by Jack Hay, Scotland
THE GOSPEL BY JOHN
John, as guided by the Holy Spirit, was selective when collating the material for his Gospel. He refers to “many other things which Jesus did” that are left unrecorded, 21.25, and the “many other signs” that Jesus did that were not included, 20.30, but from the pool of available information, he incorporated many unique features. From the start he builds in distinct references to the Lord’s death. There are allusions to His rejection as early as 1.10,11; “the world knew Him not”; “His own received Him not”, but we shall note the specific references to His death throughout the book.
The Lamb of God: The Purpose for His Death – 1.29
John Baptist identified Jesus as the Lamb of God. He knew the Law and the Prophets, and could see this Lamb pictured and promised in the law, Gen.22.8, and predicted in the prophets as a sacrificial victim, Isa.53.7. Hence John used the words “taketh away”, or beareth, implying the sacrifice whereby the removal of sin was effected.
This was for the world. Abel’s lamb “of the firstlings of his flock” was a lamb for a man, Gen.4.4. The passover lamb was a lamb for a household, Ex.12.3. In the morning and evening sacrifice, there was a lamb for the nation, “the children of Israel”, Ex.29.38-46. The Lamb of God was a Lamb for the world. True, “He was manifested to take away our sins” 1Jn.3.5, but this is more extensive. Speaking of “the sin of the world”, John indicated that based on the work of the cross, God will eradicate sin from His universe and introduce “new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” 2Pet.3.13. The Lamb has dealt with the root as well as the fruit of sin. How far-reaching is the mighty work of the cross!
The Temple of His Body: The Sequel to His Death – 2.19
From chapter 1, John alludes to the tabernacle; He “tabernacled” among us, 1.14, Newberry, margin. Now in chapter 2, the Lord’s body is likened to the holy of holies, an inner temple, 2.19-22. Figuratively, that temple would be thrown down; “Destroy this temple”. While no one deprived Him of life, Jn.10.18, men were responsible for His murder, Acts 7.52. Together, Jews and Romans, bulls and dogs, destroyed the temple, Acts 2.23, Ps.22.12,16.
By His own power, He raised it in three days; “I will raise it”, Jn.2.19. His resurrection was a combined activity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Acts 2.24; Jn.10.18; 1Pet.3.18. The Lord’s statement here confirms the doctrine of His bodily resurrection. Liberals say that only His influence lives on. Cultists propound that His spirit now lives. No, He rose literally; He rose bodily; what was raised was “the temple; “I will raise it up”, v.19; “the temple of His body“, v.21.
The Son of Man Lifted Up: The Manner of His Death – 3.14
The Lord Jesus highlighted just one feature of the story of the serpent of brass, Num.21.4-9. It was “lifted up”, with the promise given by the Lord to Moses, “when he [the bitten person] looketh upon it, he shall live” v.8. The fact that victims had to look to it, foreshadows how men must believe on Him Who was “lifted up” on the cross. “Look unto Me, and be ye saved” Isa.45.22.
In referring to the Son of Man being “lifted up”, He was “signifying what death He should die” Jn.12.33, “the death of the cross”, Phil.2.8. Being “lifted up” involved the shame of being gaped at and ridiculed by a vulgar mob, and the torture of His weight being sustained by nails through hands and feet. It also meant Him enduring the curse that falls on “every one that hangeth on a tree” Gal.3.13. Yet what blessing flows to those who believe on Him Who was “lifted up”; they shall never perish; they possess eternal life, John 3.15,16.
In chapter 8, the Lord Jesus spoke to people who would die in their sins, v.21. Their opposition was such that they would lift Him up, v.28. Subsequently, they will have to acknowledge Him as the “I am”. They will see Him then as the One Who communicated truth from the Father and pleased Him in everything, vv.28,29. When He returns in glory, the nation will reverse its verdict about Him, but individually, those responsible for lifting Him up will have to face Him and honour Him at the Great White Throne.
A third reference to Him being lifted up is in 12.32; “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me”. The Lord had already spoken of men being “drawn” to Him for salvation, 6.44. We now learn that such blessing was dependent on Him being “lifted up”; the cross was necessary to make salvation a reality. The reference to “all men” being drawn must be read in context, considering the fact that Greeks had expressed an interest, v.21. His lifting up was not only a source of blessing for Jews, but on the basis of His sacrifice, “sinners of the Gentiles” would be drawn to Him.
Finishing the Work: The Submissiveness of His Death – 4.34
To the amazement of His disciples, the Lord Jesus was speaking to a Samaritan woman, v.27. His subsequent indifference to the provisions that they brought prompted the inquiry; “Hath any man brought Him ought to eat”? v.33. In response, He made this remarkable statement, “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work.” That very day, doing the Father’s will had relieved fatigue, hunger and thirst. Submissively He had visited Sychar to encounter the woman who became the firstfruits of a great harvest of souls in that needy district, v.35.
