Prologue: The Incarnate Word (from p. 1)
The eternal Word (p.1)
The Signs of the Messiah (from p. 3)
Preaching of John the Baptist (p. 3)
Baptism of Jesus (p. 4)
The first disciples (p. 4)
Marriage feast in Cana (p. 6)
Cleansing the temple (p. 8)
Jesus and Nicodemus (p. 9)
John the Baptist’s work complete (p. 12)
Jesus in Samaria (p. 13)
Changing situations (p. 18)
Son of an official healed (p. 18)
Healing at Bethesda and its outcome (p. 19)
Witnesses to Jesus (p. 22)
Feeding the five thousand (p. 24)
Jesus walks on the sea (p. 26)
The bread of life (p. 26)
Word of eternal life (p. 31)
Family opposition (p. 32)
Jesus teaches in the temple (p. 33)
Arguments in the Sanhedrin (p. 37)
Woman caught in adultery (p. 37)
The light of the world (p. 39)
Belief and unbelief (p. 40)
True freedom, true sonship (p. 41)
Dispute concerning a blind man (p. 44)
The good shepherd (p. 48)
At the Feast of Dedication (p. 51)
Resurrection of Lazarus (p. 53)
Jews plot to kill Jesus (p. 57)
Jesus returns to Bethany (p. 59)
The triumphal entry (p. 60)
The seed must die (p. 61)
Final message to the Jews (p. 62)
The Farewell Discourse (from p. 65)
Washing the disciples’ feed (p. 65)
A traitor among them (p. 68)
Disciples’ failure foretold (p. 69)
The way to the Father (p. 70)
Promise of the Holy Spirit (p. 71)
Union with Jesus (p. 73)
Work of the Holy Spirit (p. 76)
Difficulties ahead for the disciples (p. 78)
Jesus’ prayer (p. 81)
The Passion Narrative (from p. 84)
The arrest of Jesus (p. 84)
At the high priest’s house (p. 85)
Before Pilate and Herod (p. 87)
Jesus before the people (p. 89)
Journey to Golgotha (p. 91)
The crucifixion (p. 91)
The death (p. 92)
The burial (p. 94)
Early tradition and biblical evidence indicate that ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ was John the son of Zebedee, and that this John was the author of John’s Gospel (John 21:20,24). Although the other Gospel writers mention John by name often, his name does not appear in John’s Gospel. This is no doubt because the writer follows the common practice of using the descriptive name by which he was known rather than his real name (John 13:23; 19:26; 21:7). His use of the name may also have indicated his gratitude for all that Jesus had done for him.
The family of John lived in a town on the shores of Lake Galilee. He and his brother James worked with their father Zebedee as fishermen, along with Peter and Andrew, brothers from another local family (Matt 4:18-21; Luke 5:10). John’s mother, Salome, appears to have been the sister of Mary the mother of Jesus (Matt 27:56; Mark 15:40; John 19:25).
Both pairs of brothers seem to have responded to the preaching of John the Baptist and looked expectantly for the promised Saviour. When Jesus arrived, they were among the first to join him (Matt 4:22; John 1:35-40). All four were later included in Jesus’ group of twelve apostles (Matt 10:2), and Peter, James and John developed into an inner circle that was especially close to Jesus (Mark 5:37; 9:2; 14:33).
Jesus called James and John ‘sons of thunder’, probably because they were sometimes impatient and over-zealous (Mark 3:17; Luke 9:49-56). As Peter became increasingly more prominent among the twelve, James and John tried to outdo him by seeking from Jesus the top two positions in his kingdom. The only guarantee Jesus gave them was of coming persecution (Matt 20:20-28). By the time of Jesus’ ascension, Peter and John were clearly the two leading apostles (Luke 22:8; John 19:26-27; 20:2-9; 21:20).
In the early days of the church, Peter and John provided the main leadership and bore the main persecution (Acts 1:13; 3:1-11; 4:13-20; 5:40). They were among the first to show that the church must accept non-Jews equally with Jews (Acts 8:14-17,25) and they encouraged the evangelization of the Gentiles (Gal 2:9).
The Bible contains little additional information about John’s ministry. Non-biblical writings indicate that he lived to a very old age (cf. John 21:20-23) and spent most of his later years in and around Ephesus, from where he wrote his Gospel and Letters. He was known as ‘the elder’ (2 John 1; 3 John 1) and has been traditionally regarded as the writer of Revelation. If that is so, he probably spent his final years as a prisoner on the island of Patmos, off the coast from Ephesus (Rev 1:9).
Churches of the Ephesus region had long been troubled by false teaching (cf. Acts 20:17,29-30; Rev 2:2). The teaching was an early form of Gnosticism, a heresy that became very destructive during the second century. The Gnostics tried to explain some of the mysteries of the universe – such as the relation between good and evil, spirit and matter, God and people – by combining Christian belief with pagan philosophy. Because they denied there could be a perfect union between things that appeared to be opposites, some denied that Jesus was fully a human being, others that he was fully God.
John firmly opposed both these errors. But his writings were more than merely a defence against false teaching. He had a positive purpose, and that was to lead people to faith in Christ, so that they might experience the full and eternal life that Christ made possible (John 20:31; cf. 1:4; 3:15; 4:14; 5:24; 6:27; 8:12; 10:10; 11:25; 14:6; 17:3; see also 1 John 1:1-3; 5:13).
From the outset of his Gospel, John asserted that Jesus was divine (John 1:1) and human (John 1:14). He was eternal (John 1:2), he created all things (John 1:3) and he came from the heavenly world to reveal God to the human race (John 1:18; 3:13; 5:18-19; 6:62; 8:23,26; 14:9,11). He was also fully human. He had a material body with normal physical characteristics (John 4:6-7; 9:6; 12:3; 19:34), and he experienced normal human emotions (John 11:35; 12:27; 19:26-27).
If the heretical Gnostics of the AD 90s had trouble accepting Jesus’ uniqueness, so did the orthodox Jews of the AD 30s. John’s method of teaching the confused people of Ephesus was to recount the stories and teachings of Jesus. He had many stories of Jesus available to him (John 21:25), but he chose to use only a few. He did not just recount incidents from Jesus’ life, but showed the significance of the incidents. For this reason he called them ‘signs’ (John 20:30; cf. 2:11; 4:54; 6:14; 7:31; 12:18,37).
Jesus’ signs showed not only that he was the Messiah, but also that he was the Son of God (John 20:31). The Jews considered it blasphemy that a person who had grown up among them should claim to be God (John 6:42; 8:53-59; 10:33; 19:7). As a result, the signs that Jesus performed were usually followed by long debates with the Jews (e.g. the miracle in John 5:1-15 followed by the debate in 5:16-47; the miracle in John 9:1-12 followed by the debate 9:13-10:38). These and other debates that Jesus had with the Jews provided John with much of his teaching material. He used the actual words of Jesus to teach Christian truth (e.g. John 7:1-39; 8:12-58).
When John and one of the other Gospel writers recorded the same miracle, they treated the material differently. The other writers did little more than tell the story, whereas John followed the story with lengthy teaching that arose out of it (cf. Matt 14:13-21 with John 6:1-14 and the teaching that follows in John 6:26-65).
Since John was concerned with the meaning and significance of events, he recorded some of Jesus’ conversations with people at length (e.g. with Nicodemus in John 3:1-15 and with the Samaritan woman in John 4:1-26). In a similar way he used the account of the Last Supper, which the other writers recorded only briefly, to provide four chapters of teaching on important Christian doctrines. Again the teaching came direct from the lips of Jesus (John 13:1-16:33).
At the centre of all the doctrinal discussions was the fact that Jesus was God in human form. The Jews had always considered Jesus’ claim to divinity as a reason to get rid of him (John 7:28-30; 10:33,39) and in the end they had their wish (John 11:25,53; cf. Mark 14:61-64).
Jerusalem was the centre of this opposition to Jesus and consequently was the place where many of his debates with the Jews occurred. Because of John’s usage of these debates for his teaching material, much of John’s Gospel is set in Jerusalem (John 2:13; 5:1; 7:14,25; 8:20; 10:22-23; 11:1). This is in sharp contrast to the other Gospels, which are concerned more with Galilee and make little mention of Jerusalem, apart from the few days leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion.
Prologue: The Incarnate Word (from p. 1)
To Israelites of Old Testament times, God’s word was more than something merely written down or spoken out. It was something active, so that when God expressed his will, that will was carried out. God spoke, and it was done (Gen 1:3; Ps 33:9; Isa 55:10-11). By his active word, God created the universe (Gen 1:6,9,14; Ps 33:6). God’s word had such life and power that people thought of it almost as if it were a person – God’s living agent or messenger (Ps 107:20; 147:15,18).
