From:  Busy Person’s Guide to John 1 to 10                                    Return to Home 

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.  © 2019


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Busy Person’s Guide to the New Testament:


Quickly Understanding John


(Volume 1:  Chapters 1 to 10)




Roland H. Worth, Jr.


Copyright © 2019 by author








            When the great scholar Jerome was producing what came to be known as the “Vulgate”--the authoritative Latin text for the Roman Catholic Church--the equally renowned Augustine was upset and annoyed:  Why do we need another Bible translation? he insisted to his fellow scholar.  Quietly Jerome hit at Augustine’s own weak point:  Why do we need another commentary?  (The production of which was a hallmark of Augustine’s labor.)  Augustine reconsidered and backed off from the criticism as being, perhaps, a bit hasty.

            Augustine’s question remains relevant to our age, however.  You could invest all of your surplus income--assuming you are part of the prosperous but overworked middle class--and still not afford to buy all those that are available.  Much less find the time to read them.  So why another commentary and why this one in particular?

            Historically commentaries have been written more often than not for either the well educated or the self-designated religious “elite” who are so absorbed in the text that they want to learn as much as they can about it and prefer exhaustive analysis.  There is a definite place for such commentaries and I am not above writing such myself.

            Yet in the past and even more so today, there is the need for a very different type of exposition:  concise and to the point.  Even the most devout has only 24 hours a day.  The hasty pace of keeping one’s family’s financial head above water takes up an inordinate amount of that time.  Family obligations and one’s religious interests eat yet further into what is available.  In this pressure cooker environment, the time to merely set down and think has become extraordinarily precious.

            Hence these Quickly Understanding commentaries have been produced to allow the Biblically interested but time limited reader to get the most out of his or her restricted study time.  First, read a section of the text itself.  For your convenience we divide the commentary into such sections; the headings are not intended to be merely descriptive of what is in that section, but, often, interpretive as well—to make plain one or more points that are underlying the discussion.

            These are presented in the able New English Translation.  They officially permit—rather than unofficially permit or “overlook” the usage--so long as it is done absolutely without any financial charge.  (Or read it in your own preferred translation:  the commentary will work with just about any except the most paraphrasistic ones.)  All individual verse translations we provide, however, are from the NKJV--an able update of the KJV and utilizing the same underlying Greek text.

            Individual verses then follows.  In a limited number of cases multiple verses are studied together.  A typical cause of this happening is the way certain verses end at awkward places and in the middle of a thought.

            Instead of having to wade through highly technical long paragraphs and even multi-pages you find simple and direct language.  A matter of a few sentences instead of a few pages.  Not everything you could find of value but, hopefully, a “nugget” or two of something useful in every verse analyzed.

            Sometimes it will be the core thought or message of the verse.  Sometimes it will be a key moral principle the text intends to convey.  In all cases it will be summed up in significantly different words than the text or with supplemental interpretive phrases to “flesh out” the meaning or intention. 

            Every verse is unique.  Some make us wonder why people acted the way they did and we briefly probe the possibilities.   In other cases we wonder why they so misunderstood what was going on and we suggest reasons that could have motivated them.  Other passages present an implicit challenge to the then listener and here we make it explicit so we can face the same challenge as the original audience.  To understand yet other readings, a piece of historical background is needed and we have tried to provide that as well.

            We have avoided fanciful and far-fetched interpretation.  We have assumed that Jesus intended to give guidelines for life in the here and now.  Realistic.  Reachable.  Reasonable.  And we have interpreted the text with those assumptions as our foundation.  I have no problem introducing inferences but we have tried to limit this to the more probable ones unless we include cautionary language as well.  After all, inferences can range from necessary to probable to possible to conjectural to fanciful to outright delusional.  It is a tool to be used with caution, common sense, and prudence.

            For those who wish to grasp the essence of the still living message, this book should prove invaluable assistance.

            We have avoided those areas that require elaborate and sustained discussion.  Issues of authorship, date, and canonicity are all useful and of value.  But here we are interested in the contents of the book.  We begin with the assumption that virtually every one shares:  this purports to be a first century book by someone claiming to know a great deal about the life of Jesus.  Based upon what he has preserved for us, what can we learn about Jesus’ life?  What can we learn about His teaching?  Most importantly, what can we learn that will help us better understand the text or morally improve our own lives?  The sometimes obscure scholarly arguments relating to the book’s background are best left for a different context.   


The original version of Matthew, Luke, and John  appear to have been done in 2006 and revised in 2017-2018 (John in 2019), during which the translations were added as well as extra commentary to enhance what was already present.  In this time frame Mark was added to complete the four gospels.

            Frankly, I had forgotten that these volumes were anywhere near completed in first draft form.  They were among a number of various projects I had set aside over the decades that were either partially or nearly fully researched and “ready to go”—except I had nowhere for them to “go to.”  Now that I have my own web site there is a place. 

And it is my hope and prayer that these and my other works will live on in the electronic realm for many years to come.  After all the purpose of any serious Biblical study should be to deepen one’s own understanding of the sacred text—and, where possible, to assist others in their efforts to do so as well.

                                                Roland H. Worth, Jr.




Of the Gospel of John In Particular


            The synoptics are relatively straightforward.  John’s language, in clear contrast, is often more figurative and vague (some prefer the term “mystical”) and requires greater elaboration.  In a far greater proportion of verses, even the most ambiguous texts in the synoptics appear—comparatively—straightforward in underlying intent.   Even here, however, we have made every effort to keep the discussion concise and to the point consistent with the needs required in studying a very different gospel narrative.  









Chapter One




What Jesus Was Before He Came to Earth (John 1:1-5):   1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. The Word was with God in the beginning.  All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created.  In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind.  5  And the light shines on in the darkness, but the darkness has not mastered it.

--New English Translation (for comparison)



            1:1       In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  Communication is done through the “word.”  At the very beginning of time as we know it, this Word through which God was to communicate with us was already in existence.  Indeed, it had the very essence and nature of God Himself.  Or as the apostle Paul puts it, “who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God” (Philippians 2:6).

            This full equality did not exist beginning with the creation of the temporal world, but existed for all of preceding eternity.  As Jesus Himself prayed in Gethsemane, “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5); “You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (verse 24).   

            The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) impress us with their powerful narrative of the power and teaching of the Lord.  John approaches it from the very first verses to explain why He had such power—He was the communicating Word of God incarnated in a physical body.


            1:2       He was in the beginning with God.  For the second time in two verses the eternal, never-created nature of the Word is emphasized.  By its very perpetual existence, the Word proved itself Divine and Deity.


            1:3       All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.  Just as the Word was to be the means through which God would communicate to the human race, so was it the means of creation as well.  Though God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1), it was done on His behalf by the Word.  Or as Paul expresses the thought in Colossians 1:16-17:  For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers.  All things were created through Him and for Him.  And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.”

            The message that the Word communicates through what it created is (1) its power to do such even though on a vast scale and (2) its intelligence to be able to assure that everything met the requirements to become a self-sustained world of life.

            Sidebar:  We just used “it” to describe the “Word” because that is the natural English usage, but John repeatedly stresses than “it” is actually a being, a “Him.”  “It” is, if you will, an “embodied” rather than a “disembodied” intelligence and power--functioning within and the very essence of an eternal entity.   


            1:4       In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  Just as the Word had abiding life within--essential since “it” was eternal--this life was to be made available to the human race.  By teaching, example, and (ultimately) death on the cross, the ever-existing Word was to provide “light” as to how to act and to obtain redemption.  By explicit statement, living example, and sacrificial death, the Word would do the essence of what words are always intended to do:  communicate to others what they need to know and do. 

            The Word pulled double duty; it was simultaneously life giving (both physical and spiritual) and provided “light” showing us what our human duties and obligations are--showing us the obstacles to avoid and the path that leads to temporal and eternal happiness.  

            Sidebar:  During His ministry Jesus invoked both descriptions as explanatory of His role in the Father’s plans.  Life giving:  as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself” (John 5:26); also:  5:21; 11:25; 12:35; 14:6; the author also taught this during his own ministry:  1 John 1:2; 5:11.

            Light giving:  John 8:12:  I am the light of the world.  He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (John 8:12); also:  9:5; 12:46; the apostle also taught this as well through his own teaching:  1 John 1:8-9 


            1:5       And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.  There is a stark paradox in these words.  Although the Word was a “light” that would show one and all the way out of spiritual darkness and back to God’s favor, the simple fact was that, by and large, those living in that darkness simply could not comprehend the Word’s value and importance.  By bringing “light” upon one’s true separation from God, the light carried with it the inherent demand for change for the better.  And of all things, we mortals hate to do, we hate most to sacrifice our pet weaknesses and animosities on the altar of change.



Even the Important John the Baptist Was Lesser than the Flesh Embodied Eternal Word Named Jesus (John 1:6-13):  A man came, sent from God, whose name was John.  He came as a witness to testify about the light, so that everyone might believe through him.  He himself was not the light, but he came to testify about the light.  The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 

10 He was in the world, and the world was created by him, but the world did not recognize him.  11 He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who have received him—those who believe in his name—he has given the right to become God’s children 13 —children not born by human parents or by human desire or a husband’s decision, but by God.     --New English Translation (for comparison)  



            1:6       There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  The Word (i.e., Christ) was inherently the embodiment of full Deityship as was His Heavenly Father (verses 1-3).  In contrast the scene now shifts to “a man sent from God.”   Just as God had sent prophets to the nation in the ancient past, in the first century God had appointed a man named John to speak to the people on His behalf.  In the Old Testament we have references to the work of some (such as in 2 Samuel 12:25, Judges 4:4) while others wrote entire books of the Bible (for example, Isaiah [6:8-10], Jeremiah [26:12-15], Ezekiel [21:1-5], Zechariah [4:9; 6:15]).    

            Sidebar:  Unlike the other three gospels, the appellation “Baptist/Baptizer” is never attached to John’s name in this recounting.  


            1:7       This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe.  Just as God communicates truth and reality by the Word, likewise Light reveals the truth and reality of what is really around us in this world.  The coming Messiah was to function in both roles since both overlap.

            John’s role was to encourage belief in the Light that was the Word by being a “witness.”  He would be a “witness” both of the fact that the Messiah was about to appear, would be superior to him, and would even be able to identify Him by having seen the Spirit descend upon Him (verses 26-33, especially verses 32-33).


            1:8       He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.  For all his accomplishments in bringing about moral reform among the people, John himself was not that ultimate Light, but simply a witness to the coming and the identity of the greater Person who embodied that Light.  We know that John was so extremely popular in his own land that many seriously considered that he might actually be the Messiah himself (Luke 3:15).  Furthermore disciples professing loyalty to his memory and goals survived for at least decades after his execution and existed far outside Palestine--for Paul came in contact with such individuals in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-7).  Acknowledging John’s great importance while explaining why he becomes a distinctly secondary figure compared to the even more pivotal one of Jesus is the purpose of this verse. 


            1:9       That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.  From the very moment the eternal Word came into the world, Jesus was designed not merely to provide enlightenment to His own people but to “every” person who is born into our world.  That “enlightenment”--to use the “light” imagery--was relevant to anyone and everyone born on this planet.  John’s message was strictly to the Jews.  That of Jesus was ultimately targeted for the entire civilized world.

            Furthermore Jesus was the “true Light”--not true in comparison with the fake or fraudulent but “true” in the sense of being the perfect and complete manifestation of spiritual light.  Others might well be “light reflectors,” but He was the “pure Light” they were reflecting.  If you will, He is our “sun” and they are the “moon” reflecting its light.


            1:10     He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.  Playing the role of moral “enlightener” of the human race (verse 9) was highly appropriate since He was the world’s very originator.  Hence He functioned as both teacher of the world and its Creator.  Should it be shocking that One who was simultaneously both could work such awesome miracles?        