The Father’s will also embraced a “work” to be accomplished. In John’s Gospel, “the works” were the signs that proved that He is the Son of God, 5.36; “the work” was the work of the cross, the culmination of that life of surrender to the Father’s will. In His prayer in chapter 17, He sees Himself as being “no more in the world”, v.11. Thus “the work” to be done the next day was seen as an accomplished fact. “I glorified Thee on the earth, having accomplished the work which Thou hast given Me to do” v.4, R.V. Only John records the triumphant cry at the cross, “It is finished” 19.30; the work was done; the Father’s will had been accomplished; God had been glorified.
The Flesh and Blood of the Son of Man: The Results of His Death – 6.51-59
All four evangelists record the feeding of the 5000, but only John gives us the follow-up teaching about the Bread of God. The Saviour stated that “the bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” v.51. Again, He indicated that there is sufficient in His death to meet the world’s need, but only some will benefit. Who are they? They are those who eat His flesh and drink His blood, v.53.
Many in the “Christian” world have misconstrued His words, linking His statement with the breaking of bread. The doctrine of transubstantiation alleges that in the Mass, the wafers and wine actually become the body and blood of the Lord and so His flesh is eaten and His blood is drunk. There is the further claim that these are offered as a propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of both the living and the dead. This is fundamental error, not least in the fact that it is a denial of the sufficiency of the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ, Hebrews chapters 9 and 10; that makes it serious heresy.
What then did the Lord mean when He spoke about eating His flesh and drinking His blood? The answer lies in placing two statements side by side. Those who eat His flesh and drink His blood have eternal life, v.54. Those who believe on Him have eternal life, v.47, so He equates believing on Him with eating His flesh and drinking His blood. To personally appropriate the value of His sacrifice by faith is to become the possessor of eternal life. Thus while His flesh was given for the life of the world, only those who eat His flesh and drink His blood become the beneficiaries.
His Hour: The Timing of His Death – 7.30
The incarnation took place at God’s chosen time, Gal.4.4; so too did the Saviour’s death. From time to time John refers to it as “His hour”. Attempts to arrest Him were futile because “His hour was not yet come”, 7.30, 8.20. He personally superintended every event that culminated in His sufferings and death; He was never the victim of circumstances and was never at the mercy of capricious men.
When “the hour” did arrive, He saw it as an occasion for the Son of Man to be “glorified” 12.23. Possibly He is relating “the hour” to the whole experience of His death, resurrection, ascension and glorification, but in His death, every Divine quality was superlatively magnified; there now attached to Him an honour that was unique; no one else fulfilled the Father’s will as He did.
In anticipating “this hour”, His soul was “troubled” 12.27. The horror of all that was imminent gripped Him. A normal reaction might have been, “save Me from this hour”, but there was the awareness that there was a purpose for that hour. “Father, glorify Thy name” v.28. The submissiveness of Christ and the work to be accomplished would bring an unprecedented revenue of glory to His Father, God. The events of “the hour” were all known to Him, 13.1, and would issue in glory for Him also; “Father, the hour is come; glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son also may glorify Thee” 17.1.
The Good Shepherd: The Voluntary Nature of His Death – 10.11
In John chapter 10, emphasis is on the activity of the Shepherd rather than on the need of the sheep. Elsewhere we read of sheep being wayward or lost, but the main point here is what the Shepherd does. He calls His sheep, and leads them out of the fold of Judaism, v.3. His “other sheep” from a Gentile background must be brought, v.16. The plan was to create a new entity from these two segments of humanity, “one flock” v.16, R.V., with “one Shepherd”. In Ephesians Paul describes that new entity as “one new man” 2.15, “one body” 4.4; it is “the church, which is His body” 1.22,23.
To accomplish this, the Good Shepherd gave “His life for the sheep”, v.11, and His statement indicates that it was voluntary. It demanded the courage and the care that was lacking in a hireling, vv.12,13, and yet He was willing. Most translations of vv.14,15 teach that in laying down His life for the sheep He was bringing them into a relationship with Him, comparable to that which He enjoyed with the Father in terms of union, communion, and intimacy. What amazing heights of truth!
His devotion in laying down His life also drew out the affection of His Father, v.17. J.N.D.’s translation makes it clear that this was one of the many reasons why His Father loved Him: “On this account the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again”.
One Man Dying for the People: The Vicarious Aspect of His Death – 11.47-53
Jewish leaders were alarmed and concerned lest the persistent excitement that surrounded Jesus of Nazareth would irritate the Romans and jeopardise their authority in the nation. Pilate would crush what might be regarded as a popular nationalistic uprising, v.48. Caiaphas had the answer: one Man, namely the Lord Jesus, would have to be sacrificed in the interests of the nation! His removal would eliminate the threat of reprisals, v.50. Formerly, the Jews would have happily killed Him in a furious spur-of-the-moment response to His teaching and His miracles; now in a calculated way they would lay plans to “put Him to death” v.53.
