One God & One Lord:
Reconsidering the Cornerstone of the Christian Faith]
We have by now clearly established the significance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ as the great divide between his suffering and his glory. We have also seen that each of the Gospels portrays Christ in a different way for a different purpose, and that the Synoptics agree on their view of Christ as a fully human person prepared and called to be the King of Israel and the Savior of the world.
This Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled many of the Old Testament Messianic prophecies and did the works that were expected of the Messiah. But, after a brief period of popularity, he died a humiliating death on a tree as a common criminal. He was vindicated three days later by his resurrection from the dead, after which he entered into his glory. There is no indication in the Synoptics that Jesus had “pre‑incarnate glory” before his birth or that he was “God” or declared himself to be such. How, then, do so many Christians seem to find scriptural support for this belief? Without any doubt, they find it in the gospel of John. Trinitarian scholars are candid in their admission that John is the source of their doctrine:
The Christology of the Church is essentially Johannine. Without the Fourth Gospel, even the Pauline Epistles would not have sufficed as a basis for the Trinitarian doctrine we have today.1
In many important ways, John seems to portray Jesus in a much different way than the Synoptics. This is so much the case that some theologians believe that John, who wrote later, must have thought the other Gospels inadequate. Representing this position, Barrett writes:
John alone, however, gives the narrative about Jesus an absolute theological framework, and, though he alludes to the starting‑points used by Mark (vv. 1:6–8, 15) and by Matthew and Luke (1:13), he must have regarded them as inadequate, and possibly misleading.2
While we obviously do not believe that John thought the other Gospels inadequate (all four are “God‑breathed”), it is important to recognize the differences in the Four Gospels and understand why those differences exist. John seems to indicate that the Son of God had some sort of life with God before ever setting foot on the earth, which theologians call a “pre‑existence.” We understand, however, that John is showing that Jesus Christ is the Plan of God that existed from before his birth. The purpose of John is not historical, but spiritual (or theological). The historical “Jesus” is unified with the exalted “Christ” into a proleptic portrait of “Jesus Christ” that simultaneously brings him down to earth and exalts him.
In short, the view of Christ in John is without doubt the “highest” in the New Testament.3 We must therefore reexamine this unique gospel in light of what we have already established from the Word of God, and see how it fits. Hypothetically speaking, if it cannot be made to fit, then it would have to be considered spurious, that is, “another gospel,” and not a part of the canon of Scripture. As a matter of historical fact, this gospel was not met with universal acceptance when it first was introduced.
Though now this gospel has won the favor of all Christians, and is even the first one to be handed out at many 20th Century evangelistic crusades,4 this was not always the case. In fact, there was so much controversy generated among the Christians of the second and third centuries that this gospel was not immediately accepted into the canon of Scripture. A large part of the cause of this lack of acceptance was the fact that it was quickly adopted by the Gnostics as the springboard for their speculations about Christ. We will have more to say about the influence of the Gnostics in the next chapter and in Chapters 16–18, but suffice it to say now that this enthusiastic Gnostic acceptance made the “Fourth Gospel,” as it is often called, suspect. Nevertheless, it was finally acknowledged to be an important document that helps round out the New Testament record and was fully accepted as Scripture when the canon was established by the fourth or fifth century AD.
Undoubtedly, the difficulties presented by the view of Christ presented in John are real, and may continue to challenge the integrity of the Christian message if the contradictions they appear to present are not resolved. If the traditional view of Christ as “fully God and fully man” is correct, then the obvious question arises: why is this idea not clearly and totally supported by the Synoptics, the book of Acts and all the other New Testament writings? And if it is the true view of Christ, and necessary for salvation, why was it apparently not a part of the “Apostle’s Doctrine” but instead needed several centuries to be formulated?
In the next two chapters, we will explore the ways that the gospel of John rounds out our understanding of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. There is so much unique material in John about the life, words and works of Christ that is not found in the other Gospels that we need to devote two chapters to it. In this chapter, we will examine the gospel itself. In the next, we will focus on the Prologue, particularly the first three verses concerning the logos.
Not “Higher” but Harmonious
The gospel of John is often used to try to establish the “deity of Christ” and to assert that Jesus claimed that he was “God.” In fact, if the gospel of John were not in the Bible, orthodox Trinitarianism would disintegrate, so dependent is it on what is called the “high Christology” of this gospel. That is, the gospel of John is the basis for almost all Trinitarianism’s basic ideas: pre‑existence, the incarnation, essential deity, etc. Hanson points out that Johannine Christology has been the mainstay of the orthodox faith of Nicaea.5 But even a number of modern Trinitarian scholars recognize that John’s gospel is in many respects a difficult and problematic part of Scripture, and much care must be exercised in its interpretation.6
In certain verses, the gospel of John does seem to indicate that Jesus was in heaven before his birth and “came down” to earth and later “returned to where he was before.” This view is unique to John and, if taken literally without understanding the language and customs of the times, can present a host of textual and exegetical problems. J. A. Baker argues that to take literally the idea of pre‑existence in John is actually to deny rather than affirm the doctrine of the incarnation:
It simply is not possible at one and the same time to share the common lot of humanity and to be aware of oneself as one who has existed from everlasting with God…7
As we pointed out in Chapter 2, if Jesus were aware of being “God” in some way, or could remember his former state of glory in heaven, then his experience of earthly life would be very different from ours. Consequently, our ability to identify with both his overcoming temptation and leaving us a righteous path to follow is seriously compromised. We are then essentially left without a “mediator,” but are being asked to be like God Himself, instead of developing absolute trust in God, our heavenly Father, as Jesus did, and becoming like him as he said we could and should.
Because of its unique and elevated perspective of Christ compared with the rest of the New Testament, some scholars have concluded that the gospel of John has created a mythological view of Christ completely divorced from Jesus as a historical figure.8 Is it intellectually and theologically honest, then, to erect upon the foundation of a single book of the Bible a theological superstructure that requires a fairly radical reinterpretation of almost the entire New Testament? With the exception of a few “proof texts,”9 the idea that “Jesus is God” is not consistent with the New Testament when considered as a whole.10 Not a Christian theologian, but a professor of logic, made the following astute statement regarding what is required for the logical interpretation of the Bible:
Selecting texts to give a one‑sided presentation of the truth is a widespread method of propagating erroneous views. Out of the Bible can be drawn phrases or verses that justify everything under the sun, including contradictories. Read in context, the Bible may be a liberal document, but it is not that liberal. What we need to know is if the Bible as a whole [emphasis ours] supports a given position.11
No part of Scripture demands such a rigorously logical analysis more than the gospel of John, which is acknowledged by many New Testament scholars to be a difficult section to harmonize with the rest of Scripture. Accordingly, it is a well‑established hermeneutical principle among biblical interpreters that the difficult verse or passage must be interpreted in light of the clear and simple parallel verses or passages.12 The difficult or unusual must not be elevated and established as an altogether higher and better view than the rest of Scripture, as has been done with the gospel of John. Because it apparently presents a Jesus most compatible with Trinitarian orthodoxy, it is not surprising that this is the one gospel that is translated and distributed to potential converts more than any other. We agree with Hanson, however, that it ought to be the last one to be fronted,13 after the basic groundwork of Jesus’ identity as a human being has been laid.
John’s gospel was not meant to be isolated and elevated above the other Gospels, as if it somehow portrays a truer view of Christ’s identity. It was meant to provide a vivid and complete portrait of Christ that would inspire the reader to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God (John 20:31). If it is handled as the truest picture of Christ, instead of just one particular aspect of his identity, the other Gospels are demeaned and considered the writings of less enlightened disciples. According to this view, the Synoptic writers had not yet come to a real understanding of the identity of Christ as the pre‑existent Son, who was actually an eternal being with a brief earthly mission. Indeed, many Christian teachers and scholars adopt this view of the Synoptic Gospels. But rather than cast off the weight of the biblical evidence in three of the Four Gospels, Paul’s and Peter’s Epistles, and the remainder of the New Testament, would it not be wiser to patiently and sensitively seek to understand how the gospel of John fits with all the rest?
The radical shift of perspective that we have identified is not unique to the gospel of John, but exemplifies a literary device employed by God elsewhere in Scripture. 1 and 2 Chronicles bears the same relation to Samuel and Kings in the Old Testament as John does to the Synoptic Gospels. Samuel and Kings record the historical narrative from a human, horizontal perspective, while Chronicles is written from God’s vertical perspective.14
When viewed against the backdrop of the Synoptic Gospels and their contributions to the portrait of Jesus as the promised King, Servant and Man, the real literary beauty and significance of John’s gospel becomes marvelously clear. This view of the life and ministry of Christ is written from the standpoint of his post‑resurrection glory, bridging the chasm between the suffering and the glory of the one person, Jesus of Nazareth, the human Son of God. F. F. Bruce notes that there is no distinction made in John between Christ’s suffering and his glory:
Students of the Synoptic Gospels distinguish passages, which speak of the suffering Son of Man from those which speak of his coming in glory. But in this gospel no such distinction is made: the suffering of the Son of Man is caught up into the glory, so that the glory is revealed pre‑eminently in the suffering.15
By highlighting him as the Son of God, the gospel of John completes the cornerstone begun by the Synoptic Gospels in their portrayal of Jesus as a King, Servant, and Man. It also harmonizes perfectly with the view of Christ as the exalted “creator” of the Church that we will see in Chapter 11 when we look at the evidence of Ephesians and Colossians.