In John’s Gospel Jesus is called the Word (Greek: logos). Greek philosophers used logos in speaking of what they believed to be the principle of reason in the universe. John may have kept this in mind when he was writing, but he uses logos mainly in the Old Testament sense. The Word of God is the living and active agent of God, which existed before creation and was the means by which God created. It is not just like a person, but is a person – not ‘it’ but ‘he’. He is not just with God; he is God. Though distinct from the Father, he is inseparably one with him (John 1:1-3). He is the source not only of physical life but also of the full and spiritual life that God desires people to have. He brings the light of God into the world, and not even the darkness caused by sin can put it out (John 1:4-5).
John the Baptist announced the coming of Jesus as the light of the world. John called people to faith and repentance so that they would be prepared to receive Jesus, but John himself could not give them the light and life of God. Only Jesus could do that (John 1:6-9).
Jesus’ coming into the world was like the coming of a person to his home town. But the people who lived in the ‘town’, especially his own people Israel, refused to receive him. Any, however, who did receive him, whether Israelites or others, became his true people. Such people are God’s true children. They come into this privileged relationship not through birth into a particular family or nation, nor through the actions of others on their behalf, but only through their personal reception of Jesus Christ (John 1:10-13).
When a person writes or speaks, the words he uses are really part of himself. They may have been in his mind for years, but they remain unknown unless he writes or speaks them. As long as the eternal Word remained with God in the unseen heavenly world, it was to a large extent hidden and unknown, but when God became a human being in the person of Jesus, the Word could be seen and heard by all (John 1:14; see also v. 18).
Although John preceded Jesus, in both his birth and his ministry, Jesus preceded John in that he was the eternal Word. The one who had always existed as God now took upon himself human form and made God known to humankind. He showed people what God was like not by commanding them to keep the law given to Israel, but by supplying grace and truth in unlimited supply to meet all their needs (John 1:15-18).
The Signs of the Messiah (from p. 3)
The preaching of John soon attracted opposition from the Jewish religious leaders. They sent representatives to question him and then report back on what he taught and who he claimed to be. John denied that he was promoting himself as some new leader in Israel. He did not consider himself to be either the prophet of Deuteronomy 18:15,18 or the ‘Elijah’ promised in Malachi 4:5. He was only a voice calling people to turn from their sin and be baptized, and so prepare themselves to receive the Messiah. He was like a messenger sent ahead of the king to tell people to clear the way for the royal arrival (John 1:19-23).
John commanded all people to repent, no matter who they were. Those who were descendants of Abraham were no more privileged in the eyes of God than the stones on the ground. All people, regardless of nationality, religion or social status, were to leave their selfish and sinful ways, and produce results in their daily lives that would prove their repentance to be genuine (Matt 3:7-10; Luke 3:7-14).
Although John baptized people to show they had repented and been forgiven their past sins, his baptism gave them no power to live a pure life. It was merely a preparation for one who was far greater than John. Jesus Christ would give the Holy Spirit, which, like fire, would burn up the useless chaff of the heart, leaving the pure wheat to feed and strengthen the life (John 1:24-28).
In due course John publicly introduced Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, for whom he had prepared the way. John’s introduction contained none of the popular Jewish ideas of a political or military leader who would bring in a golden age for Israel. Instead it suggested that the Messiah would die, like a lamb offered in sacrifice for the cleansing of sin (John 1:29-30). John then pointed out that he himself was not at first certain that Jesus was the Messiah, but when he saw the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus at his baptism, he was left in no doubt. John’s explanation indicates that Jesus’ baptism took place before his public introduction (John 1:31-34).
When Jesus approached John to be baptized, John hesitated, because he knew Jesus was superior to him in character, status and authority. But Jesus insisted. He wanted to begin his ministry with a public declaration of his devotion to God. Baptism was an act of obedience carried out by those who declared themselves on the side of God and his righteousness. Jesus was baptized to show that, like all the faithful, he was obedient to God and he intended to carry out all God’s purposes. His baptism displayed his identification, or solidarity, not only with the faithful minority of Israel but also with the human race in general. It was an identification that would lead to a far greater baptism at Golgotha, when as the representative of his fellow human beings he would bear the full penalty of sin (Matt 3:13-15).
Having shown his intentions openly, Jesus received openly the assurance that his Father was pleased with him. The Father’s announcement, by combining a quote concerning the Davidic Messiah with one concerning the Servant of the Lord (see Ps 2:7; Isa 42:1), gave an indication that Jesus’ way to kingly glory was to be that of the suffering servant. In appointing Jesus to his public ministry, the Father poured out upon him the Holy Spirit, through whose power he would carry out his messianic work (Matt 3:16-17; cf. Isa 11:1-2; 61:1; Acts 10:37-38).
John the Baptist no doubt felt he had successfully completed part of his work when two of his disciples left him to follow Jesus. One of these was Andrew, the other probably John (who does not mention his own name in his Gospel). Andrew then brought his brother Simon to Jesus. Jesus saw some characteristic in Simon that caused him to give him the name ‘Rock’. (The Aramaic word that Jesus used is transliterated as Cephas. The equivalent Greek word is transliterated as Peter.) These men believed Jesus to be the Messiah of whom John spoke, but they had little understanding of the nature of Jesus’ messiahship (John 1:35-42).
The party travelled north to Galilee, where they were joined by two more, Philip and Nathanael. (It seems that Nathanael was also called Bartholemew.) Nathanael was surprised to hear that the Messiah came from such an insignificant town as Nazareth in Galilee (John 1:43-46). But when he discovered that Jesus knew all about him even though they had not met, he was convinced that Jesus was the messianic king and the Son of God. Jesus was like a ladder connecting earth to heaven, bringing God to the world and making it possible for the world to come to God (John 1:47-51).
At a marriage feast in Cana attended by Jesus and some relatives and friends, the host was embarrassed when he learnt that the supply of wine had run out. Mary told Jesus, apparently thinking he could work a miracle to provide extra wine. In this way he could display his messianic power and so convince people who he was. Jesus reminded her that he could not perform miracles just to please relatives and friends. This was not a time for a public demonstration of his messiahship (John 2:1-5).
Nevertheless, Jesus helped the host out of the difficulty. He performed the miracle privately, but the host immediately noticed the superior quality of the wine he produced. By this miracle Jesus showed his disciples, for the first time, something of the glorious power of the Messiah (John 2:6-11). He then moved back to Capernaum on the shore of Lake Galilee (John 2:12).
From Capernaum Jesus went to Jerusalem for the Passover (John 2:13). When he visited the temple he found that its outer court (the Court of the Gentiles) was crowded with Jewish merchants and money changers. The merchants were selling animals for sacrifice, and the money changers were exchanging foreign money for money acceptable to the temple authorities. The place looked more like a market than a place of prayer. Jesus was so angry at what he saw that he took bold action to cleanse the temple of all commercial activity (John 2:14-16).
The Jews objected to Jesus’ interfering with the temple and challenged him to perform some miracle as evidence that he had authority from God to act in such a way. Jesus referred to the sign of his resurrection as his authority, but no one understood its meaning at the time. Jesus knew that because of his zeal for the purity of God’s house the Jews would eventually kill him, but he would rise from the dead and bring in a new era of life for the world (John 2:17-22).
At that time few had a genuine belief in Jesus as Saviour. Many said they believed in him but their faith was not soundly based. They were impressed with Jesus’ miracles, but had little idea of what was involved in being disciples of the Messiah. Jesus could not trust people to be loyal followers if their ‘belief’ in him was little more than enthusiasm for his spectacular deeds (John 2:23-25).
Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish Council, or Sanhedrin, was impressed with Jesus’ miracles, but faith based on miracles alone is not enough. There must be inner cleansing, a complete change of heart brought about by the creative power of the Spirit of God. Only then can a person enter the kingdom of God (John 3:1-5; cf. Ezek 36:25-27).
Jews prided themselves that they were born Jews, and thought this guaranteed their entrance into the kingdom of God. Jesus was not concerned with physical birth or an earthly kingdom. He was talking about the work of God’s Spirit that gives repentant sinners new life and so enables them to enter God’s kingdom. Like the wind, the work of the Spirit is mysterious. It cannot be seen, though its results certainly can (John 3:6-8). Those who have personally experienced God know this new life. Those who think only in terms of earthly things will never know it (John 3:9-12).
True, no person has ever gone up into heaven to learn all about God and his ways, but Jesus Christ has come down from heaven and shown people what God is like. He is God’s gift to the world. His death on the cross is God’s way of salvation, and if people under condemnation turn to him and believe, they will have eternal life (John 3:13-15).
God’s purpose in sending his Son into the world was positive. He wanted people to believe in him and so have eternal life. But if people prefer the darkness of their own sin to the light of salvation through Jesus, they bring judgment upon themselves by their own choice (John 3:16-18). Now that Jesus has come into the world, the difference between light and darkness, good and evil, is clearly seen. People either come into the light of Jesus for cleansing or remain in the darkness of their sin. Once they have come into God’s light, they see that every action of their new life is only the result of God’s work within them (John 3:19-21).