            Even so, “the world did not know Him” at all--His teachings (even when eloquently simple and to the point), His claims to authority, and His absolute moral integrity were simply unacceptable to its way of thinking.  Giving moral rules not consistent with cultural preferences?  How insulting!  Someone with the inherent authority to give “thou shalts” and “though shalt nots?”  Intolerable!  Someone with the inherent right to tell contemporary religious leaders they are wrong?  “Worthy of death!  Crucify Him!”  But the cultural “blackout” on truth could and did falter:  there was already a “dissenter minority” willing to shunt aside societal and religious leadership blindness.

            Sidebar on the shifting meaning of the term “world” in the New Testament:  Note that ‘the world’ has not the same meaning in John 1:9-10.  Throughout [the] N.T. it is most important to distinguish the various meanings of ‘the world.’  It means (1) ‘the universe.’ Romans 1:20; (2) ‘the earth,’ John 1:9; Matthew 4:8; (3) ‘the inhabitants of the earth,’ John 1:29, 4:42; (4) ‘those outside the Church [i.e., those not God’s people, rw],’ alienated from God, John 12:31, 14:17, and frequently.  In this verse the meaning slips from (2) to (4).”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)   


            1:11     He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.  A fundamental irony of the personal ministry of the Word was that He was born a Jew yet the bulk of the Jewish people rejected both Himself and the word that He came to preach to them as the messenger of God.  The “flip side” of this is that those who accepted Jesus (especially after His death) were a small percentage compared to those who refused to embrace His teachings and claims at all.

            The prophet Isaiah had predicted that this would happen to the Messiah:  For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground.  He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him.  He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.  And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. (Isaiah 53:2-3).

            This was especially true of the religious elite like the Pharisees who were convinced that they knew so much that Jesus could not possibly be right.  As Jesus Himself rebuked them:  If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains” (John 9:41).   


            1:12     But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.  The rejection by so many  did not close the door to others not making the same mistake.  Though one people--His fellow Jews according to the flesh--had generally rejected the Word, those of all peoples who were willing to “receive Him” were also given the privilege to become children of God through faith in Him and His authority.  That was the same standard demanded of those already in it if they were to remain part without being disowned as disloyal to the Father:  Embracing Jesus was now an essential criteria regardless of one’s ethnicity. 

            For God was determined to expand family membership to any and every one desiring to be part.  Indeed, the predominant rejection of Jesus left no alternative.  As Paul explained to hostile Jewish listeners, this was in accord with their own prophecies:  It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.  For so the Lord has commanded us [in Isaiah 49:6]:  ‘I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth’ ” (Acts 13:46-47).

            Their acceptance made them just as much part of it as those who, by natural generation, had been born into His first (and then exclusively Jewish) family (Galatians 3:26-29).  As the prophecy of old had said, by living the right way they were going to be incorporated into the family and accepted just as fully (2 Corinthians 6:17-18).


            1:13     who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.  Those who embraced the Word/Jesus were reborn--this time not in flesh and blood but in the spirit and that was done by the power of God bringing full salvation to them.  The verse clearly distinguishes the now extended community of God with those who, in the past, had been the children of God solely due to their natural birth into the Jewish family.  Although they had been given the first opportunity to be born into God’s new and extended family, it was a decision they had to make for themselves; membership was not going to be forced upon them--they were simply given the first opportunities to become part of it.



The Flesh Embodied Eternal Word Named Jesus Brought a New Revelation of “Grace and Truth” to the Human Race (John 1:14-18):  14 Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory—the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father.  15 John testified about him and shouted out, “This one was the one about whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is greater than I am, because he existed before me.’” 

16 For we have all received from his fullness one gracious gift after another.  17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came about through Jesus Christ.  18 No one has ever seen God.  The only one, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, has made God known.     --New English Translation (for comparison)



            1:14     And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.  As had already been clearly implied in the preceding verses (10-12), the Word did not remain a “disembodied” communicative voice between humanity and God.  Instead the Word took upon a body of flesh.  Yet that incarnation in the flesh did not change the fact that the incarnated Word still manifested God’s “glory.”  Commentators often see this as a reference to Jesus’ transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36) at which John had been present along with two other apostles.  Certainly this was the case where that Divine “glory” was visibly and literally transparent.

            On the other hand, since the “full of grace and truth” was ongoing throughout the ministry, one would expect the reference to “glory” to have been so as well.  Hence it seems wise to have the text primarily referring to Divine “glory” being reflected through less visual means:  The “glory” of Divine power (in miracles) and in wisdom (His teachings) and in self-control even when under provocation (cf. the example in Luke 9:51-56).

            Since the incarnated Word was also “full of” both Divine “grace and truth,” if one wished to share in that Divine “grace and truth” it had to be done through embracing Him and His cause.  The “truth” that Jesus taught revealed the path to Divine “grace” and by conforming to that “truth” one gained Divine favor (grace).  Adhering to rabbinic teaching opposed to His, meant that one was rejecting both.

            Sidebar:  Existing Jewish thought on the connection between the Divine presence and the word:  Dwelt among us—The Greek word means ‘tabernacled,’ ‘sojourned’ among us. It was,  probably, suggested by the similarity of sound with ‘Shekhînah,’ a term frequently applied in the Targums or Chaldee [= Aramaic] Paraphrases [of the Scriptures], though the substantive nowhere occurs in the Old Testament itself, to the visible symbol of the divine Presence which appeared in the Tabernacle and the Temple.  The Targums, moreover, frequently identify the Shekhînah with the ‘Memra’ or Word.”  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)     


            1:15     John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ ”          The incarnated Word was the one of whom the Baptizer declared that He was greater than himself and had existed before him.  In verse 30 this description is explicitly applied to Jesus.  Furthermore verses 17-18 has Jesus specified as the great teacher for the present age--“He has declared” surely the equivalent of the “word” being verbally expressed--adds further evidence that the author could have no one else in mind.

            The Baptizer recognized that the Word Jesus was greater (“preferred”) because “He was before me.”  Since the author began the chapter with a heavy emphasis upon the pre-existence of the Word at--and before the creation of the earth (verse 2)--then these words most naturally seem to carry the connotation that the Word was eternal and supernatural.  Micah’s prediction of the coming Redeemer pictures Him in such terms:  The One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2).

            At the very least--and this is a far less likely interpretation--the reference could carry the weight that the Messianic incarnated Word was greater because He was the subject of prophecy long before the Old Testament refers to John:  Although the Baptizer’s work is described as early as Isaiah 40:3, the Messiah is referred to earlier in 7:14 of the same book.  He is referred to even far earlier in Genesis 3:15 and in various other texts that came before the book of Isaiah.


            1:16     And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace.  Of Jesus’ moral and spiritual “fullness” and “grace” John’s readers all had received and in abundance.  Hence there was a divine bond between them even if they had not been personal witnesses to His life.

            “Grace for grace:  We receive Divine favor after Divine favor.  Our internal growth in one blessing of God results in His adding another so that we are ever growing in spiritual depth.  Hence we might summarize the idea as that of God giving through His Son abundant grace.  If we allow it to, its manifestations never stop growing.  On the other hand if we spurn the opportunity, we run the most grievous danger of spiritual backsliding and losing the spirituality we already have (Matthew 13:12)--because we simply don’t really care about it all that much. 


            1:17     For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  Moses was raised to be a law giver.  As such “grace and truth” were adjutants to the central importance of the Law.  In contrast, Jesus was raised to manifest and be the means of access to “grace and truth.”  In His system law still exists but it becomes an adjutant to forgiveness and spiritual knowledge.  Hence all three elements (law, grace, and truth) existed both before and after Jesus.  But after Jesus the underlying priority or foundation had pivotally shifted.  


            1:18     No one has seen God at any time.  The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.  Mortals are not blessed with the opportunity of personally seeing God--neither in the past, nor today, nor “at any time.”  The only one ever on earth who had actually seen Him in His fullness was Christ.  Hence to understand His nature, purposes, and intents, the necessary knowledge can only be obtained through Jesus of Nazareth.  He had “declared” the truth about God on such matters and His testimony could be trusted because He had been as close to the Father as the “Son who is [held] in the bosom of the Father.”

            Sidebar:  This is not to deny that individuals had seen visions of God, such as the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-10).  Moses got a “glimpse” of Jehovah--so to speak--but never more than a bare pittance of that for more would have been fatal for a mere mortal (Numbers 12:4-8; Exodus 33:9-11, 17-23).



John the Baptist Publicly Denied Any Claim of Being the Messiah (John 1:19-28):  19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”  20 He confessed—he did not deny but confessed—“I am not the Christ!” 

21 So they asked him, “Then who are you?  Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not!”  “Are you the Prophet?”  He answered, “No!”  22 Then they said to him, “Who are you?  Tell us so that we can give an answer to those who sent us.  What do you say about yourself?”

23 John said, “I am the voice of one shouting in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.”  24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.)  25 So they asked John, “Why then are you baptizing if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

26 John answered them, “I baptize with water.  Among you stands one whom you do not recognize, 27 who is coming after me.  I am not worthy to untie the strap of his sandal!”  28 These things happened in Bethany across the Jordan River where John was baptizing.     --New English Translation (for comparison)  



            1:19     Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”  When John was going about his baptizing, an official delegation of “priests and Levites” were sent from Jerusalem to enquire as to “who” he was--prophet?  messiah?  something else?  In other words, they didn’t come to obey his message to be baptized as an outward show of their inward repentance but to ask (force?) a formal declaration of his “credentials.” 

            Note that it was “the Jews” who sent them.  Since we are seeing an official delegation, the only body of “Jews” in Jerusalem authorized to send anyone was the Sanhedrin.  Hence the “Jews” in this (and in most or all other cases in this gospel where they are hostile) are not the people at large but the religious leadership in particular--the people who were supposed to be their leaders, the people who were theoretically asking and acting on their behalf.

            Sidebar:  The priests were the only ones who could actually administer the various sacrifices and rituals in the Temple and they were descendants of Aaron of the tribe of Levi.  Other descendants of Levi were simply described as “Levites” and played the role of helpers in keeping the Temple functioning.

            The other gospels refer to “scribes” rather than Levites so the natural question is what is the relationship between the two?    Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers  effectively argues that the two groups overlap:  The word ‘Levite’ occurs only twice elsewhere in the New Testament—in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:32), and in the description of Joses (Acts 4:36).  It is clear from such passages as 2 Chronicles 17:7-9 . . . [and] Nehemiah 8:7, that part of the function of the Levites was to give instruction in the Law, and it is probable that the ‘scribes’ were often identical with them.  We have, then, here two divisions of the Sanhedrin, as we have two in the frequent phrase of the other Evangelists, ‘scribes,’ and ‘elders,’ the scribes (Levites) being common to both, and the three divisions being priests, Levites (scribes), and elders (notables).” 


            1:20     He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”  He readily conceded that He was not the long awaited Messiah.  He does not permit pride in his mission to mislead him into claiming what he never was intended to be.  This denial is taken by the gospel author as itself being a “confess[ion]” of Jesus, i.e., by not claiming for himself a title that only applied to the latter.                          


            1:21     And they asked him, “What then?  Are you Elijah?”  He said, “I am not.”  “Are you the Prophet?”  And he answered, “No.”  Determined to find some “niche” to fit him in, they insisted on knowing whether he might be “Elijah” or “the prophet” instead of the Messiah.   Only a modest amount is known of the details of first century messianic speculation.  The fact that they believed he might be the Messiah (implied in the preceding verse) or Elijah or someone worthy of the epithet “the prophet” argues that there was a significant body of opinion that expected one or all three of these to appear in the last time and that they were distinct individuals with distinct functions.  (Of course, the belief that one of these would arise did not necessarily mean that one believed in the coming of the others as well.  But these were the options to be decided between.)

            Sidebar on the denial that he was Elijah:  In one sense Elijah was to come (“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord,” Malachi 4:5) but was this to mean the literal Elijah or one who embodied and exemplified his behavior, message, and uncompromising zeal?  Jesus identifies John as Elijah but in rather odd sounding words, “And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come” (Matthew 11:14).  Since in a literal sense, many had no problem with the idea, these words would make no sense if interpreted in that manner:  They already had the inclination to accept it!  The fact that John was a non-literal embodiment of what Elijah was . . . that they found hard to grasp.  Note also how the angel indicated to John’s father non-bodily ways in which the son would be identifiable as Elijah:  “He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17). 

