Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Theology in John Part 4

Spiritual transformation results in eternal life. That is the great truth of Scripture in chapter three. Chapter four says believers can never lose the gift of eternal life that God has given them (cf. John 4:14; 6:32, 37-40). These truths are developed in this gospel by use of the unique Johnanian theological discourse.  In this article John's theological discourses will be examined as the common purpose stated in the gospel is: "that you may believe you have life in His name" (John 20:31).

Spiritual transformation does not come by any means of man by himself, but rather by an external agent, namely, God. And although all three persons of the Godhead participate in this transformation, John concentrates in the early chapters upon the means of salvation - believing in His name; Jesus Christ, the Anointed Savior.  The apostle John puts it this way, "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:12-13). 

 The opening theses of John's gospel might be summarized as follows: The Eternal One – the Word, and specifically, Jesus Christ, the One who reveals both the Father and Himself to mankind by the testimony of His word is not only Creator and Sustainer of all life (physical life), but by intervening in creation, reveals Himself through special revelation, even though the revelation concerning eternal life is presented to all mankind, mankind will not, nay, refuses to accept the testimony, thus he stays in darkness. 

John's main point for the book is special revelation and he highlights this point not only within the opening verses but it is highlighted by the purpose statement of John 20:31 "these [things] are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name." This brings me to the high point of this article, namely, special revelation and the key element in belief is the doctrine of illumination.

Special revelation
Within the doctrine of revelation (that is, God revealing Himself to mankind) there is general revelation and special revelation. General revelation is that which is revealed by God that all men know or observe; both nature and the law written in the heart fall into this category. Nature is general revelation since it reveals the triune nature of God in all that means (e.g., God's attributes of infiniteness, goodness, righteousness, holiness, wrath, etc; cf. Ps. 19:1-6; Romans 1) to all people. The law written upon the heart of all mankind is another example (cf. Rom. 2:15). The purpose of general revelation is given as legal – so that no one has an excuse (cf. Rom. 1:20). The fall has, however, clouded the heart and it no longer can see correctly for its desire is for evil always (cf Rom. 3:9-18). The result is that knowledge based on general revelation is not infallible as the apostle Paul explains:

18  For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22  Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. (Rom. 1:18-23)

Special revelation is that which is revealed by God to mankind through various means. God revealed Himself and His word to mankind through the pre-incarnate Christ (cf. Gen. 2; 3; 16), through angels (cf., Dan. 9; Luke 2; Rev. 1), the prophets (2 Sam. 23; Zech. 1), dreams (cf. Gen. 20 & 31), and visions (cf. Isa. 1; 6; Ezek. 1), but the key is brought to light by John's use of "the Word," that is, Jesus Christ is the Word, the One who has brought special revelation - the knowledge of God to mankind independent of the any possible corruption by mankind. Thus man has no excuse with respect to special revelation, since He himself came into the world to reveal the Father (cf. John 5:19; 6:46; 8:19, 28; 10:25; 10:30; John 12:49; 14:7-11; 15:15).  

The purpose of special revelation is related to the legal mandate of a testimony or witness that God has preserved in writing within the Bible. There is the testimony of the Old Testament and the testimony of the New Testament. The content of the written testimony involves everything related to mankind concerning God and is preserved as historical stories, involving specific events and people to serve as a testimony to all mankind.

General call
Related to special revelation is the general call. This is God securing a faithful, reliable source preserved in what he calls His Word and proclaiming that Word to all mankind in order for men to repent and turn away from their sin of unbelief and believe in the One true God who has revealed Himself in His Word by His word.

The general call is for everyone but is the revealed character of mankind that mankind is hopelessly lost. Man's will, because of the fall, has been bound in the slave market of sin. He is a slave to sin. The general call serves as a general invitation, a general testimony to all men to believe in Him and serves a legal function, in that all men are held responsible (cf. Matt. 22:14; Luke 14:-16-24; John 7:37).

To highlight the general call, Jesus – God in the flesh, went to His own people, pronouncing the gospel of the kingdom, and they did not accept Him or His message (cf. John 1:11). And in order to validate the messenger and His message, He used miracles. But, this only brought curiosity not belief. The general call is required of God to proclaim Him among all people so that He can work with His word to perform His work of spiritual transformation.       

Effectual call
The effectual call is the act of God in illumination, transforming the heart of some men to respond to the general call - the proclamation of the word of God (Rom. 8:30; 1 Cor. 1:2). John uses the word born again or regeneration (John 3). Jesus uses miracles to get the attention of the Jewish leadership in order to teach this lesson. Even though a miracle is seen and brings many to follow Him in order to see further, the miracle does not bring one to faith. Rather, it is a miracle when God brings individuals to believe. That is the testimony of John. Many believed, but Jesus says He knew their heart and after they hear more of what He has to say, some leave (cf. John 6:66). The miracle only served to get their attention. It is God who has to draw one to Him, not only is salvation a gift but faith is also a gift (Eph. 2:8-9). 