While Jesus and his disciples were preaching and baptizing in Judea, John the Baptist was spending the closing days of his ministry preaching and baptizing further north, in the region of the Jordan Valley (John 3:22-24). Some of John’s disciples were becoming jealous of Jesus’ popularity, and John had to rebuke them. He reminded them that his work was only to prepare the way for Jesus. That work was now finished. John was like the friend of a bridegroom who made the necessary preparations for a wedding, but withdrew once the bridegroom arrived (John 3:25-30).
John was just an ordinary person, born into the world like any other, but Jesus came from heaven, speaking God’s words. Most people rejected this divine messenger, though some believed (John 3:31-33; cf. 1:11-12). God revealed himself to the world through Jesus, and Jesus carried out his mission perfectly through the power of God’s Spirit working through him. Those who accepted Jesus’ teaching showed they believed God, but those who refused it placed themselves under God’s judgment (John 3:34-36).
When the Pharisees saw the crowds following Jesus they took an increasing interest in him. No doubt they were becoming jealous and soon might become violent. Jesus therefore decided to leave Judea for Galilee (John 4:1-3).
As Jesus approached one of the villages of Samaria, he began a conversation with a Samaritan woman whom he met at a well (John 4:4-9). The woman had a similar problem to Nicodemus in that she interpreted Jesus’ words literally instead of figuratively. She did not understand that when Jesus offered her living water, he was not speaking of ordinary water but of eternal life. If she accepted what he offered, her deepest needs would be satisfied for ever (John 4:10-15).
Realizing that the woman would have to see her personal sin before she could see her spiritual need, Jesus began to speak of her marital affairs. At first she tried to hide her sins, but Jesus’ searching remarks soon made her realize that she was in the presence of one with divine knowledge (John 4:16-19). She therefore turned the conversation to religion by referring to the dispute between Jews and Samaritans about the location of the temple. (Concerning relations between Jews and Samaritans see earlier section, ‘The New Testament World’.) Jesus told her that the important matters were not those of race or locality, but those that concerned a right attitude of spirit and a right relation with God (John 4:20-24).
The woman saw that the conversation was leading to things she knew nothing about. She therefore tried to finish it quickly by saying that she would wait for the Messiah to come and explain it all to her. Jesus replied that the Messiah was already talking to her (John 4:25-26). In wonder and excitement the woman hurried back to tell the villagers of her discovery and urge them to come and see this remarkable person (John 4:27-30).
Next it was the disciples who interpreted Jesus’ words literally instead of figuratively. This time the subject was food. Jesus told them that his strength came from obedience to the will of God. That was his real food, and he intended to keep feeding on it till he finished the work he came to do (John 4:31-34).
After a farmer sows the seed, he may have to wait many months before he reaps the harvest. But in the case of the Samaritan woman, the seed sown in her heart was already bearing fruit, for the Samaritan villagers were already hurrying across the fields to learn about Jesus. Jesus had sown; the disciples would reap. It was a foretaste of the harvest they would reap from seed sown by messengers of God who had gone before them, from the prophets of Old Testament times to John the Baptist (John 4:35-38).
Though the woman had introduced the villagers to Jesus, they needed to exercise personal faith if they were to receive the eternal life he offered. Many responded in genuine faith, realizing that Jesus was a Saviour whose blessings were not limited to selected races or nations (John 4:39-42).
Somewhere about this time John the Baptist was imprisoned. Jesus meanwhile continued north into Galilee, where the people’s enthusiastic welcome was in sharp contrast to the suspicion of the people in Judea (John 4:43-45). He pointed out, however, that the kingdom he announced was not for those seeking political or material benefits. It was only for those who humbly and wholeheartedly turned from their sins (Matt 4:17).
Jesus was in the town of Cana when a government official arrived from Capernaum with an urgent request for Jesus to heal his son. Again Jesus was careful not to perform miracles to satisfy those who thought of him as merely a wonder-worker. But when he saw the man’s distress, he accepted what little faith the man had and announced that the son would live (John 4:46-50). The man accepted Jesus’ word and set out for home. When he learnt of the time and circumstances of his son’s healing, he came to complete faith, along with his household (John 4:51-54).
Jesus came from Galilee to Jerusalem for a Jewish religious festival. While there he visited a pool where many blind and crippled people hoped to find healing (John 5:1-5). One of the men asked Jesus for help, not to heal him (for he did not know who Jesus was) but to assist him into the pool. Jesus responded by healing him instantly (John 5:6-9). As the healing took place on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders were anxious to find out who was responsible. Jesus must have known that the healed man’s wrongdoing was partly the cause of his troubles, and urged him to repent. But the man’s response was to report Jesus to those who were looking for him (John 5:10-15).
When the Jewish leaders accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath laws, he replied that his Father also works on the Sabbath. Day by day he maintains the world and cares for his creatures. When he makes the sun to rise, the rain to fall and the grass to grow on the Sabbath, he does not break the law. Jesus is united with his Father, and he does not sin when he carries out acts of mercy on the Sabbath (John 5:16-17).
The Jews objected even more strongly when they heard Jesus call God his Father. Jesus replied that in all their work the Father and the Son are united. They are separate persons, but one God. In healing on the Sabbath, Jesus was not acting against the Father’s commands, but doing what the Father wanted (John 5:18-20a).
Because Jesus is God, he will do even greater works than this; he will raise the dead to life and bring in final judgment. Those who reject the Son dishonour God, but those who receive the Son pass immediately from spiritual death to spiritual life (John 5:20b-24). When the dead are raised for final judgment, that judgment will be carried out by the Son. But there will be no condemnation for those who have received the life that he offers (John 5:25-29).
Jesus acted with God’s authority, but he would not give evidence on his own behalf to try to convince the Jews. God was his witness, and Jesus accepted his witness even if the Jews did not (John 5:30-32). With God as his witness, Jesus needed no other, but if the Jews wanted earthly witnesses, they were available. Jesus gave them three, which would satisfy those who wanted to judge him according to the requirements for witnesses under Jewish law (cf. Deut 19:15). The first was John the Baptist. His announcement of the coming of the Messiah was like the introduction of a lamp in a dark place. People at first welcomed him, but when they saw that he was calling them to turn from their sinful ways they lost interest (John 5:33-35).
The second witness was the work of Jesus. His miracles were visible proof of the presence and power of the invisible God. But again the Jews did not believe (John 5:36-38). Third, there were the Old Testament Scriptures, which the Jews studied diligently, thinking that by keeping the law they would gain eternal life. Yet their studies did not lead them to accept the Saviour to whom the Scriptures pointed, and therefore they did not receive eternal life (John 5:39-40).
Unlike the Jews, Jesus did not look for human praise. The Jews welcomed those who appointed themselves teachers, but rejected the one whom God appointed (John 5:41-44). If they understood the real meaning of Moses’ law instead of arguing about rules and regulations, they would welcome Jesus. They would see that he was the one to whom Moses’ teaching pointed. In rejecting him they rejected Moses, and so were condemned by the very things that Moses wrote (John 5:45-47).
When the apostles returned from their first tour around the country areas, they met Jesus in Galilee and tried to have a quiet time alone with him (John 6:1). Jesus also was in need of a rest, but he was filled with pity when he saw the crowds of people flocking to him in their need. They appeared to him as a flock of spiritually starved sheep that had no food because there was no shepherd to feed them (John 6:2-4).
The apostles were soon reminded that Jesus alone could satisfy the spiritual needs of the people. Without him the apostles were not able to satisfy even the people’s physical needs. With five small loaves and two fish, Jesus miraculously fed a huge crowd, reminding the apostles that the miracles they had done on their missionary tour had resulted solely from Jesus’ power working in them (John 6:5-13). But to many of the people, the miracle was a sign that Jesus was the promised great prophet. Like Moses, he had miraculously fed God’s people in the wilderness (John 6:14; see Exod 16:1-36; Deut 18:15; 1 Cor 10:1-5).
On seeing Jesus’ miracle with the bread and fish, many wanted to make him king immediately. This no doubt would have pleased many of Jesus’ followers, but for him it presented a possible temptation. He therefore sent his disciples to Bethsaida, while he escaped into the hills where he could be alone and pray (John 6:15).
Bethsaida was not far from the place where Jesus had fed the five thousand (see Luke 9:10-11). Both places were on the shore of the lake, but separated by a small bay. To escape the crowd the disciples decided to row across the lake, making it appear that they were heading for Bethsaida, which was near Capernaum (John 6:16-17).
Many Jews were determined to find Jesus and make him king. Although he had escaped from them after the feeding of the multitude, they were out the next day looking for him (John 6:22-24).
Jesus knew that these people wanted him to be king not because they felt any spiritual need, but because they thought he had magical powers that could supply all their daily needs. He urged them not to think just of physical and temporal blessings, but to seek the spiritual and eternal life that he offered (John 6:25-27). People cannot earn this life through doing good works; they can only accept it by faith (John 6:28-29). Jesus does not need to make food fall from heaven as in Moses’ day in order to prove his power. He himself is the true bread from heaven (John 6:30-33).
