The Crack in the Cosmos: Letting the Light of John 8:12–59 Expose the Divide in Humanity

brown and green grass field during sunset

31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him,
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,
32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
— John 8:31–32 —

 I don’t know about you, but when I read lengthy dialogues in Scripture, especially in the Gospels, I find them hard to follow until I have a sense of structure of the argument. In John 8, this has been especially true. After Jesus announces that he is the light of the world (v. 12), his opponents (Pharisees in v. 13 and Jews in vv. 22, 31, 48, 52, 57) object, question, and reject his statements. Yet, this massive disputation is a jumble of back and forth, until you begin to see the order of the court.

As many commentators have observed, John’s Gospel has many elements of a trial in it. And if the whole book is a court case written to show that Jesus is the Son of God (John 20:31), it should not surprise us to find witnesses, evidence, and other elements of a law court. Indeed, that is how I take John 8:12–59, and in the outline included here, I offer a court case in two parallel parts.

Screen Shot 2022-06-30 at 12.48.41 PM

From this outline, let’s consider a couple things.

The Legal Brief in John 8

First, there is, in John 8:12–30, two arguments that run in parallel. This parallel is found in the order of the speech and the shape of the argumentation. Compare verses 12–19 and 20–27. In these two sections, we find Jesus making an opening statement in each. Remarkably these statements should be read together, and give us a sense of what the first trial is addressing. In verse 12, Jesus announces that he is the light coming into the world, and in verse 20 he says that he (the Light of the World) will be departing. Commiserate with so much in John, this trial is about Jesus and the light he brings.

Importantly, Jesus’s statement are met with hostile unbelief, expressed in two objections—one long, one short. This is how the trial proceeds until, in verses 28–30, Jesus points to his coming cross, when he will be lifted up. As verse 30 indicates, many believed in him, even though moments earlier (v. 27), they didn’t understand. So clearly, this faith lacks understanding, which Jesus will proceed to show as false.

Stopping here in the middle of the chapter, notice how this response of faith is the turning point of the chapter. Quite possibly, the faith of his hearers is based upon the hope that Jesus “lifting up” would be an exaltation to glory, which they might enjoy too. What Jesus has in mind with respect to his lifting up, however, is his coming crucifixion. But these disciples do not understand that (v. 27), they simply believe in Jesus for other purposes. This is a warning to us today and to any who believe in Jesus for their own reasons, not his.

In the context of John, we will see that the people of Israel were seekers of glory, and it seems Jesus’s words of lifting up could have invited such a misplaced faith. Accordingly, this is where the next section begins, as it moves to reveal the darkness of Jesus questioners. Like before, the second section has another mirrored debate, a legal dispute in two parts.

Verses 31–32 begins with another opening statement, but this time Jesus’s statement covers the two parts of the trial. As to the content of his statement, Jesus tells his would-be followers how they prove themselves them true. If they remain in his word, they will have life eternal, but if they refuse him and his words, they are false, darkened, and spiritually dead. Tragically, this is what the chapter proves.

Let’s following the argument in order. First, in vv. 31–47, the Jews ask three questions, to which Jesus responds three times. And in that legal debate, Jesus splits the difference between biological seeds of Abraham (which these Jews are) from spiritual heirs of Abraham (which these Jews are not). The result of this distinction is Jesus’s famous and forceful declaration that these “believers” are actually children of the devil. “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (v. 44a).

Next, these devilish sons of Abraham accuse Jesus of demonic activity and Samaritan origins (v. 48), even as they reject his self-identification with Abraham. Again, this legal debate turns on three questions, followed by three responses from Jesus. Ironically, once identified with the devil, these interlocuters do the work of the accuser, questioning Jesus, his identity, and his eternity (i.e., his ancient knowledge of Abraham). But in context, all they do by questioning Jesus is to show their own spiritual ignorance and lifeless religion.

Consequently, when they pick up stones to throw at Jesus, a symbol that the trial has moved from deliberation to execution, John reveals that these accusers of Jesus are the ones who stand condemned by God. They do not know God and this is evident in the fact that they cannot recognize God’s Son. Accordingly, the chapter closes not with a guilty verdict for Jesus, but a guilty verdict for his legal opponents.

All in all, John uses a tight literary structure to lead the reader to see what he is doing. And more, he reveals who Jesus is by contrasting him with those who accuse him. Jesus is the light of the world who will be extinguished on the cross, so that in the light of his resurrection, all who truly believe in him will be saved. Yet, such faith does not come from the selfish will of men who want to glorify themselves by Jesus. Saving faith comes to those who are truly heirs of Abraham, sheep who hear Jesus voice, and children born of God.