“One man should die for the people.” As with Balaam, God used an ungodly, religious man to express far-reaching truth, vv.51,52. It is true that the Messiah would die for the nation; He would be wounded for their transgressions and bruised for their iniquities, Isa.53.5. In the coming day of their repentance, “there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness” Zech.13.1. His cross-work will effect their spiritual cleansing.
However, Caiaphas’ prediction was more comprehensive than he could ever have imagined. The substitutionary work of the Saviour would embrace “the children of God that were scattered abroad”, some Jews yes, but mainly Gentiles. They would be fused into the single unit to which reference was made previously, “the church, which is His body” Eph.1.22,23. He would die for those still to be won, and yet from God’s standpoint they are regarded as “the children of God scattered abroad”. The same thought resurfaces at Corinth; the Lord refers to Corinthians still to be saved as His people, Acts 18.10.
The Corn of Wheat: The Potential of His Death – 12.24
A single grain remains solitary unless it is sown and dies. The Lord Jesus was teaching the tremendous potential connected with His death. Scripture describes us as “the travail of His soul” Isa.53.11. “Every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” have yielded their harvest of redeemed souls, Rev.5.9. Bless God that the corn of wheat fell into the ground and died; what a harvest!
Having spoken of the corn of wheat, the Lord seamlessly moved on to the subject of discipleship, v.25. Loving our lives spells loss. The love of V.I.P. treatment robs us of spiritual and eternal recompense. Side-stepping the rigours of being where He would have us be and doing what He would have us do deprives us of honour, v.26. If we regard ourselves as expendable, our lives have the potential for the fruitfulness of the corn of wheat that dies. Do we love or hate our lives?
Laying Down His Life for His Friends: The Beneficiaries of His Death – 15.13
The Lord Jesus was teaching the lesson of love. Disciples were under an obligation to love each other; it was a command: “This is My commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you” v.12. The yardstick that He used was the love that He expressed towards them. The greatest evidence of love was “that a man lay down his life for his friends” v.13, with the immediate inference that He would rise to that standard: “Ye are My friends”, v.14. Of course, being His friends is proved by our obedience: “if ye do whatsoever I command you”. This passage teaches that His death was for His friends, people who had a special place in His affections. Elsewhere, the emphasis is on the fact that we were enemies who were reconciled “in the body of His flesh through death” Col.1.21,22, but here we are seen as His friends.
“A friend loveth at all times” Prov.17.17. “There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother” Prov.18.24. These criteria for friendship are seen in the Lord Jesus. In Prov.6.1-5, Solomon encourages his son to disengage himself from any financial guarantees that he made for a friend: “If thou be surety for thy friend … deliver thyself.” Mercifully, the Lord Jesus fulfilled the obligations that He undertook for His friends. Like Paul He could say, “If he … oweth thee ought … I will repay it”, Philemon vv.18,19. “It was exacted, and He was made answerable” Isa.53.7, Spurrell.1
- 1. Spurrell, H. “A Translation of the Old Testament Scriptures from the Original Hebrew”. James Nisbet & Co. London, 1985.
In John chapter 15 then, His love and friendship are the benchmarks for our love. John reinforces the thought in his epistle which we shall note in due course, 1Jn.3.16,17.
The Cup: The Surrender of His Death – 18.11
Figuratively, His death involved the draining of a cup, a cup of suffering, and wrath, the awful contents of which may be appreciated by pondering the description of the contents of a different cup in Isa.51.22, “the cup of trembling, even the dregs of the cup of My fury”. What dreadful depths of suffering were His.
John does not record the anguish of the “place called Gethsemane” Matt.26.36. In presenting the Lord Jesus as the Son of God and as the Burnt Offering, there is no record of the sore amazement or the blood-like sweat. John omits His prayer, “if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me” Matt.26.39. He reveals Him as the omnipotent Son completely surrendered to His Father’s will. “The cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?”
That being so, Peter’s inept swordsmanship was intrusive: “Put up thy sword into the sheath”. Already, the power and majesty of the “I am” had been exhibited; at the revelation of His Deity, His assailants “went backward, and fell to the ground” v.6. Now, in advancing the events that would lead to Him drinking the cup, the omnipotent “I am” permitted Himself to be “seized”, R.V., “bound” and “led away” vv.12,13.
For Him, it was a cup of suffering. For us, there is a “cup of salvation” Ps.116.13 and a cup of satisfaction, for “my cup runneth over” Ps.23.5.