This bread from heaven is not some common everyday thing that people can have simply to satisfy their appetite. It is a spiritual provision available to those who, being drawn by the Father to the Son, give themselves to him in faith (John 6:34-37). As Jesus does the work that his Father sent him to do, he brings believers into the life of God’s kingdom, eternal life. They have this eternal life now, and they will enjoy it in its fulness following the victorious resurrection at the end of the age (John 6:38-40).
Jesus’ hearers objected that he had no right to speak such words, for he was not God. He had not come from heaven but from a Galilean family, as people well knew. Jesus repeated what he had said previously, to impress upon them that the salvation he brought came from heaven and was the work of the invisible God (John 6:41-47). However, the only way this salvation can become possible is through Jesus’ giving himself as a sacrifice for sin. People can have eternal life only through Jesus’ death (John 6:48-51).
The true bread that Jesus came to give was his flesh and blood offered in sacrifice. Unless people eat and drink this ‘food’ they cannot be saved. That is, unless they accept Jesus’ sacrifice for themselves in faith, they cannot have eternal life, either now or in the future (John 5:52-59).
Many of the people who followed Jesus found his teaching about the bread of life hard to understand. Jesus told them that if they had difficulty believing this, they would be positively amazed when they saw him going bodily back to heaven. Their difficulties arose because they were thinking only of physical flesh and blood, and failed to see the spiritual truths they illustrated. They still did not understand how eternal life could result from Jesus’ death (John 6:60-65).
Those who were more interested in earthly benefits than spiritual life were disappointed in Jesus’ teaching and turned back from following him. Not so the apostles. All, except for Judas Iscariot, maintained their deep trust in their Lord. They knew that the words he spoke were true and life-giving (John 6:66-71).
At one stage of his ministry Jesus spent time in Jerusalem attending some annual Jewish festivals. The first of these was the Feast of Tabernacles (GNB: Festival of Shelters), when Jews lived in temporary shelters in memory of the time their ancestors dwelt in the wilderness. It also marked the end of the agricultural year, when all the produce of the land had been gathered in and the people rejoiced in thanksgiving to God (Lev 23:33-43; Deut 16:13-15). People usually flocked to Jerusalem for the festival. Jesus’ brothers therefore suggested that if he was the Messiah (which they doubted), this was a good opportunity to prove it openly by performing spectacular miracles (John 7:1-5).
Self-seeking people might welcome the chance to prove their claims, but Jesus refused. He would continue to preach God’s message faithfully, even if people hated him for it. He would not use the Feast of Tabernacles to show himself as the Messiah, but would await the time appointed by his Father (John 7:6-9). Later, when he did attend the feast, he avoided publicity. He was now well known throughout the country, and attracted interest and comment wherever he went (John 7:10-13).
The Feast of Tabernacles lasted a week. After the excitement of the first two or three days had died down, Jesus began to teach in the temple. People were impressed with his teaching, though he taught not to gain honour for himself but to bring glory to God who had sent him. If people loved God and wanted to do his will, they would see that what Jesus taught was the truth of God (John 7:14-18). The Jews accused Jesus of breaking the law, because on a previous occasion he had healed a man on the Sabbath (see John 5:1-16). But, replied Jesus, they themselves did not hesitate to circumcise a child on the Sabbath (John 7:19-24).
People were amazed at Jesus’ boldness in so speaking, and even more amazed that he was not arrested and killed. Maybe, some thought, the religious leaders were convinced that he was the Messiah. They soon changed their minds, however, when they remembered that Jesus was from Galilee. They had always believed that no one would know where the Messiah would come from. Jesus pointed out to them that his real place of origin was not Galilee, but heaven. He was sent by God (John 7:25-29).
The words of Jesus caused division among the Jews, with some bitterly opposed to him and others convinced that he was the Messiah. The leaders of the Sanhedrin became concerned that many were believing in Jesus, and they sent temple guards to arrest him. But the temple guards were powerless to do anything. No one could arrest or kill him until the time appointed by his Father. When that time arrived he would die, rise to life, and return to his Father in heaven. His opponents would not be able to find him, because he would be in a place that they could never reach. Their unbelief excluded them from heaven eternally (John 7:30-34).
Again the Jews misunderstood Jesus’ words. They thought that when he said he was going away, he was planning to go preaching among the Gentiles (John 7:35-36).
Jesus brought the feast to a fitting climax by offering to satisfy all who, in their spiritual need, came to him for help. He would work a life-giving change within them. After returning to his Father, he would send the Holy Spirit to dwell within all who believed in him (John 7:37-39). The people’s reaction to this teaching was mixed. Some believed, some were confused and some were opposed, but still no one arrested him (John 7:40-44).
The leaders of the Sanhedrin were furious when the temple guards returned without Jesus. The guards said that they could not arrest one who gave such powerful teaching. Angrily the rulers replied that perhaps some of the uneducated masses believed in Jesus, but certainly none of the teachers, leaders, or other well instructed Jews (John 7:45-49).
When Nicodemus, who was a member of the Sanhedrin (cf. John 3:1), suggested that they should at least give Jesus a fair hearing, he was quickly silenced. The Sanhedrin was not interested in finding out the truth, but only in getting rid of Jesus (John 7:50-53).
When Jesus returned to the temple the next day, the scribes and Pharisees brought to him a woman whom they had caught in adultery, and asked him to give a judgment. This was not because they wanted to find out God’s will, but because they wanted to trap Jesus and so have an accusation to bring against him. If he did not condemn the woman to death, they could accuse him to the Sanhedrin of defying the law. If he did condemn her to death, they could accuse him to the government of usurping Rome’s authority (John 8:1-6a).
Jesus saw their cunning and refused to give a legal judgment. Instead he challenged the woman’s accusers to exercise some moral judgment on themselves, with the result that none had the courage to pursue the matter further (John 8:6b-9). It was not Jesus’ duty to condemn the woman, for he was neither a witness nor a judge. He was the Saviour of sinners, and having given the woman a practical lesson in truth and purity, he urged her to make a total break with her sinful past (John 8:10-11).
In response to Jesus’ statement that he was the light of the world, the Pharisees argued that he had no right to testify on his own behalf. In their view he had no supporting witnesses (John 8:12-13). Jesus replied that he did have the right to bear witness to himself, because he came from God and was united with God. God was his supporting witness, and that should have been sufficient (John 8:14).
The Jews were wrong in their judgments against Jesus, because they judged in a totally human way. The time for Jesus to act as the world’s judge had not yet come, but even if he carried out such work immediately, his judgment would be true, again because of the unity between the Father and the Son (John 8:15-16). If the Jews insisted on having two witnesses as the law required, they had them in the Father and the Son. The two were in agreement, and therefore the Jews had to accept their testimony (John 8:17-18). The reason that Jesus’ opponents failed to grasp what he was saying was that they did not know God (John 8:19-20).
Because the Jews could never get their minds above earthly things, they could never accept Jesus’ claim that he came from God. By rejecting him they lost all chance of having their sins forgiven. They would die in their sins and thereby be excluded from heaven, the place to which Jesus would return after his death and resurrection (John 8:21-26).
Most of the people still did not understand how Jesus could be the Son of God, but one day in the near future they would have clear proof. They would see Jesus die on the cross, but then, by the power of God, rise from the dead. This would be an unmistakable demonstration of the unity between the Father and the Son (John 8:27-29). Some who heard Jesus speak did not wait for the events he spoke of, but put their faith in him immediately (John 8:30).
Jesus used an illustration from slavery to show the people how he could help them in their need. They all knew that slaves could not free themselves. The only person who could free them was the owner of the house in which the slave worked, or the owner’s son, acting on his father’s authority. The Jews were slaves, in bondage to sin and unable to free themselves. The only one who could free them was God, acting through his Son Jesus. They would find their true freedom through faith in Jesus and continual obedience to his teaching. Again the Jews did not understand the spiritual truth Jesus was illustrating. Thinking only of ordinary earthly life, they argued that they had never been slaves of any nation. They had the freedom of sons, Abraham’s sons (John 8:31-36).
To explain further, Jesus told his Jewish hearers that spiritually they were not sons of Abraham at all, but sons of the devil. They were trying to kill Jesus, and murder was a characteristic inherited from their spiritual father the devil, not from their earthly father Abraham (John 8:37-40).
Beginning at last to see that Jesus was applying the illustration to their relationship with God, the Jews argued with him accordingly, but again they missed his meaning. They thought, perhaps, that he was accusing them of being like the Samaritans, who were of mixed blood and mixed religion. They assured him that they were pure sons of Abraham nationally and pure sons of God spiritually (John 8:41). Jesus responded that if God was their Father they would welcome his Son as their Messiah, not try to kill him. They would believe his teaching, not dispute it. Truly, their father was not God, but the devil (John 8:42-47).
The Jews gave further proof that God was not their Father when they insulted his Son and so guaranteed God’s judgment upon them. The Son is not concerned with gaining honour for himself. His chief concerns are to give honour to the Father on the one hand, and life to believers on the other (John 8:48-51). The Jews objected that Jesus was boasting to be greater than Abraham. Jesus replied that he was not boasting but merely telling the truth: he was united with God (John 8:52-55).
