Thursday, September 22, 2011

John 8, Part Two

Truth produces freedom (vs. 30-36)--Verse 30 tells us that "many believed in Him" as a result of what He had just said.  It is interesting how people are converted; different messages appeal to different people, and whether they fully understood Him or not (and surely they didn't), there were those who were impressed enough by Jesus that they began to trust in Him.  He then had a message for them:  by continuing to follow His teaching, they would be His disciples and "the truth shall make you free" (vs. 31-32).  Perhaps perceiving this shift of public opinion towards Jesus, His enemies intervene once again with a humongous lie:  "We are Abraham's servants and have never been in bondage to anyone.  How can You say, 'You will be made free?'" (v. 33).  The Jews, of course, had been in political bondage many times, and Palestine was, indeed, at that very moment a province of the Roman Empire.  Jesus, in His reply, doesn't bother discussing history or politics with them.  He had been speaking of spiritual bondage--sin--not physical, and once more, the Jewish leaders had misunderstood Him.  Jesus' teaching, if adhered to, will free us from the penalty of sin and allow us to follow Him to eternal life.  That's why He came.  And being "free," we will be "sons" and abide in "the house forever" (v. 35).  But only Christ can provide this sort of freedom (v. 36).

Their true father (vs. 37-47)—The Jewish leaders had brought up Abraham, so Jesus picks up that thought.  They might be Abraham's physical descendants, but not his spiritual ones.  Jesus did the works of His Father and these Jewish leaders did the words of their father, whom Christ will identify clearly momentarily (vs. 37-38).  "Abraham is our father," they replied (v. 39), and Jesus' answer was, if Abraham were truly your father, you'd follow in his footsteps--that is, have true faith in God.  But it's obvious they did not, because they wanted to kill Jesus, who had come from God (vs. 39-40).  The Jewish confusion is further manifest by their statement in verse 41, "we have one Father--God."  Well, they had just said Abraham was their father and now they assert that God is their Father, so they are either totally discombobulated, or they began to have a slight perception of His spiritual meaning.  But Jesus immediately thwarted that claim by saying that if God were truly their Father, then they would love Him (Christ, v. 42).  They didn't understand Christ because they did not truly know God.  Their father is the devil (v. 44) because they believed lies and not the truth.  And because Jesus spoke the truth (v. 45), they didn't understand or follow Him.  Again, He concludes this little speech by saying they don't truly know God, so they don't recognize Jesus as coming from God.  It once more boils down to the fact that they did not understand their own Book.

"Before Abraham was, I AM" (vs. 48-58)--These Jewish leaders were so incensed that they could no longer think clearly.  In verse 49, they throw out a wild, ridiculous accusation, part of which Jesus doesn't even bother to respond to.   But they also claimed He had a demon, so He takes that thought and compares it with the truth.  If He had a demon, He would be seeking His own honor, not that of God.  Christ's word will lead to eternal life (v. 51), a thought the Jews again misconstrue into physical, not spiritual, terms (v. 52).  "Who are you?  Are you greater than Abraham?" (v. 53).  No doubt they are mocking Him here.  And once again Jesus points to the evidence--what has the Father allowed Me to do? (v. 54).  Jesus' works, His teaching and His miracles, clearly indicate, to the open heart, Who He is.  "Abraham rejoiced to see My day" (v. 56).  Indeed, all in the Old Testament who lived by faith understood that eternal, spiritual life was the goal, not earthly, physical existence.  Abraham obviously had a very limited comprehension of Messianic matters, but he did know that sin separated him from God, that life on earth was temporary, and that forgiveness was necessary to secure eternal life in heaven.  In that sense, he "rejoiced" to see Jesus' day, that is, what Jesus would bring to the world.  The Jews, again, were clueless as to all of this.  "You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?" (v. 57).  Jesus then makes one of the most remarkable statements in the New Testament:  "Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM" (v. 58).  This can be nothing short of a claim for eternal deity.  It reminds us--and no doubt intentionally--of Jehovah's statement to Moses in Exodus 3:14, “I WHO I AM."  God just is, He exists, He always has and He always will.  And this is exactly what Jesus is claiming here.  He is God!  And THAT the Jews understood (or at least that He was claiming so) because they were so outraged that, right then and there, they were going to kill Him.  But He managed to escape (v. 59).

