himself (such as a false messiah) seeks his own honor. He who is seeking the glory of the One who sent Him refers to Jesus Himself and His heaven-to-earth mission. He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him is a claim by Jesus to sinlessness in character and motive. In contrast to Jesus’ righteousness, none of the Jewish authorities kept the Law (v. 19). But neither does anyone (Rm 3:19–20). The attempt to kill (murder) Jesus (cf. v. 1) was in actuality a violation of the sixth Commandment (Ex 20:13). Instead of recognizing the Father speaking through His Son, the crowd (v. 20) absurdly accused Jesus of demon possession (cf. Jn 8:48; 10:20; Mt 12:24).
7:21–22. I did one deed (lit., "work," a synonym for "miracle," cf. 10:25, 32, 37–38) refers to the Sabbath healing of the paralytic (5:1–9). Jesus did other miracles (2:23; 3:2; 7:31). But this healing was thought to violate the law against work on the Sabbath. Yet to fulfill the law, the Jews themselves "worked" on the Sabbath whenever they circumcised (mostly male children on the eighth day, Lv 12:3). Hence if they were consistent, they would not have condemned Jesus for "working" on the Sabbath.
7:23–24. Jesus reasoned that it was contradictory to show concern on the Sabbath for one part of the body (circumcision) but show no concern for the whole body of one in need (I made an entire man well). Blinded by their traditions, Christ’s opponents were judging Him (v. 24) by what "appeared" to them as right (according to appearance), but was not a righteous judgment.
7:25–27. The residents of Jerusalem knew the authorities planned to kill Jesus (cf. vv. 1, 20) but were confused. Jesus was speaking publicly (v. 26), but the rulers did not confront Him. Could it be that they had changed their minds and now secretly thought that He was the Christ? Little did they know that some rulers like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea (cf. 12:42; 19:38–39) really did know that Jesus was the Christ. But the crowds reasoned self-assuredly, We know where this man is from; but whenever the Christ may come, no one knows where He is from. See v. 42 for another view of the Messiah’s origin.
7:28–29. The Lord’s reply may be sarcastic as if to say, "So you think that you both know Me and know where I am from?" Jesus repeated previously mentioned descriptions of His identity: (1) He did not come of Himself but by the Father’s authority; (2) the One who sent Jesus is true, but they did not know Him; and (3) Jesus knew the Father, because He was from the Father (1:1, 18), and He sent Him.
7:30–31. Most of the crowd joined with the rulers in seeking to seize the Lord, yet they could not. John described both human (6:15; 10:39) and divine means (7:30, 44; 8:20) that prevented Jesus from being arrested. For His hour, see comments on 2:4 and 4:21. The same phrase "His hour had not yet come" appears in 8:20; in 13:1, the phrase "His hour had come" makes a thematic transition to the "hour" of Jesus’ death. The people expected the Messiah to work miracles like Moses (cf. Ex 4:21 with Dt 18:15, 18). Therefore, because of the signs (Jn 20:30–31), many of the crowd believed in Him. John used his special phrase, "believe in (Him)," to designate their saving faith (see comment on 1:12).
7:32. The chief priests (almost all from the party of the Sadducees) mentioned with the Pharisees implies that a meeting of the Sanhedrin had taken place (for "Sanhedrin," see comment on 11:47). The chief priests took on a more prominent role at the crucifixion (18:3, 35; 19:6, 15, 21). For "Pharisees," see comment on 1:24. The officers who were sent were temple police.
7:33–34. The new believers had reasoned, "When the Christ [Messiah] comes, He will not perform more signs than those which this man has, will He?" (v. 31). But they were wrong! The greatest miracle—His death and resurrection—was yet to come (then I go to Him who sent Me). After the resurrection, the Son would return to His Father. You will seek Me (v. 34; cf. 7:36; 8:21; 13:33) and will not find Me refers either to (1) the empty tomb, or (2) the constant search of Israel for the Messiah after rejecting Jesus.
7:35–36. Christ’s opponents misconstrued His words (vv. 34, 36) as His intent to go on a mission to the Greek-speaking Jewish people throughout the Roman Empire (the Dispersion among the Greeks). While they thought this was improbable, Jesus indeed had such a mission in mind. After His resurrection (v. 33), His message would go to both Jews and Gentiles throughout the Roman Empire.
7:37. According to the Talmud, (Sukk. 4.9), each day during the Feast of Booths (v. 2), a priest would carry water from the spring-fed Pool of Siloam to the temple and pour it out on the altar in expectation of the coming Messiah (cf. Zch 14:16–19). Jesus proclaimed, If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink, i.e., a figurative expression for "let him believe in Me" (v. 38). Jesus was declaring that He was the true springwater in the temple, which brings eternal life (cf. Is 12:3; 55:1). Also, Booths (Tabernacles) celebrated the supply of water given through the rock Moses struck in the wilderness. Jesus fulfilled the imagery of this Rock that provided life-giving water (1Co 10:4). In essence, Jesus claimed to fulfill what the Feast of Booths signified.
7:38–39. The Feast of Booths was the most joyous of Israel’s festivals. The citation from Scripture summarizes several messianic verses (e.g., Is 44:3; 55:1; 58:11; Zch 14:8). He who believes in Me may be taken with the preceding verse (cf. NET, NLT, TEV), leading to a Christological interpretation of the phrase from his [i.e., His] innermost being will flow rivers of living water. Christ is the overflowing source of joyous, living water (eternal life). More likely, the verse teaches that the believer will experience great joy internally in receiving eternal life and the Spirit (v. 39). This matches Jesus’ earlier remark to the Samaritan woman, "the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life" (4:14). For "living water," cf. 4:10.
7:40–42. John recorded the mixed viewpoints concerning the Messiah. (1) Some thought that Jesus was the Prophet (Dt 18:15) but not the Messiah (see comment on 1:21; 6:14). (2) Others were saying, "This is the Christ" (v. 41). These were believers (cf. 11:27; 20:31). (3) Some felt that the birthplace of the Messiah could not be known (cf. v. 27). (4) While others (v. 42) held that He would be from Bethlehem, since David was from Bethlehem.
7:43–44. It is not surprising that a division occurred in the crowd because of Christ. Jesus still divides people today. On the desire of the Jewish leaders to seize Jesus (v. 44), see vv. 30, 32.
b. The Pharisees’ Council (7:45–52)
7:45–46. The officers or temple guards sent by the chief priests and Pharisees returned empty-handed to the council meeting (the Sanhedrin, v. 32). An explanation was in order. Why did you not bring Him?, the Jewish leaders asked. The temple guards replied (v. 46), Never has a man spoken the way this man speaks. Their response acknowledged that Jesus was a man, but also someone greater than other men (cf. 1:1, 18).
7:47–49. The Pharisees criticized the officers. You have not also been led astray, have you? The irony is that the Pharisees are the ones who are the most led astray. No one of the rulers or Pharisees has believed in Him, has he? Nicodemus’s reaction (cf. v. 50) suggests that he was one of the rulers who had believed in Christ, and others soon would (12:42). But as an intimidated disciple at this point, he did not confess his faith outright (cf. 3:9; 19:38). With a prideful superiority and lack of compassion, the Pharisees condemned the crowd as ignorant and accursed.
7:50–51. John used Nicodemus, not mentioned since 3:1–9, as an example of growing faith. Previously, he had visited Jesus secretly, at night. Now he was mildly defending Jesus publicly by questioning the legal procedures the Jewish leaders were taking. Our Law does not judge a man unless it first hears from him and knows what he is doing, does it? The question implied his companions were not thoroughly investigating the situation as the law required (Dt 1:16–17; 17:2–5; 19:15–19). The Pharisees had just judged the crowds as ignorant of the law. Ironically, Nicodemus called them to account for missing one of its elementary requirements: fairness ("judges shall investigate thoroughly," Dt 19:18).
7:52. The Pharisees resorted to ridicule. You are not also from Galilee, are you? exposes their prejudice. They thought that no prophet came from despised Galilee. But Jonah (2Kg 14:25) and Nahum (Nah 1:1) came from Galilee. Even more ironic, the prophecy of Is 9:1–2 (quoted in Mt 4:12–16) prophesied that the Messiah would arise in Galilee and "bring light to the Gentiles."
c. Woman Caught in Adultery (7:53–8:11)
7:53–8:2. Based on what is thought to be the most reliable mss, the majority of scholars, including evangelicals, believe that the adulterous woman narrative (7:53–8:11) is not part of the original text. Support for its inclusion includes the following. First, about 1,350 continuous-text mss of John contain the narrative. Second, the story fits the context well. A woman was brought to Jesus in the temple. The only appropriate location for this event would be the Court of Women, the location described in 8:20. Since the Feast of Booths was now over (7:37, 53), everyone went from living in tents (see comment on 7:1–2) to his home [lit., "house"], supporting the legitimacy of 7:53 as part of this episode. In characteristic irony over against the Council’s claim that no prophet comes from Galilee (v. 52), John noted that Jesus went to the Mount of Olives (8:1). It was at the Mount of Olives that Jesus, the greatest prophet of all, would soon give the greatest prophecy of the NT apart from the book of Revelation (Mt 24–25; Mk 13; Lk 21). Early in the morning (v. 2; orthros, "at dawn, daybreak") symbolically (cf. 21:4) depicts the breaking in of moral light in the person of Jesus (see comment on 7:52) who, in 8:12, is the "light of the world." This carries on the light/darkness theme of John. In contrast to "everyone [who] went to his house" (7:53), Jesus went into the temple, His Father’s house (cf. 2:16, where Jesus called the temple His Father’s house).
Against the inclusion of this episode are several factors. First, it does not fit as well in the context as it is often argued. In 7:52, the Pharisees disputed His claim to be a prophet because of His Galilean origins, and Jesus’ statement in 8:12 serves as a response to their argument. In this case the episode is an unnecessary intrusion into the text. Second, the symbolic connection between Jesus coming "at dawn" into the temple (8:2) with Him dawning as "the light of the world" (8:12) is not clearly borne out in the text. Third, the style and vocabulary are atypical of John’s writing (for the details, see Daniel B. Wallace, "Reconsidering ‘The Story of the Woman Taken in Adultery’ Reconsidered," NTS 39 : 290–296). Fourth, at this time, the Jewish people did not have the autonomy to execute people on their own authority. Rome was the final arbiter and probably would not have permitted this. Stephen’s stoning was mob action, not judicial, but this episode does not have the "mob action" feel associated with Stephen’s murder. This makes it unlikely that the episode is historically accurate. Fifth, Jesus words in 8:12 about being the Light of the world are more likely to have been said on the last day of the Feast of Booths (7:37). On that day, there was always a huge torch ceremony on the Temple Mount, as a symbol of the Messiah being the One who would bring light to the world.
Finally, the external ms evidence is strongly in favor of the omission of the episode. Virtually all Alexandrian mss, considered by the majority of scholars to be the oldest and least corrupt mss, omit it, and virtually all Byzantine mss, viewed by the majority of scholars as much later and generally more corrupt, include it. But even when they include it, the episode also "floats around" in various locations in the various mss. This indicates great doubt about its inclusion even among the mss that contain it.
While the preponderance of evidence is against its inclusion, the evidence is not airtight, and since this episode is loved by those who cherish John’s gospel, a commentary on it is provided here.
8:3–5. Since Jesus was being contested as a teacher of the law, scribes who were interpreters of the law came with the Pharisees. Together they brought to Jesus a woman caught in adultery … in the very act (v. 4). In light of the fact that the man involved was not brought, the Jewish leaders revealed their malicious intent and their disregard for fairness required by the law (cf. 7:50–51). According to the Law of Moses (v. 5), all adulterers (male or female) were to be put to death by stoning (Lv 20:10; Dt 22:22), not just such women.
8:6–7. The scribes and Pharisees were testing Jesus. If Jesus called for her stoning as an adulteress, this would put Him in defiance of the Roman government’s sole authority to try capital cases and carry out executions. (cf. 18:31). If He chose to free her, He would be disobeying the Mosaic law. After Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote something on the ground, He straightened up (v. 7) to say, "Let the witness who is without sin … be the first to throw a stone at her," as the law commanded (Dt 17:7). But the law also required that any witness guilty of malicious intent was to be stoned to death instead (Dt 19:16–19).
8:8–9. What Jesus wrote is not identified. More important is that Jesus stooped down and wrote with His finger (v. 6) and that He wrote twice (v. 8). God came down at Mt. Sinai (Ex 19:11, 20) and wrote the Ten Commandments twice with His finger (Ex 31:18; 34:1, 4; Dt 9:10). Jesus, by writing twice with His finger, was revealing symbolically that He was here fulfilling the same role God the Father fulfilled for Israel as the giver of the law (Jn 1:1; 5:18; 8:58; 20:28). Then they began to leave (v. 9), beginning with the older ones, the ones whose conscience weighed on them longer.
8:10–11. According to the law, a person could be put to death only with two or more witnesses (8:17; Dt 17:6; 19:15). But now there were no witnesses to condemn her to be stoned to death. Jesus could fully obey the Mosaic law in releasing the woman since there were no witnesses (v. 11): I do not condemn you, either. As in this case, forgiveness always precedes the command to sin no more, and forms its greatest motivation.
d. Light of the World Message (8:12–59)
8:12. Jesus again spoke to them refers to the Pharisees (8:3, 7). During the Feast of Booths, large menorahs lit up the temple complex, commemorating the fire that guided the Israelites during the wilderness wanderings (Nm 9:15–23) and anticipating the Messiah who would bring light to nations. After seven days of dramatic illumination in the temple, Jesus declared, I am the Light of the world (1:4–5, 9; cf. "Jesus’ Seven ‘I Am’ Claims" at 6:35). If one believes in Christ and then follows Him (cf. 8:31), he or she will not walk in the darkness (1Jn 1:5–10).
8:13–14. The law called for multiple witnesses to the truth (v. 17). But a single testimony was not necessarily false. So Jesus claimed (v. 14), My testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going. His heavenly origin, mission in the world, and return to the Father validated His testimony. But the Pharisees did not acknowledge His glorious origin or ultimate destiny.
8:15–16. Jesus criticized the Pharisees for evaluating His claims according to the flesh, i.e., according to human values. His response, I am not judging anyone, seems to contradict other statements He made (5:22, 27; 9:39). But here He meant that judgment was not the primary purpose of His first coming (3:16–17). Yet rejecting His claims invited His and His Father’s judgment (I am not alone in it, v. 16). Like the law (v. 17), two Witnesses—Jesus and the Father—will testify and execute the final judgment.
8:17–18. In saying your law (cf. 10:34; 18:31), Jesus was distancing Himself from the law since He would replace the Mosaic law (cf. 1:17; 7:19) with the new covenant (Mt 26:28; Mk 14:24; Lk 22:20). The Pharisees agreed that the testimony of two men was true (Dt 17:6; 19:15; Nm 35:30). So Jesus offered two Witnesses (v. 18), Himself and the Father—far greater than any human witnesses.
8:19–20. The question of the Jewish leaders, "Where is Your Father?" exposed a serious spiritual problem: they did not know the Father. "If you knew Me, you would know My Father also" asserts that a true knowledge of God comes through a personal knowledge of the Son. According to v. 20, Jesus’ "Light of the world" message (v. 12) took place in or near (NIV, NET) the treasury (cf. Mk 12:41–42; Lk 21:1–2), where the Court of Women was located. (See chart, "The Temple Area.") The Court of Women was the temple area in which all Jews including women (but no Gentiles) could gather. It was also called the treasury because in this court there were 13 offerings boxes, each shaped like a trumpet (m. Seqal. 6.5). For His hour had not yet come, see 7:30.
The Temple Area
8:21. For the third time in John, Jesus explained He was going away (7:33; 8:14, 21). After Jesus’ death, these same Jewish leaders will seek for Him (see comment on 7:34). But they will die in their sin and come into eternal judgment. One has only until death to believe in Christ for eternal life (Heb 9:27).
8:22–23. The Jewish questioners rightly understood Jesus to be alluding to His death, but thought that He might kill Himself. Ironically, Jesus would not commit suicide but would willingly give up His life (10:11, 15, 18). Their origin explained their discrepancies with Jesus (v. 23): from below versus from above, and of this world (the natural, sinful, human realm) versus not of this world, but sent from the Father.
8:24. Twice in this verse, the Lord stated that those who remain in unbelief will die in their sins. For the unbeliever, nothing changes when he dies; he remains a sinner for eternity. The words I am He (ego eimi; "I Am") contain terms peculiar to the Fourth Gospel and significant to Jesus’ explicit self-declaration of deity (see comments on vv. 28, 58). Some have objected that the phrase ego eimi is not referring to deity but has an implicit completion, such as, "if you do not believe I am who I claim to be" or "if you do not believe that I am not of this world but from above" you are still in your sins. However, these translations are unlikely since the sentence does not include a grammatical object. The alternative possibility, that Jesus was declaring his own deity, is far more likely.
The phrase ego eimi is probably not a reference to Ex 3:14 (I AM WHO I AM) because the LXX translates the phrase "I Am has sent me" with the Greek words ho on ("the Existing One has sent me") rather than using ego eimi. More likely it is taken from the LXX’s consistent usage of ego eimi as the translation of ani hu ("I am He"), a phrase used for God’s self-disclosure in Isaiah (cf. Is 41:4; 43:10, 13, 25; 46:4; 48:12). For example in Is 43:10, the Lord says, "So that you may know and believe Me, and understand that I am He (ani hu)." Jesus applied the words of God’s self-identification in the OT to Himself.
8:25–26. Earlier His opponents asked, "Where is Your Father?" (v. 19). Now they ask, Who are You? Jesus answered, What have I been saying to you from the beginning? Other versions (NIV, ESV, HCSB) translate this as a declaration: "Just what I have been claiming all along." The phrase to speak and to judge (v. 26) is best translated as a hendiadys, "I have many things to speak in judgment concerning you."
8:27–28. While Jesus’ claims were enigmatic, the Jewish leaders should have comprehended them. Instead, they did not realize that He had been speaking to them about the Father who sent Him (v. 26). When you lift up the Son of Man (v. 28) presents another prophecy of His death on the cross. For "lifted up," see comment on 3:14. Again, Jesus made an I am statement without a predicate (He is not in the Gk.). See comment on 4:26; 8:24. For I do nothing on My own initiative, see comment on 5:19, 30.
8:29–30. God never left Jesus alone because Jesus always did the things that were pleasing to the Father (4:34; 5:30; 6:38–40). Once again, Christ’s sinlessness is implied (vv. 7, 46; cf. 2Co 5:21; Heb 4:15). The words of Jesus (As He spoke these things) led many Jewish people (v. 30) to believe in Him (pisteuo eis, John’s unique phrase for genuine faith; 1:12; 3:16, 18, 36; 6:40; 11:25, 26).
8:31–32. Because of vv. 33–59, some think that the ones who believed (vv. 30–31) did not have true faith. But one must distinguish between the new believers and the crowd at large. John interjected that Jesus’ words were spoken only to those Jews who had believed Him (v. 31), not the resistant crowd in vv. 33–59. Eternal life is by faith alone, but being true disciples requires Christians to continue or "abide" in Christ’s teachings (see comments on 6:66; 15:1–5). As believers obey (v. 32), they will know the truth experientially, and this truth will make them free. This freedom concerns sanctification, not justification (cf. 17:17, 19). This liberation is not an intellectual accomplishment but a God-empowered freedom from sin, realized through an ongoing faith relationship with Jesus (v. 36).
8:33. They does not find its antecedent in vv. 30–32 but in the "they" of the preceding passage (vv. 19, 25, 27), the wider audience of unbelieving Jews (vv. 13, 22). Many Jews relied on their physical descent from Abraham. Despite the nation’s domination by Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome, the Jewish people thought of themselves as a free people, both politically and spiritually. But Jesus was speaking spiritually of freedom from sin.