Similarities with the Synoptics
Before exploring the differences between the gospel of John and the Synoptics, we should point out the similarities. The fact is, the gospel of John does not present a totally different view of Christ. It actually agrees with the Synoptics on many points. For instance, the Synoptics portray the relationship between Jesus and God as so intertwined that to accept the one is to accept the other, and to reject the one is to reject the other. This theme is greatly amplified in John, but is one that is consistent throughout all the Gospels. The Father is known by and through the Son, and the Son is known by and through the Father. To know the one is to know the other, and to know either is to love them both.
Luke 10:16 and 22 (NASB)
(16) “The one who listens to you [the 70 he sent out] listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me [God].”
(22) “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”
The tenderness and intimacy between the Father and the Son is also pointed out in the Synoptics, but in John this truth takes center stage. We see the idea vividly in the gospel of Mark in Jesus’ use of the Aramaic word “Abba” when addressing his Father in prayer, for Abba communicates intimacy between a father and his children.16 He also taught his disciples to pray in this fashion, addressing God as Abba.
Mark 14:36 (NRSV)
He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.”
This verse also shows the willing subordination of the Son to the Father, in the context of his prayerful agonizing in the Garden of Gethsemane about his impending suffering and death. The Synoptics all clearly portray this willing and determined subordination of the Son’s will to the Father’s (see the parallel passages in Matt. 26:42 and Luke 22:42), but it is developed as a major theme in the gospel of John. Interestingly, the agony of Gethsemane is conspicuously absent from John’s account of this time of prayer. In John 17, Jesus prays in the garden not for strength to embrace the will of God, but prays in the light of his glory as if it were already fully realized, and for the empowering of his disciples after his exaltation. As we shall see, Jesus in John is portrayed as completely subservient to his Father, and to portray him in a struggle to do the will of God would be inconsistent with that theme.
The theme of the Son glorifying the Father and vice‑versa is also greatly amplified in John, but is clearly seen in the Synoptics as well. They show Jesus giving God all the glory for the things that he did, as in the case of the miraculous deliverance of the Gadarene tormented by the “legion” of demons.
Mark 5:18 and 19 (NRSV)
(18) As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him.
(19) But Jesus refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord [God, his Father] has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.”
In John, just as in the Synoptics, when challenged to produce a miraculous sign as proof of his relationship with God, Jesus gives the people a veiled reference to his future resurrection. The prophecy in John, however, does not refer to Jonah as Matthew and Luke do, but to the temple of Jesus’ body.
John 2:18, 19, 21 and 22 (NASB)
(18) The Jews therefore answered and said to Him, “What sign do You show to us, seeing that You do these things?”
(19) Jesus answered and said unto them, “[You will] Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”17
(21) But He was speaking of the temple of His body.
(22) When therefore He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had spoken.
In this case, John records Jesus’ actual comment about the temple, in which he prophesied that they would destroy the “temple,” that is, kill him. In contrast, Matthew 26:61 and Mark 14:58 record the false witnesses giving their hearsay testimony at his trial, claiming that he had said that he would destroy the actual, physical Temple and rebuild it in three days.
Subordinationism in John
The final similarity we will point out between John and the Synoptics is that they both portray Jesus as a man who is limited in his authority, function and even his intrinsic “goodness.” In other words, all that he has, God has given him—no more and no less. This theme of the subordination of the Son is greatly amplified in John but apparent in the Synoptic Gospels nonetheless.
Matthew 20:23 (NRSV)
He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
Mark 10:18 (NRSV)
Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.
The Synoptics are more apt to simply portray Jesus’ words and actions without elaborating on his motivation. However, the gospel of John develops the understanding of Jesus’ dependence on his Father, while also making clear Jesus’ commitment to glorify Him rather than call attention to himself. In light of the elevated perspective of Christ that John gives, it makes perfect sense to emphasize his subordination, lest his followers get the wrong idea. Ironically, it seems that most Christians have gotten the wrong idea—that Christ in John is affirming his identity with God, when he is clearly establishing his dependence upon and trust in one much greater than himself. The idea that Jesus was in some sense God Himself destroys the force of his example of dependence, trust and obedience. If he were God, why would he have needed to depend on God?
John 14:28 (NRSV)
You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I.
Many scholars recognize that Jesus’ subordination to God his Father is a dominant theme within the gospel of John. In fact, there have been many Christians through the centuries who have concluded that Jesus is not actually co‑equal but subordinate to the Father. In theological terms, this is called a “subordinationist Christology,” and orthodox theologians condemn it as heresy. Nevertheless, they have had a difficult task of explaining how it is that Christ can be “co‑equal” with the Father when the Bible never says he is, and instead clearly indicates that the Father is greater than the Son.18 This is made plain by the following statements made by Jesus and recorded in the gospel of John:
John 4:34 (NRSV)
“…My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.
John 5:19 and 20a (NRSV)
(19) …the son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.
(20a) The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing…
John 5:30 (NASB)
“I can do nothing on My own initiative… I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.
John 6:38 (NRSV)
for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.
John 6:57 (NRSV)
Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father…
John 7:16 (NRSV)
….My teaching is not mine but his who sent me.
John 8:28b and 29 (NRSV)
(28b) “…I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me.
(29) And the one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him.”
John 8:42b (NRSV)
…for I came from God…I did not come on my own, but he sent me.
John 9:4a (NRSV)
We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day…
…everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
John 16:15a (NRSV)
All that the Father has is mine…
We must remember this dominant theme when we come upon some verses in John that appear to be stating that Jesus and God are “equal.” These are often seized upon by Trinitarians as proof texts to establish their doctrine, as when Jesus said, “…Whoever has seen me has seen the Father…” (John 14:9 – NRSV), “And whoever sees me sees him who sent me” (John 12:45 – NRSV) or “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30 – NRSV). We must keep in mind that the Bible cannot contradict itself if it is the Word of God. The verses that say Christ is doing God’s work and the verses that say the Father and Son are “one” must be teaching a similar truth. Verses that teach the “oneness” of the Father and the Son are not asserting any “sameness of essence” or intrinsic deity for Jesus. Indeed, when viewed in light of the above well‑documented subordination, Jesus is seen to be referring to his obedient way of being, and therefore that his words and his works were not his, but came from God, his Father. The two were “one” in purpose because Jesus always lined himself up with his Father. In the case of John 14:9, the very next verse explicitly explains in what sense Jesus meant that if one had seen him, he had seen his Father:
John 14:10 (NRSV)
…the Father who dwells in me does his works.
This is a consistent theme throughout the Four Gospels. Jesus is the Son dependent upon the Father. However, this theme is most markedly observable in the gospel of John. Despite his glorification and divine authority, Jesus in John is portrayed as being utterly dependent upon his Father for everything. In this way, his example is not out of our reach, and in fact he is modeling the proper attitude of any son of God, an identity and privilege he would soon confer on all those who would believe on him. Thus, the example that Jesus Christ set for us as Christians shines bright and clear. If we are going to be like Christ, we must learn the will of God and obey it willingly and promptly. Christ, our example, said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father,” and that was because he did what God would have done if God had been personally present. The Gospel records give us an example, a target, something to aspire to and to strive for so that we can be like Christ and his Father. Paul wrote to the Corinthian church: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Paul had the right idea. Christianity is not a spectator sport where we watch from afar the activities of a few great Christians and comment about how godly they are. Christ prayed about us being “one” as he and the Father were “one.” True Christianity strives to make that prayer a reality.
The Fourth Gospel: A Unique Perspective
We will now elaborate on the unique aspects of the gospel of John, which in light of what we have covered so far, will become even more understandable and illuminating. As we have stated, John provides the final aspect of the fourfold cornerstone of the Christian faith: his divine Sonship.19 There have been many men, many servants and many kings, but there is only one “begotten Son of God.”20 Therefore, it makes perfect sense that the gospel of John would be as unique as the one it is portraying. We will now examine many important and unique contributions of this gospel to our understanding of the identity of Jesus Christ. A careful reading of the gospel of John leads us to the conclusion that its purpose is very different from the purpose traditionally given to explain its writing; that is, to prove that Jesus is a pre‑existent divine being, a second person in a triune Godhead incarnated as God in human flesh, etc, etc. The fact is, John clearly states near the end of his gospel that his purpose has been to enable us to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God:
John 20:30 and 31 (NRSV)
(30) Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.