It is a necessary fact that when one is called (cf. Rom. 8:28-30), that it is the work of the Holy Spirit that illuminates the word, bringing about understanding (cf. 1 Cor. 2:11-13) convection of sin and faith in Christ's atonement.

Dr. Ryrie puts it this way: "God regenerates (John 1:13) according to His will (James 1:18) through the Holy Spirit (John 3:5) when a person believes (1:12) the Gospel as revealed in the Word (1 Pet. 1:23)." (Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, p. 376)

John's teaching method
The apostle John wrote his gospel account not only in chronological order, but with a unique Jewish teaching method (or should I call it the Old Testament teaching method) – that is, to teach theological doctrine through story and events. The events lead up to a related theological truth. And since Jesus, God in the flesh, the Son of God, is the central character in the story. The related events serve to weave a wonderfully complex physical yet spiritual story. A tapestry of teaching from event to event, miracle to miracle, discourse to discourse all leading the reader to the revelation of who God is and how it is one becomes saved.   

Testimony. One of the most important words within Johnanian theology is the doctrine of the testimony. John the Baptist is the "voice in the wilderness…" whose testimony in John is to reveal the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  His testimony concerns nothing that was not already revealed in the Old Testament. There was nothing new in his testimony he simply served to point out the promised Messiah who was to come as Savior of the world (Isa. 53).

The witnesses that testify to Christ are: the witness of John the Baptist (1:7-8; 5:33-35); the witness of the Father (5:32-37; 8:18); the witness of the Son (self-witness; 3:11; 8:14-18; 18:37); the witness of the Holy Spirit (15:26; 16:13-14); the witness of the Scriptures (1:45; 5:39-46); the witness of Jesus' works (5:17, 36; 10:25; 14:11; 15:24); the witness of the disciples (15:27; 19:35; 21:24); and the witness of the lives changed by Jesus through the miracles (4:39; 9:25, 38; 12:17).  

Miracles. Miracles are used by God to validate the messenger of God as authentic. Miracles are, however, used for a special purpose in the book of John. They are used in a twofold manner; (1) to bring people to belief in Christ as God; and (2) to manifest Jesus' glory (2:11). The miracle is used though as a teaching tool. The miracles are not random, rather, they are directed towards unique teaching points. The miracle is related to the theological discourse surrounding it. The miracles serve to build upon each other as the discourse builds to reveal not only who Jesus is, but how the world though Him might be saved.

Miracles do not happen continuously throughout Israel's history; instead they are prominent in several periods. Miracles are prominent when God wants man to take note of something He is doing and accompanying the great miracles of God are the counter miracles of the Devil. For example, miracles were notable during Israel's bondage in Egypt through Moses; in the wilderness and subsequent conquering of the promised land through Joshua; with Daniel when Israel is in captivity in Babylon; in Jesus' days with Him and the apostles; and finally during the Tribulation with the witness.

With respect to this article the miracles in the book of John serves to prove Jesus is God (John 20:30-31), to prove Jesus is the promised Messiah (John 5:36), to point out the period, that is, the Kingdom is at hand (John 10:37-38). John does not present all the miracles that Jesus performed; only those that serve to contribute to the theological teaching at hand.  Miracles serve to enhance the spiral teaching technique so unique to the Jewish mind.    

Theological Discourse
Interspersed throughout the gospel, John weaves several theological discourses. They are woven together with the miracles and special notable Christological identifications (the "I AM" statements).  There are twelve theological discourses:

  1. Regeneration (2:23-3:21)
  2. Eternal life, reconciliation and spreading the good news (4:1-26)
  3. The deity of Christ (5:16-47)
  4. The true Bread of Life (6:26-59)
  5. The source of truth (7:14-20)
  6. The Light of the world (8:12-20)
  7. The true object of faith (8:21-30)
  8. Spiritual freedom (8:31-59)
  9. The Good Shepherd (10:1-21)
  10. Unity of the Godhead (10:22-38)
  11. The world's redeemer (12:20-36)
  12. The Upper Room Discourse:
a.        The approaching separation (13-14:31)
b.      Union with Christ (15:1-27)
c.       The Holy Spirit and the future (16:1-27)

Discourse 1 - Regeneration (2:23-3:21). The first discourse concerns true salvation. It starts with chapter 2:23 as Jesus had just performed a miracle transforming water to wine in Cana, near Jesus' birth place in Nazareth in the region of Galilee - his home base. He next moves to Jerusalem on the Passover and cleanses the outer Temple court of the money exchangers, merchants and inspectors. The action causes a stir in the city and the Jewish leadership sends a representative to meet with Jesus to find out who he is.