8:34–36. Since everyone, apart from Christ, commits sin (Rm 3:10–19, 23), everyone is a slave of sin (2Pt 2:19; Rm 6:16, 20). Jesus illustrated this idea with an example from real life. Since a slave can be sold by his owner to another family, he does not remain in the household forever (v. 35). But a son does. Since Jesus is the Son of God, He can make one free (v. 36) in its true spiritual sense (free indeed), both from sin’s penalty (justification) and sin’s power (sanctification).
8:37–38. Jesus agreed to their claim that they were Abraham’s physical descendants. But they lacked Abraham’s faith (cf. Rm 4:12, 16). Instead, they were seeking to kill Jesus (see comment on 5:18). Christ’s word [had] no place in their spiritually rebellious hearts. He spoke the things which He had heard, but also had seen (v. 38) while with the Father (before His incarnation). Correspondingly, they did the things which they heard from their father (the devil, v. 44).
8:39–40. In light of Jesus’ reference to "your father" (v. 38), the Jewish leaders replied, Abraham is our father. In Jewish tradition, a "child" was considered metaphorically to be anyone who imitated another (cf. 1Pt 3:6). Jesus argued that Abraham’s true spiritual children would not be seeking to kill Him (v. 40; cf. v. 37). Jesus’ point appears to be that when Abraham heard truth from God, he embraced it. But the religious leaders, who heard God’s truth through Jesus, rejected it, even to the point of seeking to kill the Son.
8:41. Again (cf. v. 38), Christ spoke of your father without clarification (which awaits v. 44). That we were not born of fornication may be (1) a denial that they were illegitimate children of Abraham, or (2) a defamatory remark about Jesus’ birth. The "we" is emphatic in Greek and favors the second option (see comment on v. 48).
8:42–43. Since Jesus was the revelation of God, if God were their Father, they would love Jesus, the One who had come from God. Christ gave a further motive for loving Him: I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me. To love Jesus was to love the Father who sent Him. Like these Jewish leaders, if people do not respond to Christ, they cannot hear and spiritually understand His word (v. 43).
8:44. Spiritually, one has either God or the devil as a Father. The devil was a murderer from the beginning of history. Satan incited Cain to kill his brother (Gn 4:8; 1Jn 3:12). More to the point, in the garden of Eden his lie (Gn 3:4–5) brought death to the whole human race (Rm 5:12). So Satan is the father (creator) of lies.
8:45–47. The minds of these Jewish leaders were so deceived that the truth was impossible for them to believe. Jesus spoke only the truth. Which one of you convicts Me of sin? He asked (v. 46). No sin or falsehood can be found in Christ. Since the one who is of God hears the words of God (v. 47), the resistance of the Jewish leaders proved they had failed as the leaders of Israel and were not of God. As Paul wrote, "a natural man [non-Christian] does not accept the things of the Spirit of God … he cannot understand them" (1Co 2:14).
8:48. Rather than answering Jesus’ questions, Jesus’ opponents responded again with disparagement, calling Jesus a Samaritan and declaring He had a demon (i.e., was insane, 10:20; cf. also 7:20; 8:52). The Jewish leaders associated Jesus with the Samaritans, who were regarded as illegitimate Jews (cf. v. 41). For "Samaritan," see comment on 4:4. In their opinion, Jesus should be put to death for blasphemy against God (10:33, 36; Mt 9:3; 26:65). But in claiming Jesus had a demon, the Jewish leaders ironically committed blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Mt 12:31; Mk 3:28–29).
8:49–51. After denying the charge of being demon-possessed, Jesus explained that He gave honor to His Father. But they were actually dishonoring the One (Jesus) who gave honor to the Father. Was this not contradictory? Christ was not seeking glory for Himself (v. 50). Yet, there is One who seeks Christ’s glory, and He judges on Christ’s behalf. With strong emotion (truly, truly), Jesus asserted (v. 51) that anyone who keeps His word (i.e., believes) will never see eternal death.
8:52–53. Misunderstanding Christ again, the Jewish opponents reasoned that Abraham and the prophets had died. So how could Jesus promise anyone he will never taste of [or experience] death? Jesus could not be greater than Abraham or the prophets, they reasoned (v. 53). Here another Johannine irony surfaces (cf. 4:12). Jesus was not just greater than Abraham and the prophets. He was their God!
8:54–55. Jesus denied that His claims were self-glorifying and pointed out their hypocrisy. It is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ The clause (v. 55) you have not come to know [ginosko] Him, but I know [oida] Him uses two different Greek words for "know." The first typically implies acquired knowledge; the second refers to knowledge without detailing how it was acquired. They had failed to gain true knowledge of the Father, but Christ already and always knew Him, probably because of His intimate fellowship with Him (cf. 1:18).
8:56–57. Abraham rejoiced at God’s promise that he would see the day of the Messiah. This took place when Abraham received the promise that through his offspring (i.e., the Messiah, Gl 3:16) "all the families of the earth will be blessed" (Gn 12:3; 17:17; 22:18). Then when Isaac was born 25 years later, Abraham saw Messiah, in that he anticipated the fulfillment of covenantal promise and looked for the coming of the Messiah and was glad. Abraham also witnessed, through the binding of Isaac, a foreshadowing of the death and resurrection of Christ (Heb 11:19).
8:58–59. The remark before Abraham was born, I am (not "I was"; ego eimi) makes a claim to deity and eternality (see comments on 4:26 and 8:24). The reaction of the Jewish leaders verifies that Jesus made a claim to deity. They picked up stones to throw at Him (v. 59), but Jesus hid Himself. Spiritually, the Jewish leadership was blind, and His departure from the temple pictured God’s OT glory departing from the temple (Ezk 10–11).
4. Healing of the Blind Man (9:1–40)
The preceding claim of Jesus to be the "light of the world" (8:12) is elaborated symbolically in the narrative of the blind man (cf. v. 5). Although the blind man had lived in darkness, his healing by Jesus made him able to see the light.
9:1–2. Jesus left the temple (8:59) and as He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth (cf. v. 12). Healing the blind was a characteristic sign of the Messiah (Mt 11:5; Lk 7:22). The disciples’ question (v. 2) who sinned, this man or his parents …? shows they had adopted the mistaken theology that all illness was the result of personal sin or parental sin. A similar erroneous concept is found in the law of karma as taught in many Eastern religions. Nevertheless, the man’s physical blindness did picture every person’s spiritual blindness from birth (2Co 4:4).
9:3–5. The Lord corrected the disciples, establishing the truth that many disabilities are not the result of sin. In the sovereign plan of God, the man’s blindness allowed for the works of God to be displayed in him. This display of God’s works has been multiplied as millions have read this story through the centuries. Night is coming when no one can work (v. 4) refers to the time of the crucifixion, when the disciples will be scattered and Christ will neither teach nor do miracles. This is supported by Jesus’ remark While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world (v. 5).
9:6–7. In preparation for the healing, Jesus spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and applied the clay to the blind man’s eyes. The making of clay (pelos) is central to the narrative (vv. 6, 11, 14–15). By putting the clay on his eyes, Christ symbolically claimed to be God the Potter (cf. Rm 9:21; cf. Jb 10:9; 33:6) who makes the seeing and the blind (Ex 4:11). Jesus previously presented Himself as the life-giving waters symbolized in the pool of Siloam (v. 7; see comment on 7:37). In addition, just as the man would cleanse his eyes in the Pool of Siloam (which means "Sent"), so also people will find spiritual cleansing and "sight" in the One who was sent (4:34; 5:23, 37; 7:28; 8:26). This miracle was an enacted symbol of Jesus’ saving mission.
9:8–9. The confusion over the identity of the blind beggar parallels the confusion of the crowds over the identity of Jesus. To identify himself (v. 9), the blind man kept saying, I am the one [ego eimi], the exact Greek phrase Jesus used (8:58) to identify Himself. If the listeners correctly recognized the blind man, they would open the door to see accurately the "I Am" who heals spiritual blindness.
9:10–12. If this was the former blind man, his sight demanded an explanation. The facts were straightforward (v. 11). The blind man knew the person who healed him was called Jesus, and that He made clay, and anointed his eyes. Then Jesus told him, Go to Siloam and wash. When he obeyed and washed, he received his sight. Few things are more convincing than a simple testimony of our personal encounter with Christ. Since he was blind at the time, the former blind man when questioned (v. 12) did not know where Jesus had gone.
9:13–14. Because of the unusual nature of the case, those acquainted with the beggar (v. 9) led him to the Pharisees (for Pharisees, see comment on 1:24). First, the blind man appeared before the Pharisees (vv. 13–17). Then his parents were interviewed (vv. 18–23). Finally, the blind man was questioned a second time (vv. 24–34). As in 5:9, John reported that the healing was done on the Sabbath (v. 14). In Jewish tradition, both healing one whose life was not threatened (m. Yoma 8:6) and kneading dough (m. Sabb. 7:2), and by analogy making clay were forbidden on the Sabbath.
9:15–17. Although the Pharisees would have been told the situation, they personally questioned the former blind man themselves, asking him again how he received his sight. They used the information gained from him to judge Jesus (v. 16): This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath. Like the people’s split over the healed man (cf. vv. 8–9), there was a division among the Pharisees over Jesus (7:12, 40–44; 10:20–21). But the debate served to advance the blind man’s understanding of his Healer. When asked (v. 17), he became convinced that Jesus was a prophet.
9:18–19. Rather than believe that Jesus was from God and had healed the blind man, the Pharisees doubted that the man had been blind at all and had received his sight. This was the case only until they called in his parents and questioned them. The questions (v. 19) reflected a hope on the part of the Pharisees that the situation was a case of mistaken identity. To discredit the healing was to discredit the character and identity of Jesus.
9:20–21. His parents answered by rehearsing the basic facts. He was their son, and he was born blind. But they avoided giving an answer (v. 21) to how he was healed and who healed him. Their suggestion was to ask their son since he was surely old enough to give a responsible answer. He is of age suggests the son could be as early as thirteen and need not be older than his late teens or early twenties.
9:22–23. The parents eluded answering (cf. v. 21) because the Jews [i.e., the Pharisees] had already agreed that if anyone confessed Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue. (For "Christ," see comment on 1:20.) To be expelled from the synagogue (v. 22; 12:42; 16:2) would have resulted in serious social and economic consequences. Although there is no extrabiblical evidence that an official Jewish ban against those confessing Christ was established at this time, the severe persecution of Christians in the rest of the NT (e.g., the book of Acts) supports the apostle’s interpretive remark.
9:24–25. The Pharisees interrogated the former blind man a second time, calling on him to give glory to God. This OT idiom means, "as God is your witness, tell the truth" (Jos 7:19; 1Sm 6:5). With the words we know that this man is a sinner the Pharisees attempted to coerce him to change his testimony. Instead (v. 25), he boldly confessed the one thing he did know, that though he was blind, now he could see.
9:26–27. The Pharisees had finally come to believe that the blind man was healed (cf. v. 18). But they still held that anyone who broke the Sabbath was a sinner (v. 24). The former blind man became irritated, having to reply to questions that had already been answered. Sarcastically he asked (v. 27), Why do you want to hear it again? You do not want to become His disciples too, do you?
9:28–29. The healed man had confronted the Pharisees’ resistance to truth. So the Jews resorted to ridicule. You are His disciple, they contended. As would happen with Caiaphas (11:49–52), the Pharisees unknowingly foretold what the healed man would become (v. 38). On their part, they claimed to be disciples of Moses and to lack knowledge of Jesus’ earthly identity. Misunderstanding His earthly identity (cf. 7:41–42; Mt 2:5–6; Lk 2:15) made them ignorant of His heavenly origin as well.
9:30–33. The Jewish leadership should have marveled at Jesus’ healing of the blind man. Instead, the blind man marveled at the Pharisees’ ignorance of the Healer’s origin. He reasoned with sound OT theology. God does not hear the prayers of sinners (v. 31). He only hears God-fearing people who do His will (Pss 66:18; 145:19; Pr 28:9). He also reasoned from OT history that no one ever opened the eyes of a person born blind (v. 32). No known biblical or extrabiblical Jewish sources record the healing of a blind man. This was a power associated only with the coming Messiah (Is 29:18; 35:5; 42:7, 18; 61:1). The healed man concluded (v. 33) that Jesus could do nothing on His own initiative—the very affirmation Jesus Himself made (Jn 5:19, 30; 8:28).
9:34. You were born entirely in sins picks up and intensifies the prejudicial Jewish perspective that Jesus refuted (vv. 2–3). In light of v. 22, they put him out refers to expulsion from the synagogue.
9:35–36. Jesus sought out the healed man (cf. the Good Shepherd described in 10:1–16) and asked, Do you believe in the Son of Man? For "Son of Man" as a messianic title, see comment on 1:51; cf. also 12:34 and Dn 7:13–14. Since the man was blind when he left Jesus to wash in Siloam, he had not yet seen Christ. He was willing to believe in Messiah (v. 36) if he only knew who He was (cf. 4:10).
9:37–38. You have … seen Him pointed to Jesus as the One who healed the man’s blindness. For the second time in John, Jesus revealed His messianic identity to an individual (cf. the Samaritan woman, 4:26): He is the one who is talking with you. The man’s knowledge of Jesus progressed from a man (v. 11), a prophet (v. 17), one from God (v. 33), and finally the Son of Man to be believed (v. 38) and worshiped like God Himself (cf. 4:21–24).
9:39–41. The judgment that Jesus brought into this world was the condemnation of sin that would lead people to faith. This judgment was so that those who do not see may see, i.e., the spiritually blind may believe and gain spiritual sight. The antithesis is that those who see may become blind, i.e., the self-righteous who "see" may become hardened (cf. 12:39–40). Jesus conceded that the Pharisees did "see" to a degree (vv. 40–41) since He had clearly revealed Himself as Messiah to them. If they were totally blind, they would have no sin of rejecting Him. But they insisted, We see. Therefore, Jesus declared that their sin of rejecting Christ remained. The Jewish leaders had greater accountability because of their privileged position as the leaders of the chosen people, to whom God’s revelation had been entrusted (Rm 3:1).
5. The Good Shepherd Message (10:1–21)
Although the events of chap. 10 occurred almost three months after chap. 9 (cf. 7:2, 37, associated with the Feast of Booths in the fall; the Feast of Dedication in 10:22 was held in December), John joined the narratives of the chapters without a break (cf. the reference to the blind man in 10:21). Chapter 10 comprises an extended metaphor comparing Jesus and His followers to a shepherd and his sheep.
10:1. For truly, truly, see comments on 1:51. The Pharisees (cf. 9:40) are the false shepherds (leaders) of Israel (cf. Ezk 34:1–10; Jr 23:1–4). A Jewish family could have several flocks in one sheepfold and assign a gatekeeper for nighttime to guard the single opening. The shepherd would enter by the door into the fold of the sheep to get his particular flock out for grazing. A thief needed to sneak over the stonewall enclosure to steal sheep.
10:2–3. In the OT, a shepherd was an image of an ideal leader and king. God was the supreme Shepherd (Ps 80:1; Is 40:10–11) and the Messiah was a King-Shepherd (Ezk 34:23–24; 37:24; Jr 23:1–5; Mt 2:6). Jesus, as Shepherd, enters by the door, i.e., He is the legitimate shepherd, and He fulfills messianic prophecy. Just as the best man stands with the bridegroom (Jn 3:29), so the words, To him the doorkeeper opens (v. 3), may depict John the Baptist’s role as forerunner to Jesus (1:6–8). But most interpreters hold that the "doorkeeper" should not be given any symbolic significance. The sheepfold represents Israel (cf. v. 16). The sheep, those who have believed in the One true God of Israel, recognize the voice of Jesus to be the true Messiah (cf. 5:37–38, 46–47; 8:47). The "leading out" means, within the metaphor, that the shepherd takes them out to find food and water. On the spiritual side of the metaphor, it means Jesus provides spiritual sustenance for His sheep.
10:4–6. Shepherds in Israel would lead their sheep (he goes ahead of them) rather than drive them. The sheep responded only to the voice of their shepherd. They would not follow a stranger’s voice (v. 5), much as the blind man refused to be convinced against Jesus by the Pharisees. Jesus spoke this figure of speech to the Pharisees (v. 6), but they did not understand because of their blindness (9:40–41). They thought that they were the true sheep of God.
10:7–8. Since the Pharisees did not understand Jesus’ parable (v. 6), He changed the imagery slightly (vv. 7–10). In vv. 1–6, Jesus was the Shepherd. Here Jesus claimed, I am the door or gate of the sheep. (See "Jesus’ Seven ‘I Am’ Claims" at 6:35.) The sheepfold represents all who have eternal life. Jesus is the only means ("door") by which one can enter the sheepfold, i.e., have eternal life (vv. 9–10; 14:6). There were many true prophets in the OT. So all who came before Me are thieves and robbers refers to those false leaders (including the Pharisees) and messiahs who claimed to be the way to God. God’s sheep (true OT believers) did not hear them.
10:9–10. The words if anyone establish that faith in Jesus is available to all. In the simile, he will be saved means delivered from thieves and wild animals, but pictures eternal life (cf. v. 10). Will go in and out (a merism) together with find pasture describes complete provision and security in all of life (cf. 4:14; 6:35). Contrary to the thief, Christ came that believers may have eternal life, both now and in the world to come. Eternal life is not a static quality. Once received, it can be enriched through obedience so that it may be experienced abundantly (cf. 2Pt 1:11). The thief who comes only to steal and kill and destroy is not Satan, as commonly thought, but refers to the false teachers who predated Jesus and who led Israel at this time (v. 8).
10:11–13. I am the good shepherd begins a third illustration (the fourth of the seven "I am" statements). Jesus is the good shepherd because He lays down His life voluntarily for the sheep (vv. 15, 17–18; 15:13). While the thief is devious in his concern only for himself (not the sheep), the hired hand (v. 12) is disinterested and self-preserving since he is not the owner of the sheep. "Owner" hints at the purchase Christ will make with His blood to redeem the sheep (1Co 6:20; 7:23). The hireling is driven by fear and is not concerned about the sheep (v. 13); the Shepherd is compelled by love for them.
10:14–15. As the good shepherd, Jesus enters into a reciprocal, intimate relationship with His sheep (I know My own and My own know Me). Amazingly, this relationship is as personal and intimate as the relationship shared by the Father and Son (v. 15). The Shepherd’s death for the sheep is a substitutionary death, one life for another (2Co 5:21; 1Pt 2:24; 3:18). This is supported by the Greek word "for" (hyper), which carries the notion in this context that the death of Jesus was "for our sakes" as well as "in our place."
10:16–17. Other sheep, which are not of this fold (Israel) refers to Gentiles who will come to faith in Christ and form one new flock with one shepherd (Gl 3:28; Col 3:11). The universal outlook of John (1:9, 29; 3:16–17; 4:42; 6:33, 51; 8:12; 9:5; 12:47) supports this interpretation. This passage directly states that the Father loves the Son (v. 17). Just as the Father’s love for the Son results in the Father’s "giving" to the Son (3:35; 17:24), so the Son’s love for the world results in His "giving" to the world (3:16; Gl 2:20; Eph 5:2).
10:18. I lay My life down on My own initiative (v. 18) repeats vv. 11, 15, 17. Since Jesus was without sin (8:46; 14:30; 2Co 5:21), if Jesus had not voluntarily chosen to die, He would have never died at all. He also declared He had the authority to take His life up again by initiating His own resurrection according to the command of the Father. According to this verse, Jesus had the authority to resurrect Himself from the dead, something that would be impossible for a mere human. The Father (Ac 2:32; 4:10; Rm 10:9) and the Son (Jn 2:19) were both active in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
10:19–21. On two other occasions (7:43; 9:16), a division took place over Christ’s teachings. And on two other occasions (7:20; 8:48, 52), the Jews said He had a demon (v. 20). Those who were favorably disposed to Jesus reasoned that even a demon in a possessed person could not open the eyes of the blind (the blind man of 9:1–41). To "have a demon" (v. 20; also 7:20; 8:48–49, 52) is synonymous with being "demon-possessed" (v. 21).