            Sidebar on the denial that he was “the Prophet:  This can be taken in two ways.  One is that they believed that someone--neither the predicted Elijah nor the predicted Messiah--would arise and to whom the only appropriate label would simply be “the Prophet.”  In John 7:40-41 those wondering what the proper identification for Jesus would be clearly distinguish between “the Prophet” (verse 40) and “the Christ” (verse 41).  Similarly in verse 25 of our current chapter. 

            This distinction could be produced by identifying Deuteronomy 18:18-19 not as a reference to the Messiah but to a specific non-Messianic prophet:  I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him.  And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.”  The apostle Peter tells us, however, that this is specifically written of the Messiah (Acts 3:20-23).

            Matthew 16:14 indicates that popular opinion was quite receptive to any of the prophets being brought back into the world and that Jesus might well be one of those:  “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  This would seem to indicate that the description of “the prophet” was potentially applicable to any of the Old Testament prophets that God might bring back into the world to teach His message of moral uprightness.                         


            1:22     Then they said to him, “Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us?  What do you say about yourself?”  Exasperated, they insisted that they needed some kind of an answer as to his identity to provide to those who had sent them.  (What organized body in Jerusalem would that likely be other than the Sanhedrin?)


            1:23     He said: “I am The voice of one crying in the wilderness:  “Make straight the way of the Lord,” ’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”  John responded to them by quoting the description by Isaiah (in 40:3) of one who would proclaim his message in “the wilderness” and prepare “the way of the Lord” for his coming.  John had refused to endorse the interpretation of himself as Elijah (verse 21), perhaps out of fear of this being taken literally, or as a form of reincarnation.

            Or perhaps it was because he was (rightly) convinced that it would be used to expect from him actions he was not sent to demonstrate:  He’s not sent to denounce rulers for spiritual apostasy to polytheism  (1 Kings 18:17), to perform miracles (such as bringing drought on the land [1 Kings 17:1] and assuring the poor woman who housed him had adequate food during it [1 Kings 17:8-16]), nor ascend to heaven in a fiery chariot and whirlwind (2 Kings 2:9-12).  He came to exclusively preach moral reform--the essential prerequisite for the coming of God’s kingdom--and not to work wonders either constructive or destructive.  Hence the acceptance of the identification as Elijah would be both misleading and potentially destructive of faith in his message:  When he declined to do these things that Elijah had, how could that avoid leading many to lose confidence in the message he had preached? 

            Even so, by doing the work described by Isaiah he would be carrying out an Elijah-like role of promoting reform among the people.  He wisely tries to shift their thinking from the label they wanted to use to what he was doing and preaching.


            1:24     Now those who were sent were from the Pharisees.  These “priests and Levites” (verse 19) who had come to John had all been Pharisees.  These were the most religiously devout among the Jewish population.  To the Sadducees, a man like John would only be of real interest if he were a direct challenge to their dominance over the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, which they controlled.  To the pious devout, such as the Pharisees strove to be, John’s religious intents and motives were of priority concern.  Furthermore, they were the ones far better versed in the scriptures to tangle with John in disputation over any religious claims he might make. 

            No doubt they were going to report back to both factions.  Though the Sadducees would have minimal interest in him, they would still be desirous of staying current with religious movements through out the land.  What was being taught elsewhere, sooner or later, might “catch on” in Jerusalem as well.  Ultimately folk of that theology also sought out his baptism, but without any real intention of changing behavior (Matthew 3:7-12).  It was simply easier and more prudent--“politically” speaking--to be superficially adaptive to current fads rather than angering people by openly rejecting them.        


            1:25     And they asked him, saying, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”       The delegation felt that since John could claim to be neither Christ, Elijah, nor “the Prophet,” that he could have no authority or right to baptize.  (The one remaining source of authority was from men such as themselves--and they certainly hadn’t granted it!)

            Ceremonial purification by water is used in Ezekiel 36:25 as part of a moral and spiritual reversal, “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols” (Ezekiel 36:25).  This was routinely done in ceremonial purifications (such as in Numbers 8:7, 19:9) and the imagery is applied to moral purification instead. 

            In Zechariah 13:1, though, we read, “In that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness.”  This is spoken in the context of the Messianic age and the ending of all prophecy (verses 2-6).  The “fountain” image argues for a “burial in water” (immersion) since “fountain” implies a large amount of water while “sprinkling” implies only a modest amount. 

            Either way, the usage is intended to symbolize the departure from sin and evil to a dramatically different lifestyle.  Hence it would not be surprising for contemporaries to link these texts with the baptism John was practicing since it, also, involved the determination to drastically reform one’s behavior. 

            The immersion of proselytes to Judaism began in the second century at the latest, though circumcision of males was still required.  This is often believed to have been in existence by the time of Jesus as well.  Certainly we never read of the least hint that anyone found the requirement of immersion at the time of moral conversion the least bit odd whether it was practiced by Jesus or by John.  This argues that the concept, at least, seemed quite reasonable to everyone.    


            1:26     John answered them, saying, “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know.  Rather than defend his right to baptize, John shifts the topic:  Instead of being preoccupied with John they ought to be considering the fact that there was One already alive and “among you” who was of even greater importance than John Himself. . . .  


            1:27     It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.”  This Man was so great in God’s scheme of things that John was not even worthy to loosen his “sandal strap.”  In other words, not to do even the most trivial thing to be of assistance.  John did not identify who this Person was; he had merely set them on mental alert as to His existence and implied that they had best start giving consideration to how they were going to react to Him.


            1:28     These things were done in Bethabara beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.  John was performing his baptismal work at Bethabara or Bethany--the latter is the preference of the majority of manuscripts and the “critical” texts popular today; the former is the reading found in the manuscripts available in the days of the King James Version translation.

            Sidebar on the location of Bethany:  We simply can’t confidently point to any one location.  Further complicating the situation is the fact that it was common for multiple locations to have the same name.  It was certainly “not the Bethany of John 11:18, but an unknown village.  It was not uncommon for two places to have the same name, as the two Bethsaidas, the one on the eastern shore of the Lake of Gennesaret (Mark 6:32, 45), and the other on the western shore (John 1:44); the two Caesareas, on the Mediterranean (Acts 8:40), and in Gaulonitis, at the foot of Lebanon, Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16:13).”  (Vincent’s Word Studies)    



John the Baptist's Public Recognition of Jesus as Superior (John 1:29-34):  29 On the next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  30 This is the one about whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who is greater than I am, because he existed before me.’  31 I did not recognize him, but I came baptizing with water so that he could be revealed to Israel.”

32 Then John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending like a dove from heaven, and it remained on him.  33 And I did not recognize him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining—this is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’  34 I have both seen and testified that this man is the Chosen One of God.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)



            1:29     The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold!  The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!      The day after the Sanhedrin delegation had appeared, Jesus arrived to be baptized.  They may or may not still have been present.  If they were, they certainly were mystified and annoyed at all the attention being given this “nobody” they had never heard of.  If they had not been happy with John not claiming status for himself, they would have been even more annoyed at who he believed it belonged to!

            If that delegation had left, however, they had missed the opportunity to see the unclearness of John’s words being visibly removed:  the accolades he gives Jesus make plain that he regards Him as the one he had spoken of who was so much greater than himself (verse 27).  Word of mouth would eventually have conveyed the scene back to them, however, possibly in a garbled form.  Garbled or not, it is impossible to imagine them being receptive to what they heard.

            John emphatically compares Jesus to the lamb that was offered in the Jewish sacrifices to have one’s sin removed.  This Lamb's sacrifice, however, had the potential to deal with the transgressions of the entire “world” rather than merely those of a particular individual or even of just the Jewish nation.  What the animal sacrifice could produce for only one person this gift-of-God sacrifice could produce for the entire human race.

            Sidebar on the multiple lessons the “Lamb” imagery could and would have conveyed as people thought about it after Jesus’ resurrection:  A ‘lamb,’ among the Jews, was killed and eaten at the Passover to commemorate their deliverance from Egypt, Exodus 12:3-11.  A lamb was offered in the tabernacle, and afterward in the temple, every morning and evening, as a part of the daily worship, Exodus 29:38-39.  The Messiah was predicted as a lamb led to the slaughter, to show his patience in his sufferings, and readiness to die for man, Isaiah 53:7. 

            “A lamb, among the Jews, was also an emblem of patience, meekness, gentleness.  On all these accounts, rather than on any one of them alone, Jesus was called ‘the Lamb.’  He was innocent 1 Peter 2:23-25; he was a sacrifice for sin the substance represented by the daily offering of the lamb, and slain [on the cross] at the usual time of the evening sacrifice, Luke 23:44-46; and he was what was represented by the Passover, turning away the anger of God, and saving sinners by his blood from vengeance and eternal death, 1 Corinthians 5:7.”  (Barnes’ Notes on the Bible)   


            1:30     This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.’  Hence he  applied to Jesus His earlier claim (verse 27) that one was coming who was “preferred” over himself and who had even been “before me.”  Since Jesus and John were approximately the same age--Mary was informed of her pregnancy when John was six months in the womb (Luke 1:26)--“before me” has to take on connotations of His eternal existence with which this gospel was begun (1:1-4).


            1:31     I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.”  John had not known who this greater one was to be when he had first started teaching.  However he had known that part of the purpose of his own baptismal work was to “reveal to Israel” his identity.  By now that gap in his knowledge had been filled and he was quite happy to share who that identification referred to.

            Sidebar on John’s lack of familiarity with Jesus:  Being a kinsman of Jesus--their respective mothers are called “cousins” in a few translations of Luke 1:36 but most prefer the alternative of “relative” since the Greek term covers both--he likely had heard his mother mention him but one must remember that she was elderly at the time of the birth as was his father.  Hence there was no one around very long to mention Him. 

            If he had ever physically encountered Him, he still had no idea of just how important this Man would become.  The fact that John’s native home was in “the hill country” in “a city of Judah (Luke 1:39) while Jesus’ home was up in Nazareth of Galilee (Luke 1:26; 2:39) would have minimized the probability of such happening.  Even if he had (rarely) encountered Him,  I did not know Him” would still convey the sense of grasp, understand, comprehend His real importance.  If Jesus’ own family did not, it was hardly like that John would have either!   


            1:32     And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him.  John was convinced of the identification as Messiah because he saw the Holy Spirit descend as if it were a dove.  It not only touched Jesus, it “remained upon Him,” carrying the idea of a permanent and on-going presence. 

            Note the past tense:  “I saw;” hence the event had happened before the Jerusalem delegation had arrived.  Note also that he did not say “we all saw:”  this can cause this verse to be interpreted in any of three ways:  (1) The singular is only used to stress that John is an eyewitness--who else may have also seen it is an irrelevance to his own testimony; (2)  that this was a vision visible only to John; or (3) if taken as a literal physical phenomena, that John was the only one to see it because John had baptized Him in private. 

            Of course this visible descent of the Spirit made no change in the nature of Christ. It served two purposes, (1) to make the Messiah known to the Baptist, and through him to the world; (2) to mark the official commencement of the ministry of the Messiah, like the anointing of a king.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)  


            1:33     I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’  John had been forewarned by revelation that the person he saw this happen to would be the one who would have the ability to baptize with the Holy Spirit.  What more natural than the One who had uniquely received the Spirit be able to provide it to others as well?


            1:34     And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.”  Since John had seen this, he could testify by personal observation that this was “the Son of God.”  Although many people were baptized like Jesus, one person and one person alone was to receive this demonstration of the Spirit’s support and embracing.  It follows that the term “Son of God” is likewise used in a unique sense, of someone who is the “Son of God” unlike any other human being.  If the Baptist did not consciously think of the term as embracing supernaturalness, the author’s prologue to the book (1:1-10) clearly indicates that the apostolic author did.