The introductory section 2:23-25 opens up the discourse with the main point that mankind may be curious about Jesus and some will even pretend to follow Him, but not all of them are of Him.     

To be regenerated, to be born again means one has to be born from above, that is, it has its source from God not man and involves the Holy Spirit who has to perform His indwelling work by changing the heart of man. A new birth is one that involves a testimony of who Jesus is, He is the Son of Man (3:13), the One uniquely related to Mankind, and the Son of God, the only one who can represent mankind before God because He is the perfect, spotless Lamb of God who represents mankind on the cross to take away the sin of the world.

To be regenerated means one has to believe in the one lifted up on the cross (3:14-15)  just like that foretold by Moses in the wilderness, that whosoever believed that Jesus is the Son of Man will not perish but have eternal life. The Son of Man (3:17) is also called the Son of God, the Son uniquely related to God, the only begotten Son of God, making Him uniquely legally representing mankind and God in the flesh. In essence, those who reject Him reject God (3:18), those who believe Him, believe God (3:17). But it is God who has to transform the individual in order for him or her to believe, and that mechanism involves the illumination of the truth in a dark world by the agent of regeneration – the Holy Spirit (3:19-21).

The imagery involved includes the contrast of light and dark. The narrative starts with Nicodemus meeting Jesus at night (3;1). The verbs used in the discourse for "to know" is "to see" thus enforcing the light and dark imagery. The imagery involves knowledge and deeds. The light and dark imagery reaches its height in verses 19-20.

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. 20  For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. (John 3:19-20)

The second major literary imagery involves the Old Testament concept of water baptism which involved an external ceremony representing the new life of obedience to the Law and in fellowship with the Jewish community. Jesus moves this OT practice to the baptism of the Spirit where the Spirit joins the believer to the body of Christ at the time of regeneration. It is no mistake that John the Baptist (lit. John the baptizer) declares that it is Jesus who is "the true light" that gives light to every man (1:9). This imagery involves the idea cleansing, but here, the cleansing is internal not external – spiritual not physical. What a picture this is as John moves from the miracle of water transformed to wine to the great discourse of the born of water and spirit to the events at Jacobs well and the discourse of the water that Jesus gives is eternal life!     

Discourse 2 - Eternal life, reconciliation and spreading the good news (4:1-26).  The second discourse involves the proclamation of the word to the world that brings salvation of the world. The first step is to bring the word to the Samarians who are half Jew, half Canaanite. The reconciliation of the divided nation of Israel and Judah is a Messianic promise and will find complete fulfillment in the Millennium, but here Jesus opens the door of reconciliation by going where no Jew would go – to the Samarians and Jacob's well.

The significance of the location being a plot of land that Jacob purchased for the family that defines who the Jews is, namely, one of Jacob's twelve sons form the twelve tribes of Israel in the land. And the location of the well is part of the land that is allocated to the twelve. It is here that Jesus pronounces that He is the source of life and He will (in the future) give living water that will result in everlasting life. The imagery is heightened by the great white harvest discussion.

Jesus tells the Samarian woman that she has had many husbands, a real life application of their discourse concerning idolatry, salvation and true worship. This serves as a picture of the division of the two, Judah and Israel and their collective idolatry. Upon hearing this, the woman pronounces His words to be that of the Messiah, of which He proclaims He is the Messiah! It is at this point that Jesus looks out over the land and proclaims the doctrine of sowing (the good news that Jesus is the Messiah), and reaping. One sows another reaps. One spreads the gospel of Christ (that is, that Jesus came in the flesh to die on the cross as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and was buried and was raised from the dead), another reaps (gathering together in fellowship and discipleship). It is not one person who does it all, but different members of the Church that are involved, and where one day the worker sows, on another he will reap, but both the reaper and sower can rejoice together in their combined labor.

Discourse 3 - The deity of Christ (5:16-47). The next great sign involves a Jewish nobleman's son who was on his deathbed. The encounter is brief and leaves the reader unsatisfied. Jesus simply states (and it seems in an irritated way), "Unless you see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe."  After the man pleads for his son's life, Jesus states, "Go your way, your son lives." The nobleman trusted that Jesus was able to perform the miracle of saving his son, so he left his son's side at the point of death in order to travel the long journey to find Jesus. As a result of the encounter both the son is saved physically and the nobleman and his house believe, but did the teaching encounter stick with the nobleman? We are left unsure. Does the nobleman testify concerning faith apart from seeing a miracle? We do not know.