6. Events at the Feast of Dedication (10:22–42)
10:22–23. The Feast of the Dedication (modern "Chanukah," Hb. for "dedication") was an eight-day festival held on Kislev 25 on the Hebrew calendar—the month of Kislev is comparable to December in the western calendar. It celebrated the restoration of the temple (165 BC) after its desecration by the Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes. Symbolically, Jesus is the One who restores the true temple of God and is true Leader (Shepherd) over Israel. The date was probably December 18, AD 32, roughly three-and-a-half months before Jesus’ crucifixion. The portico of Solomon ran along the eastern wall of the temple complex.
10:24. The words gathered around Him literally mean "surrounded" Him (NET, NKV, HCSB). The question of the Jewish leaders, If You are the Christ, tell us plainly, veiled their real attempt to gain further evidence of blasphemy against Jesus (cf. 8:25). For "Christ," see comment on 1:20.
10:25–26. I told you, and you do not believe shows that Jesus had not hidden from them His true identity. The root problem was an unwillingness to believe. The works or sign-miracles gave clear evidence that He was the Messiah. You do not believe because you are not of My sheep (v. 26) may refer to Jesus’ rejection of them as not among the elect. More likely, Jesus was speaking of their present condition (cf. His later appeal to them to believe, vv. 37–38; cf. 8:47).
10:27–28. These rulers should not think they sincerely want to believe in the Messiah. Those who wanted to believe in the Messiah were sheep who hear the true Messiah’s voice (Jesus) and follow Him (i.e., believe). He gives His sheep eternal life (v. 28) because of their faith. Christ’s sheep will never perish (emphatic in Gk.). The Good Shepherd does not lose any of His sheep. No one will snatch them out of My hand underscores the power of the Shepherd apart from any conduct of the sheep.
10:29–30. For My Father, who has given them to Me, see comment on 6:37. No one is able to snatch (harpazo, the same word in v. 12) the sheep out of the Son’s (v. 28) or the Father’s hand. This united security points to a unity between the Father and the Son: I and the Father are one (v. 30). The word "one" is neuter, not masculine, confirming that the Father and Son are one in nature and purpose, not one in identity. In other words, Jesus is fully divine, but He is a divine Person distinct from God the Father.
10:31–32. The Jewish authorities argued that Jesus was vague about His identity (v. 24). But now they picked up stones again (cf. 8:59) to stone Him for blasphemy, as the law instructed (Lv 24:16). Jesus questioned His opponents about their charges. Of all the wonderful miracles He had shown them, for which of them were they stoning Him? This sarcasm was designed to shake them from their evil prejudgment.
10:33. This is the first time in John the Jews charged Jesus directly with blasphemy. They accused Him of being a man who made Himself out to be God. Ironically, Jesus was claiming that He was the second member of the Godhead who became a man (1:14; Gl 4:4; Php 2:6–7; 1Tm 3:16).
10:34–36. In His defense, Jesus quoted from Ps 82:6, written in the Law. Here "Law" refers to the entire OT (cf. Jn 1:45; 12:34; 15:25; Mt 7:12; Rm 3:21). Jesus’ argument is as follows. In Ps 82:6, even sinful Israelite leaders were given the title gods since they had the divine responsibility to speak the word of God and carry out justice under God. There is no error in Scripture (Scripture cannot be broken). Therefore, how much more should the Christ, sanctified and sent into the world (v. 36) on a divine mission to speak the word of God as the incarnate Word of God (1:1, 14) and to carry out justice (5:22, 27, 30), be rightly called the divine (sinless) "Son of God?"
10:37–38. Jesus set before the Jewish leaders His works or miracles as proof of His unity with the Father (v. 30). He challenged them, saying, If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me. But if He did do them (v. 38), even though they stumbled over His claims, they were obligated to believe the works were from God. Then faith in Christ might follow faith in the miracles (cf. Nicodemus, 3:2).
10:39–42. They were seeking again to seize Him repeats a familiar theme of Jewish opposition that began early in Christ’s ministry (5:18; 7:1, 19, 25, 30; 8:37, 40; 11:8). Behind the words He eluded their grasp is God’s sovereign timing of Jesus’ death. But the apostle may also imply an unspecified miracle (cf. 6:21; 8:59; 21:6). Jesus (v. 40) went away (cf. 11:54; 12:36) beyond the Jordan (see comment on 1:28) to Perea (the east side of the Jordan river) to finalize His public ministry in the location He first began (where John was first baptizing). The location prompted people to recall the forerunner’s testimony of Christ (v. 41), and many believed in Him there. Like the book of Acts, the success of Christ’s message took place as He moved away from Jerusalem.
7. Events at the Final Passover (11:1–12:50)
a. Raising of Lazarus (11:1–54)
The events of chap. 11 occur sometime between the Feast of Dedication (December) and the crucifixion (April). Although Jesus raised others to life (a widow’s son, Lk 7:11–17; Jairus’s daughter, Mt 9:18, 23–25), the raising of Lazarus became the last and most dramatic sign-miracle Jesus performed before His own death and resurrection.
11:1–2. Lazarus, not to be confused with the Lazarus in the story of Lk 16:19–26, is mentioned only in John. Bethany (not the Bethany of 1:28) was two miles east of Jerusalem (v. 18) and near the Mt. of Olives (Mk 11:1). The parenthetical remark (v. 2) may anticipate 12:1–8 or may assume that the readers were familiar through early Christian teaching with the Mary who anointed Jesus’ feet (e.g., Mk 14:3–9; cf. Lk 10:38–42).
11:3–4. The sisters knew of the Lord’s love for Lazarus, so they sent word to Him of their brother’s sickness. Those who carried the message are not identified. Jesus responded (v. 4), This sickness is not to end in death. Instead, the situation was so that the Son of God may be glorified by it (cf. 9:3). Ironically, Jesus would not only be honored in this miraculous healing (v. 40). He would also be glorified by His crucifixion that resulted in part from raising Lazarus (cf. 11:47–53) whereby He aroused the paranoia of the religious leaders.
11:5–6. In the narrative, Jesus’ love for Lazarus is highlighted (vv. 3, 5, 36), but is also expressed for his sisters. Martha is given prominence, probably because she was the oldest or because she speaks first in vv. 20ff. On hearing about Lazarus’s sickness (v. 6), Jesus purposefully stayed two days longer in the place where He was, a response that must have seemed uncompassionate. This was not to bring on Lazarus’s death. Lazarus died by the time word reached Jesus of his sickness (vv. 11, 14).
11:7–8. Two days after receiving the message of Lazarus’s sickness (v. 6), Jesus decided to return to Bethany in Judea, a more dangerous area than Perea (see comment on 10:40). Jesus’ delay did not lead to Lazarus’ death; He knew already that Lazarus was dead (v. 14). By delaying two days, the miracle was all the more undeniable. In light of 10:31, 39, the disciples’ reaction is humanly realistic. They said (v. 8), Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You (cf. 5:18; 7:1, 19, 25, 30; 8:37, 40; 10:39). So they wondered why He intended to go there again.
11:9–10. There was only a limited time to accomplish the Father’s will (cf. 9:4). Work was done in the 12 hours of daylight, and when it became dark the work stopped. But it was unwise to cease labor while it was still light. The "daylight" during which Jesus ministered had not yet run out, and it would be wrong for Him to stop prematurely. Hence His determination to continue ministering, in this case to Lazarus and his family, in spite of the risks. Verse 10 is difficult, but Jesus appears to have meant that eventually His time for ministry will run out and He will face "the night" of His betrayal and crucifixion, a time of great distress for Him that parallels when one walks around at night without light available to him (the sense of the light is not in him). Jesus comforted His disciples by asserting that His ministry was not yet over, but reaffirmed that it would be some day.
11:11–13. Proceeding to Judea presented potential dangers (v. 8). The words our friend Lazarus added incentive for the disciples to join Jesus in the trip. But when Jesus referred to Lazarus as having fallen asleep, the disciples again misunderstood Jesus (v. 12). "Sleep" was a common enough metaphor for death in the OT (1Kg 2:10; 11:43; Dn 12:2). Nevertheless, the disciples thought that He was speaking of literal sleep (v. 13), and this was a good sign of Lazarus’s recovery.
11:14–16. The confusion of the disciples called for a forthright reply: Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there (vv. 14–15). Why was Christ glad? Eleven disciples had already believed that Jesus was the Christ (2:11; 6:69). Now that Lazarus was dead, the Lord was able to resurrect him and strengthen the disciples’ faith that He is the "resurrection and life" (v. 25). In the NT, only John mentioned Thomas (v. 16) as also Didymus (meaning "twin," 20:24; 21:2) and gave him a significant role. Thomas’s pronouncement Let us also go, so that we may die with Him is ironic in that ultimately the disciples and every believer must die with Christ spiritually (Rm 6:6, 8; Col 2:20; 2Tm 2:11).
11:17–19. When Jesus arrived outside the village, He heard what He already knew (vv. 11–14)—that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. It is possible that John noted the four days to emphasize that in Israel’s climate decomposition would have already begun. Even the most petty, resistant fault finder would be challenged by Jesus, the resurrection and the life, who could raise a dead person to new life even after his body had begun to decay in the grave. This may explain why Jesus waited two more days in Perea (v. 6). There would then be no question that Lazarus was dead. For his readers outside Palestine, John mentioned (v. 18) that Bethany was only about two miles away from Jerusalem. Therefore, many of the Jews (v. 19) could make the trip from Jerusalem and the surrounding areas, and they came to comfort Martha and Mary in their loss. These probably consisted of friends and relatives of the family who helped bury Lazarus (v. 34).
11:20–22. Luke’s portrayal of Martha and Mary (10:38–42) agrees with the picture John gives. Martha was a woman of action. So when she heard that Jesus was near Bethany, she went to meet Him. Mary was more patient. She stayed at the house and waited for Christ to come. Martha believed Jesus would have healed His friend Lazarus if He had been in Bethany (v. 21). In v. 22, she also expressed a confidence that Jesus could resurrect her brother if He asked the Father for it (Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You); cf. vv. 41–42.
11:23–24. Martha’s expressed confidence (v. 22) was an indirect request, and Jesus answered it. Your brother will rise again. To this promise, Martha responded with a marvelous statement of her faith. I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day. Martha knew assuredly that her brother would be resurrected to life, according to OT teaching (Jb 19:25–27; Ps 17:15; Is 26:19; Dn 12:2). We too can have this assurance about the resurrection of other believers.
11:25–27. Jesus did not merely have the power to resurrect. His claim I am the resurrection and the life makes Him the very source of resurrection and all life. (See "Jesus’ Seven ‘I Am’ Claims" at 6:35.) Everyone who lives (v. 26) refers to one’s physical life since it is followed by and believes in Me. Only in this life does one have the chance to believe in Christ (Heb 9:27). Believe this parallels "believes in Me" (vv. 25, 26). Believing the NT truths about Christ should not be distinguished from "believing (or trusting) in" the person of Christ. Martha’s confession (v. 27) You are the Christ, the Son of God anticipates John’s purpose statement (20:31). Taken together, to believe that Jesus is "the Christ, the Son of God" means to believe that He is my resurrection and eternal life.
11:28–29. At the close of their conversation, Jesus asked Martha to go and tell Mary her sister to come to Him. Since Martha spoke to her sister secretly, she probably understood that Jesus wanted a private conversation with Mary. The Teacher was a title used for Jesus as a Jewish rabbi (cf. 1:38; 3:2; 20:16), but is not used of Him outside the Gospels. The role of the Teacher after Pentecost is taken up by the Spirit (14:26; 15:26). That Mary got up quickly (v. 29) and came to Jesus demonstrates her respect and faith.
11:30–31. Probably to avoid the crowds, Jesus remained outside of Bethany. So that Mary would know where to find Him, He stayed in the place where Martha met Him. The comforters (v. 31) who had come to console Mary and Martha followed Mary as she went to meet Jesus. These Jewish friends thought Mary was going to the tomb to weep there. Jewish mourners commonly grieved at the tomb of their dead.
11:32–35. Mary was regularly found at the feet of Jesus (11:2; 12:3; Lk 10:39). Martha primarily needed teaching (cf. "Teacher," v. 28), but Mary needed compassion. Mary repeated the same words spoken earlier by Martha (v. 21), implying the sisters discussed the situation. But unlike with Martha, emotions had overtaken Mary (see the different Greek words for weeping in vv. 33 and 35). When Jesus saw Mary and the others crying (klaio, "to wail"; v. 33), He was deeply moved in spirit [embrimaomai, "be indignant, angered"] and was troubled.
The question arises, "At whom or what was Jesus angered?" The best clues are found in the reference to "the Jews" (probably prominent Jewish leaders) in v. 19 who came to console Mary and Martha, and who appeared to have deep unbelief in God’s power, even in the presence of Jesus, as expressed by their mourning (vv. 30–32). Unbelief is seen in v. 37 as well, and to this Jesus had a similar reaction as v. 33. This situation also angered Him in v. 38, where the same word is used as in v. 32 ("deeply moved," embrimaomai). Jesus’ anger appears to be directed at their lack of faith in what God could do, especially through Jesus. This so moved the Lord that He wept at their unbelief. Note that two significant examples of Jesus weeping (this and Lk 19:41) were in response to the unbelief of the Jewish people.
11:36–37. Jesus’ show of emotion was cause for division among the mourners (cf. 7:43–44; 9:16; 10:19–21). Some took it as evidence of how much He loved Lazarus. But others (v. 37) questioned Jesus’ power or willingness to heal. They reasoned that if He healed a blind man, He should have been able to prevent Lazarus also from dying (a less difficult miracle in their estimation). This doubt led to pronounced unbelief in vv. 45–46.
11:38–40. Jesus was again … deeply moved within (lit., "angered"; the same Greek verb in v. 33), this time because of the unbelief of the crowd. Tombs were commonly hewn vertically or horizontally out of rock, making a cave. A large, round stone covered the entrance. The command to remove the stone called for faith (v. 39). Martha objected that there would be a stench now that Lazarus was dead four days (cf. v. 17) and decomposition had set in. Jesus answered Martha, but spoke to all (v. 40): Did I not say to you [pl.] that if you believe, you will see the glory of God? Jesus previously spoke these words to His disciples and the messengers sent from the two sisters (vv. 3–4). These words would have been communicated to Mary and Martha on the messengers’ return.
11:41–42. Jesus then prayed publicly to the Father. I thank You recalls Jesus’ habit of gratitude in prayer (cf. 6:11, 23). Christ offered a previous (unspoken or unrecorded) petition to the Father to raise Lazarus, evident in the words You have heard Me. Also, You always hear Me (v. 42) shows that by His inviolate union with the Father, every prayer He prayed was answered, though not always affirmatively (as in Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane). Before it happened, Christ expressed absolute certainty that He would raise Lazarus.
11:43–44. Jesus cried out with a loud voice, audibly illustrating divine power (cf. Rv 1:15; 14:2). Like the Good Shepherd who calls His own sheep by name (10:3), Christ called for Lazarus personally to come forth. Part of the miracle may have been that Lazarus was able to walk despite being bound hand and foot with wrappings (v. 44). Jesus commanded the people, unbind him, and let him go.
11:45–46. As a result of Jesus’ miraculous resurrection of Lazarus, many of the Jews … believed in Him and gained eternal life. John’s positive use of "Jews" in this verse demonstrates he was not anti-Semitic. For this group of Jews who are separate from the religious leaders (v. 46), see vv. 18–19, 32–33, 35–36. Before Lazarus’s resurrection, some doubted Jesus’ ability to do miracles (v. 37). Now in contrast to those who believed (v. 46), some of them (apparently those who did not believe) went to the Pharisees, who were known to be seeking to kill Jesus (5:18; 7:19, 25; 8:37, 40).
11:47–48. Some of the chief priests and the Pharisees were members of the Jerusalem council called the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was composed of 71 men and exercised authority over all religious practices in Israel. The members of the council did not deny that Jesus was performing many signs. But they felt that if He were allowed to continue unabated (v. 48) the Romans would consider the masses who came to believe in Him as an insurrection. Then the Romans would respond by destroying their place (the temple or their own positions of prominence) and their nation.
11:49–50. Caiaphas ruled as high priest in AD 18–36 (for more on Caiaphas, see the comments on Mt 26:3–5). He was irritated by the indecision of the council and recommended (v. 50) that one man, Jesus, die in place of the people, rather than all the Jewish people dying at the hands of the Romans. Although Caiaphas’s design was political prudence, he unwittingly expressed the very intent of God’s sacrifice of His Son: the substitution of the life of one man, Jesus, for the sins of all people. Ironically, even though the Jews crucified Christ to prevent the nation’s demise, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70.
11:51–53. It was not merely on his own initiative that Caiaphas made his pronouncement. Caiaphas unwittingly prophesied because he was high priest that year. Caiaphas’s prophecy did not make him a prophet nor is it ever recorded that he prophesied again. In his governing authority as high priest (cf. Rm 13:1), he was unconsciously and providentially used by God. "That year" refers to the year of Christ’s death. But where Caiaphas thought of Christ’s death as only for His own people, God’s purpose was not for the Jewish nation only but for Gentiles as well (cf. Jn 10:16). In God’s plan, Jews and Gentiles who will believe will be gathered together into one group or body (cf. Eph 2:11–22) because they are all children of God by faith alone (cf. Jn 1:12). At this meeting, weeks before the crucifixion, the Jewish leaders had already planned together to kill Jesus.
11:54. Once again, Jesus took precautions against an early death by refraining to walk publicly among the Jews (cf. 10:40; 12:36). Instead, He stayed out in the country near the wilderness, which would have provided some protection. Ephraim is usually identified with a town located 12 to 15 miles northeast of Jerusalem.
11:55–57. This was the final Passover in the life of Christ, during which He would be crucified. Many who lived at a distance took the trip to Jerusalem early to purify themselves (cf. 2:6; 18:28). On various occasions in the OT, the Lord gave instructions to consecrate oneself for worship (Gn 35:2; Ex 19:10, 11), and this was applied to the Passover (2Ch 30:16–20). But instead of consecration (v. 56), the people were caught up in conversation and curiosity. The decision of the council led to a warrant for Jesus’ arrest. Word was spread throughout the crowds (v. 57) so that if anyone knew where He was, he was to report it. But the actual arrest would not come until a week or more later.
b. Anointing of Jesus’ Feet (12:1–11)
Chapter 12 begins the final week of Jesus’ life and climaxes His public ministry. Mary’s anointing of Jesus is also recorded in Mt 26:6–13 and Mk 14:3–9 (see the comments there). The story in Luke 7:36–50 is not the same event.
12:1–3. It was just six days before the Passover (i.e., Saturday), presumably in the evening after the Sabbath was over. For Bethany, see comment on 11:1. True to her character (v. 2; see comment on 11:20) Martha was serving (diakoneo). The same Greek word will be used shortly of "serving" Christ by following Him (v. 26). Lazarus was reclining at the table with Jesus. The custom was to lie on one’s side on a low couch or on the floor with the head at a low table and feet pointing away (see comment on 13:23). Mary (v. 3) poured a large amount (Gk., litra, a Roman pound, about 12 ounces) of very costly perfume over Jesus’ feet and in a supremely humble act wiped His feet with her hair. In ordinary burials, ointment masked the odor of decomposition. So anointing Jesus’ feet prophesied Jesus’ coming death. Since wiping off the ointment would never be done at an ordinary burial, this act may prophesy His rising incorrupt (note both the anointing and wiping in 11:2).