The Baptist’s Public Recognition of Jesus Causes Andrew to Follow Jesus and to Convince Peter to Do So As Well (John 1:35-42):  35 Again the next day John was standing there with two of his disciples.  36 Gazing at Jesus as he walked by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” 

37 When John’s two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.  38 Jesus turned around and saw them following and said to them, “What do you want?”  So they said to him, “Rabbi” (which is translated Teacher), “where are you staying?”  39 Jesus answered, “Come and you will see.”  So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day.  Now it was about four o’clock in the afternoon.

40 Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two disciples who heard what John said and followed Jesus.  41 He first found his own brother Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah!” (which is translated Christ). 

42 Andrew brought Simon to Jesus.  Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon, the son of John.  You will be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).     --New English Translation (for comparison)



            1:35     Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples.  Another day passed and the Baptizer happened to be with two of his unidentified disciples.  The smallness of the number would seem to argue that the expression “his disciples” carries the connotation that they are not present for the purpose of being baptized but because of an ongoing commitment to John and his movement.  One of them was the future apostle Andrew (verse 40); it has been reasonably speculated that the other is the author of this book, the future apostle John.   

            Sidebar:  What happens next was not the call to be an apostle but the first step on the road to that.  The difference between this narrative and that of the Synoptists (Matthew 4:18; Mark 1:16; Luke 5:2) is satisfactorily explained by supposing this to refer to an earlier and less formal call of these first four disciples, John and Andrew, Peter and James.  Their call to be Apostles was a very gradual one.  Two of them, and perhaps all four, began by being disciples of the Baptist, who directs them to the Lamb of God (John 1:36), Who invites them to His abode (John 1:39): they then witness His miracles (John 2:2, &c.); are next called to be ‘fishers of men’ (Matthew 4:19); and are finally enrolled with the rest of the Twelve as Apostles (Mark 3:13).”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)  


            1:36     And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God!”  As he watched Jesus pass by, John described Him to them as “the Lamb of God.”  If they had been there the previous day, they had already heard the Baptizer give the lamb imagery a sacrificial and redemptive connotation:  “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (verse 29).  Even without that elaboration, the idea of Jesus being a  lamb” was language, in Jewish culture of that day, easily suggesting a sacrificial lamb.

            And, since literal ones were sacrificed in the Temple to ceremonially remove faults, it inevitably suggested purity as well since that was what the sacrifice produced.  The apostles found it impossible to believe that Jesus would actually be killed, so it must be through the lens of “moral/spiritual excellence” that they interpreted the language:  He was the very embodiment of purity.  From that approach the sinlessness of the Lord is a logical deduction.


            1:37     The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.  Although they surely did not understand the full significance of the description, they certainly recognized it as high praise.  Hence “they followed Jesus” to see what more they could learn of Him--and from Him as well, for that matter.  He had the recommendation of John;  He had been implicitly praised by John.  Whatever would come out of an association with Him would have to be to their ultimate spiritual benefit.


            1:38     Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, “What do you seek?”  They said to Him, “Rabbi” (which is to say, when translated, Teacher), “where are You staying?”  Although they wanted to know more about or from Jesus they clearly did not have the courage to express the sentiment.  Hence Jesus challenges them on why they are following.  They clearly were non-verbally expressing an interest in His teaching for they address Him with the courteous title of “Rabbi”--the same term applied to John the Baptist himself (John 3:26).  The translation of it as “Teacher” is provided because non-Jews would have little reason to know it and because the label itself only sprang into use about the time Hillel took charge of the Sanhedrin around 30 B.C.

            Blending together the courteous title of “Rabbi/Teacher” with the enquiry of where He was staying, they are conveying the message that they want to hear what He has to say.  Rather than providing them with the information about His residence and telling them when to come, He responds with a more positive suggestion than they could have imagined. . . .              


            1:39     He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where He was staying, and remained with Him that day (now it was about the tenth hour).  Rather than provide a direct answer, He simply instructed them to continue to come along and find out for themselves where His residence was.  The two remained with Him the remainder of the day--beginning at “the tenth hour” . . . being 10 in the morning (by Roman time reckoning) or 4 in the afternoon (if following Jewish custom).  Doing what is not stated.  On the other hand, it was surely spiritual conversation since when they next saw their relatives at least one had become convinced that this Jesus was the Messiah (verse 41)


            1:40     One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.  Andrew thrice brings others to Christ:  Peter, the lad with the loaves (John 6:8), and certain Greeks (John 12:22); and excepting Mark 13:3 we know scarcely anything else about him.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)  Although there was no formal hierarchy among the apostles, their varying abilities and personalities made it inevitable that individuals “ranked” them as of different degrees of importance; hence we read of “Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother” and nowhere of “Simon Peter, brother of Andrew.”


            1:41     He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated, the Christ).  Jesus had so impressed him that He was no longer just a “Rabbi”--honorable and esteemed as that label and function was at its best.  Their conversation together had given him the conviction that he had unquestionably found the “Christ” (= “Messiah”) as well. 

            As a disciple of John the Baptist, Andrew had at least two facts to work from going into this conversation:  (1)  John was not the Messiah and (2) Jesus was uniquely respected as the “Lamb of God” by the Baptizer.  Andrew did not have many interpretive options available at this point.  If Jesus were not the “Christ”--in at least some major sense of being “anointed to God’s service”--then what else could He be considered?  Furthermore nothing in their conversation diverted him away from that conclusion, making it an even surer assertion.

            Sidebar on the term “Messiah:  The Hebrew form of the name occurs in the New Testament only here and in John 4:25, in both cases in a vivid picture of events fixed in the memory.  Elsewhere, John, as the other sacred writers, uses the LXX [Septuagint] translation, ‘Christ,’ and even here he adds it (compare, e.g., in this John 1:20, 25).  Both words mean ‘anointed.’  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)


            1:42     And he brought him to Jesus.  Now when Jesus looked at him, He said, “You are Simon the son of Jonah.  You shall be called Cephas (which is translated, A Stone).  As soon as Jesus saw Cephas He recognized his identity.  This could merely imply that Andrew had expressed his intention to speak with Cephas and promptly return with Him.  Hence one would expect it to be Cephas.  On the other hand, the lack of a preceding dialogue of introduction makes one suspect that the author has in mind supernatural knowledge:  Jesus did not have to be told; He already knew.

            He calls Cephas by the new name of “Peter” (= “a stone” or “pebble”).  He knows enough about Cephas’ pride that he bestows a new name that emphasizes his own insignificance as a mere “stone”--in contrast with his own elevated pride in himself.  He knows Peter’s potential for great service, but He wishes to keep the man’s pride in line as well.



Philip and Nathaniel Recruited to Discipleship as Jesus Leaves Bethsaida (John 1:43-51):  43 On the next day Jesus wanted to set out for Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”  44 (Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the town of Andrew and Peter.)  45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the law, and the prophets also wrote about—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 

46 Nathanael replied, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Philip replied, “Come and see.”

47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and exclaimed, “Look, a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit!  48 Nathanael asked him, “How do you know me?”  Jesus replied, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 

49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel!”  50 Jesus said to him, “Because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe?  You will see greater things than these.”  51 He continued, “I tell all of you the solemn truth—you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)



            1:43     The following day Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and He found Philip and said to him, “Follow Me.”  Deciding the next day to travel to Galilee rather than stay longer where He currently was, He searched out Philip’s location--implied by “found Philip”--and instructed him to “follow” on this journey.  This seeking out implies that they already knew each other.  The fact that Philip does as Jesus instructed argues that (1) he recognized Jesus had the authority to rightfully give him “orders” and (2) that he expected to learn more from Him on their journey and be spiritually benefited.  Ongoing fellowship with the Lord meant ongoing benefit from the Lord as well.


            1:44     Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.  Besides his hometown, little is known about Philip the apostle:  Some interesting hints of character are attainable from John 6:5, in which an incident occurs where Philip revealed a practical wisdom and confident purpose, and again in John 12:21-22, where Andrew and Philip are made the confidants of the Greeks, and Philip is the one who seems able and willing to introduce them to Jesus.  In John 14:8 Philip uttered one of the great longings of the human heart--a passionate desire to solve all mysteries, by the vision of the Father; but he lets out the fact that be had not seen all that he might have seen and known in Jesus Himself. . . .  He must not be confounded with Philip the evangelist, whose daughters prophesied (Acts 8[:4-13]; Acts 21:8).”  (Pulpit Commentary)


            1:45     Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  The conversations before arriving in Bethsaida had convinced Philip that Jesus must be the person predicted by the Law of Moses and the prophets to come to the rescue of the nation.  Note that he does not regard prophecy as restricted to either part of the Old Testament alone.  The omission of “Psalms” may be because--since it contained prophecies--it must also have had prophetic authorship.

            Sidebar:  The probability is that this individual is known by a different name in the other gospel accounts:  Nathanael is commonly identified with Bartholomew:  (1) Bartholomew is only a patronymic and the bearer would be likely to have another name (compare Barjona of Simon, Barnabas of Joses); (2) John never mentions Bartholomew, the Synoptists never mention Nathanael; (3) the Synoptists in their lists place Bartholomew next to Philip, as James [was placed] next his probable caller John, and Peter (in Matthew and Luke) [was placed] next his caller Andrew; (4) all the other disciples mentioned in this chapter become Apostles, and none are so highly commended as Nathanael; (5) All Nathanael’s companions named in John 21:2 were Apostles.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)


            1:46     And Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Philip said to him, “Come and see.”  Nathanael considered the very idea that Jesus could be the fulfillment of prophecy inherently absurd.  What better evidence can there be against it than his infamous hometown;  Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Galilee seems to have been regarded as spiritually valueless to those further south (John 7:52) and here we learn that within Galilee itself Nazareth appeared even more so--even outright contemptible.

            In essence he is saying, “It can’t be, so don’t bother me with this foolishness.”  But if you won’t believe me, insists Philip, come and see for yourself.  Don’t let your prejudices undermine your willingness to check out the validity of my claim.

            Sidebar:  All Galileans were despised for their want of culture, their rude dialect, and contact with Gentiles.  They were to the Jews what Bœotians were to the Athenians.  But here it is a Galilean who reproaches Nazareth in particular.  Apart from the Gospels we know nothing to the discredit of Nazareth; neither in [the] Old Testament nor in Josephus is it mentioned; but what we are told of the people by the Evangelists is mostly bad.  Christ left them and preferred to dwell at Capernaum (Matthew 4:13); He could do very little among them, ‘because of their unbelief’ (Matthew 13:58), which was such as to make Him marvel (Mark 6:6); and once they tried to kill Him (Luke 4:29).”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)         


            1:47     Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!”  Although talking with Nathanael for the first time, he praised him as an honest Israelite who always avoided “deceit” in all the varied forms it can come.  He says this “of him” rather than “to him,” indicating that the words are addressed to others around Jesus.  Yet he is close enough to hear them spoken for. . . . 


            1:48     Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?”  Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”  Although he wasn’t about to reject such an obvious compliment, it raised the question of how in the world could Jesus have recognized him since they had not previously met.  Jesus responded that He had seen him beneath a fig tree--an idiom among Jews that often meant in the confines of the garden at one’s home (as in 1 Kings 4:25 and Zechariah 3:10).

            The interpretative problem for us is why in the world would being seen beneath a fig tree provoke such “extravagant” praise?  There is clearly something unspoken and unrecorded between this fact and the conclusion that Nathanael draws in the next verse--something important enough that it leads to the conclusion that he draws.  One possibility is that Jesus had observed Nathanael setting beneath the fig tree studying the scriptures--the Talmud speaks of how certain rabbis considered an early rising and study under a fig tree as the ideal way to begin the day.  This would testify of his scriptural interest and desire to live an upright life.

            But that still leaves us with Jesus’ praise of Nathanael as having no “deceit” (verse 47).  If that is to be specifically tied in with sitting “under the fig tree,” the most probable explanation would be that something must have happened at that location that tempted his moral character and, in spite of the temptation it produced, he refused to engage in dishonesty.  Whatever it was, the recognition that someone else could possibly know about it would have startled him and argued for a knowledge and insight beyond all others.  Hence the reaction. . . .