(31) But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
This is the same affirmation that Peter gave in Matthew 16:16, which Jesus said God Himself had revealed to Peter. John’s purpose for writing was also revealed to him by God. This must be kept clearly in view when reading John’s gospel, for everything in it will contribute to this goal. When the purpose is so clearly stated, why do so many Christians seem to think that John’s purpose is to prove that Jesus is God Himself? Hanson’s comment below gives us a clear view of how Trinitarians see support for their doctrine in the language of John, language that cannot be found in the Synoptic Gospels. He also acknowledges the importance of viewing the glorious Jesus of John against the historical backdrop of the Synoptic Gospels:
John’s Jesus is omniscient, omnipotent, conscious of pre‑existence, co‑eternity, and consubstantiality with the Father. The human limits of knowledge of a particular culture, or a particular mind‑set, of a particular race and geographical environment, which are perceptible in the Synoptic accounts, are ignored in the Fourth Gospel…Jesus appears in [John] as a superman, fully aware of his divine nature, always in control of the situation…Fortunately there are other accounts of Jesus in the New Testament [esp. the Synoptics], and ultimately the pull of the actual Jesus makes itself felt. We are faced with a Jesus who really did not know who touched him (Mark 5:30), a Jesus who discounts any goodness of his own (Mark 10:18), a Jesus who when he comes to Gethsemane is really uncertain about the Father’s will for him. Without the Synoptic accounts of Jesus, and above all those of Mark and Luke, the Jesus of the Fourth Gospel rapidly turns into a legendary figure…21
This was precisely Augustine’s attitude; the incarnation revealed to us a divine being appearing as man who was nevertheless fully equipped with superhuman powers, so that he could manipulate nature and matter exactly as he liked. The Jesus of the first three Gospels has been developed into a figure comparable to the Buddha of the Mahayana Scriptures, in which the original Gautama Sakyamuni has become a divine visitant who can accomplish the most astounding miracles by lifting his finger. We are in the realm of legend and are in full flight towards a positively superstitious attitude towards Jesus.22
Hanson is quite correct that the Jesus portrayed in the gospel of John is different from the Jesus of the other three Gospels. But we would expect that. In John, Christ is being set forth as the only begotten Son. The fact that Christ is portrayed differently in John, however, does not mean that he is somehow a different person. Different sections of Scripture focus on different aspects of Christ’s life, but he is just one person.23 In particular, the prologue of John’s gospel (1:1–18) is often wrested out of its context and made to mean something never intended by John or God who inspired him. We will be handling the prologue and its concept of the logos in the next chapter. But to remain faithful to the text of John, the entire gospel must harmonize with the rest of the New Testament. Accordingly, we must keep clearly in mind that this gospel makes known the intimate relationship Jesus had and has with his Father, and the glory that results from it. When we read John’s gospel in this light, we see that the way John is inspired to write is perfectly consistent with this theme of Jesus’ glorious divine Sonship.
When we refer to his “Sonship,” however, we are not just thinking of his first birth in a manger, as is commonly supposed. Indeed, for those who hold to orthodox Christology, his “incarnation” in human flesh represents the defining moment of his “eternal” existence. From this perspective, his resurrection becomes little more than a return to his former glory, and is therefore rendered anti‑climactic and presupposed. But as we discussed in Chapter 3, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is spoken of in Scripture as his birth into glory (see Ps. 2:7; Heb. 1:5; Acts 13:33). This truth is clearly communicated in Romans 1:4, one of the earliest of all New Testament writings, when it refers to Jesus as “…the Son of God with power…”:24
Romans 1:2–4 (NRSV)
(2) [The gospel of God] which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures
(3) the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh
(4) and was declared [“appointed,” “installed,” “constituted”25] to be the Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,
Based upon this reality, the gospel of John is perfectly consistent with the body of the New Testament evidence, and its depiction of Jesus as the “Son” powerfully reflects this post‑resurrection emphasis. John’s elevated view of Jesus as the glorified Christ magnifies his intimacy with his Father who has so exalted him, and this is one of the most distinctive features of the Fourth Gospel. The glory that he fully realized in his resurrection is projected back throughout his earthly ministry even to the very ground of Creation itself, when God planned his coming “before the foundation of the world.” This projecting of his post‑resurrection glory back onto the past is accomplished through the figure of speech prolepsis, which is “an anticipating; especially the describing of an event as taking place before it could have done so, the treating of a future event as if it had already happened.”26
It is not surprising that this bold proleptic picture of Christ could be misunderstood and taken literally, thus breaking down the literal, historical and crucial importance of the Resurrection. If he literally already enjoyed his resurrection glory before his death, the difficulty of his temptation and suffering would have been radically lessened. But the Fourth Gospel should not be interpreted in a manner that virtually negates the significance of the Resurrection, the watershed event of his life. The Resurrection becomes devalued by the assertion of Jesus’ apparently innate glory as a pre‑existent divine being. If contradictions with the whole of Scripture arise from literally interpreting a verse, a passage or an entire book, we must start looking for figures of speech. These are legitimate literary devices employed to give vigor and emphasis to verbal communication. In addition to prolepsis, John employs a related figure of speech called heterosis, which is the exchange of one verb tense for another, in this case, the present for the future.27
The gospel of John, therefore, is a profoundly literary portrait of the Messiah that is emphasizing his post‑resurrection glorification at the right hand of God. It goes beyond being prophetic (i.e., foretelling of his future glory) and becomes proleptic by portraying him as already glorious. The use of these figures of speech heterosis and prolepsis is not incidental and occasional—it is the very warp and woof of the tapestry of John’s gospel. It is important to note that we are not the only ones to notice this literary feature of the Fourth Gospel. A number of scholars have noted this bold and beautiful bent of the gospel of John. We will quote two:
“…the Jesus of the Fourth Gospel is the risen Lord retrojected back into the time of the earthly ministry. We can accept the Jesus of the Fourth Gospel as a model for the risen Lord. Almost everything that the Jesus of the Fourth Gospel claims for himself is true as far as the believer is concerned of the Jesus of faith, the risen Lord of the Church apprehensible always by the Church’s faith. As such, the language which John uses about him fits him very well. Interpreted in terms of the risen Lord and not of the historical Jesus, it makes excellent sense.28
The self‑revelation of Jesus in John…stems from a theological interpretation by the evangelist…In the mind of the evangelist the earthly Jesus speaks as though always fully conscious of his exaltation, which begins with the crucifixion.”29
The reason for these literary devices is to bring emphasis to the reality of Christ’s exaltation at the right hand of God since his resurrection. This is consistent with a variety of literary figures and devices employed throughout the Bible that bring an appropriate and vivid emphasis to the subject matter, as well as greatly enhance its value as “the literature of eternity.” Misunderstanding figurative language accounts for many errors and misconceptions, because our Western minds assume that we understand what seems to be the plain meaning of language. We do not customarily employ either prolepsis or heterosis in English, so we would not likely recognize the use of either of these figures unless we were familiar with biblical figures of speech.
For instance, one of the only variations of verb tenses we employ figuratively in English is the “historic present,” when we use the present tense in relating a story from the past to enliven it. For instance, we might relate an incident from the past in the present tense, by saying “Then he goes to the meat market.” But to be factual, or literal, we would employ the past tense: “He went to the meat market.” English speakers and readers have little or no experience with the use of the present or past tenses referring to the future, as is done in Hebrew and Aramaic. In essence, this is what is happening in the gospel of John. The perspective from which it is written is actually “Back From The Future.” Great Scott!!! There has been a major disturbance of the biblical “time‑space continuum,” and it is caused by the proleptic nature of the gospel of John. We will come back to this subject after looking at more unique features in John.
John does not use the common Greek word for “pray” (proseuchomai), as do the other Gospels, but erotao, which implies familiarity with the one being asked.30 In John, Jesus speaks to or asks of the Father with the simple confidence of a child. The intimacy of their communication is very evident when Jesus prays at Lazarus’ tomb (John 11:41 and 42): “…Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” Jesus experienced an invisible intimacy in his relationship with God that explains the works he did. In the case of raising Lazarus, we are given an opportunity to see how close he and his Father are, and that the Father always hears his requests. This was due to the fact that he was accustomed to hearing and obeying God’s voice. He “heard” the Father, and the Father, “heard” him.