Golgotha: The Place of His Death – 19.17
Golgotha, “the place of a skull”. Probably, the mound was thus named because it resembled a human skull. The name seems significant. A skull is a head devoid of any external attractiveness, and bereft of what was formerly the centre of man’s thinking processes. It mirrors the mindless attitude of men. Humanity was rejecting its Creator and Israel was rejecting her Messiah. The implications eluded the senseless “princes of this world”; “had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” 1Cor.2.8.
Golgotha was “nigh to the city” v.20; that is why “many of the Jews” read the title, “Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews” v.19. No doubt Pilate had written it cynically, just as he had pointed to the thorn-crowned prisoner Whom he had so horribly scourged; “Behold the man!” v.5. “Behold your King!” v.14. One can almost detect the curl on his lip as his exasperation exploded into resentful irony. Now, in framing the title, he wants to exact a little more revenge. Despite their representations, he left it unaltered, v.22. The man who was manipulated earlier and was compliant with the burial arrangements later is, at this stage unmovable! “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: He turneth it whithersoever He will” Prov.21.1.
Crucified: The Horror of His Death – 19.18
“They crucified Him”. With the minimum of words John records the appalling deed. John does not mention Simon of Cyrene; the strong Son of God had gone forth “bearing His cross”, v.17. Now they were impaling Him to “His cross”. His companions are mentioned without reference to their moral character and so John says, “two other”, allos, ‘others of the same kind’. Luke, in describing them as “malefactors”, says, “two other, malefactors”, heteros, ‘others of a different kind’. John sees all three as the same in that they were sharing the same barbarity and experiencing the same mode of execution. In Luke’s record, the reference to criminality necessitates him making the point that the malefactors were different from Him.
John notes that they were “on either side”. Maybe he remembered that his mother requested that he and James would be seated on either side of the Lord Jesus in His kingdom, Matt.20.21. Then, they failed to realise that before He would have companions in sovereign splendour, He would be “numbered with the transgressors” in sacrificial suffering, Isa.53.12.
Jesus was “in the midst”, and a study that cannot be pursued here is to view Him “in the midst” in various Scriptures. Suffice to say, John again views Him “in the midst” in Rev.5.6, in an environment far different from the appalling scenes of Golgotha, where in a celestial sphere He is the object of adoration.
The Soldiers: The Attendants at His Death – 19.23,24
Psalm 22 had spoken of the “dogs” that “compassed” Him, v.16, a metaphor for the Gentile soldiers in attendance at His crucifixion. They did two things. Firstly it says: “They pierced My hands and My feet”. This was noted by John; “the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus” 19.23. Secondly, “They part My garments among them … ” v.18, again noted by John, and quoted as he identified the “dogs” of the Psalm. Dividing His garments fulfilled Scripture, but He was also fulfilling His own demanding ministry. In the Sermon on the Mount He had taught, “if any man … take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also” Matt.5.40. John uses the same two Greek words to describe His clothes, this time the word “cloke” being translated “garments”. What He had urged others to do, He willingly complied with Himself.
The Lord had five garments: head-gear, outer garment, girdle and sandals: these were the perks for the executioners, and then, the seamless robe. The high priest’s garment had been rent that day, but His garment was not rent. Rocks would be rent as would the veil of the temple, but His robe could not be rent. Unwittingly, the soldiers were fulfilling prophecy, “for My vesture they did cast lots” v.24.
Mary and John: The Witnesses to His Death – 19.25-27
“I leave the world, and go to the Father” Jn.16.28. That time had come, and in going to the Father with Whom He had had an eternal relationship, He was leaving a mother who in time had brought Him forth and brought Him up, Lk.2.7; 4.16. Her heart was breaking as she viewed “her firstborn son” spiked to a tree. “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also” Lk.2.35. In His own extremity He still considered the needs of others, Phil.2.4; His disciples, Jn.18.8; the daughters of Jerusalem, Lk.23.27-31; His executioners, Lk.23.34; the dying malefactor, Lk.23.43; and now Mary. Glancing towards John He said, “Woman, behold thy son!” To John, “Behold thy mother”, John understood, and there was instant obedience, “from that hour” v.27.
In His adolescence, the Lord Jesus had been “subject” to Mary as she had cared for Him, Lk.2.51; now in leaving her to return to heaven, He provides for her future, committing her to one who had resources to keep her in comfort, Mk.1.20. How thoughtful He was in every detail: how caring, how kind!
He Gave up His Spirit. The Moment of His Death – 19.28-30
He was in control; He had always been in control; He always took the initiative. “Let us go into Judaea again” 11.7. “That thou doest, do quickly” 13.27. “Arise, let us go hence” 14.31. “Jesus … went forth with His disciples over the brook Cedron … And Judas … knew the place” 18.1-2. “Jesus … went forth and said unto them, Whom seek ye?” 18.4. “Thou couldest have no power at all against Me, except it were given thee from above” 19.11.