            1:49     Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”  Jesus’ explanation astounded Nathanael who praised Him as “Rabbi,” “Son of God,” and “King of Israel”--the full connotations of these terms probably vague in his own mind beyond an attempt to provide the praise and respect he felt both adequate and well deserved.  Jesus couldn’t know what had happened and the fact that He did demonstrated that He was truly unique.  Perhaps we find here an ascending order of praise (at least as seen from his own standpoint):  Jesus was teacher (“Rabbi”), pious (“Son of God”), and rightful ruler of Israel (“King”).

            Sidebar:  Although he doesn’t explicitly call Jesus “Messiah,” that seems to have been a common understanding of the phrase “the Son of God:  Matthew 26:63; Luke 4:41; John 11:27.     e  


            1:50     Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe?  You will see greater things than these.”  If this unexpected knowledge of Jesus had provoked faith, he had best remember that he would behold far “greater things” than this manifestation of Divine knowledge.  Far greater evidence would be manifested.


            1:51     And He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.  Whatever else these words may mean, they at least carry the connotation that he would see Divine power and agents (“angels of God”) working on behalf of Jesus.  The reference could refer to both miracles in general and successful exorcisms as well. 

            Jesus functions, if you will, like Jacob’s ladder in the Old Testament (Genesis 28:10-17), through which the supernatural world is manifested on earth.  There the language is symbolic--as proved by the fact that it was manifested in a dream. 

            In Christ’s actions supernatural agencies would also be manifested--invisibly to the human eye except for the visible role of Jesus Himself . . . and in the quite visible results produced by their service to the Lord.  If one wishes to find something more literal than this--rather than as the agents and manifestation of Divine power--perhaps the angelic appearance in the Garden of Gethsemane might be invoked (Luke 22:43).  There is also their appearance after the forty days of temptation (Matthew 4:11; Mark 1:13).   







Chapter Two




Jesus Turns Water into Wine at a Marriage Feast in Cana (John 2:1-11):  1 Now on the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding.

When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no wine left.”  Jesus replied, “Woman, why are you saying this to me?  My time has not yet come.”  His mother told the servants, “Whatever he tells you, do it.”

Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washing, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.  Jesus told the servants, “Fill the water jars with water.”  So they filled them up to the very top. 

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the head steward,” and they did.  When the head steward tasted the water that had been turned to wine, not knowing where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), he called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the cheaper wine when the guests are drunk.  You have kept the good wine until now!” 

11 Jesus did this as the first of his miraculous signs, in Cana of Galilee.  In this way he revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.     --New English Translation (for comparison)   



            2:1       On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  The “third day” reference stresses just how close in time several preceding events were chronologically linked:  not weeks or months later, but mere days apart--on the third day following His decision to return to Galilee (John 1:43).  Whatever spiritual things needed to be done, there were also personal, social, and family responsibilities such as attending weddings that needed to be handled by Jesus as well.

            Whether the family inviting them were kin of some type or merely family friends we do not know.  (The distance between Nazareth and Cana was a little under four miles--straight line distance rather than actual walking distance.)  We do know that it was the hometown of Nathanael (John 21:2).  We may suppose it to be called ‘of Galilee’ to distinguish it from a Cana in Peraea mentioned by Josephus (Vita, 16:1); but more probably from the Kanah in the tribe of Asher, mentioned in Joshua 19:28.”  (Pulpit Commentary)

            The reference to how “the mother of Jesus was there” tells us that she had come to the wedding separately from Jesus.  (The rest of the family was there as well--verse 12--so they probably traveled to Cana together.)  From her willingness to insist that Jesus do something about the lack of wine (verses 3 and 5) it can reasonably be argued that she had such a close friendship with those celebrating the wedding that she felt an obligation to help out in any way she could.


            2:2       Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding.  Since Jesus was now a grown man it did not automatically follow that He also would be present because His mother went, though it would be quite natural.  As it turned out, however, both He and His disciples had received an invitation themselves, indicating they knew either the couple getting married or their family.     


            2:3       And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.”  To run out of wine during a marriage feast was a deep humiliation for a family and when this happened Mary was deeply concerned with it and shared her alarm with her son.  This shows that she believed that there was something that He could do to resolve the difficulty but she does not presume to tell Him either the “what” or “how”--at least not explicitly, where others could hear what she said.  That He would buy it was borderline absurd because of the quality expected, the amount of money required, and the need for it to be available “now.”  Hence she must have had the opinion that He had the capacity to solve the difficulty in some other manner.   

            Sidebar:  Oddly the gospel of John is the only one of the four that never actually gives His mother’s name. 


            2:4       Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me?  My hour has not yet come.”  Jesus reacts like many a frustrated son has in every generation when pressed by his mother.  He respects and even reveres her but . . . “what does this really have to do with Me?”  It is their wedding and they are the hosts; hence they are the rightful individuals to deal with the problem.   

            Furthermore, it really wasn’t the right time to act because “My hour has not yet come” to perform miracles--an answer that presupposes she was discretely seeking miraculous intervention.  The need was legitimate so his mother refused to give up. . . .


            2:5       His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.  His mother refused to get into an argument and simply instructed the servants to carry out whatever instructions He gave.  In other words she had no doubt that He would find a way to resolve the problem.  And that certainly did not involve buying wine for there is no reason to believe that the family ever had much in the way of money (cf. Matthew 8:20).  This was not the only time that a woman’s words caused Him to reverse His planned course of action or inaction (cf. Matthew 15:21-28).


            2:6       Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece.  Ceremonial purification--the washing of hands and feet and even wooden furniture and cooking instruments (cf. Mark 7:3-4)--required large amounts of water.  That this was a household that took such things seriously can be seen in the fact that they had six large stone waterpots set aside for this purpose--what else would they have felt they needed such a large amount for?--with a total capacity between 120 and 180 gallons.  (The identification of the number of containers and approximate capacity argues for authorship of the gospel by an eyewitness.)


            2:7       Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.”  And they filled them up to the brim.  Presumably because of the size of the crowds, these were apparently empty or nearly so.  Jesus’ instruction to fill them to the brim represented what they would have to eventually do anyway so there was no reason to object at this order from an outsider.  Furthermore filling them to the edge of overflowing guaranteed that there would be more than enough to meet the needs of the continuing celebration


            2:8       And He said to them, “Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast.”  And they took it.  After this was done they were told to take samples to the man in charge of the occasion.  We can understand this was appropriate because he was the person directing the day’s festivities and if more wine was now unexpectedly available he needed to know about it.  His function would be roughly parallel to what a more recent generation would have called “chief waiter.”

            Sidebar:  Although the position is not otherwise referred to in the Bible, in the apocryphal Sirach / Ecclesiasticus 32:1-2 we find someone exercising this type of responsibility:  If they make you master of the feast, do not exalt yourself; be among them as one of them; take good care of them and then be seated; when you have fulfilled your duties, take your place, that you may be merry on their account and receive a wreath for your excellent leadership.”  In Plato’s writings the position carried explicit responsibility for being in charge of the wine.


            2:9       When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom.  He was quite astounded to discover that this was the best quality wine that had yet been served that day.  Hence he sought out the bridegroom to protest.  Even if he was merely serving a “ceremonial” role rather than being the real “man in charge” of the feast, he still needed to have been fully informed of what was available.  And if he had been, he makes plain he would have promptly objected as to what order the wines were served. . . .  


            2:10     And he said to him, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior.  You have kept the good wine until now!”  After all, both custom and common sense required that the best be served first and, after plenty of the typically low-alcoholic wine of the day had been served, the taste buds would not readily distinguish between the superior and the average.  In unbelief (and criticism) of such foolishness he demands an explanation for the odd behavior.

            Sidebar:  In this context “well drunk” can not carry the connotation of becoming thoroughly inebriated but of having had an ample amount of something relatively mild in intoxicating capacity.  If it carried the harsher sense, how in the world could the “master of the feast” this late in the festivities even tell it was of superior quality?

            This is not the only argument that the text “denotes no more than to drink sufficiently, or to satisfaction: and ‘it would be very unjust and absurd to suppose it implies here, that these guests had already transgressed the rules of temperance.  None can seriously imagine the evangelist to be so destitute of common sense as to represent Christ as displaying his glory by miraculously furnishing the company with wine to prolong a drunken revel.  It is much more reasonable to conclude, that it signifies here, (as it does [in] Genesis 43:34; Song of Solomon 5:1; Haggai 1:6, in the Septuagint) only to drink so freely as innocently to exhilarate the spirit.  And even this, perhaps, might only be the case with some of them, and particularly not of those who, drawn by a desire to converse with Jesus, might be but lately come in.’ — Doddridge.”  (Benson Commentary)


            2:11     This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.  Whatever the answer to the man’s question was, it isn’t recorded.  The author is simply willing to call this the first of Jesus’ miracles and that this action reinforced the disciples’ belief in Him.  By emphasizing that this was the initiation of Jesus’ supernatural wonders, John clearly shows that he had no knowledge of stories like those tales of childhood miracles that would begin to become popular only a few centuries later.

            Sidebar:  Two objections have been made to this miracle (1) on rationalistic, (2) on ‘Temperance’ grounds. (1) It is said that it is a wasteful miracle, a parade of power, unworthy of a Divine Agent: a tenth of the quantity of wine would have been ample.  But the surplus was not wasted any more than the twelve baskets of fragments (John 6:13); it would be a valuable present to a bridal pair.

            “(2) It is urged that Christ would not have supplied the means for gross excess; and to avoid this supposed difficulty it is suggested that the wine made was not intoxicating, i.e. was not wine at all.  But in all His dealings with men God allows the possibility of a temptation to excess.  All His gifts may be thus abused.  The 5,000 might have been gluttonous over the loaves and fishes.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)  



At the Feast of Passover, Jesus Chases Out the Animal Sellers and the “Money Changers” for Turning the Temple into a Place of Making Money—Whether Well Intended in Motive or Not (John 2:12-17):  12 After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there a few days.  13 Now the Jewish feast of Passover was near, so Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

14 He found in the temple courts those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers sitting at tables.  15 So he made a whip of cords and drove them all out of the temple courts, with the sheep and the oxen.  He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.  16 To those who sold the doves he said, “Take these things away from here!  Do not make my Father’s house a marketplace!” 

17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will devour me.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)



            2:12     After this He went down to Capernaum, He, His mother, His brothers, and His disciples; and they did not stay there many days.  After the wedding feast Jesus’ family and His disciples all traveled together to Capernaum.  Jesus and His disciples at least (verse 17) did not, however, stay there for long.

            Sidebar:  Capernaum was located on the Sea of Galilee and this provided ready transportation to all communities near its entire length.  The attractiveness of it as a base of operations was further enhanced by the major population in the region.    


            2:13     Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  He went, as every good adult Jew was supposed to, to observe the annual remembrance of the liberation from Egyptian captivity.  The additional words “Passover of the Jews” shows that this gospel was written to Gentiles who would be little or non-acquainted with the expression.

            Sidebar:  John groups his narrative round the Jewish festivals: we have (1) Passover; (2) Purim (?), John 5:1; (3) Passover, John 6:4; (4) Tabernacles, John 7:2; (5) Dedication, John 10:22; (6) Passover, John 11:55.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)


            2:14     And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business.  The animals were being sold for the sacrifices and money changers converted foreign currencies into one acceptable for the temple tax--and, quite probably, coinage more readily accepted locally as well.  This was done in the Court of the Gentiles into which even uncircumcised Gentiles were freely admitted. 

            Such sales were probably defended as making things easier for pilgrims who had come dozens, hundreds, or even more miles.  Scripturally, however, there was no authorization for them.  He seems to be alluding to this principle because His objection is clearly with such businesses being present at all (verse 16).  The objection given here is different from the financially chicanery He specifies and vehemently denounces at the second cleansing--“you have made it a den of thieves” (Matthew 21:13; Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46).  Hence their behavior was both a violation of the silence of the scriptures and the scriptures’ explicit denunciation of financial dishonesty.

            Sidebar:  There is a shift in the nature of the money changing being done in these two verses.  It is “not the same Greek word as in John 2:15.  There the word points to the commission paid on exchanges; here the word indicates a change from large to small coins.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)  Both were simultaneously involved in what they were doing.   