John’s gospel records the words of Jesus more than does any other Gospel. The prologue identifies Jesus as the living Word, so it makes sense that John would elevate the words of Jesus over his works. This is the opposite of the gospel of Mark, which focuses on his acts. In John 3, Jesus gives a lengthy lecture to Nicodemus late at night. In Chapter 4, he addresses a Samaritan woman on worship and the coming gift of the spirit. Chapter 5 is a discourse about the Sabbath. Chapter 6 is an elaborate discussion of his being the “Bread of Heaven.” In Chapters 7 and 8, he addresses the Jews in the Temple, in Chapter 9 the Pharisees. In Chapter 10 he talks about his role as the Good Shepherd of the sheep. In Chapter 11 he raises Lazarus and talks about his being “…the resurrection and the life….” Chapters 13–17 cover his prophetic declarations about the spirit of truth, and include a lengthy high priestly prayer. At various points in the gospel, Jesus calls attention to the importance of his word and God’s Word:
- 5:24 – Hears my word and believes
- 5:46 and 47 – Believing in him is to believe his words
- 8:31 – Continue in my word (KJV)
- 12:48 – Receive my sayings; the word will judge (NRSV)
- 14:24 – The word is not mine but the Father’s (NRSV)
- 17:14 – I have given them your Word
- 17:17 – Thy Word is truth (KJV)
- 17:20 – Those who will believe on Christ through the word of his disciples (NKJV)
Because John views Christ from his post‑resurrection exaltation, it focuses on Christ in heaven, and speaks of heaven as his place of origin. Accordingly, John uses the language of his “coming from” heaven, and being “sent” from heaven.31
No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.
The Jews would not have taken Christ’s words to mean that he “incarnated.” It was common for them to say that something “came from heaven” if God were its source. Thus, John the Baptist was a man “sent from God” (John 1:6). When God wanted to tell the people that He would bless them if they gave their tithes, He told them that He would open the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing (Mal. 3:10 – KJV). Of course, everyone understood the idiom being used, and no one believed that God would literally pour things out of heaven. They knew that God was the origin of the blessings they received. Similarly, James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above…,” and comes “down from the Father.”
Another clear example of this idiom occurs in the context of Christ answering the Pharisees concerning the question of his authority to heal, forgive sins and the like:
“John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven or from men?…”
This verse makes the idiom clear: things could be “from heaven,” i.e., from God, or they could be “from men.”32 The idiom is the same when used of Jesus. Jesus is “from God,” “from heaven” or “from above” in the sense that God is literally his heavenly Father and thus his origin.
In the Synoptics, Jesus trusts Judas Iscariot to be one of his Apostles, who proves to be a thief and
a betrayer. But in John, Jesus knows the hearts of all men, and who can be trusted and who cannot: “But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men” (John 2:24). This is another example of John’s exalted perspective of Christ. He is viewed as having the same knowledge in his earthly ministry as he had after his ascension, when the Apostles invoke the risen Lord in the matter of choosing a replacement for Judas.33
Acts 1:24 and 25 (NRSV)
(24) Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen
(25) to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”
Another example of proleptic language is in John’s recording of Jesus dealing with Judas’ betrayal:
John 13:2 and 3 (NASB)
(2) And during supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him,
(3) Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God, and was going back to God,
When was “all power” actually put under Jesus? After his resurrection, as indicated by his saying in Matthew 28:18: “…All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.”34
On the subject of the “cross” that Christ bore, John’s unique perspective is particularly evident. The Synoptics depict the Cross as “the emblem of suffering and shame” (as the old hymn says), but John compares it to the lifting up of the brasen serpent in the wilderness for the healing of Israel. In fact, Jesus’ crucifixion is a kind of lifting up, or exaltation, for the healing and deliverance of believers.
John 3:14 and 15 (NRSV)
(14) And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
(15) that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
John 8:28 and 29 (NRSV)
(28) So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me.
(29) And the one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him.”
John 12:32 and 33 (NASB)
(32) “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.”
(33) But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die.
The words “lifted up” are the term for “exalt, elevate or set on high.” In John, Jesus’ exaltation begins at and centers on the crucifixion, and altogether omits the historical ascension after his resurrection. In a bold, proleptic reinterpretation of the Cross, the gospel of John views it not as a criminal act of sinners against the righteous Son of God, but as a symbol of healing and deliverance for all who believe on him. This is the perspective Peter also communicated:
1 Peter 2:24 (NASB)
and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.35
Another example of John’s unique perspective concerns what “cross” Jesus bore. Where the Synoptic Gospels agree that Simon of Cyrene was compelled to take the wooden cross from Jesus as he left the Praetorium, or Pilate’s palace, John implies that Jesus bore his cross all the way to Calvary.36 But the “cross” Christ bore in John was the figurative “cross” of our sins and iniquities, as prophesied by Isaiah.37 Rather than being a blatant contradiction of the other Gospels, which are primarily concerned with recording the historical events of his life, John’s is written from a spiritual perspective.
Where the Synoptics contain many examples of Jesus casting out demons, the gospel of John omits this important and unique part of his ministry. Jesus mentions the Devil only in connection with Judas Iscariot or the Pharisees. We can only speculate as to the reason for this omission, but it seems to be related to the perspective of Jesus in his post‑resurrection dominion over principalities, powers, dominions and authorities. Jesus in John is proleptically positioned far above all demonic activity, therefore demonstrating his superiority over demons is rendered quite superfluous.38
The “Signs”: Springboard to the Spoken Words of the Living Word
The core of the gospel of John focuses on eight “signs” that specifically point to Christ as the Son of God. In John, miracles are always called “signs” (Greek semeion), emphasizing the spiritual significance of these events more than their being historical events or because of their effects on the people as they are in the Synoptic Gospels. In those records, his miracles attract attention and generate faith in others. In John, however, his miracles provide a springboard for a spiritual discourse—spiritual words spoken by the living Word (the logos). This is further evidence that John focuses on the words of Jesus.
For instance, in the healing of a royal official’s son in Capernaum (4:46–54), Jesus chastises the man for the very fact that he was seeking a miracle, saying, “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders…you will never believe.” He expected them to understand that his miracles illustrated his intimate relationship with God, his Father. This is also clear from the record of the healing of a crippled man at the pool of Bethesda (5:1–15). Because he healed the man on the Sabbath, the Jews began persecuting him. His answer to them was to relate the miracle to his relationship with God: “…My Father is always at work to this very day, and I, too, am working” (verse 17) and “… the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing…” (verse 19).
The conclusion of the record involving the healing of the man born blind is the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees (John 9:1–41). The raising of Lazarus after he had been dead four days (11:1–44) is preceded by Jesus declaring himself to be “…the resurrection and the life….” Mary’s response to this declaration is to affirm her belief that Jesus was “…the Christ, the Son of God…” (verse 27), echoing the theme of John from 20:30 and 31. In other words, the “sign” is significant because of the words that Jesus and others speak in association with the event itself.
After the feeding of the 5,000 (6:1–15), Jesus again delivered a rebuke to those seeking him with the wrong motive. In this case, it was not only the miraculous sign that was prompting their seeking him, but the “all you can eat” free food he produced (v. 26). After another miraculous event, his walking on the water (6:16–21), a “watershed” discourse follows (6:32–58), separating out those who were willing to view him in more spiritual light. The way Jesus identified the true disciples was through the use of figurative language. He spoke of them “eating his flesh” and “drinking his blood.” Those who thought that he was speaking literally were very confused and offended (v. 52, 60 and 61). But obviously he had a figurative, spiritual meaning in mind.39 We see from these records and others that the gospel of John contains more of the words of Jesus than any other gospel. Indeed, its focus is on Jesus’ words because they elucidate his glorious relationship with his Father. Many times these words are spoken in figurative language, as in the use of heterosis and prolepsis.
There are many other unique events, ideas and dialogues in John not mentioned or considered in the Synoptic Gospels. Only in John is it said that Jesus “lays down his life,” and no one takes it from him. Only John calls Jesus “the Lamb of God,” because only as the Son of God is he not contaminated by sin nature and thus qualified to be the perfect sacrifice for all mankind. John does not include his genealogy, birth or baptism because none of these events contribute to an understanding of his glorification, which he derives directly from his Father. In John, Jesus’ “genealogy,” if we want to call it that, is very short: “…the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father….” (KJV)40 His ancestry through Mary, his virgin birth and his anointing with holy spirit at his baptism, though historical events, are not relevant to the theme of the gospel, and hence are omitted.
This does not mean that the Jesus portrayed in the gospel of John is not the historical person. It simply means that the purpose of John is not historical, but spiritual (or theological). The historical “Jesus” is unified with the exalted “Christ” into a proleptic portrait of “Jesus Christ” that simultaneously brings him down to earth and exalts him. Thus, we have a clear, “earthly” image of the resurrected and exalted Lord in whom we are to have faith. This is very evident as we look more closely at John’s post‑resurrection perspective of Christ.