Now there remained one Scripture to be fulfilled; “in My thirst they gave Me vinegar to drink” Ps.69.21. Again, to implement it He took the lead; “I thirst”, and with the Scripture fulfilled and with the triumphant cry “It is finished”, “He bowed His head, and gave up the ghost” v.30. No one robbed Him of life, 10.18, for the soldiers found Him “dead already” v.33; it took place at His timing and in His way. Amidst such a display of devotion to His Father, compassion for His mother, and affection for sinners, there was a demonstration of Divine sovereignty and majestic authority.
The Pierced Side: The Follow-Up to His Death – 19.31-37
The hypocritical Jews had no conscience about demanding the Lord’s crucifixion, and yet they had scruples about entering Pilate’s domain, 18.28. Now in their fastidious ways, they demanded that the crucified men be killed immediately and their bodies removed before the sabbath, v.31. Once more, a pliable Pilate acceded to their request.
For the malefactors, breaking their legs put strain on the heart and hastened the end, but Jesus was “dead already” v.33. As already noted, He had died voluntarily. In failing to break His legs, the unsuspecting soldiers were again fulfilling an Old Testament prediction, “A bone of Him shall not be broken” v.36. The statement was in connection with the Passover lamb, Ex.12.46, so the Passover theme is maintained right through this Gospel; this is the Lamb of God of chapter 1. It is a remarkable fact that although all His bones were “out of joint” Ps.22.14, and as a result of the contortions of crucifixion He could count all His bones Ps.22.17, yet not one of those bones was broken. Neither Jewish demands nor Pilate’s orders could effect it when the prophecy had said that it would never happen! All this took place “that the scripture should be fulfilled” v.36.
Another Scripture had said, “They shall look on Him Whom they pierced” v.37, Zech.12.10. Once more, a soldier unwittingly enacted the prediction. “One of the soldiers with a spear pierced His side” v.34. Medical people indicate that the immediate flow of blood and water gave evidence that He was “dead already”, and what was a wanton act of malice was again under Divine superintendence. We noted that at Calvary there was a sword that pierced Mary, but that was figurative. Another figurative sword awoke against the Shepherd, Zech.13.7, the sword of judgment and justice. The spear was literal; it created a literal wound from which the blood and water flowed and that wound was observable in resurrection, 20.19-29.
The accuracy of Scripture should be noted. The prophecy about His bones was “fulfilled” v.36, but in reference to the piercing the wording changes; “Another scripture saith” v.37. Zechariah’s prophecy was not fulfilled then; it will be fulfilled in the coming day of Israel’s repentance, but the historical act had to take place so that there could be a future fulfilment. The precision of the Bible in the usage of words confirms its Divine inspiration.
The Body of Jesus: The Proof of His Death – 19.38-42
Only John tells us that Joseph was “a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews” v.38. For him, discipleship had a faltering start, but his experience should be an encouragement to any whose early Christian life has been less than ideal. Never be content with that; be like Joseph and aspire to better things. He now sinks his fears, and unabashed, he made representations to Pilate regarding the burial of “the body of Jesus”. Giving sanction for the burial indicated that Rome was satisfied that the Saviour had actually died. This is one factor that militates against “the swoon theory” propounded by opponents of the doctrine of His resurrection. He really did die.
Nicodemus co-operated with Joseph, providing the spices that were interwoven with linen grave-clothes. Together, they “laid” Him in “a new sepulchre”. In the Old Testament, a dead marauder had been hastily buried in Elisha’s sepulchre. The moment he made contact with the skeleton, “he revived, and stood up on his feet” 2Kgs.13.20,21. The burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus was no repetition of that Old Testament phenomenon. His tomb was “new”, ‘fresh’, and He left it as clean as when He entered it, for His flesh saw no corruption, Acts 2.31.
It is only John who tells us about the garden, where the cross and the tomb were in proximity, v.41. He alone describes the place of His arrest as “a garden”, 18.1. These are the only two gardens in the New Testament, and the events in these two gardens were necessitated by what transpired in the very first garden, the incident that we call “the fall”, Genesis chapter 3.
The Print of The Nails: The Marks of His Death – 20.19-29
It was the evening of the resurrection day. Frightened disciples cowered behind locked doors when “came Jesus and stood in the midst” v.19. After His greeting, “He shewed unto them His hands and His side” v.20. Luke says that “He shewed them His hands and His feet” Lk.24.40. Evidently, in His resurrection body the marks of the nails were apparent and the spear wound was visible. John mentions His side rather than His feet, for only John records the piercing of His side, 19.34. Three men had been crucified; only One had the incision in His side; as a stimulus to faith, the incredulous Thomas had demanded a sight of the One with the spear-riven side. Only Thomas makes mention of the nails, v.25, the iron spikes that were the physical means of holding Him to the cross.
“A Lamb as it had been slain” Rev.5.6. The phrase seems to indicate that in heaven the Lord Jesus still bears the visible signs of His passion. The universe will never be allowed to forget that the Lamb of God was nailed to a cross. There will be a perpetual, evident reminder of the eternal value of what took place at Calvary.