As for Abraham, he himself acknowledged Jesus to be greater by rejoicing when he foresaw the coming of the Messiah. The Jews objected that Jesus could not know Abraham’s thoughts, because Abraham had died hundreds of years before Jesus was born. They were angered more when Jesus said that he existed even before Abraham. Jesus is the eternal God. The Jews considered such a claim to be blasphemy and immediately but unsuccessfully tried to kill him (John 8:56-59).
Some Jews believed that diseases and physical disabilities were the result of either a person’s own sins or the sins of the person’s parents. When Jesus met a blind man, his disciples asked him which was the most likely cause of the man’s blindness (John 9:1-2).
Jesus was not interested in discussing theoretical questions just to satisfy people’s curiosity. He was more concerned with healing the man, and in this way he would bring glory to God. His time in the world was limited, and that meant he should use every opportunity to do the work that his Father sent him to do (John 9:3-5). He therefore healed the man, and immediately there was much interest among the local people. They could scarcely believe what had happened (John 9:6-12).
The healing had taken place on the Sabbath day. In the eyes of the Pharisees, Jesus had broken the Sabbath laws and therefore he was a sinner. In the eyes of others, including the man himself, Jesus had healed a person born blind, and therefore he must have come from God (John 9:13-17). Rather than accept the fact that a miracle had occurred, the Pharisees tried to argue that the man had not been blind in the first place. The man’s parents confirmed that he had been born blind, but they would not talk about the healing because of their fear of the Jewish leaders (John 9:18-23).
Despite the pressure that the Pharisees put on the man, he refused to change his story or condemn Jesus. He mocked the Pharisees for their persistent questioning, asking if they too wanted to become Jesus’ disciples (John 9:24-27). The more the man argued with them, the angrier the Pharisees became. They had no answer to his simple step by step reasoning, so attacked him with abusive language and then threw him out of the synagogue (John 9:28-34).
Jesus found the man and made known to him that the one who healed him was indeed the Saviour sent by God. The man’s faith was strengthened and in humble gratitude he worshipped (John 9:35-38).
The way people responded to Jesus showed their true spiritual condition. Some called themselves teachers and thought they possessed religious insight, but in fact they were spiritually blind. Others knew they were blind and in the darkness of sin, but when they turned to Jesus they saw the light of God. There could be some excuse for those who were blind through ignorance, but there could be only condemnation for those who claimed to have knowledge but deliberately rejected the plain evidence before them (John 9:39-41).
In the story of the good shepherd, Jesus was continuing the teaching he had begun after healing the blind man. Among his hearers were the Pharisees (see John 9:40), but they could not see that he was contrasting their treatment of the blind man with his. They acted like thieves and robbers, but Jesus acted like a good shepherd. As a result the man rejected the leadership of the Pharisees, but he clearly recognized Jesus as the shepherd-saviour and gladly followed him (John 10:1-6).
To explain further, Jesus likened himself to a door, by which people could come to God and so find life, freedom, protection and provision. But the Jewish leaders, instead of leading people to God, exploited and oppressed them (John 10:7-10).
Jesus was the true shepherd and spiritual leader of the people, but the scribes and Pharisees fought against him, setting themselves up as leaders. By teaching human traditions instead of God’s commandments, they enslaved the Jewish people and strengthened their own power. Like thieves they robbed the flock, like wolves they destroyed it, and like hired labourers they worked for their own profit without any real concern for the flock. By contrast, Jesus sacrificed everything for his flock, even being prepared to die for it so that his sheep might be saved (John 10:11-13).
The flock of Jesus consists not merely of those in the sheepfold of Israel, but includes people of all nations and languages. They are drawn together as one flock under the shepherd Jesus. The understanding between the shepherd and the sheep is the same as the understanding between the Father and the Son (John 10:14-16). The basis of the relationship between Jesus and his flock is his death and resurrection. He has complete authority over life and death, and his enemies are powerless to take his life from him. Yet he willingly lays down that life so that he might save his people (John 10:17-18; cf. Acts 20:28).
Those who heard Jesus responded in strikingly different ways. Some said he was mad, but others accepted his words as being consistent with his work in healing the blind man. The opposite reactions that people had to Jesus determined their opposite destinies (John 10:19-21; cf. 9:39).
The Feast of Dedication commemorated the rededication of the temple in 165 BC after the defeat of Antiochus Epiphanes (see ‘The New Testament World’). It was held about two months after the Feast of Tabernacles (cf. John 7:2) and was the Jews’ only winter festival (cf. John 10:22).
Many Jews felt it was time Jesus made a clear public statement that he was the Messiah. Jesus replied that his works were a clear enough statement, but most of the Jews refused to recognize them (John 10:22-26). Some, however, accepted him and followed him, and these were his true people. They had eternal life, and their eternal security was guaranteed by both Jesus and his heavenly Father, with whom he was inseparably united (John 10:27-30).
The Jews again burst into anger, claiming that Jesus was calling himself God. Jesus replied that in one Old Testament passage even Israel’s rulers were called ‘gods’, because of the God-given authority they exercised. How much more should the one who was united with the heavenly Father call himself God (John 10:31-36). But Jesus did not want the Jews to excuse their unbelief by arguing about words. The works that Jesus did were sufficient proof of his divine origin (John 10:37-38).
Once more the Jews tried to seize Jesus, but he escaped and left Jerusalem. This time he went across Jordan into Perea, where the people’s ready belief was in sharp contrast to the hardness of the people in Jerusalem (John 10:39-42).
While Jesus was still in the region between the Jordan and Jerusalem, he heard that his friend Lazarus, who lived in Bethany, was seriously ill. Jesus did not hurry to Bethany, because he knew that Lazarus was already dead. By raising him to life, Jesus would give unmistakable evidence of his unity with the Father (John 11:1-6).
After waiting two days, Jesus decided to set out for Bethany. The disciples tried to stop him, fearing that the Jews of that area would try to kill him. Jesus assured them that the time for his death had not yet come. He would travel safely as a person walking in broad daylight. Because he walked in God’s light, he would be unharmed by the evil powers of darkness (John 11:7-10). His raising of Lazarus would show his power over death and so strengthen the disciples’ faith. Such words of assurance gave the disciples courage to go with him in spite of the dangers (John 11:11-16).
A distressed Martha met Jesus along the way. She believed that although, humanly speaking, it was too late to do anything for her dead brother, Jesus may yet be able to call upon his Father’s power and bring Lazarus back to life (John 11:17-22).
It was small comfort to Martha to know that Lazarus would be raised to life at the resurrection of the just. Jesus enlightened her by saying that he is the resurrection and the life. Here and now, in this life, those who are spiritually dead because of sin may have eternal life through him. They will go on living and enjoying this life even though their physical bodies may die (John 11:23-26). Martha fully believed all that Jesus was saying, and added her confident confession that he was the Messiah, the Son of God and the Saviour of the world (John 11:27). She then hurried home and brought Mary to meet him (John 11:28-32).
Jesus’ statement about eternal life (v. 26) did not mean that physical death was of no concern to him. He saw it as an enemy that had to be destroyed, for it was a weapon of Satan, who had the power of death (cf. 1 Cor 15:26; Heb 2:14-15). When he saw how Satan used this weapon to fill his beloved friends with grief, he was filled with sorrow and anger (John 11:33-37).
Determined to win a victory over Satan, Jesus went to the tomb. Before raising Lazarus to life, he thanked God publicly (so that those standing by could hear) for always hearing his prayers. The Father and the Son were united in power and purpose (John 11:38-42). Jesus then called out in a loud voice (again for the benefit of those standing by) and Lazarus miraculously was raised to life (John 11:43-44).
As a result of his miraculous works, Jesus was becoming more famous every day. The Sanhedrin feared that the nation might accept him as the leader of a messianic uprising against Rome, which would lead to Rome’s intervention. The outcome could be the loss of the Jews’ religious privileges and even the destruction of their temple (John 11:45-48).
Caiaphas, who was high priest and president of the Sanhedrin, suggested they get rid of Jesus and so remove the possibility of Rome’s intervention. Jesus should die so that the nation might be saved. These words had a meaning that Caiaphas never intended, as if they were a prophecy of the outcome of Jesus’ death; for his death saves not only the Jewish people, but people of every nation who believe in him (John 11:49-52).
While the Jewish leaders plotted his death, Jesus took his disciples to a quiet place away from the crowd (John 11:53-54). Back in Jerusalem people from the country began to arrive in preparation for the coming Passover Festival. Many were uneasy as they thought about what might happen if Jesus came to the city for the festival (John 11:55-57).
Before going on to Jerusalem, Jesus returned to Bethany, where Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived. Mary, believing this was probably the last time Jesus would be with them, showed her devotion by washing his feet with expensive perfume (John 12:1-4). Judas objected that the use of expensive perfume in this way was a waste of money. In answer Jesus told his disciples that he would be with them only a little longer, then would be crucified. He saw Mary’s act as a symbolic anointing of his body in preparation for burial (John 12:5-8).