Jesus in John: “Back from the Future”
In previous chapters we have clearly seen the two primary aspects of Christ’s life and ministry: suffering and glory. We have concluded from our examination of many Scriptures that these two phases of his coming are quite distinct and separate. His first coming was as the suffering servant, but he was resurrected into his glory. Yet the gospel of John in many respects paints a portrait of Jesus as already glorified even before his resurrection. He has glory even before he was born!
John 17:4 and 5 (NASB)
(4) “I glorified Thee on the earth, having accomplished the work which Thou hast given Me to do.
(5) “And now, glorify Thou Me together with Thyself, Father, with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was.
John 12:41 (NRSV)
Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke about him.
John 17:24 (NRSV)
Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am [he is pictured as already seated in heaven], to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
This “prophetic glory” that was his even before his birth was because God’s plan was for him to be the glorious redeemer of Creation. This plan was so well defined by the body of prophecy spoken and written about the Coming One that it was a virtual certainty. Therefore it could be spoken about as a “reality” long before it was actually fulfilled.41 In this light, we can properly interpret the following verse, which is often used to “prove” the literal “pre‑existence” of Christ.
John 8:56–58 (NRSV)
(56) Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.
(57) Then the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham!”
(58) Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.”
The context of verse 58 is clear from verse 56: it is the “day” that Abraham “saw,” which is still in the future. Even in Abraham’s time, it was established as a certainty in the mind of God that the Messiah would come and establish “the city with foundations” (Heb. 11:10).42
If we accept that John 8:58 is somehow saying that Jesus is an “eternal and divine person” who lived before he was born, then the gospel of John is contradicting the Synoptic consensus (Matt. 1:18; Luke 1:35). But if we accept that the Synoptic view is the literal and historical one, then John’s way of portraying the Messiah becomes not only understandable, but profoundly harmonious with the other Gospels. In John, the glory that Jesus has as Messiah is pictured as a present reality, not a future one as it is in the Synoptics (Matt. 16:27, 19:28, 24:30, 25:31; Mark 8:38, 13:26; Luke 21:27). We will cite one verse in particular that clearly shows the perspective of the Synoptics that Jesus entered into his glory after the resurrection:
Luke 24:26 (NRSV)
“Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things [crucifixion and death] and then enter into his glory [via resurrection]?”
The “Mount of Transfiguration” event recorded in the Synoptics foreshadows his resurrected glory (Matt. 17:2ff; Mark 9:2ff; Luke 9:26–36), but, clearly, this glorious experience is related to his imminent suffering and death and subsequent resurrection.43 Glorification is not the normal state of his existence in the Synoptics, but in John, as Hanson observes, “the Transfiguration is taken as an index of Jesus’ real person while on earth…”44 In the gospel of John, there is no mention at all of the Transfiguration, because it related to his earthly sufferings. John’s perspective is his heavenly and eternal glory transposed onto his earthly life and ministry.45 Again, we see John’s proleptic perspective of Jesus so anchored in the future that it is spoken of in the present: he is already glorious; there is no need to record a Transfiguration. The Ascension is also conspicuously absent from John’s gospel for the same reason. Jesus in John is already exalted. The Johannine portrait of Jesus is of one who walked the earth with something akin to his future exalted glory even while still carrying out his earthly ministry.
More Proleptic Language
More evidence that John’s view is proleptic is the fact that John has no record of Jesus’ temptations by the Devil or his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. The risen Lord is beyond such temptation, and to struggle in the flesh with an assignment from God is unthinkable. The reader may recall from Chapter 6 that we saw a correlation between the eagle and the gospel of John because of the eagle’s exalted perspective of the earth. This is in essence what the Jesus of the gospel of John is doing—looking down upon his earthly life and reinterpreting it in light of his exalted position at the right hand of God.
This should not be a complete surprise, though, because we know that Jesus Christ was intimately involved with the inspiration of Scripture after his resurrection (Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:11 and 12, et al.). Thus, in many of the passages in John in which Christ speaks, the words are those of the risen Christ, not the earthly Christ of the Synoptics. An example of him speaking in a way that blends an earthly with a heavenly perspective is his prayer, on the eve of his arrest, for those who will believe in him in the future. We will point out the statements in which the risen Christ is speaking, those that point prophetically to his post‑resurrection glorification. The other statements are consistent with the Synoptic view and should be considered literal statements that the earthly Jesus actually spoke.
John 17:20–24 (NRSV)
(20) “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word,
(21) that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
(22) The glory that you have given me I have given them [fulfilled at Pentecost in the gift of holy spirit], so that they may be one, as we are one,
(23) I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
(24) Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am [he speaks in the present tense as if he is already in his exalted position in heaven], to see my glory, which you have [HAVE] given me [past tense; again he is speaking as if he were already raised] because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
This prophetic and proleptic nature of the gospel of John is made even clearer from the many other verses that attribute to Christ during his earthly ministry functions and qualities that properly belong to God, and which would actually be delegated to him after his resurrection. John, by revelation, is painting a prophetic picture of a post‑resurrection Christ that is consistent with that revealed to Paul and written especially in his later epistles—Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians. This Jesus in John is already at the right hand of God, invested with all authority. This is seen in John’s occasional use of the present tense in the following Scripture, which reveals that he is writing as if Jesus was already risen:
John 1:18 (KJV)
No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is [present tense] in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.46
Another interesting example of John’s “Back From the Future” perspective is found in Jesus’ discussion with the Samaritan woman concerning the issue of true worship:
John 4:21–24 (NRSV)
(21) Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming [future] when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
(22) You [Samaritans] worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.
(23) But the hour is coming [future] and is now here [i.e., is so certainly coming that it is spoken of as having already come] when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.
(24) God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
The spiritual worship of which Jesus speaks would actually become available on the Day of Pentecost with the gift of holy spirit. Yet it is spoken of in John as having already arrived. This is typical of the prophetic and proleptic language employed in John’s gospel.
At other times, Jesus speaks in the present tense, but he is clearly referring to a future time, sometimes even the end of the age, when the “Day of the Lord” will come:
John 5:22 (NRSV)
The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son [When? In the future—Acts 17:31].
John 5:26 (NRSV)
For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself [this indicates that he already has in the present the resurrection life by which he will one day raise the dead at the end of this age];
John 11:25 (NRSV)
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life [note the present tense]. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, [When? In the future— “I will raise him at the last day” (John 6:44)].
Many more examples of prophetic and proleptic language can be found in John, but we do not need to belabor the point here. We assume that the reader will find numerous examples for himself now that it has been pointed out. The words of John’s gospel have proven to be words of spirit and life (John 6:63), just as Jesus pronounced them to be in his discourse after the feeding of the five thousand. F. F. Bruce aptly expresses his awe at the literary arrangement of the gospel of John, which has continued to inspire and engender faith in the risen Christ, even though greatly misunderstood:
What Shakespeare does by dramatic insight…all this and much more the Spirit of God accomplished in our Evangelist [John]. It does not take divine inspiration to provide a verbatim transcript; but to reproduce the words which were spirit and life to their first believing hearers in such a way that they continue to communicate their saving message and prove themselves to be spirit and life to men and women today, nineteen centuries after John wrote—that is the work of the Spirit of God. It is through the Spirit’s operation that, in William Temple’s words, ‘the mind of Jesus himself was what the Fourth Gospel disclosed’; and it is through the illumination granted by the same Spirit that one may still recognize in this gospel the authentic voice of Jesus.47
The Relationship Between Father and Son in John
There are many sections in the gospel of John that illustrate the intimate relationship between God and Christ, but we have picked two in particular that we feel are especially appropriate in light of what we have been discussing in this chapter and throughout this book. They are John 5:16–32 and John 10:24–36. In the first part of John 5, Jesus healed a crippled man who had been an invalid for 38 years. The man picked up his mat and walked away, but it was the Sabbath, and he ran into some religious leaders who reproved him for carrying his mat on that day. He said to them, “Hey, I just got healed after 38 years (he may also have thought, “something you never did for me”), and the man who healed me told me to pick up my mat and go for a walk.” The religious leaders asked the man, who told him to pick up his mat and walk, but the man couldn’t tell them, not knowing who Jesus was. Later, Jesus found him in the Temple and encouraged him to clean up his life, now that he had been healed. The man then went away and told the religious leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.
John 5:16 (NRSV)
Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath.
One would think that religious leaders, supposedly representing God, would be very blessed that the man had been healed, but these Jews were, to say the least, hard to please. In fact, they decided that because Jesus had done this on the Sabbath day, he was worthy of death.48 Jesus did not hide from the religious leaders even though they were against him, but instead he addressed them directly.
John 5:17 (NRSV)
But Jesus answered them, “My Father is still working, and I also am working.”
What was Jesus saying to those religious leaders who should have known the Old Testament backward and forward? In essence, he said to them, “Hey, wake up! Everything my Father, God, has done up until this point, as set forth in the Old Testament, has set the stage for me. I am the one of whom the Old Testament is speaking. Now I am here and I am working. The fact that I healed the crippled man should not surprise you, because it was prophesied that I would do such things.” As the next verse shows, this great truth did little to change their minds:
John 5:18 (NRSV)
For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God.