Any religious group, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, who teach that Jesus is anything short of eternal deity must completely and utterly pervert John 8:58.  Everything Jesus had said up to this point indicated His divine nature; now He flat-out claims it with a statement that only God could make.  How could any human being, any non-eternal being, make the ultimate claim "I AM."  And note, He did not say, "Before Abraham was, I was."  That could imply a time when He did not exist, even though He might have been around before Abraham.  The "I AM" is eternal in its meaning, and again, the Jews understood it to be so, held it to be blasphemous, and were going to stone Him for it in accordance with Leviticus 24:16.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

John 8, Part One

The woman taken in adultery (vs. 1-11)--We have an interesting little interlude here as the Jews try to trap Jesus.  It is quite a conundrum they put before Him.  They find a woman caught in the very act of committing adultery (there have been Catholic writers in the past who have told us that her name was Susanna, that she was married to a feeble old man named Manasseh, and that she died a saint in Spain.  This, of course, is nothing but fanciful speculation.).  The problem Jesus faces here is two-fold.  The Law of Moses requires that the woman be put to death (though not necessarily by stoning, Lev. 20:10.  Certain rabbis say there were strangled.)  Roman law, however, did not make adultery a capital crime.  So, Christ was on the horns of a dilemma here.  If He said, "Stone her," He could be in trouble with the Romans.  But if He did not support the death penalty, then He would be denying the Law of Moses, and this would certainly go far in destroying His influence with the Jewish people.  The scribes and Pharisees, who initiated this dilemma, probably didn't care how Christ answered; they thought they had Him, either way.

"Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger" (v. 6).  What did He write?  Who knows, and there's no sense in guessing.  He acted like He didn't hear what was being presented to Him, so they pressed Him on the matter (v. 7).  He responded with that well-known, and bone-chilling, answer, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her" (v. 7).  There was no good retort for that, so the crowd slowly dissipated and left the woman alone.  Since, under Jewish law, a capital crime needed at least two witnesses for the punishment to be applied, and since no one was left to accuse the woman, Jesus couldn't very well condemn her to death.  He certainly didn't deny her guilt, He simply told her to "Go and sin no more" (v. 11).  Which is the worse sin--adultery or hypocrisy?  Either will cost a person his/her soul.  In this marvelous example, Jesus exposes one and forgives the other.  A good example for us to follow, but great wisdom and prayer are needed to know when to do which.

Bearing witness (vs. 12-20)--There is a lot of conversation between Jesus and the Jews that make up the rest of this chapter and it's somewhat convoluted.  The Jews didn't understand Him and were constantly trying to twist His words to their own advantage.  Jesus starts out this section by saying "I am the light of the world," a most arrogant claim--unless He were truly the Son of God.  The Jews, and rightly so, responded, in effect, "We don't have to believe you just because you say so."  Again, the idea of the necessity of more than one witness.  Jesus replied that, even if He didn't have any supporting witnesses, His words were true (single testimony isn't necessarily false), because He knew where He had come from and could tell them about it (v. 14).  But He didn't speak only from Himself, but the Father supported Him (vs. 16, 18).  He had made this point before, of course.  So, they ought to believe Him, based upon their own law (v. 17).  The Jews wanted to know where His Father was.  Jesus replied that they would know the answer to that if they truly knew the Father--that is, what had been revealed in the Old Testament.  He had gone back to the temple, so there was obviously a large crowd listening in (v. 20).

Death leads to life (vs. 21-29)--This is wholly incomprehensible to Jesus' opponents.  Jesus begins by telling them of the immediate future, which, in effect, summed up His mission.  He was going to die and go back to heaven, but this unbelieving group would "die in your sin" (v. 21) and not be able to follow Him.  Of course, they didn't understand.  "Is He going to kill Himself?"  Jesus tries to explain His divine, heavenly nature and home, and that they would "die in your sins" if they did not believe in Him as the Son of God " (v. 24).  Clueless, they ask Him "Who are you?" (v. 25).  Jesus responded, "I've been telling you that all along, speaking to you the message from above," but "they did not understand" (vs. 26-27).  His death would convince many of His true identity (v. 28), because He would be fulfilling the Father's will as revealed in the Old Testament.  That's what's important to understand here.  If Jesus wasn't the fulfillment of the Old Testament, then all of His statements regarding "the Father has sent me and taught me" etc. would be so much humbug.  These are things the Jews should know, but so foreign to them was His mission, that His words were incomprehensible.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

John 7, Part Two

"Could this be the Christ?" (vs. 25-31)--John relates a brief summation of some of the discussion people were having about Jesus.  "Is this the one they want to kill?" (v. 25).  "Don't the rulers know this is the Messiah?" (v. 26).  "Can't be, because we know where this fellow is from and nobody knows where the Messiah comes from" (v. 27).  This last statement certainly wasn't true, because Micah 5:2 very plainly states that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem of Judea.  A minimum of research would have discovered, of course, that Jesus was born in that city.  It's easier to remain ignorant, however, than it is to do a little work.  Jesus' statements in vs. 28-29 were designed to help the people understand His divine nature and source, but they almost surely didn't understand Him.  Well, some of the leaders apparently understood Him well enough to still want to kill Him (v. 30).  The debate raged (v. 31).