The sight of the resurrected Christ and the mention of His hands and side melted Thomas; “My Lord and my God” v.28. He immediately acknowledged His authority and Deity. That was good, but equally good was Thomas’s own commitment to that authority, “My Lord”. We visited the cross in our need as sinners and found relief. Now as believers one thing that will keep devotion warm is to live in proximity to Calvary. “The love of Christ constraineth us” 2Cor.5.14,15. Christ’s love in dying for all left Paul under obligation to “live unto … Him which died for [him], and rose again”. We have the same pressing obligation.
THE FIRST EPISTLE BY JOHN
The Blood of Jesus Christ: The Cleansing from His Death – 1.7-10
Antichrists denied the true manhood of the Lord Jesus, 4.1-3, and so from the start, John mounts a robust defence of that fundamental doctrine. They also had a strange notion that a Divine eminence called “The Christ” came upon Jesus at His baptism and left Him before He died, possibly in Gethsemane, and so they asserted that it was only a man called Jesus Who died on the cross. John constantly affirms that Jesus is Christ; He is the Son of God, “His Son Jesus Christ” 1.3. Thus in referring to His blood, John makes clear that it was not just a man called Jesus Who shed that cleansing flow; it is “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son” v.7. Because He is Jesus, a real Man, He was able to shed precious blood; because He is “His Son”, truly Divine, the value of what He did is incalculable, it avails for the cleansing of “all sin”.
This is a context in which John had been contrasting believers with unbelievers. The latter walk in a sphere of darkness, and thus demonstrate that they have no affinity with a God Who is light. Believers are those who “walk in the light”, but that does not infer sinlessness, and so in the shedding of His blood, the Lord provided for the believer’s failures. The blood that procured our judicial forgiveness, Eph.1.7, also provides for parental forgiveness when as children we disobey the Father. On our part, confession is required, v.9, and upon confession, “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins”. He is faithful to the blood that was shed, and just (righteous) because of the blood that was shed, and thus there is cleansing “from all unrighteousness”.
The Propitiation for Our Sins: The Permanent Effects of His Death – 2.1,2
One purpose for John writing was to discourage sin; “that ye sin not” v.1. However, while sin in our lives should always be regarded as abnormal, John is realistic and he anticipates that it may happen: “and if any man sin”. In that unhappy situation there is no thought of the erring believer being expelled from God’s family. That could never happen; God is still “the Father”; that relationship can never be severed, but the enjoyment of the relationship is impaired because of sin. Here the ministry of the Lord Jesus comes into play. He is “an Advocate with the Father”, meaning ‘a helper’, Whose activity restores the wayward saint to the enjoyment of fellowship with the Father.
This whole process is accomplished on a righteous basis, for “He is the propitiation for our sins”. Propitiation is Christ’s death as it satisfies Divine justice. The fact that “He is the propitiation” indicates the permanent effects of what was accomplished. True, it avails for needy sinners, but it satisfies God in respect of wayward saints, as under the influence of the Helper restoration is effected. Of course, there is sufficient in the propitiation to meet the need of “the whole world” v.2, but we understand from other Scriptures that believers alone will benefit from that work. John mentions the propitiation again, 4.10. It is seen there as evidence of God’s love, and in the context is cited as one of three reasons why the Lord Jesus was “sent” vv.9,10,14.
Manifested to Take Away Our Sins: The Qualifications for His Death – 3.4,5
“Sin is lawlessness” v.4, R.V.; sins are the acts of defiance that challenge God’s sovereign authority. We all stand condemned, but the Lord Jesus “was manifested to take away our sins”. He was equipped to do it, for “in Him is no sin” v.5. His sinless life could never save us, but it was a necessary prerequisite for His atoning death. Both Peter and Paul stress the same fact. The One Who “bare our sins” “did no sin” 1 Pet.2.22-24. The One Who was made “to be sin for us” “knew no sin” 2Cor.5.21.
Destroying the Works of the Devil: The Triumph of His Death – 3.8
In this verse, John gives another reason for the Son of God being “manifested”; it was to “destroy the works of the devil”. In His lifetime He entered the strong man’s domain and liberated his captives, Matt.12.29, but the major confrontation took place at the cross, and on the basis of His death, He destroyed “him that had the power of death, that is, the devil” Heb.2.14. In His cross He defeated the hosts of evil; “having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a show of them openly” Col.2.15. That triumph was paraded at His ascension “When He ascended up on high, and led captivity captive” Eph.4.8. In the context of 1 John chapter 3, the effect of Him destroying the works of the devil is seen in transformed lives. People who habitually commit sin are “of the devil” v.8; they take character from him. Nevertheless, there are now individuals who are “born of God”, and who do not habitually practise sin, v.9. In that sense, by His death He has destroyed the works of the devil. Of course, in every respect, the evil intentions of the devil have been thwarted on account of “the death of the cross”.