There is no record of Jesus saying that he was “equal with God.” Notice that this is what the Jews said that he said, and that is why they were trying to kill him. We have already seen in Philippians 2:6 that Jesus did not think that equality with God was something to be seized. Watch what Jesus says in response to their accusations:
John 5:19 and 20 (NRSV)
(19) Jesus said to them: “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.
(20) The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing; and he will show him greater works than these, so that you will be astonished.
Rather than claiming “equality” [as in identity] with God, Jesus spoke of God as his source and of his total reliance upon God (see also John 7:16 and 17). If Jesus were trying to convince people he was God, or even if he were openly proclaiming himself to be the Messiah, this would have been a wide open door. Instead, he downplayed his own role and spoke of what the Father was doing and of His love. If Jesus were God, he certainly could do whatever he wanted by himself, but he said he was the Son of God, and therefore could only do what the Father showed him. Remember that the context is Jesus having healed the crippled man. In verse 20, Jesus said, in essence, “If you think healing the crippled man was a big deal, just hang around, because I am going to do many greater things than that.” What greater things was he talking about? Let’s keep reading.
For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.
We see here that Jesus anticipated his own resurrection and his future joy of raising others. In verse 21, we must again note the figures of speech heterosis and prolepsis. Here again is an exchange of the future tense for the present tense, anticipating the day when Jesus would literally have resurrection life to give. Jesus Christ had not yet himself been raised from the dead, and certainly he had not raised anyone else to everlasting life, yet he speaks of giving life in the present tense. He does so to emphasize his faith in the certainty of these things coming to pass, and his references to them in this way are placed in the gospel of John as part of the proleptic portrait of Jesus Christ. He did not doubt his own ability to obey his Father, nor his Father’s ability to raise him from the dead and highly exalt him.
John 5:22 and 23 (NRSV)
(22) The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son,
(23) so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.
In the above verses, we see that it will be Jesus Christ who will judge all men, and that thereby all men will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. That is what we saw in Philippians 2:10 and 11: every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
We believe it befits justice that Jesus Christ, the one who was judged, condemned and executed by men, will be the one to finally judge all men. Every unrepentant, evil person who has ever lived, who literally tortured and crucified him or who figuratively did so by persecuting those who have loved him, will one day look in the eyes of the Son of God as their judge, and he will be vindicated.
John 5:24 and 25 (NRSV)
(24) Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgement, but has passed from death to life.
(25) “Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.
Once again we see here that it is Jesus Christ, as the Promised Seed, who will call people to new and everlasting life.
John 5:26 (NRSV)
For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself,
Jesus Christ understood that the chief property of a seed is that it has life in itself, and that as the Promised Seed he would, after his resurrection and exaltation, have life in himself to give to others. As the next verse says, it is Jesus Christ who will decide who is to live and who is to die. Rest assured that one day there will be justice for all.
John 5:27–29 (NRSV)
(27) and he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.
(28) Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice
(29) and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.
This is a prophecy of what is commonly known as the resurrections of “the just” and “the unjust.” The Bible clearly says that all people who have ever lived will get up from the dead. Those in the resurrection of the just will be going to one party, while the majority of those in the resurrection of the unjust will be going to another party, which is considerably shorter and has no party favors.49 Those in the resurrection of the just will be getting up for everlasting life in Paradise. The unrighteous in the resurrection of the unjust will be getting up for judgment, condemnation and destruction in the lake of fire.
John 5:30 (NRSV)
“I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me.
Because Jesus Christ works in perfect harmony with his heavenly Father, there will be justice for all.
John 5:31 and 32 (NRSV)
(31) “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true.
(32) There is another who testifies on my behalf, and I know that his testimony to me is true.
The phrase “another who testifies” about Jesus Christ refers to God, his heavenly Father. The most important way God testified who Jesus was, was by raising him from the dead (Acts 17:31). Although the Pharisees to whom Jesus was speaking missed the whole point of the Old Testament and failed to recognize him as the Messiah, some did cleave unto him as such. How sad that so many people today have misunderstood the Scriptures and to some degree missed the heart of the Son of God that is so specifically revealed in the Four Gospels.
There is one other record in the gospel of John that we want to explore, one that graphically illustrates the relationship between God and His Son, Jesus Christ. Almost inconceivably, it is often twisted in an attempt to prove that Jesus is, in fact, God. As we examine it, we will see the great truth contained therein. It was winter, and Jesus was at the Temple in Jerusalem for a Jewish holiday.
John 10:24–30 (NASB)
(24) The Jews therefore gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
(25) Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these bear witness of Me,
(26) “But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep.
(27) “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me;
(28) and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand.
(29) “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.
(30) “I and the Father are one.”
Although some people use verse 30 in an attempt to prove that Jesus is God, the context (in particular, verses 28 and 29) clearly shows its meaning. Jesus and his Father are “one” in that no one can pluck any of their sheep out of either of their hands.50
John 10:31–33 (NASB)
(31) The Jews took up stones again to stone Him.
(32) Jesus answered them, “I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?”
(33) The Jews answered Him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.”
Some quote verse 33 to prove Jesus is God. Note that the verse does not say that Jesus is God, or that he claimed to be God, but rather that the Jews said that Jesus was making himself “God.” We assert that an accurate translation of John 10:33 would reveal that the Jews said that Jesus was claiming to be “a god,” i.e., a representative of God.51 Because they did not believe he represented God at all, they were actually going to stone him, which indicates that their overall spiritual perception was perhaps somewhat distorted. Let us look at Jesus’ reply:
John 10:34–36 (NASB)
(34) Jesus answered them, “Has it not been written in your Law, ‘I SAID, YOU ARE GODS’?
(35) “If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken),
(36) do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?
In verse 34, Jesus is quoting from Psalm 82, verses 1 and 6. There, as in other Old Testament references, representatives of God were referred to as “gods.” This was a common Hebrew usage that all the people understood. Jesus quotes these references, and then says, in essence: “Look, if those Old Testament leaders and judges were referred to as ‘gods,’ what about me? I am by far the best representative God has ever had. Why do you say I am blaspheming when I say I am the Son of God?”
Psalm 82:1–8 (KJV)
(1) God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods [i.e., those who represent Him].
(2) How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Selah.
(3) Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.
(4) Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked.
(5) They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course.
(6) I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.
(7) But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.
(8) Arise, O God [i.e. the Messiah], judge the earth: for thou shalt inherit all nations.
These verses make it very clear that those men whom God had chosen to represent Him to His people in Israel failed miserably to do so, generally speaking. The closing verse is a prophetic plea for the Messiah to come, the perfect representative of God who would vividly mirror His heart to all people. Note how precise Jesus was in choosing just the right verses to make his point. He had rigorously studied the Hebrew Scriptures, which he would hardly have had to do if he were God.
Is not John 10:24–36 a clear record of Jesus himself refuting the idea that he is God? It is also a record of Jesus differentiating between the Son of God and God Himself, something that more Christians today could profit from doing. Had Jesus been God, surely this would have been a wonderful opportunity for him to plainly say so, but he did not. His testimony of himself is perfectly consistent with the stated purpose of the gospel of John: to reveal that Jesus is the Son of God. With the understanding of John which we have set forth in this chapter, this gospel now perfectly harmonizes with the rest of the New Testament. The historical “Jesus” is unified with the exalted “Christ” into a proleptic portrait of “Jesus Christ” that simultaneously brings him down to earth and exalts him. How truly awesome is the One who has inspired and revealed in His Word such a breathtaking view of the Lord Jesus, “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
3 Raymond Brown gives a good thumbnail definition of the terms “high and “low” applied to Christology: “In scholarly jargon, ‘low’ Christology involves the application to Jesus of titles derived from Old Testament or intertestamental expectations (e.g. Messiah, prophet, servant, Lord, Son of God) titles that do not in themselves imply divinity. ‘Son of God,’ meaning divine representative, was a designation of the king; (See 1 Sam. 16:16; “lord” need mean no more than “master”). ‘High Christology’ involves an appreciation of Jesus that moves him into the sphere of divinity, as expressed, for instance, in a more exalted use of ‘Lord’ and ‘Son of God,’ as well as the designation ‘God.’ ” The Community of the Beloved Disciple, (Paulist Press, N.Y., 1979, p. 25).
4 One modern scholar suggests that it should be the last book of the New Testament to be translated and given to new converts in foreign lands: “Perhaps it should be the last of the Gospels to be translated for new churches in non‑Christian lands, instead of being the first, as so often happens…The Church today must use and value the Fourth Gospel for what it is and not for what it is not.” Anthony T. Hanson, The Prophetic Gospel: A Study of John and the Old Testament (T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1991), p. 371.