More obtuseness (vs. 32-36)--John gives us interesting insights into the blindness and, implicitly, the effects of the philosophy of the Jews.  The Pharisees sent men to arrest Him (v. 32), but Jesus kept teaching (vs. 33-34).  "I shall be with you a little while longer, and then I go to Him who sent Me.  You will seek Me and not find Me, and where I am you cannot come."  He's referring to heaven, of course, but the earthly-minded Jews could only think in physical terms.  "Where does He intend to go that we shall not find Him? Does He intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks?"  (v. 35).  The "Dispersion" refers to Jews who lived outside of Palestine.  Many who had been taken from Palestine during the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities chose to remain where they were, and indeed, move to other places.  We know from the rest of the New Testament that there were Jews living all over the Roman Empire.  Paul continually argued with them on his missionary journeys.  But the bottom line of this section is, again, the cross talk between Jesus and the Jews, i.e, His intentions versus their expectations, and thus the utter lack of effective communication between the two.  However, it should be pointed out that they did understand Him well enough to realize He claimed to be God.  That only infuriated them because He didn't provide them what they wanted--glory over the Romans.  And since that is what they thought their Messiah would bring them, Jesus must be a blasphemous imposter and thus worthy of death.  If He had fulfilled their earthly, carnal desires, they certainly would have followed Him wherever He led them.

Living water (vs. 37-39)--This is a theme He had used with the Samaritan woman in John 4.  The "living water" was supplied by the Holy Spirit, who "was not yet given" (v. 39).  Whether this refers to miraculous activity, or simply the salvation that comes through the word given by the Spirit's inspiration is not fully clear.  Probably the latter, since everyone can have salvation but only a few had miraculous gifts.  The Holy Spirit obviously did not inspire the New Testament message, given through man, until after Jesus was "glorified" (v. 39), i.e., finished His work and returned to heaven.

And this produces more division (vs. 40-44)--For whatever reason, this concept of "living water" led many to believe in Him (v. 40).  Different people are convinced by different arguments, metaphors, allusions, or parables, so Christ used many of all in order to reach as many souls as possible.  Some stumbled over the misconception that Jesus was from Galilee:  "Will the Christ come out of Galilee?" (v. 41), and those who had some knowledge of the subject knew that, as noted above, the Messiah would come from Bethlehem (v. 42).  But again, it wouldn't have taken much to clear up the false notion that Jesus was from Galilee.  That group probably didn't want to believe in the first place.

Division among the leaders (vs. 45-53)--Every rank and class of people were confused.  Verse 32 tells us that the Pharisees had sent some officers to arrest Him, but in verse 45, they returned empty-handed.  "Why?" they were asked.  "No man ever spoke like this Man!" (v. 46).  These officers were overawed by Him and obviously not prejudiced against Jesus.  This angered the Pharisees (not surprisingly) and a debate raged in their midst.  Nicodemus (of John 3) defended Jesus, or at least raised the reasonable point that the Law requires a proper hearing before judgment is reached (v. 51).  But the Pharisees through the "Galilee" argument at him (v. 52), and that's where the current matter ended.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

John 7, Part One

"My time has not yet come" (vs. 1-9)--Jesus did not initially go up to the Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, something that, as a Jewish male, He was required to do.  There were three feasts each year which men were obligated to attend--the Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.  This latter feast was celebrated in the Jewish month of Tisri, corresponding to our late-September or early-October.  Jesus' own brothers, who initially "did not believe in Him" (v. 5), apparently were chiding Him a bit when they encouraged Him to go to Judea (vs. 3-4).  Jesus wasn't ready to go, at least openly.  He intended to be there, but at His own time (v. 8).  It was easy for His brothers to speak; the Jews weren't trying to kill them as they were Jesus (v. 1).  In verse 7, Jesus provides us some wonderful insight as to why--to this very day--He and His religion are so opposed by so many:  "Because I testify of it [the world] that its works are evil."  Pour salt on a wound and it will hurt.  Expose wickedness, and the wicked will be outraged.  In John 3:20, Jesus said, "Everyone practicing evil hates the light."  Christ wasn't crucified because He preached loved; He was killed because He told people they needed to repent.  The hatred of Christianity is just as manifest in the world today as it was in Jesus', and the wise can perceive that such is what truly underlays the left's vehement opposition to politicians like George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, and Rick Perry.  This is no small part of it, and don't be deceived into thinking it’s not.

Division over Jesus (vs. 10-13)--Ideally, everyone in the world would unite behind the Son of God; God wants all men to be saved (I Tim. 2:4).  But, while there is always an ideal, there also exist the reality, and that reality is that Jesus brought--and brings--division (Mt. 10:34-36).  Even though He hadn't arrived at the feast yet, He was the "talk of the town".  The Jews were looking for Him (v. 11; John apparently uses the term "the Jews" in reference to Christ's enemies, cf. v. 1).  The common folks also talked of Him, some supporting Him, some not.  But everybody was intimidated by the ruling authorities (v. 13).  The bitterness against Jesus within the elites was deep indeed; and, again, it still is.  The way Jesus and the Bible expose the true psychology of man is simply another evidence of the divine source of Christianity.