12:4–5. Mary’s supreme act of devotion is set in contrast to Judas Iscariot, the one who was consciously intending to betray Jesus. Although debated, this contrast may imply Mary consciously anointed Jesus for His coming death. Judas asked (v. 5) why the perfume was not sold for three hundred denarii, the equivalent of about an average year’s wages, and given to poor people. In the Synoptics, other disciples joined in Judas’s indignation at the expensive waste of perfume (Mt 26:8; Mk 14:4).
12:6. Judas disguised his thievery by implying that he was concerned about the poor. The Eleven trusted Judas with the money box containing the financial contributions of those who gave to Jesus’ ministry (Mt 27:55; Lk 8:3). If the perfume had been sold and entrusted to Judas, he would have had more money from which to pilfer.
12:7–8. Verse 7 could read, "Leave her alone. She has kept it [not so that she may keep it] for the day of my burial" (NET). This act of anointing perfume as burial preparation indicates that Mary was probably one of only a few who realized Christ was soon to die (cf. Mt 26:12; Mk 14:8). Jesus’ words (v. 8) You [pl.] always have the poor with you have been true for 2,000 years. Charitable opportunities will never cease until Christ returns. But you do not always have Me referred to His death just six days away.
12:9. Jesus’ fame could not prevent curiosity seekers. The large crowd of the Jews (in this case the general populace, not the rulers) who came to Jerusalem for the Passover (11:55) also came to Bethany to see Jesus. But they wanted to see the resurrected Lazarus too.
12:10–11. One sin leads to another. Not only did the chief priests plot to kill Jesus, they now planned to put Lazarus to death also. Lazarus stood as a living testimony of Christ’s messianic power, and He had to be eliminated also. Too many Jews were going away and were believing in Jesus. "Going away" could mean the Jews were "deserting" the Jewish leaders (HCSB) or that the Jewish people were "going over to" Jesus (NIV).
c. Presentation of the Messiah-King (12:12–19)
The event described in 12:12–19 is traditionally known as the triumphant entry (Palm Sunday in Christian history) and is found in all four Gospels (Mt 21:1–11; Mk 11:1–10; Lk 19:28–40; see the comments there). The attention aroused by the resurrection of Lazarus (chap. 11) intensified the celebration.
12:12–13. On the next day identifies the day as the Sunday before the Passover feast and Jesus’ death. The palm branches the crowd waved to greet Jesus entering Jerusalem symbolized the victory or triumph of the Messiah-King. Hosanna! is a Hebrew term meaning "Save [us] now!" but came to be used as an expression of praise. The people cried out words from Ps 118, a psalm sung at the Passover meal. Their shouts that Jesus was the King of Israel (cf. 1:49) showed that they understood the psalm to speak of the Messiah.
12:14–15. Unfortunately, many in the crowd thought of Jesus only as a political deliverer and not a spiritual Savior. Instead of riding in on a horse like a warrior, Jesus chose a donkey—a burden-bearing animal. OT prophecy had identified the Messiah-King (Zch 9:9; see the comments there) as coming to the daughter of Zion (v. 15; a common OT idiom for the people of Jerusalem) seated on a donkey’s colt. The donkey was also a symbol of peace and humility (2Sm 19:26).
12:16. Although well taught by Jesus, the disciples still did not fully understand the OT prophecies about the Messiah. After the resurrection, when Jesus was glorified (cf. 7:39), the resurrected Lord taught them the messianic significance of the Hebrew Scriptures (see Lk 24:25–27, 44–46). Moreover, afterward the Holy Spirit assisted them to recall the details of Jesus’ life and to match them with the OT prophecies that were written of Him (Jn 16:13–14).
12:17–18. The people who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb are distinguished from the crowd in v. 18. Most of the former group witnessed the resurrection of Lazarus and continued to testify about Jesus and this miracle. The people who went and met Him had not witnessed the miracle but went to meet Jesus because they heard how Jesus had resurrected Lazarus.
12:19. Jesus’ popularity provoked the Pharisees to criticize each other. You … are not doing any good; look, the world has gone after Him. Though they meant a multitude of Jews were turning to Jesus, John saw an ironic "fulfillment" in the Greeks (likely Gentile God-fearers in Jerusalem to celebrate the feast) who came to see Jesus (v. 20).
d. Gentile Openness and Israel’s Blindness (12:20–50)
The coming of the Greeks (i.e., Gentiles) to Jesus marks the climax of Jesus’ ministry to the Jews, and closes the first major section of the Fourth Gospel (1:19–12:50), which dealt primarily with Jesus’ public ministry of performing miracles and teaching the people. John shortly would concentrate on Jesus’ private ministry to the disciples in the upper room (chaps. 13–17).
12:20–22. Along with the Jews traveling from Galilee to Jerusalem were some Greeks—Gentiles who abandoned paganism in favor of believing in the God of Israel ("God-fearers"). It is unlikely that they submitted to circumcision (as proselytes) because they would then have been fully accepted as Jews and not called Greeks. These Greeks came first to Philip, probably because he had a Greek name and because he was from Bethsaida of Galilee. They may have come from the Gentile territory of the Decapolis, named for its ten Gentile cities, which lay east and south of Galilee. These Greeks wanted to see Jesus. For John, "seeing" Jesus often pictured faith (1:39, 46; 4:29; 8:56; 9:39). Philip told Andrew, and together they came to Jesus. Philip and Andrew were known to bring people to Jesus (cf. 1:41, 45).
12:23–24. Up to this point in the Fourth Gospel, Jesus’ "hour" was said to be future. Now the "hour" is said to have arrived. At the height of Jewish rejection of Jesus, Gentiles were seeking Him. The coming of the Greeks was a sign that the hour of Jesus’ death had now come (cf. 7:33–35)—possibly because finally, at this point, the door was cracked open a bit for the inclusion of the Gentiles, something not seen clearly in John’s gospel prior to this. For "hour," see comments on 2:4 and 4:21. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus would be glorified. For truly, truly (v. 24), see comments on 1:51. Jesus likened His death to the paradox that a grain of wheat is unable to produce life unless it first dies (i.e., is buried in the ground as if it had no life). When it "dies," a great harvest comes from its "death."
12:25–26. Jesus applied to His followers the principle of dying to self. Anyone who lived life for himself (loves his life) destroyed the potential of his earthly life for eternal reward (cf. Mt 16:24–27; Mk 8:34–38; Lk 9:23–26). But if he hates his life in this world, i.e., rejects self-centered choices, his life will be rewarded in eternity. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me (v. 26) shows that following Christ includes service. Moreover, to serve the Lord Jesus, the disciple must walk closely and attend to Him, so that wherever Jesus leads, there His servant will be also. The rewards God’s servants will receive include commendation and honor from the Father (Mt 25:21, 23), resulting in leadership responsibilities in the world to come (Lk 12:44; 19:17; Rv 2:26, 27).
12:27–28. Much like during His later agony in the garden (Mt 26:38; Mk 14:34), Jesus’ heart became troubled as He contemplated taking on the sin of humanity at the cross. Jesus could have prayed for the Father to save Him from the hour of His death. But that would be contrary to His whole mission in the world. So He prayed instead (v. 28) for the Father to be glorified. This is the last of three occasions in the life of Christ that a voice came out of heaven (Mt 3:17; 17:5) through which the Father expressed His satisfaction with the Son.
12:29–30. Some in the crowd were unprepared to receive revelation and thought only that it had thundered. Others thought of some spiritual reality behind the voice, supposing that an angel had spoken something to Christ. But as Jesus explained, the voice did not come for His sake, but for the sake of the people. He needed no proof that the Father would glorify Him (v. 28). But the Father graciously provided to the crowd further confirmation of Jesus’ authority and Sonship. Yet they missed its significance.
12:31. Beside forgiveness, the cross (implied in the word now) accomplished the judgment of the world and the defeat of Satan, the ruler of this world (cf. 14:30; 16:11; Eph 2:2; 2Co 4:4). Satan was cast out at the cross. This was not spatial, as if the Devil were driven out of heaven (cf. Rv 12:10). Instead, his power was permanently broken and his destiny was fixed. His complete destruction awaits Christ’s return (Rv 20:10).
12:32–33. The thought that Christ will draw all men to Himself could mean He will draw all groups of people (not necessarily every single person), as opposed to only Jewish people. The reference to the Greeks (v. 20) may support this. But to the contrary, John has shown a universal perspective throughout his book (1:29; 3:16, 17; 4:42; 6:33, 51) and "all [people]" is usually all-inclusive (1:7, 9; 2:24; 5:23, 28; 10:29; 17:2). Everyone who hears the message of the cross will be "drawn" to, or brought closer to, the Savior by that message. But this is no promise of a universal salvation. John and Jesus have made it clear that one must believe (cf. 3:16). Lifted up (v. 32; cf. 3:14; 8:28) refers to the method of Jesus’ death (i.e., crucifixion), as is confirmed by the words He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die. "Lifted up" also depicts the glory that would come to Christ by His death (12:23; 13:31–32; 17:1).
12:34. The crowd understood the Law to say that when the Messiah came, He was to remain alive forever as their King. The "Law" here probably means the entire OT as in 10:34. Many OT passages indicated that the Messiah’s reign would be forever (2Sm 7:13; Ps 89:35–37; Is 9:7; Dn 7:13–14).
12:35–36. Jesus indirectly answered their question (v. 34) by referring to Himself as the Light that is among them a little while longer. The Jewish people needed to walk while they had the Light so that darkness (spiritual blindness) would not overtake them. Verse 36 defines "walk in the light" as believe in the Light and the sons of Light as believers. That Jesus went away and hid Himself from them (cf. 10:40; 11:54) anticipates symbolically the blindness that is about to come on Israel for their unbelief (vv. 37–40).
12:37–38. Jesus had performed so many signs, but the majority did not find the miracles convincing. As a result, the people were not believing in Jesus. John cited (v. 38) a well-known messianic passage about God’s Suffering Servant (Is 53:1) as now fulfilled in Christ. The arm of the Lord is a figure of speech for God’s power, displayed in Jesus’ sign-miracles (v. 37). The rhetorical questions of the OT prophecy suggest that only a remnant in Israel would believe the message of the Messiah.
12:39–40. Israel’s refusal to believe (v. 37) finally led to hardening (they could not believe any longer; but see v. 42). Corporately, Israel became blinded (v. 40) by God as a judgment for their unbelief (see the comments on Rm 11:11–24), even as all people are blinded by unbelief (1Co 2:14; 2Co 4:4). As with Isaiah’s ministry (Is 6:9–11), Jesus’ teaching resulted in desensitizing the Jewish people rather than leading them to faith. These are hard verses and will challenge one’s theology: in v. 36, Jesus commanded the Jewish people to believe. They were thus morally responsible for believing. Verses 37–38 say they did not believe, committing the sin of unbelief. Verses 39–40 say why they do not believe—because God hardened their heart (see the comments on Rm 9:14–18) so that Israel might not be converted from sin and unbelief and God heal them. The interchange between divine sovereignty over sin (in this case unbelief) and human responsibility is mystifying, but one does not cancel out the other. Both doctrines are equally true, and one passage may well emphasize one over the other. Here John emphasized God’s sovereignty over their unbelief, but in other places their moral responsibility is foremost. For the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human sin, see the comments on Rm 9:22–23, and the comments introducing Rm 9:30.
12:41. When Isaiah saw His glory, and he spoke of Him, the prophet was referring to Yahweh, the God of the OT (Is 6:3). But John revealed that the glory of Yahweh was also the glory of the preincarnate Christ (cf. 1:1, 14; 8:58; 10:30; 20:28). This is confirmed by the personal pronoun in v. 42, "many … believed in Him" (italics added).
12:42–43. Nevertheless, despite the blindness that came on Israel, many even of the rulers (not just of the crowd) believed in Him. The "rulers" were members of the Sanhedrin. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea are two of the rulers identified in John as believing in Jesus as the Messiah (3:1; 19:38–39). In this early stage of their new faith, these rulers were not confessing Christ publicly for fear of being excluded from the synagogue (cf. 9:22). Their love for human approval (v. 43) subverted their witness. For the theme of the "secret disciple," see 19:38–40.
12:44–46. In the following verses, Jesus gave the final teaching of His public ministry. Although it is not clear when or where Jesus delivered these words, they are placed here as the culmination of Jesus’ proclamation to Israel. Afterward, the book will shift to the private ministry of the Messiah to His disciples (Jn 13–17). Jesus cried out shows the importance of these teachings. He who believes … does not believe in Me means "does not believe only in Me." The unity of the Son and the Father is repeated three times in these verses. The second is expressed in v. 45: He who sees Me sees the One who sent Me. Jesus is the perfect revelation and expression of God (1:18; 14:9). Jesus (v. 46) as the Light of the world (1:4–9; 3:19–21; 8:12; 12:35) and the need to believe in Him are themes John accentuated elsewhere in the book (see Introduction: Purpose and Theme).
12:47–48. Judgment (3:17–19; 5:22–30; 16:8, 11) and the words of Jesus (4:41, 50; 5:24; 6:63, 68; 14:23; 15:7) are also major themes in John. All future judgment has been given to Jesus (5:22, 27). But Jesus’ purpose in coming to the world was not to judge it at that time, but instead to save the world (3:17; 8:15). Final judgment is self-imposed and fixed in this life by a person’s response to the gospel message (3:18; 5:24; 12:48). Therefore, if anyone (v. 48) does not receive Jesus’ sayings, His word will judge him at the last day (the final judgment; cf. 6:39–40). Jesus’ "words" tie into His identity as the Word (1:1, 14).
12:49–50. Jesus made it clear repeatedly that He did not speak by His own authority or initiative (5:30; 8:28, 42; 12:49; 14:10). So his message about eternal life is the Father’s message as well. His commandment is eternal life (v. 50) means that God commands everyone to believe, and believing leads to eternal life. It is thoroughly appropriate that Jesus’ public ministry in the Fourth Gospel ended with a comment about the need for faith in the Messiah.
III. Private Ministry: Farewell Instructions to Jesus’ Disciples (13:1–17:26)
The farewell remarks of Jesus comprise the second major unit in John. These private instructions to His disciples began in an upper room. But at 14:31, Jesus and the eleven remaining disciples left the upper room and wandered through the streets of Jerusalem where Jesus continued to instruct them and to pray. Finally, at 17:26, they left Jerusalem and crossed the Kidron Valley.
A. Washing the Disciples’ Feet (13:1–20)
13:1. Of the three Passovers cited in John, this Feast of the Passover is the only one recorded in the Synoptics. Jesus was fully aware that the time of His death had come (cf. 12:23). His disciples were not. He loved His disciples, even Judas, to the end (telos)—to the cross where He cried, "It is finished" (teleo, 19:30). Up to this point in John, it was said that his hour had not yet come (2:4; 7:30; 8:20). Now it is said that His hour had come, i.e., the time of His death, resurrection, and ascension as described in the words, to depart out of this world to the Father.
13:2–5. The idea of betraying Jesus was not an original thought of Judas; the devil had already put the notion into his faithless heart (cf. 6:71; 12:4). Once again (cf. v. 1), Jesus had a complete self-awareness of His universal authority (cf. Mt 28:18), His origin, and His destiny (v. 3). That He had come forth from God was symbolized as He laid aside His garments to take the role of a servant (v. 4). In Israel, one’s feet became dirty as one walked from place to place. Washing the feet of a guest was a common courtesy provided by a host but performed by a household servant, and never by the head of the home. Jesus became His disciples’ servant, breaching social customs. Instead of saying that Jesus "took off" and then "put on," John said He laid aside (tithemi, v. 4) and "took up" (lambano, 13:12) His garments—words used earlier for His death (10:17–18).
13:6–8. Some of the disciples submitted as Jesus washed their feet. But when Jesus came to Simon Peter, he questioned the Lord’s lowly act. Jesus knew Peter’s limited understanding (you do not realize now, v. 7). The meaning of the foot washing would become clear hereafter, i.e., after the upper room teachings and/or after the resurrection. Peter still resisted (v. 8), using a strong negative in Greek: Never shall You wash my feet! Jesus replied that if Peter refused to have his feet washed by Him, then he could have no part with the Messiah. Ongoing partnership or fellowship with Jesus is conditioned on the recurrent cleansing of the believer as he confesses his sins (1Jn 1:9).
13:9–11. In Peter’s enthusiasm to be in companionship with his Lord, he asked Jesus to wash his whole body. Jesus’ instructions to Peter about two distinct cleansings must not be overlooked. He who has bathed [louo] needs only to wash [nipto] his feet, because he is completely clean (v. 10). The bath represents the complete, unrepeatable cleansing of new birth; the washing of the feet pictures the repeated cleansing needed for intimacy with Christ after salvation (cf. 15:14). This intimacy requires walking in the light and confessing sins (see 1Jn 1:6–9). The apostle interpreted Jesus’ words (v. 11), you are clean, but not all of you, to single out Judas. Since Judas had not believed, he was not clean, i.e., regenerated.
13:12–15. For Jesus to have taken up His garments again forecasted His glorification at the resurrection. After a rhetorical question to gain their attention, Christ reasoned that He was rightfully above them. They themselves called Him Teacher and Lord (v. 13), terms relevant for ongoing discipleship. Since a servant is not above his master (Mt 10:24), the disciples needed to humble themselves like their Teacher and serve others. To wash one another’s feet (v. 14) included laying down their lives for their brothers or sisters (10:11, 14, 17; 15:13; 1Jn 3:16). Foot washing is not set down as an ordinance but as an example (v. 15) of all forms of humble service modeled by the Lord’s foot washing (cf. 1Tm 5:10).
13:16–17. Since a slave is never more privileged than the master who owns him, and an ambassador is never more important than the one who sent him, so logic must compel the disciples to humble themselves in lowly service as their Master had done in washing their feet. The "one who is sent" (apostolos, lit., "apostle") hints at the apostolic mission of the Eleven. The disciples must know these things (v. 17) Jesus had spoken before they could obey them. Knowledge is a prerequisite to obedience. But being blessed or spiritually happy is conditioned on obeying Christ’s call to servanthood.
13:18. I do not speak of all of you refers to Judas. Jesus knew all about the ones He had chosen, including Judas. He was not caught by surprise at Judas’s betrayal. "Chosen" does not refer here to election for salvation, but to the choosing of His twelve disciples (cf. 6:70). The selection of the disciples resulted in Ps 41:9 being fulfilled. In the psalm, David’s close friend Ahithophel (He who eats My bread) betrayed David (lifted up his heel is a cultural sign for contempt). Later Ahithophel hung himself (2Sm 16:20–22; 17:23), foreshadowing how Judas would betray the Greater David (Messiah) and later hang himself (Mt 27:5; Ac 1:18).
13:19–20. Jesus declared that the prophecy about Judas was designed to increase the faith of the disciples in Jesus’ divine status, sovereignty, and omniscience once it was fulfilled. For believe that I am He, see comments on 4:26 and 8:28. Taking the gospel to the world was in the Lord’s heart. The disciples must be sent to carry out the task. But the one who is sent is nothing (whomever I send, v. 20). The authority rests in the Lord who sends them. Therefore, anyone who receives a person sent by Christ receives Christ Himself (cf. 1:12) and the Father as well.
B. Identifying His Betrayer (13:21–30)
13:21–22. For the third time, the sinless Jesus was troubled in spirit (cf. 11:33; 12:27). Although Christ had previously hinted that He would be betrayed (6:64, 71; 13:11), He now directly testified that the betrayer would be one of the Twelve. By pointing out that the disciples were at a loss to know of which one He was speaking (v. 22), John again underlined the ignorance of the disciples. Judas must have insincerely joined in the interchange that followed (cf. Mt 26:22; Mk 14:19; Lk 22:23).