6 Brown, op. cit., Community, p. 163: “At various times I have referred to the theology of the Fourth Gospel as challengingly different, volatile, dangerous, and as the most adventuresome in the NT…. Over the centuries John’s gospel has provided the seedbed for many exotic forms of individualistic pietism and quietism (as well as the inspiration for some of the most profound mysticism). Brown also writes: “Johannine Christology is very familiar to traditional Christians because it became the dominant Christology of the Church, and so it is startling to realize that such a portrayal of Jesus is quite foreign to the Synoptic Gospels. With justice Johannine Christology can be called the highest in the NT” (Ibid., p. 45).
7 J. A. T. Robinson, ‘The Use of the Fourth Gospel for Christology Today’; Christ and Spirit in the New Testament: Studies in Honor of C.F.D. Moule, ed. B. Lindars and S. S. Smalley, Cambridge University Press, 1973, pp. 61–78, who quotes (The Foolishness of God, Darton, Longman and Todd, 1970, p. 144); Fount 1975, p. 154. Robinson makes the same point even more forcefully in another work: “These [‘I am’ statements of Jesus] are not assertions about the ego of human Jesus, which is no more pre‑existent than that of any other human being. Nor are statements about the glory that he enjoyed with the Father before the world was to be taken at the level of psychological reminiscence. As such, they would clearly be destructive of any genuine humanness…” John A. T. Robinson, The Priority of John, (Meyer Stone Pub., Oak Park, IL, 1985), p. 384.
8 Hanson is one of many scholars who have noted this aspect of John’s gospel. Though we do not share his doubts about John’s inspiration, we agree with his observation that the focus of John is not history, but theology. He writes:
The Church has consciously chosen to live with tension…One cannot resist the impression that in his gospel, John was greatly concerned neither with historical accuracy nor with historical verisimilitude and consistency (p. 335). We may be sure that this picture of the God‑man is not historically true, but [rather] John’s construction. Consequently, our doctrine of the incarnation needs to be modified…the first rule for the Church in its handling of the Fourth Gospel today must be this: do not treat it as a reliable historical record…the Church must admit that the Jesus of the Fourth Gospel is not the Jesus of history. This, it must be confessed, demands something like a revolution in the Church’s preaching and in its Christology…Most students of the New Testament acknowledge this, but it is a truth that has still to reach the rank‑and‑file of clergy and church‑goers, as far as these islands [Britain] are concerned, at any rate… (Hanson, op. cit., Prophetic, p. 368).
9 Proof texting is isolating verses that appear to support a particular theological or doctrinal position, but by weighting them too heavily, creating contradictions with other verses on the same subject.
But in practice popular preaching and teaching presents a supranaturalistic [the metaphysical God‑man] view of Christ which cannot be substantiated from the New Testament. [Popular preaching] says simply that Jesus was God, in such a way that the terms ‘Christ’ and ‘God’ are interchangeable. But nowhere in Biblical usage is this so. The New Testament says that Jesus was the Word of God, it says that God was in Christ, it says that Jesus is the Son of God; but it does not say that Jesus was God, simply like that (or rather not in any passages that certainly require to be interpreted in this way. Passages that may be so interpreted are Romans 9:5 and Hebrews 1:8. But see in each case the alternative translations in the Revised Standard Version or the New English Bible).
(John A. T. Robinson, Honest To God, (Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1963) pp. 70 and 71). See also Appendix M.
12 Johannes Munck of Aarhus University, writing in an essay called “The New Testament and Gnosticism,” makes a great point about understanding difficult material in light of the clear. His criticism of the methods of those who propose that Gnosticism was antecedent to Christianity can be very appropriately applied to those who elevate John’s gospel above the rest of the New Testament: They abandon the valuable historical method of beginning with the certain and easily accessible material and then trying to understand the more dubious and difficult material; instead they begin with a construction built of dubious material and proceed to know with staggering certainty what is written in the New Testament and how it is to be understood. (From Current Issues in New Testament Interpretation, a Festschrift in honor of Otto A. Piper, edited by William Klassen and Graydon F. Snyder, Harper and Row, N.Y., 1962, p. 224).
13 Hanson, op. cit., Prophetic, p. 368: “The Fourth Gospel may well instead prove to be something like the crown of our doctrine [of incarnation] rather than its basis…How then should this marvelous gospel, a great gift to the Church, but one which, like a delicate piece of machinery, has to be handled with great care. Perhaps it should be the last of the Gospels to be translated for new churches in non‑Christian lands, instead of being the first, as so often happens.”
14 For example, 1 Samuel 31:4 attributes the death of Saul to his falling on his sword in a battle against the Philistines, while 1 Chronicles 10:4 also mentions the fact of his suicide, but adds the true spiritual cause in verses 13 and 14: “Saul died because he was unfaithful to the LORD; he did not keep the word of the LORD and even consulted a medium for guidance, and did not inquire of the LORD. So the LORD put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse.”
16 Holman, op. cit., Prophetic, The Aramaic word abba is not preserved in the Greek text of John, and is therefore not transliterated into English as it is in Mark 14:36, Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6. Nevertheless, in the Aramaic text of John the words aba and abi occur often, more than in any other Gospel. The Aramaic construction in Mark 14:36, et al., is “aba, abi” meaning “Father, my father” or “Father, our father” where the figure Epizeuxis (Duplication) is employed, bringing emphasis to the intimacy of the relationship between Father and son (see also Gaebelein’s Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 8, p. 764). In addition to the intimacy denoted by the word aba is the idea of authority inherent in his carrying out of his father’s purposes (Gaebelein, Vol. 9, p. 149). Thus, although Abba does not come through in the Greek, the entirety of its meaning is exemplified in the gospel of John in the portrayal of Jesus’ intimate relationship with his Father and the power and authority that he derived from it.
17 This verse is used to teach that Jesus raised himself from the dead, because he said “I will raise it up,” referring to his “body.” See “>Appendix A (John 2:19).
18 The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology comments that “in the early centuries, the struggle to understand the human and divine natures of Christ often led to placing the Son in a secondary position to the Father” and “this doctrine has continued in one form or another throughout the history of the church.” (Walter Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 1984, p. 1058). We assert that a simple reading of the Bible will clearly show that the Son is inferior to the Father, and that that is not only the “true doctrine,” but explains why the concept of subordination keeps coming up in the Church. In his eight volume work on the history of the church, Phillip Schaff remarks about the “heresy” of subordinationism, and the orthodox explanation of it:
The Nicene fathers still teach, like their predecessors, a certain subordinationism, which seems to conflict with the doctrine of consubstantiality [i.e., that the Father and Son are of one substance]. But we must distinguish between a subordinationism of essence and a subordinationism of hypostasis, of order and dignity.
Scriptural argument for this theory of subordination was found abundant in such passages as these: “As the Father has life in himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in himself; and hath given him authority to execute judgment also;” “All things are delivered unto me of my Father;” “My Father is greater than I.” But these passages refer to the historical relation of the Father to the incarnate Logos in his estate of humiliation, or to the elevation of human nature to participation in the glory and power of the divine, not to the eternal metaphysical relation of the Father to the Son [Phillip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (William B. Eerdmans Pub., Grand Rapids, 1994) pp. 681–683].
Thus, the orthodox church has condemned subordinationism as a heresy and given the explanation that the verses that ascribe inferiority to the Son are only talking about Christ’s function or his earthly relation to God and not his essence or “metaphysical relation” to the Father. The problem with this explanation is simple and straightforward: no such “explanation” exists in the Bible. We assert that the Bible states a simple truth: that the Father is greater than the Son in every way, and the Son honored the Father and acknowledged that fact. We further assert that the “explanation” the orthodox church offers was made up after the fact to explain otherwise clear verses in light of their unbiblical doctrine. Furthermore, the reason it took centuries to establish orthodox doctrine (often by the point of the sword) was that it was unbiblical. That is also why Church historians have to admit that “subordinationism” has consistently been a problem in the Church. See Appendix C.
19 We use the term “divine” in the biblical sense of “authorship” or “origin,” and fully recognize the “divinity” of Christ in this sense. But we distinguish “divinity,” meaning “of divine origin,” from “deity,” meaning “identical with God.” See Glossary.
20 See the next chapter for more on the term “only‑begotten.”
23 It is important when reading the Bible to pay close attention to what God is focusing on and emphasizing in a particular part of Scripture. For instance, while reading the book of Galatians, one might be tempted to think that Abraham was not like the rest of us. Romans says, “…he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God…” (Rom. 4:20). Yet reading Genesis 16 shows that Abraham did have a weak time in his life and ended up having a child by his wife’s slave, Hagar. The proper understanding of the Bible is not to assert that Galatians is wrong and Genesis correct, or vice versa, but to see that the two accounts can be made to harmonize. If God gives you a promise, and you have a weak period but then rise up and claim the promise by faith, God may focus on and emphasize your victory without speaking of the weak time you went through. The example of Manasseh, son of Hezekiah and king of Judah is another good example. Manasseh did a lot of evil as the king, and the book of Kings records the evil that Manasseh did and then records that he died. Chronicles, on the other hand, focuses on a different aspect of Manasseh’s life and records that he repented, prayed, tore down the idols he had built and restored the altar of God. The point we are making is that what God reveals in different places of Scripture can be very different, but the diligent workman of the Word will see how they harmonize and use the various records to build a complete picture.