We next encounter the miracle of the man who receives his site. The man who sat at the pool of Bethesda ("house of grace" or "house of mercy") waiting for a chance to be healed, a chance for mercy. It has been about a year, Jesus is back in Jerusalem on the "feast of the Jews," probably Passover and this miracle is meant to build upon the last miracle. That is, Jesus' reputation as the miracle worker has spread beyond ignoring the miracle worker and it is time for the Jewish leadership to acknowledge Him for who He claims to be – the Messiah, but they refuse even though they have a first-hand testimony of a miracle that of the man healed of his sight.

Again the events of the narrative serve to build the theological discourse. Jews desire a sign, but when shown a sign, the Jewish leadership refuses to believe the message of the messenger. It is at this point that the Jews turn to violence against Jesus as they seek to kill Him. The reason is given because He did work on the Sabbath. What work? Healing! There is provision in the Law for acts of necessity or mercy (this act is performed at the "pool of mercy"), but the Jewish leadership are not interested in justice. The man carried his bed on the Sabbath, the law is broken, and the letter of the law must be maintained.

It is at this point that Jesus uses the literary expression "amen, amen" ("truly, truly" verily, verily" or "most assuredly"). Jesus' response to the Jewish leadership makes them even more furious and they seek to kill Him even more. The first "amen, amen" statement concerns the oneness and unity of the Father and the Son. The Jewish leadership understands completely what He said. They understand He made Himself equal with God and who is equal with God save God Himself!

The second "amen, amen" statement contains three aspects. (1) Life and judgment are in the Son. That is, those who believe in Jesus have eternal life and will not come into judgment; (2) those who believe in Jesus will also experience the resurrection to life; (3) the self-bearing witness of Jesus. This point is extremely import for His legal case for it is the witness that must be heard in order to execute judgment. The Jewish leadership ignored the testimony of the man that was healed, so Jesus testifies to them Himself, but He also points them to the other witnesses in this case. That is, Jesus says John the Baptist, His works (miracles), the Father, and the Scriptures all bear witness of Him. This is the great fourfold witness section of the gospel.

This theological discourse contains a major deity of Christ section for John. The argument can be broken into three points. (1) Jesus is equal with God in nature (quality, Gr. isos) (vs. 17-18); (2) Jesus is equal with God in power (they do not work alone, but together); (3) Jesus is equal with God in authority (Judgment and life itself given to the Son).  Jesus is equal with God by use of the unique term "only begotten Son" (cf. Ps. 2).  

The equivalence statements come to an application in the form of the condition for everlasting life. The condition is given as hearing "My" word, thus making His word equal with God and enforcing the statement concerning authority has been granted to the Son. The condition of hearing "My" word is clarified by the use of "believing" what is heard, or believing the testimony. This truth is highlighted in verse 24 by the Greek.

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. (John 5:24)

John uses the Greek present tense for "hearing" (continue to believe), "believing" (continue to believe), and having (continue having or possess) eternal life, and not in condemnation (continue not to be condemned), while the words for death are past tense (actually, perfect tense meaning the action occurred in the past and the condition is completed). Verse 24 is theologically precise in it pronouncement and says that those who are saved continue to hear Jesus, believe His word, believe that Jesus is equal with God (or Jesus is God in the flesh) and at the point of belief, has already and completely passed from "the dead" (the world of the living-dead) into "the living" (the world of the living). What a great God we have.    

The statement "For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself" (v. 26) serves as the introductory point for the seven great "Life" statements.
  1. I am the Bread of Life (6:33-35)
  2. The Light that gives life (8:12; 9:5)
  3. The Door to abundant life (10:9)
  4. The Shepherd who gives His life for His sheep (10:11,14)
  5. The Resurrection and the life (11:25)
  6. The way, the truth, and the life (14:6)
  7. The vine that gives the branches life (15:5)
This section forms an "inclusio," that is, it ends just as it starts: "Jesus can do nothing of Himself." His will is the Fathers will. They are one and the same. The Father/Son equivalence dominates this section as is the obedience of the Son to do the will of the Father. The Father/Son imagery is prominent in this section. The Son's relationship to the Father is highlighted. For example, just as with a human father/son relationship, the Son speaks for the Father in His absence. The Son can represent the Father in all their dealings, so the statement of being given authority and judgment is placed within the human context for understanding the relationship. The Son has the same attributes as the Father. They are equal (Greek isos "equal in quality"). This does not mean that the Son was born in the physical sense nor does it mean that Christ had a beginning or end, but has the Jewish meaning of relationship – of Sonship, a legal term reflecting relationship and authority.   

In the next article the rest of the theological discourses will be looked at as John moves the reader to the heights of Jewish theological teaching.