"My doctrine is not mine" (vs. 14-24)--When Jesus finally did arrive in Jerusalem about the middle of the week, He started teaching in the temple--that's where the people were, so that’s where He went.  We don't know why Jesus waited a few days before going to Jerusalem; we do know He was aware of the desire of the religious leaders to kill Him (v. 1).  He may have surmised that they would be looking for His arrival at the beginning of the feast, thereby hindering His movements.  By not entering Jerusalem till about mid-feast, He was able to slip in unawares and thus make His way to the temple unnoticed.  He wasn't hiding from the Jews; He simply had work to do and skillfully outmaneuvered the Jews to accomplish it.

People listened to Him, of course, and many marveled at the fact that He had such a keen grasp of spiritual truth, though He had never been trained by the "intelligentsia" of His day (v. 15).  Jesus answer was simple:  "My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me" (v. 16).  What He was teaching couldn't have been taught by the religious scholars of the day, at least most of it.  Indeed, much about Christ and much of His message was revealed in the Old Testament, but not all.  So He was teaching doctrine that He came from heaven to deliver.  And the honest and good heart would recognize it (v. 17).  Jesus wasn't seeking His own glory, an assertion that could be substantiated by a petition to the Law of Moses (vs. 18-19).  If the Jews had truly adhered to the Law of Moses, they would have recognized Jesus as the one to whom Moses pointed. 

Jesus put the leaders back on their heels with His question, "Why do you seek to kill Me?" (v. 19).  They had to deny that, because Jesus did have a lot of following among the masses, and that following would want to know, too, why there was a plot to kill Him.  Once again, Jesus points them to Moses and their own hypocrisy:  they circumcised on the Sabbath and that wasn't a violation of the Law of Moses.  But they condemned Jesus for healing on the Sabbath--also not a violation of the law.  Judge righteously, He told them, not according to your own standards or the way things might seem to be (v. 24).  Notice that judgment itself is not condemned by Christ.  But we must make certain that any judging that we do is with "righteous judgment," that is, in accordance with the word of God.

Addendum:  For those interested in the particulars of the Feast of Tabernacles, Clarke has this fine note:  “This feast was celebrated in the following manner. All the people cut down branches of palm trees, willows, and myrtles, (and tied them together with gold and silver cords, or with ribbons), which they carried with them all day, took them into their synagogues, and kept them by them while at prayers. On the other days of the feast they carried them with them into the temple and walked round the altar with them in their hands, singing, Hosanna! i.e. Save, we beseech thee!—the trumpets sounding on all sides. To this feast St. John seems to refer, Revelation 7:9-10, where he represents the saints standing before the throne, with palm branches in their hands, singing, Salvation to God, etc. On the seventh day of the feast, they went seven times round the altar, and this was called Hosanna rabba, the great Hosanna….But the ceremony at which the Jews testified most joy was that of pouring out the water, which was done on the eighth day of the feast. A priest drew some water out of the pool Siloam, in a golden vessel, and brought it into the temple; and at the time of the morning sacrifice, while the members of the sacrifice were on the altar, he went up and poured this water mingled with wine upon it, the people all the while singing, with transports of joy, Isaiah 12, especially Isaiah 12:6: “With joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.”  [This is actually Is. 12:3, MKL]. To this part of the ceremony, our Lord appears to allude in v. 37 of this chapter.

During this feast many sacrifices were offered. On the first day, besides the ordinary sacrifices, they offered, as a burnt-offering, thirteen calves, two rams, and fourteen lambs with the offerings of flour and the libations of wine that were to accompany them. They offered also a goat for a sin-offering. On all the succeeding days they offered the same sacrifices, only abating one of the calves each day, so that when the seventh day came, they had but seven calves to offer. On the eighth day, which was kept with greater solemnity than the rest, they offered but one calf, one ram, and seven lambs, for a burnt-offering, and one goat for a sin-offering, with the usual offerings and libations. On this day, they also offered in the temple the first fruits of their latter crops, or of those things which come latest to maturity. During the feast, the 113th, 114th, 115th, 116th, 117th, 118th, and 119th Psalms were sung. Leo of Modena says that, though Moses appointed but eight days, yet custom and the devotion of the people have added a ninth to it, which is called the joy of the law, because that on it they complete the reading of the Pentateuch….For the law relative to this institution, see Lev. 23:39-40, etc., and the notes there; and Numbers 29:16, etc.”  A lot of this information would be gathered from Jewish history books, because many of the particulars above are not found in the Bible.

—Adam Clarke's Commentary