John 8 and the Crack in the Cosmos

The division between biological seeds and spiritual heirs is a division, a crack in the cosmos, that ranges across the whole of humanity. And in John, this spiritual division between two kinds of people is seen by paying attention to the trial. In questioning and condemning Jesus, the Jewish leaders show themselves to be men of darkness. By contrast, those who abide in the words of Christ will walk in the light, as he is in the light, because God gives light to those who are children of light.

Again, this spiritual division is what we face in every conflict—whether familial, ecclesial, societal, legal, or political. As Jesus teaches, there are two kinds of people in the world. And as John 8, the sides are determined by God and detected by how one responds to the Son. Ultimately, John 8 reveals much about who Jesus is, but it also reveals much about who we are.

With that realization in mind, let us seek God’s mercy and pray for his light to lead us to Christ. Jesus is the light of the world, and if you rejoice in his light, he will reveal to you his truth, and his truth alone will set you free. Just as he says in John 8:31–32.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo by Jonathan Petersson on Pexels.com

Go And Preach No More? Six Contextual Problems With John 7:53–8:11

close up shot of bible text

Few passages in the Bible are more beloved than the story of the adulterous woman being brought to Jesus, condemned by the scribes and Pharisees, and then set free by the wisdom and compassion of Christ. At the same time, few passages in the Bible are more debated. Should John 7:53–8:11 be included in the Bible, or not?

In the early church, it was recognized that this passage was not present in the earliest Greek manuscripts. And Augustine and others suggested that the teaching in the passage is what led to exclusion. In On Adulterous Marriages (2.7.6), he writes, “Some men of slight faith” and others “hostile to true faith” removed the passage for fear that it would encourage adultery.[1]

In the modern era, the problem of the Pericope Audulterae (PA)[2] has not been a matter of questionable ethics, so much as questionable evidence. As most translations admit, “The earliest manuscripts does not include John 7:53–8:11” (ESV). Likewise, a majority of evangelical scholars also question the inclusion of this passage in the Bible. See, for instance, Daniel Wallace, Jim Hamilton, and a list of others.

On the other hand, there are biblical scholars who do argue for the inclusion of the PA in the biblical canon. This would include advocates of the King James Version, Majority Text advocates, and others who would point to the Byzantine text tradition. For instance, Maurice Robinson, a retired professor from SEBTS, who is not KJV-Only, has done the most extensive work on this subject.[3] And he has made the case for including this passage as original.

Still this is the minority report. And accordingly, Bible readers and preachers are left to wonder: How do we handle this text? Continue reading

Three Literary Mountains: Seeing the Chiastic Structures of John 7

adventure alpine background black and white

When I preached through the Five Books of the Psalms a few years ago, I began to see chiasms as “literary mountains” (see below). Which is to say, just as mountains in the Bible serve as meeting places with God, so chiastic structures (literary mountains) do the same. Because chiasms put stress on the high point of the passage, we should seek to understand how the author builds his argument and his artistry around that centerpiece. And what results is a staircase that moves up the literary mountain and back down again.Book 1

In John’s Gospel, there are more than a few chiastic structures. John 1:1–18 is carefully constructed as a chiasm. So is John 2–4 and John 5–11. And because the Gospel shows multiple chiasms, it validates our search to see further literary structures as chiastic (A-B-A). In fact, John 7 has three of these literary mountains—one small (John 7:1–9), one large (John 7:10–36), and one medium in size (John 7:37–52).

Without getting into all the interpretive details of all that follows, I offer the following literary structure. Each begin with the “feast of booths” as the gateway to each “mountain.” Then each put in the center of the chiasm, i.e., the high point of the mountain, the divide that stands in the crowd because of Jesus.

By looking at these these three chiasms together, it helps us get a sense for how to read the whole chapter, and to understand what the main point is—namely, that Jesus has come to fulfill the Feast of Booths, which will cause a divide between those who are enslaved to the shadow (i.e., the Law) and those who will believe in the substance (Christ, to which the Law points).

Tell me what you think? Does this reading match the text, as you see it? Or would you make adjustments? Continue reading

The Sharp Edges of God’s Sovereign Salvation: 9 Truths about the Doctrine of Election

black and white silhouette of christ the redeemer

A number of years ago, I preached a sermon Titus 1:1. In that passage, Paul says, he is “an apostle Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth.” In that sermon it would be impossible and unfaithful to ignore the word “elect” (eklekton) and the way in which Paul labored for the faith of the elect.

And yet, despite the clear presence of the word in the text and its relationship to faith, truth, and Paul’s gospel ministry, my exposition initiated a cascade of events that resulted in my eventual resignation from my pastoral office. Such is the antagonism against the doctrine of election, which has often been flown under the banner of Calvinism.