He Laid Down His Life for Us: The Implications of His Death – 3.16-18
Love is perceived in the Lord Jesus “[laying] down His life for us” v.16. That exhibition of love was voluntary; “He laid down His life”. It was vicarious; it was “for us”. In the context though, the main emphasis is how that amazing act of self-sacrifice should impact on our lives. “We ought to lay down our lives for the brethren”.
The word “ought” carries the thought of a debt; “we owe it”. Calvary should compel us to live for our fellow-believers and so love will be perceived in us. John is not referring to us literally risking our lives for them, but rather, being at their disposal and ministering to their needs as described in subsequent verses. Genuine affection for our brethren is not expressed in us mouthing empty platitudes, v.18. It is seen in genuine compassion being expressed in acts of mercy as we minister to them. Are we discharging that debt of love? The thought resurfaces when John speaks of the propitiation. “If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another” 4.10,11.
Water and Blood: The Witness to His Death – 5.6-8
In reading these verses, remember the antichrists’ claim that “the Christ” had left Jesus before His death, and that it was only a man Jesus Who died. V.5 had referred to Jesus as “the Son of God”, and now we are told that He “came by water and blood … not by water only, but by water and blood” v.6. John emphasises that it was the Son of God Who was baptised in water and it was that same Son of God Who shed His precious blood; these were the two extremities of His public ministry, His baptism and His sacrificial death. The Father testified to His Sonship at His baptism, and at the cross His own control of circumstances bore witness to His Sonship and Deity; no mere man could have claimed what proved to be true, “no man taketh [My life] from Me” Jn.10.18. Further, the Holy Spirit in inspiring Scriptures and in empowering preaching added His testimony; “these three agree in one” v.8. Taken together the three-fold witness is described as “the witness of God which He hath testified of His Son” v.9, and those who believe on the Son have “the witness” [testimony] in themselves, a reference to the confirmatory ministry of the Holy Spirit within the believer, Rom.8.15-17.
This reference to “the blood” is John’s final allusion to the Lord’s death in his epistles.
Him that Loved Us: The Motive for His Death – 1.5,6
Introducing “The Revelation of Jesus Christ”, John conveys a benediction from the Triune God, 1.4,5. Within it he describes the Lord Jesus in a three-fold way, the first relating to the past, the second to the present, and the third to the future, v.5. He then ascribes eternal “glory and dominion” to the Saviour, making three references to His activity for us. The first is the motive from which everything that He did for us springs; He “loved us”. Translators differ on two counts here. First, some tell us that He “loveth us”, and we do rejoice in the constancy of His affection. Our love for Him can fluctuate and wane, 2.4; His love for us is steady. However, the greatest evidence of His affection was expressed in the past as appreciated by Paul; “the Son of God, Who loved me, and gave Himself for me” Gal. 2.20.
The second point on which translators vary is in this: were we “washed” or were we “loosed” from our sins? The present writer has no expertise in the original language or in ancient manuscripts, and commentators seem divided as to the more appropriate line to adopt, but we rejoice that both facts are true. Both purification and liberation have been procured “by His blood” R.V. We are both cleansed and set free, 1Jn.1.7; 1Pet.1.18,19.
What He procured for us in His love and sacrifice enabled Him to constitute us “kings and priests unto God”. This is one Scripture that helps to forge the conviction that in this church age, the priesthood is not an elite class distinct from the mass of believers, but rather, every blood-washed individual is part of the Christian priesthood.
The First and the Last, Dead: The Solace from His Death – 1.17,18; 2.8
The Lord Jesus is “the First and the Last”, the Originator and Consummator of everything. It is a Divine title, e.g., Isa.44.6. Amazingly, “the First and the Last” was dead! Literally, He “became” dead; but He lives again! There was resurrection; there is life that is “for evermore”; in His hands are “the keys of death and Hades” v.18, R.V. Death’s Conqueror decrees the time of our demise and at His bidding those in the sphere of death will emerge in resurrection, “every man in his own order”, 1Cor.15.23. He holds the keys.
This must have been an immense encouragement to both John and the beleaguered assembly at Smyrna. John was old. How could his ancient frame stand up to the rigours of the penal camp on Patmos? Humanly speaking, his death warrant had been signed. However, His Lord, the First and the Last, had become dead; He had been down that road, and there was comfort in that. There was comfort for believers at Smyrna too. Martyrdom stared them in the face, and the word of encouragement was, “Be thou faithful unto death”, 2.10; the fact that the First and the Last had become dead would fortify them when threatened by the executioner’s sword.
In both cases, the fact that the First and the Last lived again would encourage and embolden them. The victor’s crown would adorn their brows in resurrection glory; His resurrection guaranteed theirs.