13:23–25. The beloved disciple, presumably John (see Introduction: Author), was reclining on Jesus’ bosom, or chest, not only because of the cultural style of eating (see comment on 12:2) but also because this was a Passover meal where reclining to the left was part of the ceremony. This is the first of five times the author identified himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved (19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20). Each reference occurred within the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus was flanked by Judas and John (both honored positions), but John was between Jesus and Peter (v. 24). So Peter prompted John to ask Jesus for the identity of the traitor. In this reclined position, leaning back thus (v. 25), John could speak to Jesus.
13:26–27. Jesus revealed the identity of the traitor to John alone (see comment on 21:20). For a person to dip a morsel and give it to another was a sign of friendship and honor. Judas’s heinous character was his own responsibility. Calling him the son of Simon Iscariot showed that he was an ordinary human person. But after Judas ate the morsel, Satan then entered into him (v. 27). As the bread entered Judas, so did the Devil. Jesus, in full control of the moment, precipitated the betrayal Himself by releasing Judas to do quickly his dastardly deed.
13:28–30. Surprisingly, no one understood for what purpose Jesus told Judas to carry out his activities quickly. Judas had been entrusted with the funds given to the disciples for their traveling ministry or for the needy they encountered (cf. 12:6). So the disciples thought (v. 29) Judas was sent out to buy some things needed for the Passover feast, or to give something to the poor. Nighttime almsgivings were part of Passover. After Judas went out (v. 30), the author remarked climactically, it was night—darkness had descended both literally and symbolically. Though John did not record it, sometime after Judas left Jesus introduced the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Mt 26:26–29; Mk 14:22–25; Lk 22:15–20).
C. Revealing His Departure (13:31–14:31)
13:31–32. Again Jesus’ knowledge of the precise time of His death is revealed: Now is the Son of Man glorified. This is the first of 23 uses of the verb, "glorify" (doxazo) in the Fourth Gospel (14 uses in the Synoptics). Sometimes it refers to building one’s own status (8:54; cf. 5:41, 42; 8:50); the enhancement of God’s reputation by Jesus (12:28; 14:13) or the believer (15:8; 21:19); or the enhancement of Jesus’ reputation by accomplishing God’s work (11:4; 17:4; cf. 2:11). Here it refers to Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension by which He will receive an exalted status from God (11:4; 12:16, 23; 13:31, 32; 17:5). Jesus’ miracles manifested His glory (2:11). But it was in supreme weakness—His death on the cross—that His glory was most displayed. God was glorified in Jesus (v. 32), and reciprocally God will also glorify Jesus in Himself. Since Christ’s death was within hours from that moment, the crucifixion would glorify Jesus immediately.
13:33. A Jewish teacher called his disciples little children. This is the only time Christ used this address in all the Gospels. John later adopted the term (1Jn 2:1, 12, 28). Jesus told the Jewish authorities (Jn 7:34; 8:21), Where I am going [the cross, the ascension] you cannot come. Now He was telling His disciples the same (but see 14:3).
13:34–35. Love for others was commanded in the OT (Lv 19:18, 34; Dt 10:19). The love Jesus commanded was new since it called His followers not merely to love but to love sacrificially even as Jesus loved them. Paul referred to this one aspect of the law as the law of Christ (1Co 9:21; Gl 6:2). Since love is one of the primary marks of discipleship, others will know (identify) Jesus’ disciples by their love for one another.
13:36–38. When Peter questioned where Jesus was going, Christ promised Peter you cannot [ou dynasai, lit., "are not able to"] follow Me now [to the cross] but you will follow later, i.e., to his own death. Peter impetuously boasted that he would willingly lay down his life for the Lord. According to Mk 14:31, all the disciples made the same claim. Ironically, it would be Jesus who would die for Peter. Then Peter would follow Jesus (but not right now) to his death (Jn 21:18–19). A strutting, crowing rooster fits Peter’s boastful claim and forms a prophetic rebuke. Peter gave no response to the prediction and did not speak again in the narrative until his denial (18:17).
14:1. The thought of Jesus’ betrayal and departure (13:21–38) would have greatly disheartened the disciples. To console them, Jesus instructed, Do not let your [pl.] heart be troubled. The disciples could calm their hearts by faith [believe in God and believe also in Me]. The two occurrences of the verb "believe" are spelled the same (pisteuete in both), but that spelling could make either or both verbs a statement of fact (an indicative mood verb, "You do believe"), or a command (an imperative mood verb, "Believe!"), or a combination of the two (one could be a statement and the other a command). The first phrase could also be a question ("Do you believe in God?"). It is a complicated issue. The NET Bible (p. 2073 n. 8) is most likely correct in its reasoning: "[Jesus] is about to undergo rejection by his own people as their Messiah. The disciples’ faith in him as Messiah and Lord would be cast into extreme doubt by these events, which the author makes clear were not at this time foreseen by the disciples. After the resurrection it is this identification between Jesus and the Father that needs to be reaffirmed (cf. Jn 20:24–29). Thus it seems best to take the first pisteuete [transliteration added] as indicative and the second as imperative, producing the translation "You believe in God; believe also in me."
14:2–4. Jesus’ teaching about His Father’s house with many dwelling places evokes the image of a first-century wealthy home with beautiful additions. Jesus would not go to prepare a place for His disciples unless He would also come again and receive them to Himself (v. 3). This "coming" is the pretribulation rapture (see the comments on Mt 24:36–44; 1Th 4:13–17) rather than the second coming since at the latter Jesus returns to stay on earth (Zch 14:3–4; Mt 24:29–31; Rv 19:11–21). This is Jesus’ second revelation about the rapture (Mt 24:36–44 was a few days earlier, probably on Tuesday of Passion Week). Jesus deeply desires us to be with Him where He is (cf. 1Th 4:17). The disciples know the way (v. 4) Jesus will take to the Father’s house. He has told them repeatedly of the cross.
14:5–6. Thomas questioned Jesus’ logic. Lord … how do we know the way? Jesus affirmed (v. 6) their faith with the sixth I am claim in John. He is not one way but the way to God. He is not only true. He is the truth. Truth is embodied in Christ, and so is eternal life (1:4). No one comes to the Father for eternal life or for Christian living except first by way of faith in Christ.
14:7. Although born again (2:11; 14:10–11), the Eleven had not begun true intimacy with Christ. They lacked a more complete understanding of who He was. That He was the only way or access to the Father (v. 6) escaped their thinking so far. If they (you is pl. in Gk.) had known Christ intimately (cf. Php 3:10), they would have known the Father intimately as well. But they had not (v. 9). From now on references that moment forward. Through the farewell instructions (chaps. 13–17), they could gain an intimate knowledge (know) and full spiritual vision (have seen) of the Father.
14:8–9. Philip, in his request show us the Father, demonstrated the very unfamiliarity with the Father Jesus had just mentioned. Jesus had spent three years with the disciples (v. 9) and yet they had not come to know Him fully (v. 9). To "know" or "see" Christ (He who has seen Me) is to recognize God Himself fully (has seen the Father). God the Father is completely revealed in Jesus the Son, but Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is distinct from God the Father in terms of their respective personhood. For this important point, see the comments on 1:1, 18. This claim of Jesus is nothing less than a stupendous declaration of deity, leading to the NT teaching of the Trinity.
14:10–11. Jesus is in the Father, and the Father is in Jesus—a holy, eternal fellowship and unity in the Godhead. The words that Jesus speak[s] are never on His own initiative, independent of the Father. The Father abiding in Christ does His works. The mutual indwelling of the Father and the Son stresses inseparability, yet maintains a distinction within the Trinity. If the disciples believe because of Jesus’ works themselves, they would see the truth of this abiding relationship between the Father and the Son.
14:12. What are the greater works Jesus says believers will do? These greater works were made possible because Jesus went to the Father, i.e., after His ascension when the Holy Spirit was given. The "greater works" took place at Pentecost and ever since when people are brought to faith in Christ.
14:13–14. The promise that the disciples will do greater works than Jesus was now directly linked to their prayers in His Name. Whatever you ask (aiteo, a request from an inferior to a superior) begins the subject of prayer for the first time in the upper room teaching (15:7, 16; 16:23–24, 26). It also instructs Christians for the first time that prayer is to be made through Christ (in My name) to the Father (15:16; 16:23–24, 26). Prayer in Jesus’ name suggests that the one who offers it understands that Jesus is the sole mediator between the one who prays and the Father (v. 6). The prayer is made for Jesus’ sake, not primarily for personal benefit (cf. Ps 25:11). So we can ask in prayer as if Jesus were asking it. This implies that our prayers must be designed according to His will, character, and purpose (1Jn 5:14–15). But if you ask Me (v. 14) authorizes prayers also made to the Son of God (cf. Ac 7:59; 2Co 12:8). The promise I will do it must be harmonized with other conditions for prayer (e.g., Ps 66:18; Jms 4:3; 1Pt 3:7; 1Jn 5:14–15).
14:15–17. To keep Jesus’ commandments is a test of devotion to Him. The coming of another Helper (parakletos; v. 16), i.e., the Spirit at Pentecost, implies that Jesus Himself is a parakletos. This Greek word is used five times in the NT, all by John (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7; 1Jn 2:1). The various functions of the parakletos in these contexts make it difficult to translate with a single term. The word often means "one who helps, by consoling, encouraging, or mediating on behalf of" another (L&N, 1:141). Most translations capture something of its meaning (cf. "Helper," ESV, NKJV; "Counselor" NIV, HCSB; "Advocate," NET, NRSV; "Companion," CEB; though in its use in 1Jn 2:1 it means "advocate" in a legal sense). The Spirit is with the believer forever, securing his salvation. Just as Christ embodies the truth (14:6), the Spirit is the Spirit who promotes and spreads truth. Like Christ (1:10–11), the world cannot receive the Spirit either. By saying that the Spirit abides with you, Jesus depicted the relationship of the Spirit in the OT with OT saints, i.e., the Spirit was "with" them. But at that time the Spirit did not reside within them as He does following Pentecost (when He will be in them).
14:18–19. Christ would not leave His disciples permanently as orphans, i.e., helpless. He promised to come to them during the 40 days after His resurrection (16:16–24), and later through the coming Holy Spirit. After His death, the world would no longer see Christ (v. 19), but the Eleven, and other disciples, would. The resurrection appearances were only to believers (cf. 1Co 15:6). His resurrection (because I live) is the guarantee of our resurrection (you will live also).
14:20–21. The words you in Me, and I in you speak of the believer’s ongoing intimacy with Christ, maintained by obedience (v. 21; cf. 15:1–11). Verse 21 returns to the love-theme of v. 15 and connects it to the mutual indwelling of Jesus and the believer in v. 20. It is not merely the one who has the commandments, but the one who also keeps them who is identified as the one who loves Me (cf. v. 15). "The one who loves Me" is broader than just the Eleven. Jesus promised to disclose more and more of His heart to each believer who loves Him by his obedience (see the comment on 2:23).
14:22–23. This is the only time that Judas (but not the betrayer, Judas Iscariot), one of the Twelve, speaks in the Gospels. He may be Thaddaeus of the Synoptics (Mt 10:3; Mk 3:18). Judas asked why the Lord was going to disclose Himself to the disciples and not to the world. Judas thought of the Messiah setting up His earthly kingdom publicly. To Judas’s question, Jesus restated His previous teaching (v. 23) that the full experience of His and His Father’s love required obedience to His word. Then the Son and the Father would make their abode (their home) in the obedient follower. Jesus’ self-disclosure would come through the gift of the Spirit and the abiding or friendship relationship explained further in chap. 15.
14:24. The Lord then declared the reverse of v. 23: He who does not love Me does not keep My words. The reference to Jesus’ "words" (pl.) recalls His commandments (v. 21), and is now identified as the word [sg.] which you hear. One cannot claim obedience to Christ’s word without keeping all of His individual commands and teachings, especially the instructions to love one another (13:34, 35).
14:25–26. These things I have spoken to you (14:25; 15:11; 16:1, 4, 25, 33) refers to the teachings Jesus gave while abiding with the apostles in the upper room. Jesus also promised (v. 26) that the Holy Spirit would teach the apostles (including Paul) all things (the rest of the NT). "Helper" (Gk. masculine) and "He" (Gk. masculine) suggest the Spirit is a person. The Spirit would guide the memory (bring to your remembrance all that I said) of the apostles as they wrote down the teachings of Christ (cf. 2:17–22; 12:16; 20:9). "I have spoken to you" and "bring to remembrance all that I said" limit the specific promise of this verse to the apostles. The result is the completeness and inerrancy of the NT record of Jesus.
14:27–28. Jesus pledged to give the disciples His peace, far superior to the deficient and fleeting peace the world gives. The disciples are again informed of the Lord’s departure and promised return (v. 28). The disciples should have rejoiced because Jesus was going to the Father, instead of selfishly desiring that He stay. In their essence and nature, Christ and the Father are equal (10:30) while also being distinct Persons. But in Christ’s incarnation and humanity, the Father is greater than the Son in function, not in possessing a superior essence. Both the Father and the Son are equally divine, though distinct in their personhood. But the Father is greater than the Son from the standpoint that Jesus submitted to and obeyed the Father, and came to do His will. In this Christ submitted fully to Him.
14:29–31. Christ had predicted His death and resurrection (13:31–32) so that when it happened, the disciples would believe. Fulfilled prophecy builds faith. Satan, the ruler of the world, holds control over the minds and hearts of the unbelievers (8:44; cf. Lk 4:6; Eph 2:2; 6:11–12; 1Jn 5:19). Although believers have divine protection (Jn 17:15), they are tempted by Satan (2Co 2:11; Eph 4:7; 1Pt 5:8). But the Devil was defeated at the cross and will ultimately be destroyed (see the comment on 12:31). Jesus said he was soon coming (cf. 12:31; 16:11), i.e., in Judas (cf. 13:27), in the garden to betray Him. As the sinless Messiah (8:46; Heb 4:15; 1Jn 3:5), Jesus could declare he [Satan] has nothing in Me (i.e., no sin through which to gain control). To the end that the world may know that Christ loves the Father, He did all things exactly as the Father commanded Him, including the crucifixion and all the events leading to it. With the command let us go from here, the disciples left the upper room. At 18:1, they would leave the city.
D. Abiding in the Vine (15:1–17)
15:1–2. Israel was God’s unfaithful vine (Is 5:1–7; Ezk 17:5–10; Mt 21:33–41). But Jesus is the true and faithful vine and the Father is the vinedresser. See "Jesus’ Seven ‘I Am’ Claims" at 6:35. Two views predominate the identification of the various elements of the extended metaphor.
First, both the fruitless branch and the fruitful branch refer to true believers. This view is supported by the phrase every branch in Me, which refers to genuine believers. Elsewhere in the NT, nonbelievers are never said to be "in Me (Christ)" in any sense of the term. "In Me" in John denotes ongoing fellowship and is not identical with "in Christ" in Paul’s epistles. The verb translated takes away can just as easily be translated "lifts up," denoting the Vinedresser’s action in stimulating growth in a fruitless branch (God helping a fruitless believer to produce fruit). In the viticulture of Israel, late fall was the season for removing dead branches (v. 6). The springtime (the time of the upper room message and Jesus’ death) was the season to "lift up" fruitless branches from the ground to encourage productivity. The fruitful branch (i.e., a fruitful believer) receives pruning (divine discipline) so that it might be even more fruitful.
A second approach understands the metaphors this way. There are two different kinds of branches here, one that is fruitless, is taken away (airo is used frequently with this sense in John’s gospel; cf. 2:16; 11:39, 41; 17:5; 20:1, 2, 13, 15), is thrown away, dries up, and is burned (v. 6). The fruitless branch represents one who, like Judas, is associated with Jesus (in Me), but who had no true connection with Him and thus no fruit. The other category is one that bears fruit, receives pruning, abides, and bears more fruit (vv. 2, 4–5), and represents the true believer. This view is supported by the common meaning of airo, and the contrast between the two kinds of branches. Under the first view, the two branches receive the same treatment, namely nurturing so that fruitfulness might result. But Jesus seems to intend a contrast between them, punctuated by the discarding and burning of the fruitless branch. Finally, in v. 16, Jesus chose the disciples to bear fruit, suggesting that if there is no fruit, then they were not chosen (in a salvific, elective sense) by Him, and thus would face judgment (burning).
The majority of scholars favor the second view, but both views share the common concern of the need to maintain intimacy with Christ (to abide in Him) and to produce fruit in keeping with that relationship.
15:3–5. "Clean" (katharos) is a related Greek word to "prune" (kathairo) in v. 2. Because of the word which Jesus had spoken to them that night, the eleven disciples were "cleansed" or "pruned" for sacrificial service (13:12–17). Abide in Me (v. 4) sets the necessary condition for fruit-bearing and the vital union in which Christ lives dynamically in the believer (cf. Eph 3:17). Just as a branch cannot bear fruit in and of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can believers bear fruit unless they abide in (remain intimate with) Christ.
15:5–6. Christ is the vine, the life source, and believers are the branches, the place where fruit is produced. Before Christ abides in the believer, the believer must abide in Christ. Followers of Jesus are not commanded to bear fruit but to abide. The believer who does not abide is thrown away as a branch and dries up (v. 6). According to the first view mentioned above under 15:1–2, the passage is parabolic, involving symbolism (cf. "as a branch"). So fire and burned are not references to hell. They symbolize (1) the uselessness of these branches (Mt 5:13); and/or (2) divine discipline now and reproof at the future evaluation of believers (1Co 3:13–15; 1Jn 2:28). According to the second view, the fruitless branches represent unbelievers who never abided in Christ, never produced fruit, and who are taken away from the vine and burned (i.e., will face God’s eternal judgment in hell). But this second view is unlikely since in the analogy, there is no such thing as a branch that has never been joined to the vine. "Branches" that have never had life in the vine are non-existent and can never be "burned."
15:7–8. If … My words abide in you adds another qualification for abiding: the need to internalize Christ’s teachings (cf. Col 3:16). Then believers can ask whatever they wish, and their prayer is answered because they will be praying according to God’s will. Some believers lack fruit (vv. 2, 6) and are not "disciples" in the fullest sense (see comment on 8:31). When believers bear much fruit (v. 8), they prove to others that they are His disciples. Love is this proof (13:34–35; 15:12–13, 17).
15:9. Just as the Father has loved Me remarkably parallels the Son’s love for the disciples with the Father’s love for the Son. "Abiding in Me" is now defined as abiding in My love (cf. Jd 21; Rv 2:4). "Abiding" is a love relationship with Jesus.
15:10–11. The construction of this particular conditional statement (a third class condition using ean, "if," plus an aorist subjunctive verb, "keep") projects the action as hypothetical, as something to consider, without actually making a statement about the reality or degree of likelihood of its fulfillment. The idea is, "When people keep my commandments, they abide in My love." My commandments refers to the new teachings of Christ in the NT, especially the command to love sacrificially (cf. Mt 5:21–48; see comment on 13:34). Believers cannot have Christ abiding in them without having His joy abiding in them as well (v. 11). As they abide, their joy may be made full. But as abiding can be lost, so can joy.
15:12–13. The command to love requires a supernatural component to fulfill, requires faith, and is more a choice than an emotion (for a definition of "love," see the comments on 1Co 13:1–3). The priority for believers is to love one another first, since every believer is part of the family of God. Love may involve reproof (Gl 6:1–2). No love will ever be greater than when someone lay[s] down his life for his friends. Jesus was applying this principle foremost to His own death, but secondarily to all His followers (cf. 1Jn 3:16).