            2:15     When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables.  Jesus exploded in indignation.  He upturned the money changers’ tables scattering their money onto the ground, forcing them to hurriedly pick it up.  He whipped the animals out of the temple confines, forcing any (who dared) to leave and bring them back.  This is the first of two occasions on which He did these things, the second being during the events immediately preceding His crucifixion.


            2:16     And He said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away!  Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!”  Whatever “convenience” such things might give pilgrims, Jesus would not tolerate any of it.  This was supposed to be God’s house, not a place to make money.  So far as He was concerned that ruled out such activities. 

            The whip was used to drive the animals away:  it wasn’t very practical to wave His hands at them and say “shoo!” was it?  The merchants could retrieve the animals by following after them.  Turning over the money changers table, denied them none of their coinage but caused them to waste much time retrieving it from the floor of the Temple.  Nor did he cost the merchants any actual cash by freeing the doves:  He simply growled at the merchants to remove them and by this point they weren’t about to challenge Him.

            Sidebar:  Note that Jesus does not speak of “our Father’s house” but “My Father’s house”--making the relationship one so unique that it is one none of them could ever share with the Father.  For the intent of this consider John 1:1-3.


            2:17     Then His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.”  Being well versed in the Old Testament, Jesus’ disciples promptly recalled how the Psalmist had written (69:9) of how enthusiasm for God’s house had consumed him.  How better to describe what they had just witnessed?  Although not written as Messianic prophecy, the words perfectly fit and promptly jumped into their minds.  The words illustrated rather than predicted this event.

            Sidebar on how many times Jesus cleansed the Temple:  It is difficult to believe that this cleansing of the Temple is identical with the one placed by the Synoptists at the last Passover in Christ’s ministry; difficult also to see what is gained by the identification.  If they are the same event, either John or the Synoptists have made a gross blunder in chronology.  Could John, who was with our Lord at both Passovers, make such a mistake?  Could Matthew, who was with Him at the last Passover, transfer to it an event which took place at the first Passover, a year before his conversion?  When we consider the immense differences which distinguish the last Passover from the first in Christ’s ministry, it seems incredible that anyone who had contemporary evidence could through any lapse of memory transfer a very remarkable incident indeed from one to the other. 

            “On the other hand the difficulty of believing that the Temple was twice cleansed is very slight.  Was Christ’s preaching so universally successful that one cleansing would be certain to suffice?  And if two years later He found that the evil had returned, would He not be certain to drive it out once more?  Differences in the details of the narratives corroborate this view.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges) 



The Religious Leaders Demand a “Sign” to Justify His Actions and He Covertly Spoke of His Own Resurrection From the Dead (John 2:18-22):  18 So then the Jewish leaders responded, “What sign can you show us, since you are doing these things?”  19 Jesus replied, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.”  20 Then the Jewish leaders said to him, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and are you going to raise it up in three days?” 

21 But Jesus was speaking about the temple of his body.  22 So after he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the saying that Jesus had spoken.     --New English Translation (for comparison)   



            2:18     So the Jews answered and said to Him, “What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?”  Certain “Jews” objected.  These almost have to be either members of the Sanhedrin or those aligned with it--not the Jewish people at large.  These would be the only ones with a vest interest in defending maintaining the temple as a place of business.  They demanded some miraculous “sign” to justify what He had done.  In effect they wanted the underlying authority that gave Him the right.  They had the Sanhedrin on their side:  What did He have?

            Asking for evidence is commendable, but for some no amount of evidence will ever be good enough.  In essence their mentality is:  “You can’t be right on this matter so no matter what you do it will not be enough to make us change.”  Jesus recognized their challenge as nothing more than this.  And if He had done some wonder immediately, would it have solved the problem among these religious office holders?  In John 6:30 friendlier people ask for a “sign” to verify faith in His words when the very previous day they were among the 5,000 He had miraculously fed!  (Did we mention they had also seen Him perform miraculous healings?  6:2.)  So Jesus immediately jumps to the most dramatic of His miracles--His coming resurrection from the dead.

            Sidebar:  John has a clear tendency to use the term Jew not in an ethnic sense but as a term describing those opposed to the Lord.  After all, Jesus moved in and around a society that was strongly Jewish and His own disciples were such as well--including the author of this book!  In meaning, the phrase commonly has the sense of “unfaithful Jew.” 


            2:19     Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  Since nothing He said was going to smooth their ruffled feathers, He responded with a remark that sounded nonsensical at the time but which would be pregnant with a reference to the resurrection to the disciples only a few years later;  “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  That was His authority--the power to conquer even death itself.

            It is Matthew (26:61) and Mark (14:58) who tell us that this saying was twisted into a charge against Christ, but they do not record the saying.  John, who does record the saying, does not mention the charge.  Such coincidence can scarcely be designed, and is therefore evidence of the truth of both statements. . . .  The word used in these three verses for ‘temple’ means the central sacred building (naos), whereas that used in John 2:14 means the whole sacred enclosure (hieron).  The latter is never used figuratively.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)


            2:20     Then the Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?”  The critics reacted--not surprisingly--on a literal basis and wondered how He could ever hope to do any such thing since it had taken decades to construct the temple.  Even tearing it down would take an extended period of time--much less rebuilding it!


            2:21     But He was speaking of the temple of His body.  John then reminds the reader that it was not the physical temple of stone but the fleshly temple of His own body that Jesus had in mind.  Holy and perfect in a sense that the inanimate physical temple could never be.


            2:22     Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.  John is candid in admitting that this thought did not occur to the disciples at the time; it only came to be recognized after the resurrection as they looked back at the events that preceded it.  In other words, they were just as perplexed at the time as the critics were as to what Jesus really meant.  (This is but one example of many where the gospel writers are quite candid as to their own failures to understand Jesus and to their own weaknesses as disciples.  Their faith never became an excuse to rewrite history to make themselves look better.)



Although Jesus Was Very Popular in Jerusalem At That Time, He Refused to Surrender to the Preferences of the People (John 2:23-25):  23  Now while Jesus was in Jerusalem at the feast of the Passover, many people believed in his name because they saw the miraculous signs he was doing.  24  But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people. 25 He did not need anyone to testify about man, for he knew what was in man.

                        --New English Translation (for comparison)



            2:23     Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did.  Hence Jesus performed various miracles during the week long observance that produced the conviction that He had God’s backing in whatever He did.  The nature of those “signs” is not described, only the fact and the result.  The description of miracles in this manner shows that miracles were designed to be visual indications (“signs”) that the doer had God’s backing.  After the immediate passions aroused from Passover week, the emotions of those from Galilee had time to cool down and for them to more calmly react to Him (4:45).

            His critics had insisted He provide supernatural actions to vindicate His authority (verse 18) but even when He did them repeatedly it had no impact upon their thinking.  Except, perhaps, for cementing the fear that this “heretic” was a potential danger to their prestige and authority. 


            2:24     But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men,  Though His miracles created great popularity, Jesus refused to “commit Himself to them”--“entrust” in many translations--because He knew their intentions and that they were different from His own.  In contrast to the hostile religious leaders, the impressed multitude wanted Him to be their leader, but where they wanted to be led was profoundly different from where Jesus wanted to lead them:  they were thinking kingship and revolt against Rome; Jesus was thinking in terms of an unending kingdom for those of every nation.

           He had an agenda to follow and He would not permit even popularity to move Him away from it.  If He was popular, fine; if He was hated, that was also fine.  He had come to preach and teach and so long as He fulfilled that mission He was satisfied.


            2:25     and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.  In the final analysis Jesus had no need that others should “testify” = praise, commend, or even speak in good terms of Him.  He knew what was “in” them (their nature, motives, and purposes) while they failed to grasp was “in” Jesus (His actual nature, motives, and purposes).

            Sidebar:  We have instances of this supernatural knowledge in the cases of Peter, John 1:42; Nathanael, John 1:47-48; Nicodemus, John 3:3; the woman at the well, John 4:29; the disciples, John 6:61, 64; Lazarus, John 11:4, 15; Judas, John 13:11; Peter, John 21:17.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)








Chapter Three




In a Private Night Time Meeting with Nicodemus—A Member of the Sanhedrin—Jesus Stresses the Importance of a Spiritual Rebirth (John 3:1-15):  1 Now a certain man, a Pharisee named Nicodemus, who was a member of the Jewish ruling council, came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God.  For no one could perform the miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him.” 

Jesus replied, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time, can he?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must all be born from above.’ The wind blows wherever it will, and you hear the sound it makes, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going.  So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus replied, “How can these things be?”  10 Jesus answered, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you don’t understand these things?  11 I tell you the solemn truth, we speak about what we know and testify about what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony. 

12 “If I have told you people about earthly things and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?  13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)



            3:1       There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.  In other words he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the supreme religious authority over the Jewish people.  He was intrigued by Jesus and wanted to know more.  Perhaps he had heard of the complimentary words spoken by John the Baptist.  Or perhaps he was in sympathy with Jesus chasing the merchants out of the Temple confines.  Just because the practice could be rationalized did not mean that everyone was necessarily comfortable with what was happening--especially if it seemed that it was financially benefiting only key individuals in the priesthood.  


            3:2       This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”  Nicodemus’ public position and the hostility of the religious leadership class required discretion lest Jesus’ convictions turn out to be embarrassing to him and lest his inquiries outrage his fellow Sanhedrin members.  Hence he decided to come discretely “by night,” when there was the least danger he would be recognized and reported on. 

            Even so he recognized that Jesus’ miracles represented a powerful accrediting of Him as “a teacher come from God” for how else could such clear cut “signs” be performed without God’s approval and support?  Or as the Benson Commentary concisely puts it, “His miracles were His credentials.”  Note the similar sentiment in John 9:16 and 9:33.

            3:3       Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  Jesus challenged the Sanhedrin leader with this highly unexpected assertion--strange because of both the language of being “born again” being used (the expression can also mean “from above” but Nicodemus himself clearly views it as meaning “for a second time” in verse 4) and because of it being addressed to a man of the highest religious and social stature.  Others might need to be, but him?

            On the other hand, would “starting all over again”--which inherently has to be part of the concept of being “born again”--how could there be anything wrong in that?  In light of the pride and arrogance that so many considered the inherent right of their high position, would it not be essential?  And might the principle not logically apply to Nicodemus also because he was well aware, due to his own high position, how such arrogance was highly tempting? 

            Then we must factor in that Jesus’ new system meant radical reformation in priorities and the evaluation of behavior.  They would need to learn something radically different, as if they were mere babes fresh out of the womb.

            Sidebar:  The difference in teaching/preaching style of Jesus contrasts with that in the Synoptics.  This is not an argument that John is inaccurate.  Nor does it necessarily mean that John is rewording/paraphrasing the message with the purpose of making the underlying “subtext” of what is meant to come out more clearly and explicitly--though there is a certain logic to that approach.  The most likely reason is that Jesus varied His teaching style according to who He was addressing.  The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges puts the possibility this way though it suspects that a good part is from a different translation style of rendering the Aramaic Jesus spoke in:

            The discourses in John are unlike those in the Synoptists, but we must beware of exaggerating the unlikeness.  They are longer, more reflective, less popular. But they are for the most part addressed to the educated and learned, to Elders, Pharisees, and Rabbis: even the discourse on the Bread of Life, which is spoken before a mixed multitude at Capernaum, is largely addressed to the educated portion of it (John 6:41, 52), the hierarchal party opposed to Him.  The discourses in the first three Gospels are mostly spoken among the . . .  peasants of Galilee.  Contrast the University Sermons with the Parish Sermons of an eminent modern preacher, and we should notice similar differences.  This fact will account for a good deal.”       


            3:4       Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old?  Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”  Nicodemus took the words to be demanding a literal physical second birth and he, rightly, wondered what Jesus could be talking about since this was an  impossibility.  Being from the category of individuals who might well be called “the spiritual intellectuals” of the day--or at least trying to be!--he may well have recognized that there must be a concept being conveyed far beyond anything merely “literal.”