In more recent days, I preached a series of messages from John 6, a passage that also touches the doctrine of election. And in these messages, preached in a church where the doctrines of grace are not eschewed but embraced, I was able to show from Scripture what Jesus says about God’s sovereignty in salvation.

In what follows, I want to bullet point some of the key truths uncovered in John 6 with respect to the doctrine of election. In many other articles, I have written how evangelism and election relate, what Scripture says about election, and what hyper-Calvinism really is. In this article, however, I want to stick to Jesus’s words in John 6—a passage where our Lord teaches about the ways God brings salvation to his elect, while passing over others.

Admittedly, this passage is a hard saying (v. 60) and election is a hard doctrine, but it is a true doctrine and one worth pondering. So, with the goal of understanding what Jesus says in John 6, let me offer nine truths about the doctrine of election.

Nine Truths about the Doctrine of Election

Before getting into the text, here is an outline of the nine points. Because what follows is rather long, you might consider picking which point is most interesting (or troubling) and starting there.

  1. Election depends on the God who selects, not mankind who seeks.
  2. Election is ordained in eternity and revealed in time.
  3. Election in time mirrors God’s election in eternity.
  4. God’s election results in faith, not the reverse.
  5. Election does not deny the universal offer of Christ; it secures a positive response.
  6. Election depends on the will of God, not the will of man.
  7. The election of God’s people ensures that he will bring the gospel to them.
  8. Election directs Jesus’s ministry, and ours.
  9. Election is for the glory of God, not the glory of man.

Continue reading

Blessed are the Un-Offended: For They are the Elect of God (John 6:60–71)

john03

Blessed are the Un-Offended: For They are the Elect of God (John 6:60–71)

Blessed is he who is not offended by me.
— Matthew 11:6 —

These are the words Jesus spoke to John the Baptist, when John sent his disciples to Jesus asking this question: Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?

If you have never considered the pain of John’s words, it is worth time to ponder.

In John’s Gospel, John the Baptist is introduced as a faithful witness to Christ—a witness who so longed for the kingdom of God that he is willing to lose his kingdom. In John 3:30 he says, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” These are the words John declared, when his disciples came asking him about Jesus and the fact that more people were following him.

With humble faith, John accepted his role as a friend of the bridegroom and thus when the groom arrived, John rightly and righteously slipped out of the way. In fact, after John 3 the Baptist is not heard from again in John’s Gospel.

Nevertheless, this does not mean we do not know the rest of the story. Because we do! In Matthew 14, Mark 6, and Luke 9, we have the report that John was beheaded by Herod the tetrarch after his wife’s daughter requested decapitation as a party trick.

Yet, before his execution, Matthew 11 records the words that John sent to Jesus, as the forerunner to the Lord lay imprisoned, awaiting his deliverance or his death. And why does John ask his question about who he is? Is it because John doesn’t know Jesus, or believe him to be the Son of God? No, it is because things are not going as John anticipated! Continue reading

God’s Judgment in John’s Gospel: How a Careful Reading of John 6 Reveals the Wisdom of God’s Judgment

two brown and black goats

5 “Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan, I will now arise,” says the Lord; “I will place him in the safety for which he longs.” 6 The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.

— Psalm 12:5–6 —

In John 6, we have series of questions and answers that proceed from ostensible faith to certain unbelief. Put differently, those who first sought Jesus, because they ate of his bread, come to find out that hardened against God as they they have no appetite for Christ—only a hunger for what he might give them!

Meanwhile, as Jesus explains how anyone may come to him, we learn a great deal about Jesus and the wise judgments of God. Indeed, as John writes up the events taking place around the Sea of Galilee and then in synagogue at Capernaum, John 6 shows us more clearly who Jesus is and how the Word of God made flesh fulfills every portion of God’s Word.

In what follows, I want to begin with some basic observations on the text, and then move to some more in-depth discussions about intra-biblical allusions (i.e., how John may use the Old Testament), with some final conclusions about the way Jesus’s words prove the purity of God’s judgments. In the end, this will show us again how wise God is and why, in a passage that esteems the doctrine of unconditional election we can see the goodness God’s judgment upon those who are not elect.

Continue reading

The Doctrine of Illumination in John’s Gospel

sunray through trees

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.)
— John 6:63–64 —

The doctrine of illumination explains how spiritual insight is given to God’s children by the Holy Spirit. The locus classicus for this doctrine is 1 Corinthians 2:10–16, where the Apostle Paul explains the difference between those with the Spirit and those without. Describing this difference, he identifies two kinds of people—the natural man (i.e., the man without the Spirit) and the spiritual man (i.e., the man with the gift of the Spirit). In Paul’s thinking, there is no third category. The only way a man can rightly understand the mind of God is to have God himself reveal himself to the man. This occurs first in conversion, but then progressively in sanctification as the Spirit continues to instruct the saints through God’s Word (cf. John 17:17).