24 Some of the early Christian scribes realized that the Resurrection was the time when Christ was clearly declared to be the Son of God, and that bothered them because it conflicted with their theology. Their easy solution to this problem was to change the texts they were supposed to be faithfully transcribing. Ehrman notes: “Some of the earliest traditions put the Christological moment par excellence at his resurrection. For these traditions, God appointed Jesus to be his Son when he vindicated him and exalted him to heaven. A textual corruption of this verse occurs as the addition of the prefix pro to horisisthentos, implying “that God ‘predestined’ Jesus to attain his status as Son of God at the Resurrection. This would mean, of course, that Jesus already enjoyed a special status before God prior to the event itself (as the one “predestined”) so that the Resurrection was but the realization of a status proleptically [before the fact] conferred upon him. In short, the variation, which cannot be traced beyond the confines of the Latin West, serves to undermine any assumption that Jesus’ resurrection effected an entirely new standing before God.” Ehrman, op. cit., Orthodox Corruption, pp. 71 and 72.
25 Dunn quotes C. E. B. Cranfield’s firm conclusion that the Greek word translated “declared,” horisthentos, means more than “declared” or “shown to be,” and actually has the force of “installed.” In other words, the Resurrection was in some sense the time in which his Sonship was officially or actually realized. This leads Dunn to conclude:
- that “Jesus’ divine Sonship stemmed from his resurrection.”
- that “the resurrection of Jesus was regarded [by the earliest Christian communities] as of central significance in determining his divine Sonship, either as his installation to a status and prerogatives not enjoyed before, or as a major enhancement of a Sonship already enjoyed.”
- that “there is no thought of a pre‑existent Sonship here.”
- that “Sonship is seen in eschatological terms: the divine Sonship of which the original formula speaks is a Sonship which begins from the resurrection.”
- that “primitive Christian preaching seems to have regarded Jesus’ resurrection as the day of his appointment to divine Sonship, as the event by which he became God’s Son.”
Dunn, op. cit., Christology, pp. 34–36.
26 Websters New Universal Unabridged Dictionary (Simon and Schuster, NY, 1983, p. 1439). Bullinger further defined prolepsis as follows: “An anticipation of some future time which cannot yet be enjoyed; but has to be deferred. From pro (“before”) and lepsis (“a taking,”), i.e., anticipation. The figure is employed when we anticipate what is going to be done, and speak of future things as being already present. Some biblical examples are: Genesis 1:27 speaks of both male and female, though only Adam is in view at the time; Exodus 10:29 describes the final departure of Moses, but Moses spoke to Pharaoh once more. 1 Kings 22:50 speaks of Jehoshaphat’s death as if it had already happened; Isaiah 37:22 describes the future rejoicing of Jerusalem; In Isaiah 48:5–7, God spoke of future things from the beginning.” E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1968 [originally published 1898] pp. 914 and 15).
30 E.g., John 16:26, 17:9, 15 and 20. This point about Jesus having an intimate, conversational relationship with his Father is lost in the NIV. For example, in John 17:1 the NIV reads: “…he looked toward heaven and prayed….” However, the Greek text, and most other versions, have “said” instead of “prayed.” The same is true in John 17:9, 15, and 20. The NIV has “pray” or “prayed” while other versions more accurately have “say,” “request” or “ask.” See Appendix P.
31 See Appendix A (John 3:13).
33 The word “Lord” in Acts 1:24 refers to the risen Lord Jesus because, in context, it is he who “knows everyone’s hearts.” We also recognize that the context is continuous from Acts 1:2 and concerns “…the apostles he had chosen.” Since Jesus had chosen the original twelve, it seems evident that he would be the one asked about Judas’ replacement. See Appendix B (Acts 1:24).
34 Bullinger, a Trinitarian, recognizes that “all authority” was given him only after his resurrection. In his op. cit., Companion Bible in a text note on Matthew 28:18, he writes: “[all authority] is given = has (just, or lately) been given.” p. 1380.
35 Note the use of the figure of speech heterosis, which attributes our healing to the time in the past when Christ gave his body as a sacrifice on Calvary. In actual fact, we must invoke the power and name of Jesus Christ to heal us in the present (see Acts 3:16). However, this figure establishes the fact that the ground on which we stand in faith for healing was established at the Cross, and need not be re‑established for each believer every time he has a need.
39 Ryken observes: “Assimilating religious knowledge and growing spiritually from it are likewise compared to a process of eating and digestion. Paul fed immature Christians with ‘milk’ because they were not ready to digest solid food (1 Cor. 3:1 and 2), and Hebrews 5:11–14 repeats the image. Similarly, Peter enjoins his audience to ‘long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation’ (1 Pet. 2:2 – RSV). God’s true shepherds feed the people with knowledge and understanding (Jer. 3:15). Conversely, the absence of hearing the words of the Lord is a famine on the land (Amos 8:11). Assimilating folly or falsehood is likewise pictured as assimilating food into the body (Prov. 15:14). In its ultimate metaphoric reaches, to eat is to participate in God’s salvation in Christ.” Leland Ryken, Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 1998), p. 227.
40 The Old Syriac reading of John 1:18 is “from the bosom of his Father.” This would harmonize with the emphasis in John upon God being his origin, having been “sent” from God. This reading is in the Curetonian manuscript (William Cureton, Remains of a Very Ancient Recension of the Four Gospels in Syriac (John Murray, London, 1858), p. 38.
41 See the discussion of the “prophetic perfect” in Chapter 17.
42 See also Appendix A (John 8:58b).
43 The visionary “presence” of Moses and Elijah is very significant in this record, because each was escorted to his burial by God in a manner that pointed to the special death, burial and resurrection of the Messiah. God Himself buried Moses (Deut. 34:6), and the burial place was kept a secret, presumably to keep the Israelites from idolatrous worship of their dead hero. The burial of Moses’ body was apparently the occasion of a major spiritual battle (see Jude 9). Elijah was taken up into the air by a whirlwind and moved by God away from all who knew him, (2 Kings 2:11). The Bible does not mention the place he was set down, but we know he died because only Jesus has been granted immortality (see also Heb. 11:13—“these all died”). If Elijah, a man just like us (James 5:17), went to heaven without dying before Christ came to atone for his sin, then eternal redemption was available without Jesus’ sacrifice. See our book, op. cit., Is There Death After Life?
46 There are many Alexandrian texts that read “God the only Son,” or “the only begotten God,” and so the NIV and NASB translations are not baseless. However, there is much compelling evidence that this is an example of the orthodox corruption of Scripture, and that the original text reads “only begotten Son.” Ehrman points out that the term “only begotten son” occurs elsewhere in John’s writings, and always in the form of “only begotten Son.” Cp. John 1:14, 3:16 and 18; 1 John 4:9 (KJV) (Ehrman, op. cit., Orthodox Corruption, pp. 78–82). Also, Kittel, op. cit., Theological Dictionary, Vol. IV, p. 740, footnote 14. See Appendix N.
47 Bruce, op. cit., Gospel of John, pp. 16 and 17). For more on this, see Appendix A (John 3:13).
48 It is important to realize that Jesus would never ask a man to break a commandment of God. It was the religious leaders of Christ’s day who had actually broken the commandments of God by their traditions (Matt. 15:1–9). Carrying a bedding mat from a place you were lying sick would not have been work, except according to the twisted religious traditions of the time. The man needed to leave the pool of Bethesda, where people went to be healed, and start walking out on the healing he had received. He could not very well have left his mat, or it would have been stolen. Jesus was being loving in telling the man to take his mat, but the religious leaders were so twisted by their dogma that they could not even rejoice with a man who was healed after 38 years of being crippled.
49 It is known as the “resurrection of the unjust” because it is the only resurrection when all the unjust people who have ever lived will be raised from the dead, judged and condemned. At the same time, people who believed on Jesus Christ and died during his Millennial Kingdom will be raised from the dead and receive salvation.
50 The Greek word for “one” is hen, and means “one single.” In Jesus’ prayer as recorded in John 17:20–23, he makes it very clear what “one” means. He prayed that all those who believe in him will be “one,” even as he and his Father are “one.” Obviously, this means one in unity of heart and in purpose. See Appendix A (John 10:30).
51 See Appendix A (John 10:33).
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