            The Old Testament had laid the conceptual foundation for spiritual rebirth by speaking of a renewal of the spirit within us (Psalms 51:10-11):  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.”

            . . . By speaking of having a new heart and spirit (Ezekiel 36:26-27):  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.’ 

            Notice how the receipt of the Spirit is mentioned in connection with this “new birth” equivalent in the Old Testament.  (Both can also be read as the purified internal spirit of the person since capitalization is via the translators’ best estimate rather than from the original text itself.)  Compare the mention of this in regard to people becoming Christians in Acts 2:38.
            . . . By speaking of having a circumcision of the heart which can never be done literally but can be done of the moral instinct which guides our behavior (Deuteronomy 30:6):  And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.”  In a similar vein, Jeremiah 4:4.                     


            3:5       Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  Jesus responded that what He was driving at was a birth “of [both] water and the Spirit”--not just one; that a rebirth of both are required to enter God’s kingdom.  This has been subjected to a number of meanings.  For example, that one must be both physically born and spiritually born.  Others take it to mean that one must be both baptized in water and have a reborn spirit within as the result (and/or be obedient to the teachings of God’s Spirit).  All of these approaches have in common the idea that merely being a mature adult human being—even a deeply religious one such as Nicodemus—is inadequate unless it is accompanied by the right relationship with God.


            3:6       That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Just as being born in the flesh results in one becoming a fleshly being, being born in the inward spirit makes one into a spiritual person as well.  Or, if interpreted of the Divine Spirit, that obeying its instructions given in Scripture transforms us into one born of that Spirit:  Originating in heaven, its instructions can only provide a spiritual rebirth rather than a physical one just as being born on earth can only provide a physical birth.


            3:7       Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’  Since both are necessary there is the necessity of seeking to “be born again.”  Without it, one is only in the flesh and never becomes the spiritual person, which is God’s goal as well.  No one is exempt from this requirement.


            3:8       The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes.  So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  The future is uncertain.  Just as the wind blows anywhere and everywhere, the person born of the Spirit (capital or lower case:  our spirit or God’s) may also reach an undreamed of destination—either physically or in a transformed nature.  Just as the human mind boggles at the “how” of the physical wind going from and to wherever it wishes, the mind also can not grasp how this happens on a spiritual level either. 


            3:9       Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?”  Nicodemus conceded his perplexity:  In effect saying, “I don’t have the slightest idea how this could be done.”  Some things you simply accept as reality whether you are thrilled by the concept or not or whether you understand how it occurs.  I do not understand, for example, how in the world the atom can be split and produce energy for millions and the percentage who do is modest.   Yet I know full well these things are and Nicodemus needed to learn much the same lesson.  


            3:10     Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?  Jesus used Nicodemus’ limitation to teach a lesson in humility.  “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?”  Even the greatest of teachers has his or her limitations and the person of “lesser” academic or social accomplishments may well—in certain areas—know far more than the more educated individual.

            The Old Testament had laid the foundation for the concept of a second birth of the inner human spirit.  It had spoken of circumcision of the heart as an action of God available for all generations (Deuteronomy 30:6) but noted that this required the co-operation and action of the individual seeking it as well (Deuteronomy 10:16); God did not impose it upon the unwilling!  The prophets also referred to the availability of an inner rebirth both given by God (Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26) and requiring human co-operation in obtaining it (Ezekiel 18:31).  


            3:11     Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness.  Since Jesus spoke of things that He was an eyewitness, to its reliability is assured; in spite of this Nicodemus did not want to accept His testimony.  This could refer to things Jesus had taught previously in public (and of that in this gospel we have only His rebuke of the use of the Temple as a place of business).  Alternatively it could refer to things said earlier in the conversation but not recorded by the author--perhaps the descent of the Spirit upon Him at John’s baptism?  (In the latter case, the “we” would not be the “we” of authority or royalty but of the witness provided by both the Baptist and Himself.)  The relevance of this. . . .


            3:12     If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?  Jesus had just spoken of “earthly” things like birth (verses 5-7) and Nicodemus was unable to grasp what He was driving at.  If he had difficulty with such relatively temporal matters, how could he hope to grasp “heavenly things”--perhaps referring to things that have no rough earthly parallels at all.  Things on which the accuracy or credibility must be taken purely on the basis of faith in the Speaker.

            This was not a new idea and made inherent sense no matter who said it; the author of one apocryphal Old Testament book puts it this way, “We can hardly guess at what is on earth, and what is at hand we find with labor; but who has traced out what is in the heavens?  Who has learned thy counsel, unless thou hast given wisdom and sent thy holy Spirit from on high?” (Wisdom 9:16-17). 

            That literally heavenly things are under consideration is clear from what Jesus says in the next verse. . . . 


            3:13     No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.  Jesus claimed a teaching credential that no one else on earth had:  He had personally been in heaven.  Hence He had seen and heard from the Father in a sense no one else (even by revelation) could claim. 

            It is also an assertion of His pre-existence, though it does not quite rise to the blunt claim of eternalness in 1:1.  Although John does not discuss the physical birth of Jesus, the believer in either the pre-existence of Jesus or His eternal deity would have no difficulty in believing that a virgin birth would have been an appropriate means of bringing such a being into this world.  It would truly be unique.

            Sidebar:  The closing reference to “the Son of Man who is in heaven” is strange coming from a person standing in front of them.  Weymouth glosses this with “whose home is in heaven” but the bulk of translations omit the expression entirely on grounds of inadequate documentation in the most ancient major Greek manuscripts.  Since quotation marks are not in the original, the text could also be glossed, “who is now in heaven”--i.e., at the time John writes this biography.      


            3:14     And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up,  Just as Moses lifted a serpent into the sky so that those who were dying could see it and live (Numbers 21:4-9), likewise Jesus would be “lifted up” (i.e., crucified) for a similar purpose . . .


            3:15     that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  . . . in order that others might live by His own sacrificial death.  But the life that would be obtained in this case would be “eternal”--not merely adding to the temporal ones, as in the Old Testament case the Lord cites.  The nature of the “lifting up” is not described but, looking back at it afterwards, it was certainly language that fit death by crucifixion.  Yet it was also language that would not be taken in such a manner until the event had actually occurred.  Until then it would remain “dark and mysterious” in the hearers’ minds and of uncertain meaning.

            Sidebar:  Although “not perish but” are words clearly found in verse 16, they are virtually never included here any more outside of those attempting to duplicate the Greek version of the text underlying the KJV.  Although the thought expressed is clearly true (as seen by its inclusion in the next verse) only the stress on an eternal happy existence is being emphasized here.  



Jesus Was Sent into the World to Redeem It, But Those Who Prefer a Evil Lifestyle Reject Him (John 3:16-21):  16 For this is the way God loved the world:  He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.  17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him.  18 The one who believes in him is not condemned. The one who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God.

19 Now this is the basis for judging: that the light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil.  20 For everyone who does evil deeds hates the light and does not come to the light, so that their deeds will not be exposed.  21 But the one who practices the truth comes to the light, so that it may be plainly evident that his deeds have been done in God.      --New English Translation (for comparison)



            3:16     For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  Those translations that present the apparent personal words of Jesus in red may or may not give verses 16-21 in such a color.  They could represent either John’s commentary on Jesus’ words or Jesus’ own elaboration upon them.  (Far more likely the latter.) 

            Either way they stress that God’s love was so great that He was willing to sacrifice His “only begotten Son” for the human race:  There was only one to give and even that one was not held back.  That was how valuable human redemption was in God’s sight.

            One easily sees in this imagery something very similar to the parable of the wicked tenants where the Father ultimately sends his only son in an effort to get them to fulfill their obligations and discovers they are willing to murder even him--Matthew 21:33-44.  Since that story had not been spoken yet, the parallel that would likely come to Nicodemus’ mind would be that of Abraham offering his only son Isaac on an altar.  Another unique, one time event in which only one specific individual could meet the required criteria.

            This truth of God’s redemptive method was applicable not just to Jews but to everyone in “the world.”  Cf. Isaiah 52:10:  “And all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.”  “All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the Lord and all the families of the nations shall worship before You” (Psalms 22:27).                


            3:17     For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.          The paradox of the gospel is revealed in this verse:  Both Jesus and His message do “condemn the world” (for its sin, misconduct, refusal to reform) yet that is only the secondary result of His coming to earth.  In other words, a day of condemnatory judgment is eventually coming as Jesus Himself stresses in John 5:27-29.

            However the main and pivotal reason for Jesus coming and teaching was that all “might be saved.”  “Might,” not “will.”  They are not synonyms.  It is, however, the Divine goal.  And it is freely available to everyone on our planet.  


            3:18     “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.  The reason that faith in Jesus is essential is because of His uniqueness:  He is “the only begotten Son of God.”  Not showing reverence and obedience to Him is as brazen rebellion as spitting in the face of God Himself.

            The person who refuses to embrace Jesus does not actually require an official condemnation since he or she “is condemned already” by their spiritual rebellion, lack of faith, and good character.  The final judgment only confirms what their own behavior has already produced.


            3:19     And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.  Although there is an intellectual aspect in belief and disbelief, this verse emphasizes the moral aspect:  by and large people reject Jesus not because they have intellectually reasoned the case through and found Him wanting but because their behavior / character is “evil” and they are determined not to heed His demand to change for the better.  They are unwilling to yield to the judgment of anyone but themselves:  They are the “end all” and “be all” in the world.  Personal preference is more important than the objective reality of what is “sin” and what is “right character.”  There is no truth but “my truth;” “the truth” doesn’t exist for then I would be subject to the judgment of someone / something other than myself.

            Sidebar:  Old Testament precedents for the Messiah playing this role were easily found.  Since Jesus came out of Nazareth the words of Isaiah 9:1-2 are especially relevant as exhibiting His light/truth bringing function:  Nevertheless the gloom will not be upon her who is distressed . . . in Galilee of the Gentiles.  The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.” 

            Isaiah 42:6-7’s imagery similarly fits well the light bringing role of One who uses moral truth to liberate others from the shackles of moral blindness:  “ . . .  I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Gentiles, to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the prison, those who sit in darkness from the prison house.”

            Finally Isaiah 49:6 speaks of One who would restore moral light to both Jews and Gentiles:  It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.”


            3:20     For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.  The person conquered by evil avoids Jesus because the danger of having the sinfulness of his or her deeds revealed is just too great--and that applies not only revealed to others but even to ourselves:  The power of self-delusion is the ultimate protection from self-condemnation. 


            3:21     But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”  In contrast to those oblivious to unpleasant truths, the person who wants to live the way the truth demands does not have this hindrance.  He does not mind if his behavior (“deeds”) are revealed by the light of Jesus’ word—if they are good, he will take pride in them; if wrong, he will change.  He is willing to be honest both to God and to himself.

            Sidebar:  We aren’t told what was the impact on Nicodemus of Jesus words--a point that applies whether we end those quotes in verse 15 or here in verse 21.  However he must have had a receptiveness to them as we read that later he intervened to keep the Sanhedrin from condemning Him without hearing His defense first (7:40-52).  By the time of the crucifixion we explicitly read that he was “a disciple of Jesus, but secretly” out of fear of the power of His enemies (19:38-42).



John the Baptist Again Disavows Being the Messiah and Casts His Role as the Preparer for the Messiah (John 3:22-30):  22 After this, Jesus and his disciples came into Judean territory, and there he spent time with them and was baptizing.  23 John was also baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming to him and being baptized.  24 (For John had not yet been thrown into prison.)

25 Now a dispute came about between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew concerning ceremonial washing.  26 So they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, the one who was with you on the other side of the Jordan River, about whom you testified—see, he is baptizing, and everyone is flocking to him!”

27 John replied, “No one can receive anything unless it has been given to him from heaven.  28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but rather, ‘I have been sent before him.’  29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands by and listens for him, rejoices greatly when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. This then is my joy, and it is complete.  30 He must become more important while I become less important.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)  



            3:22     After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He remained with them and baptized.  Instead of immediately returning to Galilee He decided to remain for a while in Judea.  He attracted many listeners while doing so:  “everyone is going to Him” (verse 26).  This remaining behind, so close to the head religious officials in Jerusalem, must surely have irritated His foes no end.  Of how long it lasted or any of the contents of His teaching during this period, nothing has been preserved.    