15:14–15. You are My friends parallels abiding in Christ since both result in intimacy (friendship). This friendship is conditioned on obedience as is demonstrated in the words if you do what I command you. Here the conditional statement indicates that if one is obedient to Jesus’ commands, it is correct to infer that such a person is Jesus’ friend. James informed us that Abraham’s works (not merely his faith), flowing out of his righteous standing before God by faith, made him a friend of God (Jms 2:22–23). No longer marks a dispensational change from the OT where the believer was treated like a servant (cf. Gl 4:1–5). New revelation (all things that I have heard from My Father) disclosed in Christ’s farewell teachings have now been made known to His disciples. See comments on 2:23 and 14:21.
15:16–17. I chose you does refer both to election to salvation for the eleven disciples and to Jesus’ choice of them to be His apostles (Lk 6:13; Ac 1:2) and carry out the Great Commission (Mt 28:18–20). They were appointed to go and bear fruit—a love (cf. v. 17) that brings others to Christ (cf. Ac 2:41–47; 4:32–35). This fruit would remain because salvation is a permanent gift. Whatever you ask may specify asking for all that is necessary to win people to Christ. For ask of the Father in my name, see the comment on 14:13.
E. Ministering in the World (15:18–16:33)
15:18–19. Since the disciples are chosen to "go and bear fruit" (v. 17) in the world, they must be warned of the opposition they will face. The world, the evil spiritual order controlled by Satan (12:31; 14:30; 16:11), hates believers because they are identified with Jesus and it has hated Him before it hated any disciple of Christ. In saying this, Jesus called all believers to persecution with Him. The Eleven (and by application, all believers) have been chosen out of the world for a mission as Christ’s apostles (v. 16; 6:70; 13:18; Lk 16:13; Ac 1:2, 24). The world’s hatred is to be expected.
15:20–21. Jesus called the apostles to remember the word He had said to them about a slave not being greater than his master (13:16). The disciple will be treated like his master. Negatively, if they persecuted the Master, they will also persecute the disciple. Positively, if they kept the master’s word, they will keep the disciple’s word also, since the disciple will teach exactly what his master taught. Rejection of Christ’s followers (v. 21) reveals that such people do not know the One who sent the Messiah.
15:22–23. If the Messiah had not come to the Jewish people and spoken to them, revealing the nature of God, they could have continued unchallenged to claim their faith in God. But with the appearance of Jesus, it became evident that they were guilty of the sin of rejecting God because they rejected Jesus. They now had no excuse for their sin of rejecting their Messiah. He who rejects and therefore hates Jesus (v. 23) unconsciously rejects and hates God the Father also.
15:24–25. If Jesus had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin. The latter phrase means the Jewish people would not have the specific sin of rejecting their Messiah. Because of Jesus’ words (v. 22) and works, the nation’s abandonment of their Messiah was inexcusable. The miracles of Jesus, which no one else did, were unmatched by even the prophets (cf. 7:31; 9:32). For written in their Law as the whole OT, see comment on 10:34. Jesus cited Ps 69 as messianically fulfilled (cf. 2:17). David, who is hated for no sin of his own, represents the sinless Messiah who is hated without a cause.
15:26–27. As the disciples went into the world to testify, the world would respond with hatred, not friendship (vv. 18–25). Jesus was now promising the assistance of the Spirit in their testimony. For Helper, see comment on 14:16. Jesus said that He will send the Spirit from the Father. The Spirit of truth (see comment on 14:17) is essential for witness. Jesus promised the Eleven (v. 27), you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning. A condition for apostolic witness was having been with Jesus from the time when John the Baptist was still free and active in his ministry, a time that overlapped with Jesus briefly (Ac 1:21–22). In Acts, Christ continued His ministry through the presence of the Spirit’s testimony in the Church.
16:1. These things I have spoken to you (see comment on 14:25) picks up the forewarnings about persecution (15:18–21). Without Christ’s warnings, the disciples may not have been kept from stumbling (skandalizo, a failure of faith causing one to discontinue being a disciple; cf. 6:61).
16:2–3. Two kinds of persecution are predicted: being expelled from the synagogue (cf. 9:22; 12:42) and being martyred. Perpetrators will reach the height of deception when they kill Christ’s disciples and think that they are offering service to God (cf. Ac 7:58–60). Such persecutions (These things, v. 3) arise from an ignorance of both the Father and the Son.
16:4–5. The coming time of persecution (v. 2) is now called their [the persecutors’] hour. The term implies the illusion of victory the persecutors will have over the disciples and is set in irony to Jesus’ "hour" (see comments on 2:4 and 4:21), the ultimate victory of the cross. At the beginning of His ministry, the Lord was personally with His disciples and received the brunt of maltreatment. After His death and resurrection, Jesus was going to the Father (v. 5) and would no longer be on earth to help. None of you asks Me forms an apparent contradiction with 13:36 and 14:5, but there the questions of Peter and Thomas were superficial and not pursued.
16:6–7. Sorrow had filled the heart of Jesus’ disciples over His departure. But His departure would be to their advantage (v. 7). The advantage may include: (1) without His departure, there is no death of Christ to cover sin; (2) the omnipresent ministry of the Spirit will be greater than the bodily presence of Christ; or (3) Christ’s departure will usher in the ministries of the Spirit (worldwide mission, baptism of the Spirit, etc.) and result in a fully spiritual experience (cf. 7:37–39).
16:8–11. When the Spirit comes He will reside in believers. His ministry to convict [expose and prove wrong] the world will be mediated through them (Mt 5:13–14) and the NT Scriptures. The Spirit proves the world wrong concerning: (1) sin (v. 9). The Spirit will expose the world’s guilt both for putting Jesus to death and for sin in general. This is necessary because they do not believe in Me. Unbelief is the primary sin of the world, and leads to all other sin; (2) righteousness (v. 10). The death and resurrection of Christ (because I go to the Father) proves the Savior’s righteousness and establishes the world’s false "religious" righteousness; (3) judgment (v. 11). On the cross the ruler of this world has been judged (see comment on 12:31). If the world’s ruler has been judged, the world is also implicated in judgment.
16:12–13. Although Jesus desired to say many more things to the disciples, He refrained from revealing truths they could not bear or understand before the gift of the Spirit. The Spirit is subordinate to the Son as the Son is to the Father. So the Spirit will not speak on His own initiative. He speaks only what He hears from Christ (v. 13). The Spirit will disclose to the apostles what is to come. This could refer to prophecy (e.g., Christ reveals the book of Revelation; Rv 1:1) or to all NT truth.
16:14–15. The Spirit will always glorify the Son, not Himself. Ministries that overemphasize the Spirit more than Christ are inappropriate. The Spirit will also take the truth that belongs to Jesus and disclose it to the disciples. The three persons of the Trinity share truth equally. So, all things that the Father has belong to Christ (v. 15), and the Spirit takes from Christ and imparts truth to us through the apostles’ writings (cf. 17:10).
16:16. In vv. 7–15, He taught that the Spirit would be their Advocate during His absence. Now in vv. 16–24, Jesus returned to the subject of the sorrow the disciples would have when He was gone (vv. 5–6). It was within hours (a little while; 13:33; 14:19) that Christ would die and the apostles would no longer see Him. Then again a little while, and they would see Jesus—a reference to the resurrection, not the second coming.
16:17–18. Some of His disciples were confused about His remark (v. 16) that in a little while they would not see Him, but then again a little while they would see Him. They were also puzzled about His earlier statement that He was soon to go to the Father (v. 10; cf. 14:2–3, 28). So they were saying (v. 18) suggests a private discussion ensued and that Jesus’ teachings on that night were not an uninterrupted sermon.
16:19–20. Jesus knew hints at the Lord’s supernatural knowledge (2:24–25; 13:1, 11; 19:28) as is implied in the rhetorical question that follows, Are you deliberating together about this …? In v. 20, Jesus answered His own question. Truly, truly (see comment on 1:51) introduced a seriousness in Jesus’ announcement. In drastic contrast to the disciples’ coming sorrow over Jesus’ upcoming crucifixion (v. 20), the world will rejoice with a sinful joy. This corrupt joy reveals the depravity of the human heart. But the grief of the Eleven will be short-lived and will be turned into long-lasting joy by the resurrection.
16:21–22. A short parable that the Lord gave illustrated the emotional changes that would come to the disciples. The OT pictured the age that leads to the Messiah (both first and second coming) as the pain of a woman who is in labor. The words her hour has come parallel Jesus’ statements about His "hour" (2:4; 13:1). Like a woman’s joy when her child has been born, the disciples’ heart[s] will rejoice at Messiah’s resurrection (v. 22). That no one will take your joy away points to the indisputable evidence that will confirm the Lord’s resurrection.
16:23–24. In that day you will not question Me looks to the time after the resurrection when Jesus’ death will be understood. For ask the Father for anything in My name, see the comment on 14:13. Until now (v. 24) designates the NT era when believers pray in Jesus’ name. Prayer is not restricted to praise or thanksgiving. Jesus repeatedly taught that believers can ask and they will receive (cf. Mt 7:7–8). Answered prayer results in joy being made full.
16:25–28. Coherent prayers could not be offered in Jesus’ name (v. 24) if the disciples lacked understanding. Jesus had been speaking in figurative language (e.g., the woman in labor, v. 22; the vine and branches, 15:1–8). However, after the resurrection (an hour is coming), He would tell them plainly of the Father (cf. Lk 24:27; Ac 1:3). For the sixth time that evening (v. 26), Jesus taught the disciples to ask in My name (Jn 14:13–14; 15:16; 16:23–24, 26; see the comment on 14:13). Jesus did not need to request of the Father on the disciples’ behalf. The Father was already well disposed toward them (v. 26; the Father Himself loves you). God loves everyone (3:16). But here the Father’s love is dependent on the believer’s love for Him (because you have loved Me). This expresses the deeper intimacy that the Father has with obedient believers (see comment on 14:21–22). Just as our love for our enemies (Mt 5:44) will differ from our love for an obedient child, so the Father has a special love for the believer. Jesus summarized His entire mission (v. 28) by describing His divine origin (I came forth from the Father), His incarnation (and have come into the world), His death and resurrection (I am leaving the world again), and His ascension (and going to the Father).
16:29–30. Jesus spoke of a future day when His words would become clear (v. 25). How little the disciples truly understood will be exposed in the coming hours when they would all fall away (v. 31; Mk 14:27, 50). Yet they claimed, Lo [behold, look], now you are speaking plainly … Now we know … we believe that You came from God (v. 30). The disciples thought the time for clear understanding had just begun, and they confessed their "confident" faith in Jesus’ heavenly origin. But their faith was soon to be shaken. Jesus needed to confront their overconfidence.
16:31–33. Christ recognized the disciples’ self-assurance in His question Do you now believe? Instead of their acting in faith (v. 32), He predicted that they would all be scattered in fear (cf. Zch 13:7; Mt 26:31) and would leave Him alone to be arrested and crucified without human support. Only the Father would be with Him. Jesus’ words that evening (in Me you may have peace, v. 33) would lead the disciples to peace when they returned to abiding in Him (Jn 15:1–11). This peace will be possible despite future tribulation. Christ’s promise I have overcome the world will lead the disciples to take courage. The final words of Jesus to His disciples end on a note of victory (cf. Rm 8:37–38; 1Co 15:54–57).
F. Praying for All Believers (17:1–26)
The verses of chap. 17 comprise the longest prayer of Jesus in Scripture, sometimes called Christ’s High Priestly Prayer. Jesus first prayed for Himself (vv. 1–5), then for his disciples (vv. 6–19), and last for all believers (vv. 20–26).
17:1–3. Jesus began His prayer by lifting up His eyes to heaven, a common Jewish custom suggesting His confidence in the Father (cf. 11:41; Mk 7:34). His first request was for the Father to glorify His Son (see comment on 13:31). This was not self-seeking since its purpose was that the Son may glorify the Father in return. Jesus received delegated authority over all people (v. 2), including authority to give eternal life and to judge (5:27). For all whom You have given Him, see vv. 6, 9, 24 and comments on 6:37, 39. Eternal life is defined as coming (by faith) to know personally both the only true God, and Jesus Christ.
17:4–5. Jesus glorified God in that He accomplished the work (the earthly ministry) God gave Him to do. The verb "glorify" in these verses means "to manifest the splendid greatness of another," in this case God and Christ. This work was finalized on the cross when Jesus cried, "It is finished" (19:30). The request for the Father to glorify the Son (v. 1) is repeated in v. 5. Since this glory will be equal to the glory that Jesus had with God before the world was created (cf. 1:1–3), Jesus’ resurrection and ascension (exaltation) are included in the "work." "Glory" and "glorify" in vv. 1–5 carry slightly different nuances. (1) The Son is to be glorified in His "hour," i.e., the cross and resurrection (v. 1). (2) The cross/resurrection would glorify the Father in that it would complete the Son’s authority to give eternal life to all who believe (v. 2). (3) The Son has glorified the Father on earth by His works (v. 4). (4) The Son will be glorified in heaven together with the Father in the ascension and eternity future (v. 17:5a). (5) The future glory of the Son will equal the glory He had with the Father in eternity past (17:5b).
17:6–8. To manifest God’s name means to reveal His character and attributes. The disciples (and all believers) are given as a gift from the Father to the Son (cf. v. 2) and spiritually taken out of the world. This expresses the divine side of salvation. The disciples also responded by faith (they have kept Your word), the human side. Their faith included the understanding that everything the Father had given the Son (v. 7) originally belonged to the Father. Jesus’ additional words underscored the disciples’ faith (v. 8): they received … and truly understood … and they believed.
17:9–11. In vv. 9–11, Jesus prayed for His disciples. I ask on their behalf points primarily to the Eleven (cf. vv. 6, 8). What belonged to the Father is now in the omnipotent care of the Son (those whom You have given Me; cf. v. 2). The shared divine status of the Father and the Son is conveyed in the statement all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine (v. 10). After Jesus’ departure, the unity of the apostles would be under attack. So Jesus prayed, keep them in Your name (v. 11). A person’s name represented his character. For the Father to "keep" the apostles in His name meant that He would maintain among them the whole truth His Son had revealed about the Father (cf. v. 6). The outcome would be a complete unity among the Eleven (that they may be one). This unity among the apostles is modeled on the impeccable unity of the Father and the Son (even as We are), and evidences itself in the harmony of NT Scriptures.
17:12–13. Your name which You have given Me is another of Christ’s astounding claims. The name given to Jesus is "I AM" (see comment on 8:24, 58). By identifying Himself as "I AM," Jesus revealed Himself with the Father’s own name. Like the term "sons of light" (12:36), son of perdition means "belonging to" destruction, not predestined to hell. That the Scripture would be fulfilled alludes to Ps 41:9 (cf. Jn 13:18). Judas fulfilled at least three OT prophecies (Ps 69:25; 109:8; cf. Ac 1:20). In v. 12, Jesus had spoken of the time He "was with them" on earth. But now I come to You (v. 13) is set in contrast to v. 12. The statement is not a reference to Jesus’ coming to the Father in prayer but to His future ascension (vv. 11, 12).
17:14–16. The communication to the disciples is now complete (I have given them Your word). Jesus reminded the Father that the world has hated His disciples because of their identity with their Savior. But instead of asking the Father to take them out of the world (v. 15), Christ asked Him to keep them from the evil one (vv. 11, 15). This phrase could be translated, "keep them from evil." But Johannine usage strongly favors "evil one," i.e., Satan (1Jn 2:13, 14; 3:12; 5:18, 19). Paul also mentioned this protection (1Co 10:13; 2Co 12:9). Verse 16 repeats v. 14b, showing that our new relationship to Christ is the foundation for His request for our protection. For more on v. 15a and its implications for Rv 3:10, see the comment on Rv 3:10.
17:17. Sanctify means to "set apart" for God’s use which, according to v. 18, is the mission to the world. All sin involves being deceived in some regard. Sanctification or growth in holiness (Rm 6:22; 1Th 4:3) includes the process of replacing lies with truth. God’s word is the source of this truth. Scripture is not just "true," as if there were another standard to which the Bible rightly conforms. All Scripture is "God-breathed" (see comment on 2Tm 3:16) and therefore is the source of truth, just as Jesus is truth (14:6).
17:18–19. Sanctification (v. 17) is not isolation from but mission to the world. Just as the Father sent Christ into the world, so too Christ has sent His disciples into the world (cf. 15:6; Mt 28:18–20). Jesus prayed, For their sakes I sanctify Myself, signifying how He has set apart Himself to the Father’s will (i.e., to go to the cross in fulfillment of Jesus’ mission). There is nothing commanded of the Christian, even being sanctified in truth, that Christ has not first modeled.
17:20–21. Christ prayed for those also who would believe in Him through the disciples’ word—their preaching and writing of Scripture. His prayer was specifically for the unity of all believers (that they may all be one; v. 21; cf. v. 11). The prayer is answered foremost through Spirit baptism in which every believer is placed into the one body of Christ (cf. 10:16; 1Co 12:13; Rm 12:5; Gl 3:28; Eph 4:4). Elsewhere believers are commanded to live out this integral unity (13:34–35; Rm 12:16; 1Co 1:10).
17:22–23. Jesus prayed for a unity parallel to that between the Father and the Son (that they may be one, just as We are one). The full answer to Jesus’ prayer will not come until heaven, when all believers are perfected in unity (v. 23). But to maintain that His prayer has not been answered is to suggest that He has failed in His mission or that His prayer was not in accordance with the Father’s sovereign will. It is better to argue that there is fundamental unity among all believers in the key points of the Christian faith (for example, the authority of Scripture; salvation by grace through faith; the deity of Christ; the triunity of God; the resurrection of Christ, and the second coming), while the details are clearly disputed. The problem arises, however, when believers become divisive about the secondary issues. In order to reach the world, Christians are to practice their positional unity in Christ (see comments on vv. 11, 21). There is no more shocking truth about believers than that God has loved them even as He has loved His own Son.
17:24. For the fifth time, Jesus addressed God as Father. For they … whom You have given Me (cf. v. 2). As a direct result of Jesus’ prayer, every believer will be with Christ in heaven where He will be (cf. 14:2–3).
17:25–26. Despite knowing the unjust treatment ahead, Jesus called God loving (v. 24) and righteous. This came about only because Jesus had known the Father. That Jesus will make [future tense] the Father known (v. 26) points to the role of the Holy Spirit after Pentecost (14:26; 16:13–14). The result will be that love will dominate the lives of the disciples (the love with which You loved Me may be in them) and Christ will abide in them (cf. 15:1–11).
IV. Passion Ministry: Sacrificial Nature of Jesus’ Death (18:1–20:31)
So as not to distract from his presentation of Jesus’ matchless resolve as the Son of God to go to the cross, John left out details of Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane (for which see the comments on Mt 26:30–46; Mk 14:26–42; Lk 22:39–46). He also included more detail concerning the trial before Pilate. For example, Jesus and Pilate dialog in John (Jn 18:33–38; 19:9–11), but in the Synoptics Jesus is portrayed as silent (Mt 27:14; Mk 15:5; Lk 23:9). John also cited the fulfillment of several messianic prophecies (Jn 19:24, 28, 36, 37).
A. Betrayal and Arrest (18:1–11)
18:1. John’s words He went forth with His disciples are best understood as their departure from Jerusalem, not from the upper room (cf. 14:31). They proceeded across the ravine of the Kidron on the east side of Jerusalem, and to a garden or grove of olive trees called Gethsemane (cf. the comments on Mt 26:36; Mk 14:32), which means "olive press," at the foot of the Mount of Olives. The preincarnate Christ entered the garden of Eden to fellowship with people (Gn 3:8). Now he entered a garden leading to His death and resurrection (Jn 19:41; 20:15) so as to restore this lost fellowship.
18:2–3. Judas easily found the garden because he knew the place. In fact, Jesus had often met there with His disciples, perhaps for prayer. The Gentile Roman cohort (v. 3) was a detachment of 600 men, but the full number may not have been deployed. Contrary to religious custom, Jewish officers willingly joined the Gentile soldiers (see also Mt 26:51). The lanterns and torches were for the nighttime search, and the weapons were in anticipation of serious resistance.