A Lamb Slain: The Reminder of His Death – 5.6
The regal “Lion of the tribe of Judah” v.5, is the “Lamb as it had been slain” v.6. As suggested earlier, the description is likely an indication that the marks of His crucifixion are still the visible reminder of all He accomplished on the cross. In the context, the slaughter of the Lamb renders Him worthy to take the title deeds of the universe and to open one seal after another to introduce different phases of Divine wrath that will culminate with “the kingdoms of this world (becoming) the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ” 11.15. His shed blood is also seen as the price of purchasing men out of the earth to associate with Him in administering His kingdom, 5.10.
Heaven’s anthem will accord to the once-slain Lamb everything that was denied Him during the days of His flesh, vv.11-14. Men deprived Him of the respect and the distinction that He was due. At full volume, the celestial choirs will sing of His right to be honoured, and this will be manifested during His rule over the millennial earth. With the living creatures we say “Amen”; with “the four and twenty elders” we bow down and worship.
White Robes: The Hope of His Death – 7.14
In the church age, we rejoice in cleansing because of the blood that was shed, 1Jn.1.7. That cleansing power will extend into the Tribulation period. In every age, blessing has come on the basis of the work of Christ and on the principle of faith. The numberless throng who will emerge from “the great tribulation” v.14, R.V., are people whose hope of cleansing has been founded on the work of the cross. They have made once-soiled garments “white in the blood of the Lamb” v.14. The horrors of their Tribulation experience will give way to a new relationship with the Lamb, “the Lamb … shall be their shepherd” v.17, R.V. How diverse are the metaphors used to describe the activity of our beloved Lord.
Where also our Lord was Crucified: The Location of His Death – 11.8
The two witnesses will be constant irritants to the beast. Finally, they will be overcome and killed, v.7, prompting temporary, universal jubilation, v.10. The location of their martyrdom is noted, “the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified” v.8, R.V. To the eternal shame of Jerusalem, the Lord Jesus was crucified outside its gate, and its hostility to heaven’s messengers will persist right into the end times. These loyal men will share their Lord’s rejection in the very place where He had been crucified. Thus the Holy Spirit calls what had been “the holy city” v.2, Sodom and Egypt, v.8. Sodom was where violent perverts had attacked heaven’s representatives, Genesis chapter 19. Exodus tells of the relentless harassment of God’s people in Egypt. On account of the Lord’s crucifixion and future atrocities committed by the nation, God sees Jerusalem as combining the disgraceful features of Sodom and Egypt.
The Blood of the Lamb: The Provision from His Death – 12.11
Obviously, the passage is speaking of saints of the early Tribulation period standing for God despite desperate persecution. Satanic opposition will extend with “the accuser of our brethren” relentlessly maligning them before God. Like us, none of them will be perfect; perhaps some of the criticisms will be valid, but none of these accusations will carry any weight with our God; the blood of the Lamb makes sure of that. As Mrs. Walter G. Taylor’s old hymn affirms, “Calvary covers it all”. The slanders of the evil one will be silenced and thus they will overcome him “because of the blood of the Lamb” v.11, R.V. Unashamed witness will be maintained because of an awareness of their judicial cleansing, but at a practical level, “the word of their testimony” and their indifference to their safety will also contribute to their victory over the accuser.
Slain from the Foundation of the World: The Fulfilment of His Death – 13.8
The Lord Jesus was as “a Lamb … foreordained before the foundation of the world” 1Pet.1.19,20. By eternal decree He was destined for the altar. What was decreed in eternity was fulfilled in time, “from the foundation of the world”. In his commentary on the Book of Revelation2, Mr. J. Allen explains that the preposition “from” is a Greek word meaning ‘away from’, so at a point in history away from the foundation of the world the Lamb was slain.
- 2. Allen, J. “Revelation – What the Bible Teaches” published by J Ritchie, Kilmarnock, 1997.
Some feel that the phrase “slain from the foundation of the world” looks at His death from a Divine standpoint, in that His death had retrospective value for pre-Calvary generations. That is a Biblical concept. The setting forth of the Lord Jesus as a propitiation declares God’s righteousness “for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God” Rom.3.25.
Again, others contend that the phrase “from the foundation of the world” relates to names being inscribed in the Lamb’s book of life, and numerous translations uphold that idea.
No matter which interpretation is accepted, the reference to “the Lamb slain” is John’s last allusion to the death of Christ, indeed the last reference in the Bible. However, there are further mentions of Him as “the Lamb”, a constant reminder of One Who was marked out for sacrifice. It is significant that when John speaks of the official uniting of Christ and His Church, he describes the occasion as “the marriage of the Lamb” 19.7. It is not the marriage of Jesus, or of Christ, or of the Lord. Describing Him as the Lamb is a fresh reminder of the tremendous cost of linking us with Him in an eternal relationship!