Once it became known that Jesus was in the house, a crowd gathered. Some were just curious sightseers, but many became genuine believers. The Jewish leaders were right in thinking that the raising of Lazarus would attract a following for Jesus. They therefore became more determined to kill him and decided to kill Lazarus as well (John 12:9-11).
The time had now come for Jesus to challenge his opponents openly by a clear public demonstration that he was Israel’s Messiah. The Jewish leaders wanted to arrest him, but when told of his whereabouts they feared to take action. They were unsure of the extent of Jesus’ popular support (cf. John 11:57; 12:9-11).
To make sure that nothing stopped him from making a bold public entry into Jerusalem, Jesus had made a secret arrangement with some unnamed villagers who would provide the donkey that he would ride. By using a pre-arranged password, two of his disciples collected the donkey and brought it to him (see Matt 21:1-3).
As the messianic king, the son of David, Jesus then entered his royal city of Zion. He came not riding a horse as a conquering warlord, but sitting on a donkey as a king of peace, as the Scriptures foretold (see Zech 9:9). People who were in Jerusalem for the Passover, along with local residents, welcomed him as the Messiah. They may not have understood the nature of his messiahship, but they were enthusiastic in their acceptance of him (John 12:12-16). (The word ‘Hosanna’, meaning ‘Save us, O Lord’, came from two Hebrew words found in Psalm 118, where Israel’s victorious king was welcomed with the words, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’; Ps 118:25-26. By New Testament times the two expressions, used together, had become a declaration of praise to God for the promised Messiah.)
The Pharisees were annoyed at the welcome Jesus received and unsuccessfully tried to persuade him to silence the people (Luke 19:39-40). As the news of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus spread, more and more people flocked to see him. The thing the Pharisees most feared was happening before their eyes (John 12:17-19).
Among the crowds that went to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival were some Greeks. They had joined themselves to the synagogue communities where they lived, and now they wanted to see Jesus (John 12:20-22).
When the Lord heard of the Greeks’ request, his response was to announce that the climax of his mission had arrived and he was now about to lay down his life. He apparently saw these Greeks as the first-fruits of a great Gentile harvest that would result from his death. Grains of wheat must die and be buried before they can grow up and produce a harvest. Likewise Jesus had to die so that multitudes from all nations might find eternal life. The principle of ‘death before life’ applies also to those who follow Jesus. For his sake they must sacrifice their lives of self-pleasing before they can be fruitful for him. People will despise them as they despised Jesus, but God will honour them (John 12:23-26).
Jesus trembled as he thought of the suffering that awaited him, but he was determined to finish the work he had come to do. He prayed that through his death he would glorify his Father, and his Father responded in a voice from heaven that the prayer would be answered (John 12:27-29). As the startled onlookers were wondering what they had heard, Jesus told them that the time for Satan’s defeat was approaching. Through Jesus’ crucifixion, people of all nations would be delivered from Satan’s power and brought into the liberty of the kingdom of God (John 12:30-33).
The people were puzzled at Jesus’ statement. He spoke of himself as ‘the Son of man’, but if he used this expression to mean ‘the Messiah’, how could the Messiah die on the cross? They thought the Messiah would live for ever. Jesus had no more time to reason with them, but urged them to believe in him immediately and so walk in the light while he was still on earth. Otherwise the darkness would come upon them and they would be lost eternally (John 12:34-36).
Most of the Jewish people were stubborn in their unbelief, as Isaiah had prophesied. Any who believed in him were afraid to say so openly, for fear of being put out of the synagogue (John 12:37-43). In his final words to the crowd, Jesus explained that to believe in him was to believe in God; to reject him was to reject God (John 12:44-46). Jesus came to save people, not to condemn them, and the words he spoke were the words of God. But in the day of judgment those same words would be a witness for the condemnation of those who rejected them (John 12:47-50).
The Farewell Discourse (from p. 65)
When they gathered for the meal that night, Jesus took the place of a servant and washed the disciples’ feet. By this action he symbolized firstly, the need for humility, and secondly, that he, the perfect servant, would cleanse people from sin through his death (John 13:1-5). Peter, not understanding this symbolic action, objected. Jesus responded that if he refused to let Jesus cleanse him, he could not be Jesus’ disciple. By this cleansing, Jesus was referring to cleansing from sin, something that Peter would understand more fully after Jesus had died, risen and been glorified (John 13:6-8; cf. Acts 5:30-31; 1 Peter 1:18-21; 2:24).
Peter thought that if washing the feet symbolized cleansing, he should be washed all over, to ensure complete cleansing. Again he did not realize that this was what Jesus had just symbolized. The disciples (with the exception of Judas) were already cleansed all over, and needed no further symbolic cleansing. The only washing necessary was the washing of the feet, and that was not for cleansing but for humility (John 13:9-11).
Jesus had given the apostles an example. If he, their Lord and teacher, humbled himself by washing their feet, how much more should they, his servants, humble themselves in serving one another (John 13:12-17). Jesus knew that Judas was a traitor, but the rest were his servants and messengers. Those who received them received him and his Father (John 13:18-20).
The apostles were surprised when Jesus announced that one of them would betray him, for they did not suspect treachery among them. Perhaps they thought that one of them might unintentionally betray him through speaking carelessly. But Judas knew what Jesus meant (John 13:21-25). When Jesus took a piece of bread, dipped it in the dish and gave it to Judas, he was giving Judas a special honour. It was as if Jesus was making a last appeal to him. But Judas’ heart was set on doing evil. Jesus knew Judas’ intentions, but the apostles still did not suspect him of being a traitor (John 13:26-30).
Judas’ departure from the room made the death of Jesus certain, though for Jesus that death would be not a misfortune but a glorious triumph. His death would bring glory to God by displaying his immeasurable love for sinful men and women. It would also bring grief to his disciples as they saw their master taken from them. But they were to show no bitterness in their grief; rather, a forgiving love, by which others would see that they were indeed disciples of Jesus (John 13:31-35).
Jesus knew that his disciples would all run away and leave him in his final hour. They would be like sheep who scatter in panic when the shepherd is killed. Peter boldly assured Jesus that though others might leave him, he would not. But Jesus knew Peter better than Peter knew himself. Peter would deny him, but the experience would teach him lessons that would remove his self-assurance and give him a new strength in God. After Jesus rose from death and returned to the father, Peter would be the one through whom the group of disciples would learn to be confident and courageous (John 13:36-38; cf. Acts 4:13-31; 5:17-32).
The disciples by now surely knew that Jesus was soon to die. He therefore comforted them by saying he was going to his Father to prepare a permanent dwelling place for them, and one day he would return to take them to be with him for ever. He had told them often enough that if they followed him as loyal followers, they would share in his final victory (John 14:1-4).
Thomas misunderstood, thinking that Jesus was speaking of a physical location and a physical journey. He wanted Jesus to show them the way so that they would have no difficulty in following him later. Jesus explained that the ‘way’ to the Father was through the Son. Jesus had brought the truth of God and eternal life to the human race, and to know him was to know God. To know the Son was to know the Father (John 14:5-7).
Philip also misunderstood. He wanted a special revelation of the Father, though he should have known after more than three years with Jesus that Jesus and the Father were inseparably united. Jesus’ words and actions were the Father’s words and actions (John 14:8-11). Jesus may have been about to die, but God’s work in the world was not about to end. When Jesus returned to the Father he would send the Holy Spirit, and through the power of the Spirit and prayer the disciples would do even greater works than Jesus had done. Jesus’ ministry had been limited to a few years in Palestine, but his disciples would travel to other countries and reach the whole world for God. Jesus’ return to the Father would bring in a new era (John 14:12-14).
In assuring the disciples of the blessings that would follow his return to the Father (see John 14:12), Jesus had not specifically mentioned the Holy Spirit. Now he explained. When he returned to the Father, he would send the Holy Spirit as the Counsellor, or Helper, to guide, instruct and strengthen them. Those who did not believe in Jesus would not be able to understand how this Helper worked, because their understanding was limited to the things of the world in which they lived (John 14:15-17). Soon Jesus would leave the world, but he would not desert his disciples. Although people in general would see him no longer, his disciples would, in a sense, continue to see him. They would see and know him spiritually, because he would live within them. He would love them, and in return they would love him (John 14:18-21).
Judas Thaddaeus (not Judas the betrayer), still thinking of Jesus’ physical body, could not understand how the disciples would see him but others would not. Jesus replied that not only the Son, but the Father also, would live with them, provided they gave proof of their love for him by following his teachings. The Holy Spirit would help them recall those teachings (John 14:22-26).
Jesus saw that his disciples were confused and unsettled, and promised them his peace. By this he did not mean a life free from trouble, but an inward calm such as he had. Though outwardly afflicted, inwardly he had peace. The disciples should not have been troubled about Jesus’ coming death, but glad that by that death he was bringing to completion the work his Father had given him to do (John 14:27-29). Though sinless and in no way under Satan’s power, Jesus would allow Satan’s servants to betray and kill him, so that through his death he might fulfil his Father’s will and save sinners (John 14:30-31).