18:4–6. Jesus, even though He knew all the things that were coming upon Him, did not retreat from the impending dangers. Instead, He went forth to meet His enemies. By asking Whom do you seek? and gaining the reply Jesus the Nazarene (v. 5), Christ effectively prepared for His disciples’ release. His reply I am He ("He" is not in the Gk.) recalls Jesus’ use of the same term to claim deity (see comments on 4:26; 6:35; 8:58). Precisely when He said to them, I am He (v. 6), His opponents fell to the ground. The collapse of the soldiers came in reaction to a small taste of the divine power of Jesus. If He had chosen to do so, He could have exercised this divine power sufficiently to escape His arrest and crucifixion. But he withheld this power and thereby demonstrated that He was going to the cross willingly (10:17–18).
18:7–9. A second time, Jesus asked, Whom do you seek? leading to the second I am He testimony from Jesus (vv. 5, 8) and a third by John (v. 6). With these words, Jesus both interceded for His disciples (cf. His prayer in chap. 17) and acted as their substitute (cf. His death in chap. 19). Since they sought only "Jesus the Nazarene," He could request, So if you seek Me, let these go their way (v. 8). Verse 8 indicates that it was Jesus’ wish that the disciples not stay with Him throughout His ordeal, so that their abandonment of Him was not the moral or spiritual failure it is sometimes made out to be. The denial of Peter, however, was inappropriate. The phrase to fulfill the word (v. 9) is used by the author elsewhere of OT Scripture (12:38; 13:18; 15:25; 19:24, 36). But here Jesus’ words spoken earlier (17:12) are given a fulfillment, placing Jesus’ words on a level with Scripture.
18:10–11. True to his character revealed elsewhere (13:8, 37; 21:7; Mt 16:22), Peter impulsively drew his short sword (machaira), probably hidden under his clothes, and struck the high priest’s slave, cutting off his right ear. These details, including John’s knowledge that the slave’s name was Malchus, suggest John personally knew the high priest and his slave (cf. v. 15). Contrary to Peter’s misunderstanding (v. 11), Jesus must drink the cup which the Father had given Him (a metaphor for His crucifixion).
B. Interrogation and Trial (18:12–19:16)
18:12–14. The first phase of the six-phase trial of Jesus took place at night. Jesus was bound and led to Annas first (v. 13). Except for Peter and John, the disciples had all scattered (16:32; Mt 26:31). Annas reigned as high priest from AD 6–15. But he continued to influence the subsequent high priests. Caiaphas, his son-in-law, was high priest from AD 18–36. That year refers to the prophesied year of Christ’s death (Dn 9:24–26). Since Caiaphas foresaw the prudence of one man dying on behalf of the people (v. 14; cf. 11:49–52), God sovereignly placed him in the position of high priest (cf. Rm 13:1) during the year foreordained for Christ’s death.
18:15–16. In the trial narrative, only two disciples are mentioned: Peter and another disciple—probably John. He was known to the high priest (mentioned twice; vv. 15, 16), Annas. John’s father, Zebedee, seemed to have been affluent (e.g., he had servants, Mk 1:20). This may have brought John into contact with Annas and Caiaphas since they were also wealthy. So John freely entered with Jesus into the court of Annas, but had to negotiate for Peter’s admittance (v. 16).
18:17–18. Peter’s first temptation to deny Christ came through the least likely source—a slave-girl. She asked if Peter was one of Jesus’ disciples. Her question anticipated a negative answer (You are not … are you?) and tempted Peter all the more to deny it. Peter feared being identified as a disciple of Jesus in front of the slaves and the officers there (v. 18). John’s comment that it was cold marks out both the physical and the spiritual climate.
18:19–21. The interrogation before the high priest, Annas, was an unofficial pretrial. In hopes of finding blame, Annas questioned Jesus about His disciples to discern if there were sufficient numbers for a charge of insurrection. He also questioned Him about His teaching in hopes of finding grounds for blasphemy. Jesus replied that He had no secret plans or hidden teachings. With the words I spoke nothing in secret (v. 20), Jesus identified Himself with the God of the OT (Is 45:19; 48:16). Additionally (v. 21), the information about His teachings that Annas sought was readily available from those who had heard what Jesus taught.
18:22–24. Besides the illegal nature of the preliminary investigation, one of the officers standing nearby Annas unjustly struck Jesus. The officer’s actions and his question Is that the way You answer the high priest? show his obsequious respect for the high priest. Jesus responded by calling for witnesses as the law required (8:17; Dt 17:6; 19:15) to testify of the wrong He had allegedly done. With this point, John wrote (v. 24) that Annas sent Jesus still bound to Caiaphas the high priest. Both Annas and Caiaphas are called high priest in John (vv. 13, 15, 16, 22, 24, 26; cf. Lk 3:2) even though Annas no longer had legal authority (see vv. 13–14).
18:25–27. Annas was fearful of the threat posed by the disciples, while ironically Peter was nearby denying Christ. According to the Synoptics, they said to him included the servant girl who kept the door (v. 17; Mk 14:69), another servant girl (Mt 26:71), and another unidentified person (Lk 22:58). Others may have joined in the question You are not also one of His disciples, are you? For a second time, Peter denied Christ. When a relative of the one whose ear Peter cut off was sure he saw Peter in the garden with Jesus, Peter then denied it a third time. Just then a rooster crowed, fulfilling Jesus’ earlier prophecy (Jn 13:38). Jesus would have six phases in His trial and would be faithful in each; Peter had three tests and failed in each.
18:28–29. The Jewish leaders led Jesus to the Praetorium (the governor’s palace) early in the morning. They themselves went into the courtyard but not into the palace so that they would not be ceremonially defiled. While their bodies were not defiled, their hearts were. The Passover meal itself was now ended (13:1–2). The words eat the Passover do not refer to the actual Passover meal itself, which Jesus and all the Jewish people had already consumed. "Passover" can include not only the memorial meal, but also the week of celebration that followed it called "the Feast of Unleavened Bread" (see Nm 28:16–19; Lk 22:1). The religious leaders would not enter Pilate’s residence so as to avoid making themselves ritually unclean. By keeping themselves ritually clean they could celebrate and serve during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which followed the Passover celebration. Some maintain that Jesus had a meal before the Passover meal, but that is not the case. Pilate, governor of Judea in AD 26–36, went out to the Jewish leaders to receive their charges against Christ. For more on Pilate, see the comments on Mt 27:1–2.
18:30–32. Since the Jewish leaders hated Pilate for his cruelty, they responded contemptuously, evading a direct answer to Pilate’s request for official charges against Christ. If the Jewish leaders charged Jesus with blasphemy (cf. 10:33, 36), Pilate would be unconcerned. His reply showed this to be true (v. 31): judge Him yourself according to your law. But the Sanhedrin had no power to put Jesus to death without official Roman approval. If the Jewish leadership put Him to death themselves, He would be stoned to death according to the law of Moses (Lv 24:16). This act would be considered mob action and would be illegal under Roman law. But in order to fulfill Jesus’ own prophecy (v. 32; cf. 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 33) signifying by what kind of death He was about to die, Jesus had to be crucified under Roman jurisprudence.
18:33–34. Pilate likely had been informed that Jesus claimed to be the King of Jews. If this were political, the emperor would hold Pilate responsible. So he reentered the Praetorium, and asked Jesus directly, Are You the King of the Jews? If Pilate’s question of "king" was from his own political vantage point (Are you saying this on your own initiative …?, v. 34), Jesus’ answer would be "No." But if the Jews were the source of the question, Jesus indeed was the King of the Jews.
18:35–37. Ultimately, Pilate was uninterested in Jewish debates about their "king." The chief priests had delivered Jesus to him. So it was necessary for him to ask Jesus what He had done to receive these charges. This afforded Christ the opportunity to define His kingdom (v. 36). Its origin and principles were not of this evil world system (kosmos). Otherwise, His servants would be leading an insurrection. Pilate replied (v. 37), So You are a king? The governor was looking for the truth and Jesus confirmed it—He was a king. The reason He came to earth was to testify to the truth. All those under the influence of truth would respond to Jesus’ teaching.
18:38–40. Overlooking Jesus, the Truth (14:6), Pilate asked sarcastically, What is truth? and went out again to the Jews. What is truth? is typically viewed as a profound theological or philosophical question, but Pilate was simply asking a rhetorical question about the truth related to the case against Jesus, and could be translated, "What is the truth?" Although he now told them, I find no guilt in Him (the first of three times; cf. 19:4, 6), he would soon sidestep the truth about Christ’s innocence. For a Roman governor’s role in such a case, see the comments on Mt 27:11–14. Pilate is sometimes accused of being indecisive because he went back and forth between Jesus and the religious leaders several times. That is not the case. He was simply doing his job of gathering facts to help him render a verdict. There is yet no clear extrabiblical evidence for the custom of pardon at the Passover (v. 39; but see m. Pesach 8:6, and the comments on Mt 27:15–23). But the Synoptics support that this was Pilate’s practice (Mt 27:15; Mk 15:6). Barabbas (v. 40) was a known insurrectionist and murderer (Mk 15:7; Lk 23:19). The word for robber can also mean "revolutionary" (NET, HCSB). Barabbas, Aramaic for "son of abbey (father)," was released while Jesus, the true Son of the Father, was crucified.
19:1–3. In hopes of gaining the crowd’s sympathy and Jesus’ release, Pilate ordered that Jesus be scourged, unknowingly fulfilling messianic prophecy (cf. Is 50:6; 53:5). A Roman whip was made by attaching pieces of metal to three leather straps. Scourging could repeatedly rip the victim’s flesh, causing death. A crown of thorns (v. 2) was placed on Jesus’ head, and a purple robe was thrown on Him, mocking His claim to be the King of the Jews. With the injurious thorns and the slaps in the face (v. 3), Jesus’ face would have been bloody and disfigured (cf. Is 52:14; 53:2, 3).
19:4–5. For the second time (cf. 18:38), Pilate announced that he had found no guilt in Christ. Bringing Jesus out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe (v. 5) was Pilate’s desperate plan to humiliate Jesus and, he hoped, to change the crowd’s intentions. Pilate’s proclamation Behold, the Man! mocked Jesus as a pathetic representation of mankind. But in recording this statement, John hoped that all readers would look carefully at (behold) the One who has taken on human flesh (1:9, 14) and has represented mankind in His sacrificial death.
19:6–7. Undeterred, the Jewish authorities callously cried out, Crucify Him, crucify Him! For the third time (cf. 18:38; 19:4) Pilate insisted, I find no guilt in Him. Pilate’s third reiteration of Jesus’ innocence indicates one of the Fourth Gospel’s emphases—that Jesus was innocent of the charges levied against Him. The Romans permitted its conquered provinces to exercise their own religious laws. So the Jewish leaders (v. 7) insisted on Jesus’ death because He violated their law against blasphemy (Lv 24:16) by making Himself out to be the Son of God in equality with God (cf. 5:18), and Pilate crucified Jesus because he wanted to get out from under the pressure of the Jewish leaders and to save his own position. Yet it was Pilate’s responsibility to ensure justice in this case, and his opinion that he found no guilt in Him (v. 6) obligated him to release Jesus (see also the comments on 19:14–16).
19:8–9. Driven by pagan Roman beliefs (cf. Ac 14:11), Pilate became even more afraid when he heard that Jesus might be a god come to earth. His wife’s fearful dream added to his worries (cf. Mt 27:19). He again took Jesus into the Praetorium (v. 9; the Fortress of Antonia at the northwest corner of the Temple Mount) and asked him privately, Where are You from? The governor knew his earthly origin was Galilee (Lk 23:6–7). Was He a god come from heaven? Jesus gave him no answer, fulfilling messianic prophecy (Is 53:7).
19:10–12. Aggravated by Jesus’ silence, Pilate boastfully threatened, Do You not know that … I have authority to crucify You? But Pilate (v. 11) had no earthly authority to sentence Jesus to crucifixion unless it had been given to him from above (cf. Pr 8:15; Rm 13:1). Pilate wished to release Jesus. For this reason, his guilt was less than the one who delivered Jesus to Pilate. The reference is to the powerful high priest, Caiaphas, who sent Jesus to Pilate to be condemned (Jn 18:30, 35). Therefore, the high priest had the greater sin because the greater the knowledge, the greater the culpability. Nevertheless, greater sin indicates lesser sin. It is incorrect to exonerate Pilate and not include him among those guilty for the death of Jesus (cf. Ac 4:27–28). Finally, the crowd confronted Pilate’s inclination to release Jesus because he saw no guilt in Him (v. 12). If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar.
19:13. To make the proceedings official, Pilate sat down on the judgment seat, a raised platform for rendering judicial decisions. The platform was located at The Stone Pavement (cf. ESV, NIV). Now at the "Stone Pathway," many will stumble over the Messiah, the "stone of stumbling" (Is 8:14; Rm 9:33; 1Pt 2:8).
19:14–16. The day of preparation for the Passover means the day before the Sabbath (Friday) of Passover week (cf. 19:31), and the Sabbath started at sundown. Fridays were called "preparation day," for the Jewish people would use Friday before sundown to prepare for the Sabbath. John noted that it was now about the sixth hour (noon). At the time the Lamb of God (cf. 1:29) was about to be sacrificed, Jewish tradition suggests the priests began to slaughter the Passover lambs in the temple. During the time of Jesus’ ministry, Jewish people calculated Nissan 14, the date of the Passover (Lv 23:5), in two different ways. Jesus, His disciples, and the Pharisees followed the Galileans method in which the day was from sunrise to sunrise.
In the year of Jesus’ crucifixion, Nissan 14 began for them on Thursday morning, and they celebrated the Passover meal early Thursday evening. The Sadducees calculated the day from sunset to sunset. Nissan 14 began at Thursday’s sunset, and the Passover lamb was sacrificed Friday afternoon. Their Passover meal was eaten before the sunset that evening. The Synoptics are written with the first method in view; John was written from the viewpoint of the second method. This explains why Jesus celebrated the Passover on Thursday evening (Jn 13:1–2), but He was crucified Friday while the Passover lamb was being slain in the temple in anticipation of the Passover meal.
To Pilate’s announcement Behold, your King! John recorded three stark replies to take Christ away and crucify Him (v. 15). Pilate mocked them in return. Shall I crucify your King? The same Jews who accused Jesus of blasphemy, now themselves blasphemed, claiming Caesar to be their only king. Pilate succumbed to the Jewish leaders’ demand (v. 16) and the crucifixion began. Pilate’s action was completely irresponsible. It was his job as governor to ensure that justice prevailed, but he abdicated his duty and allowed the Roman soldiers under his authority to crucify Jesus (see v. 23) to appease the Jewish leaders.
C. Crucifixion and Burial (19:17–42)
19:17–18. As was traditional for Roman crucifixions, Jesus carried His own cross (i.e., the crossbeam). The Synoptics record that Simon of Cyrene (a city in northeastern Africa) was soon conscripted to carry Jesus’ cross for Him (Mt 27:32; Mk 15:21; Lk 23:26). The destination was called the Place of a Skull. "Calvary" derives from the Latin word calvaria for skull. Today, the pristine garden called Gordon’s Calvary (also known as the "Garden Tomb") outside the old city of Jerusalem is often identified as the location of Jesus’ crucifixion and tomb. But there is considerable historical and archeological evidence for locating Calvary at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and virtually none for the Garden Tomb. To add to the insult against Jesus, two other men (v. 18), both criminals (Lk 23:33), were crucified on either side of Jesus. One of them came to faith (Lk 23:39–43).
19:19–22. Pilate also wrote an inscription that was intended to ridicule the Jewish people and Jesus but inadvertently publicized the truth: JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Numerous Jews (v. 20) passing by read this inscription. This was possible because the place where Jesus was crucified was on a public roadway near the city. This testimony of Jesus’ identity was far-reaching since it was written in the three principal languages (Hebrew or Aramaic, Latin, and Greek) read by Jews and Romans (Gentiles). The Jewish leadership (v. 21) vehemently objected to Pilate’s wording, insisting that he write only that He said, I am King of the Jews. This protest aroused Pilate’s obstinacy. His response (v. 22), What I have written I have written, means in modern terms "Take it or leave it!"
19:23–25a. The soldiers who had crucified Jesus divided His outer garments and made four parts, a part to every soldier. Apparently four soldiers carried out the crucifixion—a detail John alone recorded. The tunic or undergarment, however, was seamless, woven in one piece. Since the OT high priest may have worn a seamless garment (Josephus, Ant. 3.161–62), some have seen this as symbolic of Christ’s high priestly ministry on the cross. The soldiers chose to divide Jesus’ clothing and keep the seamless garment as one piece and cast lots for it instead (v. 24). As such, they unwittingly fulfilled two statements in Ps 22:18, they divided … they cast lots.
19:25b–27. Four women, not three, were standing by the cross. It is unlikely that His mother’s sister is to be identified with Mary the wife of Clopas, making Mary the name of both the mother of Jesus and her sister. For Mary Magdalene, see comments on 20:1; Lk 8:2. The sister of Jesus’ mother may be the same as "the mother of the sons of Zebedee" in Mt 27:56, making Jesus’ mother John’s aunt. If so, it is quite natural for Jesus to instruct John, the disciple whom He loved (v. 26; see Introduction: Author), to care for His mother. For Woman as a polite address, see 2:4. John obeyed the Lord’s instructions immediately (from that hour, v. 27).
19:28–30. Only John recorded that to fulfill the Scripture, Jesus cried, I am thirsty. He was physically thirsty (Pss 22:15; 69:21). Profuse bleeding, like profuse perspiration, dehydrates the body and causes intense thirst. Hyssop (v. 29) was used in the Passover (Ex 12:22) to spread the blood of the lambs on the doorposts, and may underscore Jesus as the true Passover Lamb. Jesus had earlier refused a pain-killing wine-myrrh mixture (cf. Mk 15:23; but see also the comments on Mt 27:33–37), but now took the simple sour wine (v. 30). His final announcement in John, It is finished! confirmed that the atonement had now been completed. Since He Himself gave up His spirit, Christ fulfilled His prophecy that no one would take His life from Him (Jn 10:11, 15, 17, 18).
19:31. For the day of preparation, see comment on 19:14. Crucifixion was often prolonged for days as the crucified person excruciatingly pushed upward on his nailed feet to relieve his outstretched arms and prevent asphyxiation. Breaking the legs of the victim hastened death.
19:32–34. That the soldiers broke the legs of the two men who were crucified along with Jesus sets in contrast Christ’s unique death. The soldiers observed (v. 33) that Christ was already dead, and therefore did not need to break His legs to hasten His death. To be absolutely sure, one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear (v. 34). The blood and water that came out indicated that Jesus’ heart no longer functioned. John may have included these details for symbolic purposes too. The water flowing from Christ’s side symbolized the promise of the Spirit prophesied in 7:37–39, and the blood recalled the sacrifice of the Passover lamb. According to later rabbinic tradition (see m. Pesahim 5:3, 5), blood from a sacrificed animal was required to run freely from its body at the time of death. Another tradition required the priest to pierce the heart of the animal and thereby cause it to bleed to death (see m. Tamid 4:2; for these references, see NET note on Jn 19:34). It is possible that what John recorded here reflects an early form of these traditions.