            Sidebar:  John does not feel any need to say that this involved Jesus teaching since, for whatever possible other reason could people seek to be baptized by Him or His disciples unless He was teaching them that they needed to be?  In other words, we have a clear cut case of necessary inference.  The fact that “He remained with” His disciples also shows that the baptizing they did was in fulfillment of His wishes.  Would they have dared do anything in that setting contrary to His wishes?  Hence another case of how necessary inference is quite proper to use in interpreting the text.   


            3:23     Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there.  And they came and were baptized.  Note the “also:  John’s teaching and baptizing work overlapped (and preceded) that which Jesus did.  And at the time immediately after Jesus’ visit to Jerusalem, John was performing it near Salim since there was more than enough water there--i.e., the “much water” of our text.

            Sidebar:  The word rendered “baptize” conveys the ideas of immersion, submersion, a full/total covering in water.  If we did not already know that, the reference to “much water” being a prerequisite in the choice of location would tell us.

            The fact that “much water” was there would seem to rule out a location of Aenon on the Jordan River itself for we would expect a good amount of water there at all times.  Furthermore the name “Aenon” means “springs” and probably explains why there was so “much water” available at that location.      


            3:24     For John had not yet been thrown into prison.  Lest the contemporary be confused (since John had eventually been thrown into jail and executed), the author throws in the passing remark that this, of course, was before that imprisonment took place.  This corrects the impression, naturally derived from the Synoptists, that Christ’s public ministry did not commence till after the imprisonment of the Baptist.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)  It also argues that Luke was well aware of the contents of those other accounts.


            3:25     Then there arose a dispute between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purification.  Although we tend to think in terms of differences between Jesus and the religious authorities of His day, we sometimes forget that John had his as well.  One was in regard to ceremonial “purification.”  Oddly enough the nature of this difference is not spelled out, only its existence. 

            It is not uncommon to find the claim that this involved someone questioning the difference between John’s baptisms and those by Jesus.  The baptism endorsed by Jesus certainly involves a “purification”--due to it being for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 16:16)--yet the commonness of ritual purification through ceremonial ablutions was so pervasive that this seems far more likely to be the subject of inquiry.  Perhaps even:  “Why is John’s baptism really needed since we routinely go through ritual purifications every day?”  

            Sidebar:  Modern “critical” Greek texts--and the vast bulk of translations read either “a Jew” or “a certain Jew,” again emphasizing that the complaint came from one particular person.  Some have speculated that this was a person re-baptized by Jesus as such people were by the apostles--though the only record we have of that is from years after the resurrection (Acts 19:1-5).  


            3:26     And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified—behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!”  Presumably on the way back from the “argument” over the matter of “purification” (verse 25), the disciples of John pondered the fact that Jesus had been baptizing and was receiving greater success.  This alarmed them and they naturally reported the disturbing development to their leader.  After all, Jesus had gained prompt public credibility from John’s strong public endorsement!  John had pioneered the reform message; it simply “wasn’t fair” that Jesus so quickly should be the center of public attention.

            “All are coming to Him” is, of course rhetorical language that is common in every day speech, meaning “huge numbers are coming to him.”  For similar usage of “universal” language being used in such a sense see John 4:29 and 12:19.  In this context the idea is clearly, “He is gaining far more people than even you did!” 


            3:27     John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven.  John tried to calm them down by reminding them that the follower of God will never consciously do something unless it is the kind of thing that “heaven” (an euphemism for God) would want.  In light of the next three verses, this carries the unspoken “freight” that Jesus would not be doing what He was doing unless the work had been “given to him” by God.  If the language is applied to the Baptizer instead, the meaning would be “I simply can not claim to be the Messiah because I know God has not commissioned it”--the point of verse 28.


            3:28     You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’  He had already warned them that he was not the long promised Christ/Messiah.  They would certainly not have forgotten so important a fact so quickly!  So they should not feel so alarmed that he not receive the deference due the Messiah.

            Sidebar:  This is an interesting case of where two different interpretations can reasonably be drawn from a text but that, actually, both might reasonably well be intended--“The meaning of John’s declaration is given in two ways:  (1) ‘Jesus could not have this great success, unless it were granted Him from Heaven. This ought to satisfy you that He is sent by God;’ (2) ‘I cannot accept the position of supremacy, which you would thrust upon me; because I have not received it from Heaven.’  The former is better, as being a more direct answer to ‘all men come to Him.’ But it is quite possible that both meanings are intended.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)


            3:29     He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice.  Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled.  John stands in the role of the friend of the bridegroom—important but only in a secondary manner.  To understand the meaning of “the friend of the bridegroom” think of the modern “best man” but with a far broader set of responsibilities to assure that everything went the way it should in regard to the wedding and the accompanying feast.  In effect, John is also asserting his own importance:  “I may not be the bridegroom, but I am the man He is fully counting on to make the foundation of festivities sound--and of that I am quite proud.”    

            Sidebar:  As to the meaning of “friend of the bridegroom,” my mind immediately goes to “the master of the feast” at the Cana of Galilee marriage of the preceding chapter (John 2:9).  Vincent’s Word Studies argues for a different root, in the practices of Judea where John is laboring:  The term is appropriate to Judea, the groomsmen not being customary in Galilee. . . .  In Judea there were two groomsmen, one for the bridegroom, the other for his bride.  Before marriage they acted as intermediaries between the couple; at the wedding they offered gifts, waited upon the bride and bridegroom, and attended them to the bridal chamber.  It was the duty of the friend of the bridegroom to present him to his bride, after marriage to maintain proper terms between the parties, and especially to defend the bride’s good fame.  The Rabbinical writings speak of Moses as the friend of the bridegroom who leads out the bride to meet Jehovah at Sinai (Exodus 19:17); and describe Michael and Gabriel as acting as the friends of the bridegroom to our first parents, when the Almighty himself took the cup of blessing and spoke the benediction.  The Baptist represents himself as standing in the same relation to Jesus.”


            3:30     He must increase, but I must decrease.  They needed to remember the superiority of Jesus because in the future His would increase further and John’s own importance would decrease.  It was about to begin to fade away—as always happened when the work of “the friend of the bridegroom” was completed--and he was quite willing to accept it.  They needed to learn to accept it as well. 

           Perhaps a modern day comparison will help clarify John’s point:  John is, if you will, the man who lays the foundation; Jesus is the one who will build on that foundation.  The first is important because it is essential preparatory labor to the work of the second.  Should he pout because the foundation has been completed and someone else will take over the construction?  Of course not! 



The Author's Commentary on John the Baptist’s Remarks (John 3:31-36):  31 The one who comes from above is superior to all. The one who is from the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things.  The one who comes from heaven is superior to all.  32 He testifies about what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. 

33 The one who has accepted his testimony has confirmed clearly that God is truthful.  34 For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he does not give the Spirit sparingly. 

35 The Father loves the Son and has placed all things under his authority.  36 The one who believes in the Son has eternal life.  The one who rejects the Son will not see life, but God’s wrath remains on him.     --New English Translation (for comparison)



            3:31     He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of the earth.  He who comes from heaven is above all.  If this is John the Baptist speaking, he is most unlikely to have understood its meaning in the same way as the author of the gospel.  He probably understood it only in the vague sense that Jesus was unquestionably superior in authority and importance and was to play a role in God’s plan vastly greater than his own--that of Messiah and King.  Both roles came from “above all,” i.e., from “heaven.”  Jesus is similarly pictured as coming from above / from heaven in 3:13; 6:33; 6:38; 6:41; 6:51.

            Sidebar:  The location of the transition from the Baptizer to the author’s own comments could occur in this verse or not at all in the remainder of the chapter, the question being much debated.   


            3:32     And what He has seen and heard, that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony.  If the speaker is the author of the gospel:  Just as the gospel of John emphasizes its origin, by clear implication, in the eyewitness testimony of the author (John 20:30-31 and 21:24-25), what Jesus taught and spoke about was also deeply rooted in personal experience.  He did not have to conjecture about heavenly things for He had been there:  He had seen and lived in its ongoing reality.  And yet His words were so widely rejected!    

            If the speaker is the Baptist:  John had had experience of people not accepting his message:  Although very large numbers embraced it and reformed their lives, many refused to do so.  Hence it is not surprising that he laments how (relatively speaking) “no one” received Jesus’ word either even though Jesus was of far greater importance.  He himself had (to use the modern phrase) “walked in those same shoes” of rejection.

            Sidebar:  “No one” is rhetorical exaggeration to convey the idea of widespread rejection just as the disciples of John’s startled assertion of Jesus that “all are coming to Him” (3:26) is rhetorical exaggeration for widespread acceptance.  In other words:  “It seems as if. . . .”


            3:33     He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true.  Jesus was so unequivocally the faithful teacher of God’s word, that an acceptance of His teaching carried with it the belief that God had proved Himself “true” as to fulfilling His ancient promise to send a new teacher to the nation.  A broader reference to Jesus being the Messiah is possible, but the emphasis on His being a teacher--note the word “testimony”--makes it more likely that John has specifically in mind the Old Testament theme of God raising a new teacher like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15-19; a prediction cited in both Acts 3:19-23 and Acts 7:37). . . . which was one pivotal characteristic of the coming redemptive Messiah but not the only one.  Of course that reference point blends seamlessly with the other characteristics attributed to the Messiah as well.  He simply chooses to stress that element in particular.

            Sidebar:  A more literal translation is found in the KJV and such modern renderings as the ESV:  sets his seal to this that God is true.”  For a parallel think in terms of the modern notary public using their seal to confirm to others that they have verified the truthfulness of what is being said.  


            3:34     For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure.  They could be certain that Jesus spoke rightly the words of God due to the fact that He had received a measureless gift of the Holy Spirit.  Note the concept of Divine revelation coming via the Holy Spirit, a concept Jesus Himself endorsed in speaking to the apostles (John 16:12-15).  Note in chapter 16, however, that the Father gives the message to the Son and the Son gives it to the Spirit while here it is the Spirit that gives the message to the Son--perhaps because here we are talking about while Jesus was within a body of flesh and still on earth and not fully reflecting His eternal nature when in heaven.  


            3:35     The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand.  The act of handing over all authority into His hands was proof of just how much unselfish love the Father had for His Son.  Jesus Himself spoke similar words in Matthew 11:27:  All things have been delivered to Me by My Father. . . .”  Similarly in Matthew 28:18:  “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.”  He hasn’t stolen them; He has freely been given them in order to work out God’s plans for the human race.


            3:36     He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”  Although acceptance or rejection of Jesus is fully voluntary, there is inevitably a price to be paid for either choice.  Acceptance means maintaining an ongoing faith in Him and the authority of His teaching--for how can one possibly have genuine faith in Him unless we embrace and practice what He has to say?  We do so regardless of whether it involves things we readily and enthusiastically embrace or whether it involves honoring prohibitions that we would rather imitate:  After all, Someone far smarter than any mere mortal has told us both personally and through His inspired apostles that these are the only right standards to live by.   

            With rejection of Jesus and His teaching, however, one guarantees that “the wrath of God” comes upon one’s head.  It “abides” there—only waiting to become visible and tangible.  Once only in the four Gospels does this term, so full of tremendous meaning, meet us, and that in the Gospel of fullest love, and in a context which speaks of the Father’s love to the Son, and of eternal life, which is the portion of all who believe on the Son.  It must be so.  This wrath (compare Romans 2:8; Ephesians 4:31; Colossians 3:8; Revelation 19:15) is not the fierceness of passion, nor is it the expression of fixed hatred.  It is the necessary aspect of love and holiness toward those who reject love, and willfully sin.  It is not here spoken of as coming upon them, or as passing from them.  It abideth, ever has and ever must; for the wrath of love must abide on hatred, the wrath of holiness must abide on sin.  But none need hate, and none need live in willful sin.”  That decision, however, is one each human being must make on their own--and bear the consequences of the decision.  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)