In themselves believers have no life, strength or spiritual power. All that they have comes from Jesus Christ. If he is likened to a vine, they are likened to the branches, which means that they can bear spiritual fruit only as they are united in him. As they allow the Father to remove the hindrances of sin from their lives, they will bear even more fruit (John 15:1-5).
Those who bear no fruit are like the dead branches of a vine. Though attached to it, they receive no life from it. They say they are disciples of Jesus, but they have no spiritual union with him and in the end they will be destroyed. Such a person was Judas Iscariot (John 15:6).
If people are true disciples, they will prove it by the fruits that their spiritual union with Jesus produces. Among those fruits are obedience, love, joy and effective prayer (John 15:7-11). Jesus wants his disciples to serve him willingly, lovingly and with understanding. For this reason he chose the twelve apostles and trained them to know God’s ways. If their service is based on a true knowledge of God and the true exercise of self-sacrificing love, they can expect it to result in lasting fruit (John 15:12-17).
Union with Jesus, however, will bring some suffering, because disciples, like their master, will be hated by the world. Loyalty to Jesus will bring persecution (John 15:18-20). Jesus’ teaching and work showed clearly that he came from God. Those who heard and saw him had no excuse for not believing him. In fact, their clearer knowledge increased their guilt. They may have claimed to be worshippers of God, but if they hated Jesus they hated God (John 15:21-25).
The apostles also had heard Jesus’ words and seen his works, but they had believed. Therefore, they could be assured of the Spirit’s help as they witnessed to Jesus during the difficult time that lay ahead (John 15:26-27; cf. Acts 4:8-12; 5:32).
As long as Jesus had been with his disciples, the full force of people’s opposition had been directed at him, not at them. Now that he was about to leave them, he warned them that this hatred would be turned on them (John 16:1-4). However, because of their grief concerning his coming departure, they scarcely understood his warning. Nor could they see the joy that lay before him in being reunited with his Father (John 16:5-6).
When Jesus departed, the Holy Spirit would come to take Jesus’ place with his disciples, to defend them and accuse their opponents. He would show the world to be wrong in three things in particular – sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:7-8). He would show that sin is the cause of unbelief in Jesus; that Jesus’ death is the way to God, a fact that is proved by his resurrection and ascension; and that judgment on sinners is certain because Satan has been conquered by Jesus’ death (John 16:9-11).
Jesus could tell his disciples no more at that time, as they were too grief-stricken to take it in. After he left them, the Holy Spirit would instruct them further and help them to understand. The teaching of the Spirit would not be something new, but a development of the teaching they had already heard from Jesus. It would concern both the present and the future (John 16:12-15).
Within the next twenty-four hours Jesus would be taken from his disciples, but three days later, after his resurrection, they would see him again. Their sorrow would be replaced by joy, just as a woman’s pains before giving birth are replaced by joy after the child is born (John 16:16-22). Jesus’ victory through death and resurrection would give them a confidence in God that they never had before. They would see Jesus Christ as the mediator through whom they could confidently pray to the Father and thankfully receive the Father’s blessings (John 16:23-24).
After his resurrection Jesus would no longer need to speak to the disciples in figurative language, because the resurrection would give them a clearer view of the purpose of his mission. Also, no longer would they depend on Jesus to do their praying for them. They would learn to approach the Father personally and with confidence. Yet even this would be possible only because of who Jesus was and what he had done (John 16:25-28).
The disciples’ faith was strengthened by Jesus’ words, but they did not realize that a few hours later their faith would be put to the test. Frightened and confused they would forsake their Lord in his final hours. But the lapse would only be temporary; through his victory, they also would triumph (John 16:29-33).
Having announced his victory over the world (see John 16:33), Jesus now offers a prayer that reflects the triumph of his completed work. He begins by speaking of his relationship with the Father. Jesus’ work was to reveal God to the world so that people might receive eternal life through him. He prays that by dying on the cross and successfully finishing his work, he will bring glory to his Father. At the same time, his death will bring glory to himself, for it will enable him to return to his Father and enjoy the glory that was his before he came into the world (John 17:1-5).
Although most people did not believe in Jesus, some did, such as the apostles. They believed the evidence they saw and heard that Jesus was God and that he had come from the Father to make God known (John 17:6-8).
This thought leads Jesus to the second part of his prayer, which is for his disciples. He prays that they will live in such a way as to show his glory to the world (John 17:9-10). Their unity will display the unity that exists between the Father and the Son. Jesus asks that they will remain faithful to him and not be defeated by the evil that is in the world. He wants them to share with him the triumphant joy that comes through successfully completing the work the Father had committed to him (John 17:11-13).
When Jesus leaves the world, his disciples will carry on his work. He prays therefore that they will be neither discouraged by the world’s hatred nor corrupted by its sin (John 17:14-17). Just as Jesus gave himself to God to carry out his work, so he desires his disciples to give themselves to God for the task of spreading his message throughout the world (John 17:18-19).
In the final part of his prayer, Jesus prays for those who will believe through the preaching of that initial group of disciples and so become God’s new people, the Christian church. He prays that the same unity as exists between the Father and the Son will bind the believers together, so that through them others too will believe (John 17:20-23). Jesus desires that in the age to come, when he enjoys the glory that was his before the world began, all who have trusted in him will be there with him. Meanwhile, in the present world of unbelief, they will learn more of him as they share in the love that the Father has for the Son. The world will begin to know God when it sees the love of Jesus in his people (John 17:24-26).
The Passion Narrative (from p. 84)
In the strength of the victory won at Gethsemane, Jesus went to meet his enemies. Judas knew the garden, for Jesus had often met there with his apostles. In the middle of the night, Judas took a group of temple guards and Roman soldiers to seize Jesus. By working under the cover of darkness, he kept the operation hidden from any who were likely to be sympathizers with Jesus. But Jesus needed no supporters to defend him, and Judas needed no force to arrest him. The armed men who came with Judas fell to the ground when they met Jesus, but he surrendered himself to them. He requested only that they not harm his friends (John 18:2-9).
The apostles, however, wanted to fight. Jesus told them that if they practised violence they would suffer violence. Moreover, if Jesus wanted defenders he could draw upon supernatural forces (John 18:10-11).
Annas and his son-in-law Caiaphas apparently lived in the same house. Annas had been the previous high priest and, though replaced by Caiaphas, was still well respected and influential. Jesus’ captors took him to Annas first, while Peter and John, who had followed at a distance, waited in the courtyard. By now it was well past midnight and into the early hours of the morning (John 18:12-18;).
When Annas asked Jesus questions about his teaching, Jesus replied that it was known to all. He had no need to testify on his own behalf (contrary to Jewish law) when many other witnesses could be called in. After being ill-treated for giving an honest and unanswerable reply, he was sent to Caiaphas (John 18:19-24).
Pilate, the governor of the area, usually lived in the provincial capital Caesarea, but he came to Jerusalem during Jewish festivals to help maintain order. His official residence and administration centre in Jerusalem was called the praetorium. The Jewish leaders, wanting to have Jesus dealt with and out of the way before the festival started, took him to Pilate early in the morning (John 18:28-29).
The Jews had charged Jesus with blasphemy for calling himself the Son of God, but when they took him to Pilate they twisted the charge. They emphasized not that he claimed to be God but that he claimed to be above Caesar. They suggested he was a political rebel trying to lead a messianic uprising that would overthrow Roman rule and set up an independent Jewish state (see Luke 23:2). Pilate tried to dismiss the case, but the Jews would not drop their charges (John 18:30-32).
Jesus then gave Pilate the true picture. He explained that his kingdom was not concerned with political power, and had nothing to do with national uprisings. It was a spiritual kingdom and it was based on truth. Pilate did not grasp the full meaning of Jesus’ explanation, but he understood enough to be convinced that Jesus was not a political rebel. He suspected that the Jews had handed him over for judgment because they were jealous of his religious following (John 18:33-38).
If supporters of Jesus were in the gathered crowd, they were a minority. People in general were more likely to support a nationalist like Barabbas. Finally, they succeeded in having Barabbas released and Jesus condemned to be crucified. They accepted responsibility for this decision and called down God’s judgment upon them and their children if they were wrong (a judgment that possibly fell on them with the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70). Jesus was then taken and flogged as the first step towards crucifixion (John 18:39-40; 19:1).
While some soldiers were preparing for the execution, those in Pilate’s palace cruelly made fun of Jesus. They mocked him as ‘king’ by putting some old soldiers clothes on him for a royal robe and thorns on his head for a crown. They hit him over the head with a stick that was supposed to be his sceptre, and spat in his face and punched him as mock signs of homage (John 19:2-3).
Pilate showed this pitiful figure to the crowd, apparently hoping it might make them feel ashamed and change their minds; but it only increased their hatred (John 19:4-6). Pilate became more uneasy when he heard that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. Maybe, thought Pilate, this man was one of the gods. He became even more anxious to set Jesus free when Jesus told him that God would hold him responsible for the way he used his authority. Pilate was guilty for condemning a man he knew was innocent, but Caiaphas and the other Jews who handed Jesus over to him were more guilty (John 19:7-11).