19:35–37. At the climax of the death of Christ, John interjected a personal testimony to the truth of his report (cf. 20:30–31). The readers are addressed with the words so that you [emphatic in Greek] also may believe. As further proof of the truth of Christ’s death, John cited the fulfillment of two messianic prophecies (v. 36). First, Scripture predicted that the Messiah’s bones would not be broken (Ps 34:20), as typified in the Passover lamb (Ex 12:46; Nm 9:12). Second (v. 37), Israel will one day call for the Messiah to return to them and they will see Him as the One who was pierced. Thus, Zch 12:10 indicates that the Messiah, at His first coming, would be pierced. But at His second coming, they shall look on Him in faith whom they pierced (cf. the quote of Zch 12:10 in Rv 1:7, and the comments on Zch 12:10).
19:38–40. Joseph of Arimathea, mentioned in all four Gospels (Mt 27:57; Mk 15:43; Lk 23:50–51) was a secret disciple (see comments on Jn 3:9; 7:47–51; 12:42–43). Fear of the Jewish leadership had previously prevented him from boldly confessing his faith, though he did not stay that way for long. Joseph began to conquer this fear ("he gathered up courage," Mk 14:43) when he asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus. The association of Nicodemus (v. 39) with Joseph implies that Nicodemus was also a secret disciple—but now took a bold, open stand before Pilate. The reminder that Nicodemus was the one who had first come to Jesus by night underscores the hidden nature of his faith. His faith did, however, lead him now to act openly with Joseph against the sentiment of his fellow Sanhedrin members. Nicodemus brought myrrh for simple embalming and aloes for perfume. The hundred pounds (litra) is better translated "seventy-five pounds" (ESV, NIV), as a Roman litra was about 12 oz, not 16.
19:41–42. Joseph of Arimathea was the wealthy owner (Mt 27:57, 60) of a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. This demonstrates that after the resurrection, Jesus’ body could not be mistaken for another lying in the same tomb. Christ’s burial fulfilled prophecy: "They intended to bury him [the Messiah] with criminals, but he ended up in a rich man’s tomb" (NET, Is 53:9). For the day of preparation (v. 42), see comment on v. 14.
D. Resurrection and Appearances (20:1–29)
John’s account of the resurrection is the most extensive of the four Gospels, with specific details of the empty tomb. First, Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John confirmed Jesus’ resurrection (vv. 1–18). Then Jesus appeared to the disciples (except Thomas) in a closed room (vv. 19–23). Finally, Jesus appeared again to the disciples and affirmed to Thomas evidence of His resurrection (vv. 24–29).
20:1. Mary Magdalene was first introduced as one who looked on at the crucifixion (19:25). Jesus had delivered her from severe demon possession, and she followed Jesus, serving and supporting His ministry (Mt 27:55; Lk 8:1–3). On arrival at the tomb, Mary unexpectedly found the large round stone at the tomb’s entrance had been rolled away.
20:2–3. Mary ran to find Peter and John, the other disciple whom Jesus loved (see Introduction: Author; cf. 18:15–16; 19:26; 21:7, 20). The explanation of her flight is that she saw an angel inside the tomb (Mk 16:5) and that she suspected the Jewish authorities (they) had taken Jesus’ body away. Mary’s wording, we do not know, shows John’s awareness of the other women with Mary (cf. Mt 28:1; Mk 16:1; Lk 24:10). Based on Mary’s word, Peter and the other disciple (v. 3) proceeded to the empty tomb.
20:4–5. As Peter and John ran to the tomb, John (the other disciple; cf. v. 2) ran ahead faster and was the first to arrive. He stooped down (the opening of a rock tomb was usually low) and looked inside (v. 5). When he saw the linen wrappings lying there, something prevented him from entering—perhaps respect or fear of ceremonial defilement associated with contacting a corpse. But Peter did not share this hesitancy.
20:6–7. Since John waited for Peter’s arrival before entering the grave, Peter could be assured that when he saw the linen wrappings lying there, they were not repositioned by John. John’s delay provided for two authentic witnesses to the wrappings of the empty tomb. In contrast to the grave wrappings that bound Lazarus (11:44), Jesus’ face-cloth which had been on His head (v. 7) was lying separately, rolled up in a place by itself. Though it is impossible to say with any certainty, Jesus may have passed through the wrappings and left them right where He had lain. This orderly arrangement is evidence of resurrection, not robbery, and the separate face cloth makes it difficult to believe that a shroud that supposedly survived from Jesus’ burial is genuine.
20:8–10. John, the other disciple (cf. v. 2), entered the tomb after Peter—then saw and believed Jesus had risen from the dead. The eleven disciples (they) had failed until now to understand the [OT] Scripture, that the Messiah must rise again from the dead (v. 9). Later, Peter preached that Ps 16:10 had prophesied the resurrection (Ac 2:24–28). Since Peter and John went away again to their own homes (v. 10), John would have announced Christ’s resurrection to Jesus’ mother, Mary, who was now staying at his home (Jn 19:27). Since all the disciples except Judas Iscariot were from Galilee, the disciples’ homes in Jerusalem may have been temporary lodgings with family or friends for the Passover.
20:11–13. Jesus’ first resurrection appearance was to a woman, Mary Magdalene. This (1) confirms the historicity of the resurrection (no first-century writer would have created a narrative with a woman in such a critical role unless it actually transpired this way), and (2) highlights the importance of women in Jesus’ ministry. Mary (see v. 1) returned but remained outside the tomb weeping (klaio, lit., "wailing"). Still crying, she looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white. The presence of angels alone should have alerted Mary that Jesus’ body was not stolen and something supernatural had taken place. That the angels were seated where the body of Jesus had been lying also testified to His resurrection. The angels did not explain to Mary that Jesus was raised (v. 13). They simply asked, Woman, why are you weeping? as if to suggest that there was really no reason for sorrow. Mary answered the angels, explaining her theory that the body was stolen. Mary’s sorrow, soon turned to joy, would fulfill the promise Jesus gave the disciples in 16:20–22.
20:14–16. When Mary turned around, she did not recognize the One standing behind her. For Woman (v. 15), see comment on 2:4. Jesus repeated the question spoken by the angels (v. 13) but added Whom are you seeking? Mary thought the voice was that of the gardener. Perhaps he had placed the body elsewhere. But when Jesus affectionately called her by name (v. 16), she knew it was Jesus. Although she had often called Him Lord (vv. 2, 13, 18), she addressed Him as Rabboni (only elsewhere in Mk 10:51), which means Teacher. "Teacher" is the most common form of address for Jesus in the Gospels, but is never used of Him after the ascension (cf. 11:28).
20:17–18. Mary was clinging to Jesus, holding on to her earthly relationship with Christ. Some see in v. 17 a mystical demand that Mary not touch Christ because of His alleged descent to hell and that He had not yet been in His Father’s presence. The simpler and more likely explanation is that Mary was fervently clinging to Jesus. Therefore, Jesus encouraged her to let go of Him because He was not leaving just yet (Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father). He would be with them for a while longer, 40 more days before His ascension, and there would be more time for meaningful interaction later. Then through the Spirit after His ascension, He would be with them forever. Instead of clinging to Him, Jesus wanted Mary to go to the disciples and tell them what she saw and what He said. Mary was instructed to tell the disciples, I will soon ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God. The first phrase focused on Jesus’ own unique relationship with the Father (My Father … My God). At the same time, the second phrase (your Father … your God) drew the disciples into a similar closeness to the Father that Jesus Himself had. This is also marked out by Jesus’ reference to His disciples as My brethren.
20:19–20. It was Sunday evening of resurrection day. The disciples were still in fear of the Jewish authorities and made sure the doors were shut (NIV, ESV, "locked") where they gathered. For fear of the Jews, see 7:13; 12:42–43; 19:38. Miraculously, Jesus came and stood in their midst. Jesus’ address, Peace be with you, was a normal Hebrew greeting. At the sight of His imprinted hands and His scarred side, the disciples rejoiced (v. 20), fulfilling Jesus’ promise given in the upper room (16:20–22).
20:21–23. With a second pronouncement of peace (cf. 14:27; 16:33), Jesus commissioned His disciples as His witnesses (4:38; 13:20; Lk 24:46–49; Mt 28:18–20): as the Father has sent Me, I also send you. When Jesus breathed on His disciples (v. 22), He symbolized the coming gift of the Spirit received at Pentecost. When Jesus breathed ("on" is not included in the sense of the word) and said Receive the Holy Spirit He was probably acting in a symbolic way. It is unlikely that He gave, and the disciples received, the Spirit at this time. Jesus said earlier that the Spirit would not come to them until He left them (Jn 7:39; 16:7), and even immediately prior to His ascension He instructed them to wait for the Spirit’s coming (Ac 1:4, 5, 8).
Before Jesus died, the bread and the cup shared at the Passover-Communion celebration was done in anticipation of the actual giving of His body and blood. Likewise the act of Jesus breathing coupled with the command to receive the Spirit anticipated the Spirit coming at Pentecost. "Breath" and "Spirit" are the same word in Greek (pneuma), and Jesus’ breath probably symbolized His future sending of the Spirit following His ascension. It is unlikely that the disciples "received" or were "indwelt" by the Spirit at this time and then "baptized" in the Spirit as an experience subsequent to that at Pentecost. With this anticipatory commissioning came the authority of the apostles (and any believer) to announce to one who believes that their sins have been forgiven (v. 23) or to the one who does not believe that their sins have been retained (unforgiven).
20:24–25. Thomas was not with the twelve (now eleven since Judas Iscariot committed suicide; Mt 27:5). Didymus (mentioned three times, only by John, 11:16; 20:24; 21:2) means "the twin." Perhaps John personally knew Thomas’s twin. Thomas’s unbelief was inexorable. He rejected the testimony of the women and all the other disciples who had seen the Lord (v. 25). Thomas insisted that he would not believe unless he personally put his finger into the place of the nails, and put his hand into Jesus’ side.
20:26–27. After eight days, i.e., the Sunday a week after the resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples and Thomas. The circumstances duplicated His previous appearance (vv. 19–23) when the doors had been shut. The disciples still lacked the boldness they would receive at Pentecost. Thomas must have been shocked to hear Jesus tell him the same words (v. 27; cf. 25) he had told the other disciples about handling His hands and His side.
20:28–29. John’s writing reaches a climax with Thomas’s confession My Lord and my God! No greater affirmation of faith can be found than this announcement on the lips of Thomas. With it, John reiterated the theme of the deity of Christ provided in his introduction (1:1, 14, 18). Because you have seen Me, have you believed? (v. 29) is better expressed as a statement ("because you have seen Me, you have believed"; NKJV, NIV). Jesus affirmed Thomas’s designation that He is fully divine, just as God the Father is, and called blessed those future believers who will not see the resurrected Lord but will yet believe.
E. Purpose Statement (20:30–31)
20:30–31. The apostle’s purpose for his book is evangelistic. Since many other signs (for "sign," see comment on 2:11) were done by Christ yet were not written in this book, John carefully selected his content for evangelism, especially among the Jewish people. To believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (these titles indicate His humanity, royalty, and deity, see also comments on 1:20, 34) means to be fully convinced that Jesus alone provides eternal life and resurrection (cf. comment on 11:25–27). Locating the purpose statement here rather than at the end of the book highlights Jesus’ blessing on those who believe in His death/resurrection apart from physical sight (v. 30). It also demonstrates that the resurrection is the greatest sign of the book.
V. Epilogue (21:1–25)
In the Epilogue, the author challenged his readers who have believed to join in the mission of Christ to the world.
A. The Great Catch of Fish (21:1–14)
21:1–3. After these things is indefinite chronologically (cf. 20:26). An angel had told the disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee (Mt 28:7). Their fishing expedition recalls the only other events in John’s gospel that took place at the Sea of Tiberias, namely the feeding of the 5,000 (Jn 6:10–14). On that occasion, Jesus taught that no one could come to Him unless the Father draws (helko) him (6:44; cf. 12:32). In 21:6 and 11, helko is used of the disciples drawing in their fishing net. The fishing expedition illustrates how Jesus will draw people to Himself through the mission of His followers. Early Christian readers would have detected in this story parallels with Lk 5:1–11. The sons of Zebedee are James and John (Mt 4:21), fishing partners with Peter (Lk 5:10).
21:4–5. Jesus appeared as the day was now breaking. Jesus manifested Himself (vv. 1, 14) in light to the disciples by His word. First, He spoke to them, addressing them as Children. Jesus had entered with them into a discipleship relationship in which He was their "father" (cf. 1Jn 2:18). His question (v. 5) you do not have any fish, do you? implied He had divine foreknowledge of the answer (cf. v. 17).
21:6–7. The supernatural catch is the only recorded miracle of Jesus after His resurrection. His promise you will find a catch was sufficient for the disciples to obey. Their obedience was rewarded with so many fish that they were not able to haul the net in. Like Thomas (20:28), John identified Jesus as Lord. Peter, after his denial of the Lord, reverted to his occupation prior to being called as a fisher of men. This miracle was designed to remind the disciples of their initial call to be fishers of men, a call associated with another enormous catch of fish in Lk 5:1–10. This miracle reiterated that call. The phrase he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), (the words for work are not in Greek) could be translated, "he tucked in his outer garment (for he had nothing on underneath it)" (NET). It is improbable that one who worked so frequently around water would put on his outer garment to dive into the sea and swim to shore. "Put on" (Gk., diazonnumi) can mean "tying up one’s clothing around oneself," and "stripped" (Gk., gymnos) could mean "to wear nothing else underneath one’s outer garment."
21:8–11. The charcoal fire (v. 9; a word only used elsewhere in 18:18) recalls Peter’s denial of Christ, which took place at a similar fire in the courtyard of the high priest. Perhaps the impending restoration of Peter at this charcoal fire was designed to impress upon him the seriousness of his denial at the earlier fire, and of the depth of Jesus’ forgiveness. Peter’s leadership was evident in that he drew the net to land. The number a hundred and fifty-three is unusual. John provided no indication that the number is a symbol. However, such an exact number verifies the eyewitness character of the author John (a fisherman by trade).
21:12–14. For the disciples to eat with Jesus was a strong verification of His resurrection (Ac 10:41). Jesus also took the bread and gave it to them along with the fish, reminding them of the Bread of Life message and the feeding of the multitude (Jn 6:11). This too confirmed their certainty of who He was. The author designated this as the third time that Jesus was manifested. In accord with the Jewish law that two or three witnesses establish the truth (cf. 8:17), John presented three accounts of Jesus’ resurrection appearances. But later many different appearances took place (1Co 15:5–8).
B. Future Roles of Peter and John (21:15–23)
21:15–17. The following threefold exchange between Christ and Peter paralleled the apostle’s threefold denial of Christ (18:17, 25, 27). Twice Christ asked Peter if he loved Him (agapao). Twice Peter affirmed his love using another Greek word (phileo; see the discussion on the two words at 5:20–21). In the last significant conversation between Peter and Jesus before the crucifixion, Jesus nuanced agapao as "laying down one’s life" (13:15–23). He also called on his followers to love (agapao) one another "even as I have loved you" (13:34; cf. 15:13, 12, 17), referring to the love by which He would lay down His life. Phileo and agapao probably do not differ in meaning in this context (i.e., phileo does not refer to some "superficial, inferior love" since the word is used for the Father’s love for the Son in 5:20–21, and agapao can be used for frivolously craving the acclaim of people in 12:43). In John’s gospel they both mean "love." They may, however, have slightly different references, agapao referring to an aspect of love that includes sacrifice, an aspect not associated with phileo in John’s gospel. In other words, John may have noted Jesus’ use of agapao to elicit from Peter a commitment to the kind of self-sacrificing love Jesus modeled and demanded from his disciples as seen in the previous uses of agapao.
The question, "Do you love Me more than these disciples love Me?" corresponds to Peter’s boastful promise to love Jesus so much he would lay down his life for Him, even if the other disciples do not (13:37; Mk 14:29). Jesus was asking Peter if he would still claim what he did previously—that He would lay down his life for His Lord. Remembering his denials in the courtyard, Peter was hesitant to make that promise again. Tend My lambs and Shepherd My sheep (v. 16) evoke Jesus’ teaching on laying down His life for the sheep (Jn 10:15, 17) and dovetail with the sacrificial nuance of agape. Peter replied in ignorance with phileo and not agapao because he had still not understood the sacrificial emphasis of agape love as Jesus had delineated it in the upper room. For the third time (v. 17), Jesus asked, Do you love Me? now using Peter’s own word for love (phileo) in hopes that Peter would be shaken from his misunderstanding and recall Jesus’ original call to self-sacrificial agape. Instead, Peter was grieved because Jesus had questioned him three times.
The threefold pattern of questions and answers recalls Peter’s three denials predicted by the Lord in 13:38 and fulfilled in 18:15–27. It is impossible to be certain, but Peter’s distress may have been due to his awareness of the parallel between Jesus’ third question and Peter’s three denials. Jesus’ use of phileo in this third question may also include probing Peter for his affection for Jesus when none was evident during his denials. So perhaps agapao in the first two questions asked by Jesus is to explore Peter’s willingness to sacrifice himself for Jesus and His people, while the use of phileo in His third question was designed to compel Peter to reflect on his lack of affection for Jesus evident during the denials. It was this third interrogation by the Lord that so pained Peter. But it is impossible to be certain of this.
21:18–19. Jesus now predicted that Peter would lay down his life just as Christ did. Peter will stretch out his hands, a term that suggests crucifixion. Signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God parallels other statements that speak of Christ’s crucifixion (12:33; 18:32). Others would gird Peter (NET, HCSB, "tie you up") for his death. Despite the prospect of suffering, Christ commanded Peter, Follow Me! (cf. 1:43; 12:26).
21:20–22. In turning around to see the disciple whom Jesus loved, Peter physically and spiritually took his eyes off Christ. John, however, was following Jesus (them is not in the Greek). Would Peter? Peter’s question Lord, and what about this man? revealed Peter’s struggle with Christ’s will for his life. When other believers appear more prosperous in ministry or life, the Lord’s disciple must keep a focus on Christ’s command, Follow Me!
21:23. A misinterpretation of Jesus’ words was spread among the brethren that John would not die (cf. Mt 28:11–15). By quoting the exact words of Jesus again (cf. v. 22), John stressed the imminence of the Lord’s return. While Jesus prophesied His any-moment return in rapture (see comment on 14:3; see also the comments on Mt 24:36–41), this could not take place until after certain prophesied events such as His own death and resurrection, the giving of the Spirit (Ac 2), the first widespread preaching of the gospel (Ac 1:8), and Peter’s death in old age (Jn 21:18–19). By the time the Fourth Gospel was written (late AD 60s or 80s; see Introduction: Date), these had been accomplished so that Jesus could come in rapture before or after John died.
C. Final Attestation to Truth (21:24–25)
21:24–25. In his final words, the author maintained that he wrote these things as a testimony that is true. When John said we know, he probably referred to himself (as suggested by I suppose). There is no fully exhaustive account of Jesus’ life. If such a "Bible" were written in detail, then the world itself could not contain all the books that would be written—clearly a hyperbole. But in his book the Evangelist set out to prove that Jesus was the Redeemer who would grant forgiveness to those who believed in Him, and he included abundant evidence that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, the Son of God.
Blum, Edwin A. "John." In The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament, edited by John Walvoord and Roy Zuck, 267–348. Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983.
Beasley-Murray, George R. John. Word Biblical Commentary. Edited by David A. Hubbard. Waco, TX: Word Books, 1987.
Bruce, F. F. Gospel of John. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983, 1994.
Carson, D. A. The Gospel According to John. Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991.
Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of John: A Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003.
Köestenberger, Andreas J. John. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004.
Laney, J. Carl. John. Moody Gospel Commentary. Chicago: Moody, 1992.
Lincoln, Andrew T. The Gospel According to Saint John. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005.
Morris, Leon. The Gospel of John. New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995.
Michaels, J. Ramsey. John. New International Bible Commentary. Edited by W. Ward Gasque. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1988–1999.
Neyrey, Jerome H. The Gospel of John. New Cambridge Bible Commentary. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
Tenney, Merrill C. "John." In The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981.
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