Going further, doctrine of illumination is the personal and subjective complement to the doctrine of inspiration. Whereas the Spirit inspired the words of the biblical authors (2 Pet. 1:19–21), the same Spirit must give light to the Scripture, in order for the child of God to understand God, his world, and his salvation. Without this illumination, the sinner remains in the dark—totally lost and wholly unable to find God (cf. Acts 17:27). Continue reading

Election and Evangelism: What God Has Joined Together Let Not Man Separate

brown rock formation on sea shore

On Sunday, our church considered one of many passages in John where the Beloved Disciple unites God’s sovereignty in salvation with the responsibility of man to repent and believe. With perfect, Spirit-inspired balance, John records the way God gave a particular people to the Son (i.e., the elect) and how these people will come to faith, as God calls all men and women to repent and believe. Indeed, what God has joined together—his sovereignty and man’s faith—cannot be torn apart without doing damage to the doctrine of election and the duty of evangelism.

For those familiar with the debates surrounding the doctrine of salvation, one of the longstanding charges against the doctrines of grace (Calvinism, if you prefer) is that the doctrine of election undermines evangelism and missions. Sadly, there have been some who have defended the doctrine of election without possessing an equal passion for the lost (i.e., Hyper-Calvinists, which means more than Calvinists with zeal). But biblically, election is one of the greatest motivations for evangelism.

This is evident in John’s Gospel and throughout the rest of the New Testament. And in what follows I want to highlight the connection between evangelism and election. In particular, I will show seven places, starting with John 6, where election is found in the same context as evangelism. Rather than hindering the gospel ministry, these passages teaches that the doctrine of election always spurs on missions and evangelism. Continue reading

Soul Food: When, Who, What, and Why Jesus is the Bread of Life (John 6:22–40)

john03

Soul Food: When, Who, What, and Why Jesus is the Bread of Life (John 6:22–40)

Hunger is a universal experience. So is thirst. And so is seeking to find food and drink in times of need.

Importantly, God made us creatures who need food and drink. And he did this not only because that is how organisms live, but that’s how God works. In other words, by giving us thirst, hunger, and the experience of seeking physical satisfaction, God is teaching us something about himself.

God is our spiritual food!

In John 6, this comes to the forefront as seekers cross the Sea of Galilee to find Jesus and fill their stomachs. Only in this case, Jesus exposes their errant seeking and he in turn leads them to seek food that will not perish.

Indeed, so many of our sins, follies, frustrations, and setbacks are caused by not knowing how to live on Christ, to feed on Christ, and to delight ourselves in Christ. But when we come to Christ and seek life in him, he teaches us that he is the bread of eternal life. And all who feed on him will be saved.

On Sunday, I considered what this means in John 6:22–40. You can find the sermon here. You can also find last weeks sermon too. Next week, Lord willing, I’ll pick up the sacramental language of Jesus calling us to eat his body and drink his blood. Stay tuned.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

“I Thirst”: A Good Friday Meditation on the Meticulous Detail of Christ’s Cross

thirstAfter this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished,
said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 
— John 19:28 —

Nothing was done by Christ which was not foretold;
nothing was ever foretold by the Prophets concerning Christ, which was not done.
— Alexander Watson —

Tomorrow I will preach a Good Friday message focusing on the single word: dipsō (“I thirst”). For the last four years, our church has considered on Good Friday one of the seven words spoken on the cross. This year, we come to the fifth word, “I thirst,” a word that highlights the humanity of Jesus and the hostility of his enemies (see the context of Psalm 69). But it also shows how meticulous our Lord was in fulfilling Scripture.

In John 19:28, the Apostle notes the sharpness of Jesus’s mind, even as he bears the pain of crucifixion. And what is on Jesus’s mind as hangs on the cross? The Word of God that he must fulfill. To that point, he says, “I thirst,” a statement that may refer to Psalm 22:15, but more probably cites Psalm 69:21, which speaks of drinking sour wine, which Jesus does in John 19:29.

Tomorrow, I will consider the meaning of this fifth word, but today, I want to focus on the way Jesus perfectly fulfilled all the Old Testament, including this final statement of thirst. To help with this, I turn to Alexander Watson, a nineteenth century Anglican curate, who in 1847 preached a series of sermons called “The Seven Saying on the Cross; Or, The Dying Christ Our Prophet, Priest, and King.”  For the last few years, I have read these sermons—one per year—and have profited greatly. (For those in the know, I have not preached Watson’s sermons).

Continue reading