Again Pilate tried to release Jesus, but the Jews reminded him that he himself could be in danger if he released a person guilty of treason. This disturbed Pilate further, and after a final offer that the Jews rejected, he handed Jesus over to be crucified. The Jews’ declaration of loyalty to Caesar demonstrated their hypocrisy and confirmed their rejection of God (John 19:12-16).
As the prisoners set out for the place of execution, Jesus was made to carry his cross (John 19:17).
(It is difficult to calculate the exact times of all the incidents that took place on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. People in those days did not carry clocks, and the times given in the Gospels are only approximate. In some cases the writers may have estimated their times at different stages of the same event. Also, they may have used different methods of reckoning. Matthew, Mark and Luke usually count the hours from 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., but John seems to reckon differently.)
The four soldiers who carried out the crucifixion threw dice to decide how they would divide Jesus’ personal possessions. Above his head they attached a sign announcing the charge for which he was condemned, so that those who passed by could read it. As he hung there, Jesus had insults thrown at him by the common people, by members of the Sanhedrin (who came to see their sentence carried out), and by the two criminals crucified with him. All mocked with the same theme – he claimed to save others but he could not save himself. This was true, though not in the sense the mockers intended; for only by willingly sacrificing himself could he save guilty sinners (John 19:18-24). One of the criminals, realizing this, repented and experienced the saving power of Jesus that very day (see Luke 23:40-43).
Jesus’ mother, Mary, had followed him to the cross and stayed by him during his ordeal. Among those who comforted her were John and three women: Mary’s sister Salome, who was the wife of Zebedee and the mother of the apostles James and John; another Mary, who was the wife of Clopas and the mother of James and Joses; and another Mary, who came from the town of Magdala in Galilee and was known as Mary Magdalene. These women had at first stood away from the cross, but later came and stood nearby (John 19:25-27).
At the very time he suffered such desolation, Jesus was in harmony with his Father’s will. He wanted his final words to his Father to be loud enough for all to hear, and therefore he asked for something to moisten his dry mouth. The words he spoke made known to all that he was placing his spirit in his Father’s hands. His final cry of triumph, ‘It is finished’, confirmed that even in his death he was still in control. No one took his life from him; he gave it up in a voluntary, unique act. He had completed the work that his Father sent him to do (John 19:28-30).
Another truth illustrated by the remarkable events connected with Jesus’ death was that he was the true Passover lamb. He died on the afternoon of Passover day, at the same time as the Jews back in Jerusalem were killing their lambs in preparation for the meal that night. And because he was the true Passover lamb, not a bone in his body was broken. Normally, the soldiers broke the victims’ legs to hasten their death, but they had no need to do this to Jesus, because he was already dead. Instead, one of the soldiers plunged his spear deep into Jesus’ body (John 19:31-37).
Two members of the Sanhedrin did not agree with the decision to crucify Jesus. They were Nicodemus (cf. John 3:1-12; 7:45-52) and Joseph, the latter being a man from the Judean town of Arimathea. Joseph, like many rich people, had built a fine tomb to be used one day for himself, but he sacrificed it so that Jesus could have an honourable burial. The two men took the body down from the cross late on the Friday afternoon (cf. Deut 21:22-23), and prepared it for burial by wrapping it in cloth with spices. They then laid it in Joseph’s tomb. The women who went to the tomb with Joseph and Nicodemus hurried home to prepare more spices and ointments before the Sabbath day of rest (John 19:38-42).
Resurrection and Appearances of the Son of God (from p. 95)
It is not surprising that there are differences in the accounts of what people saw on the Sunday morning when Jesus rose from the dead. The sight of the empty tomb and the heavenly messengers produced a mixture of reactions – excitement, joy, anxiety, fear, wonder. There was confusion as people rushed here and there to tell others. One writer records what he heard from some, another what he heard from others. But there is no variation in the basic facts: the tomb was empty and Jesus had risen.
A group of three women arrived at the tomb first and found the stone rolled away. Mary Magdalene panicked and, without seeing the angel or hearing the voice, ran to tell Peter and John that the body had been stolen (John 20:1-2).
Soon after the women left the tomb, Peter and John arrived, went inside and saw the linen cloth lying neatly folded. They believed the evidence they saw that Jesus must have risen from the dead, but they left the tomb confused, not understanding the significance of the event (John 20:3-10).
Mary Magdalene, who followed Peter and John back to the tomb, arrived after they had left. She remained there alone, weeping. Then she saw the two angels inside the tomb and, on turning round, saw a man whom she did not immediately recognize (John 20:11-15). When she discovered that the man was Jesus, she took hold of him as if not wanting to let him go. Jesus told her she had no need to cling to him in this way, as he was not ascending to heaven immediately (though he would within a few weeks). She should not become dependent on his physical presence, otherwise she would be disappointed again. She was to go and tell the apostles what he had told her (John 20:16-17).
The two groups of women reached the house of the apostles about the same time, followed soon after by Mary Magdalene. They told the apostles of what they had seen at the tomb and of their separate meetings with the risen Jesus, but the apostles believed neither Mary nor the other women (John 20:18).
While the disciples were together discussing these miraculous appearances, Jesus suddenly appeared among them in the room, even though the doors were locked. This made them think they were seeing a ghost who could pass through walls, but Jesus calmed their fears by showing them his body of flesh and bones, complete with the scars of crucifixion. He also ate some fish, showing that his body had normal physical functions (John 20:19-20).
Jesus gave the group of disciples the teaching he had given the two on the road to Emmaus (see Luke 24:44-46). They were witnesses of his ministry, death and resurrection, and he entrusted to them the task of taking his message to all nations. Equipped by his Spirit, they would be his representatives in the world. This was a great responsibility, because as they preached the gospel, people would either believe it and be forgiven, or reject it and suffer judgment (John 20:21-23).
Thomas had been absent when Jesus appeared among the disciples in the locked room, and refused to accept the word of the others that he was alive (John 20:24-25). His doubts vanished when Jesus appeared among the disciples (this time including Thomas) in the same locked room the next Sunday night. But faith that depended on seeing Jesus’ actual body was not good enough, because soon he would return to his Father and people would no longer see him (John 20:26-29). However, they could still hear the preaching of his disciples or read their written records. Through believing in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, they could have eternal life (John 20:30-31).
Note: In Bible times people had various ways of counting the number of days in a specified period. Often they included both the day on which the period began and the day on which it concluded. In discussing events on two consecutive Sundays, most people today would refer to the second as being ‘a week later’ (John 20:26 GNB, NIV), but many in Bible times would refer to it as being ‘eight days later’ (John 20:26 RSV), because they counted both Sundays. By the same reckoning, Jesus was in the tomb three days (Friday, Saturday, Sunday), though the actual time was probably about thirty-six hours (from about 6 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Sunday).
The disciples then returned to Galilee to wait for Jesus as they had been instructed (see Matt 26:32; 28:10). Seven of them had spent an unsuccessful night fishing on Lake Galilee (the Sea of Tiberias) when Jesus appeared at the shore. He called out some directions to them, and although they did not recognize him they did as he said. As a result they caught a large number of fish (John 21:1-6).
No doubt some of the disciples recalled a similar incident years earlier, and this may have led John to recognize the person on the shore as Jesus (cf. Luke 5:1-11). The disciples were reminded again of the authority of Jesus and their dependence on him (John 21:7-9). They were reminded also of his care for them, as he prepared and served them breakfast (John 21:10-14).
Peter had once boasted that he loved Jesus more than the other disciples did, and that although they might fail him, he would not (see Mark 14:29). Yet three times he publicly disowned Jesus. Three times, therefore, he was asked publicly if he loved Jesus, as a reminder to him of the danger of over-confidence. Jesus’ public conversation with Peter also showed the others that he had forgiven him. More than that he gave Peter the responsibility to care for his people through the difficult days of the church’s beginning (cf. Luke 22:31-32). As a leader in that early group, receiving the full force of Jewish persecution, Peter would need more love for Jesus than the others (John 21:15-17).
If Peter was to follow Jesus, he would no longer be free to live the independent life of an energetic young fisherman. His life would be one of constant sacrifice and hard work in caring for Jesus’ people. In the end he would be captured and killed on account of his loyalty to Jesus (John 21:18-19; cf. 13:36).
As for John, Jesus refused to give any indication of how his life would end. Some misinterpreted this to mean that John would never die, so John added a note at the end of his book to correct the misunderstanding (John 21:20-23). He also pointed out that he had made no attempt to give a detailed account of the life of Jesus; but what he had given was the testimony of an eye witness, and it was to be believed (John 21:24-25).
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. You may not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.
The commentary material on this page is reproduced with permission from the Bridgeway Bible Commentary (ISBN 0 947342 72 9) by Don Fleming, and is copyright © 2005 by Bridgeway Publications, Brisbane, Australia. All rights reserved. You may not reproduce any part of this material without express permission of the publisher.