In this chapter, we learn that the Word was God. The Word became flesh. John the Baptist testifies about Jesus and who John himself is not. John proclaims that Jesus is the lamb of God and the Spirit coming down like a dove. Two disciples follow Jesus, Andrew and an unnamed one. Andrew calls his brother Simon, and Jesus nicknames him Peter. Jesus calls Philip in Galilee, and Philip invites Nathanael.
As I will write in every introduction:
This translation and commentary are for everyone who needs an online reference, but the commentary is mainly for readers in developing and persecuting countries, where Christians cannot afford or do not have access to excellent printed Study Bibles or commentaries. The main goal is missional.
The translation is mine. I offer it only to learn what the Greek says. It tends to be literal, but complete literalness and readability are impossible, so I had to make adjustments.
Readers can go to biblehub.com and use the interlinear link to look up every Greek word, and then the links go to every occurrence of the word. They can also visit biblegateway.com for many translations.
A GrowApp section is offered after every passage of Scripture, which asks challenging questions for deeper discipleship.
Links are provided for further study.
Prologue (John 1:1-5)
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and apart from him not one thing came into being which has come into being. 4 In him was life, and this life was the light of people. 5 And the light shines in darkness, and the darkness did not put it out.
John 1:1-18 is considered the Prologue to the entire Gospel. Those verses certainly lay out the themes of the fourth Gospel.
Here is a table of the themes which first appear in the prologue and then in the Gospel:
|Pre-existence of Logos or Son||1:1-2||17:5|
|In him was life||1:4||5:26|
|Life is light||1:4||8:12|
|Light rejected by darkness||1:5||3:19|
|Yet light not quenched by darkness||1:5||12:35|
|Light coming into the world||1:9||3:19; 12:46|
|Christ not received by his own||1:11||4:44|
|Being born to God and not of flesh||1:13||3:6; 8:41-42|
|Seeing his glory||1:14||12:41|
|The ‘one and only’ Son||1:14, 18||3:16|
|Truth in Jesus Christ||1:17||14:6|
|No one has seen God, except the one who comes from God’s side||1:18||6:46|
|Carson, p. 111, (slightly modified)|
Since the verb believe and the noun faith are so important in John’s Gospel, I would like to plant word studies at the beginning of each chapter. Then you can scroll back up here to read what the terms mean. We are dealing with cyberspace and do not have to worry about the cost per printed page.
The verb believe (verb is pisteuō, pronounced pih-stew-oh) and the noun faith have to penetrate one’s whole being. The noun faith is pistis (pronounced peace-teace or pis-tiss), and it is used 243 times. Its basic meaning is the “belief, trust, confidence,” and it can also mean “faithfulness” and “trustworthy” (Mounce p. 232). It is directional, and the best direction is faith in God (Mark 11:22; 1 Thess. 1:8; 1 Pet. 1:21; Heb. 6:1) and faith in Jesus (Acts 3:16; 20:21; 24:24; Gal. 3:26; Eph. 1:15; Col. 1:4; 1 Tim. 3:13). Believing (verb) and faith (noun) is very important to God. It is the language of heaven. We live on earth and by faith see the invisible world where God is. We must believe he exists; then we must exercise our faith to believe he loves us and intends to save us.
A true acronym:
Forsaking All, I Trust Him
One has to surrender to the Lordship of Jesus. The bottom line is that for John’s Gospel believing and faith must not get stuck in an intellectual assent. “I believe that God exists and Jesus lived.” That’s just for starters. Then, everyone who believes or has faith must put their complete trust in God’s Son.
John starts off his profound and highly metaphorical Gospel with an allusion to Gen. 1:1. “In the beginning, God.” Klink: This line “is not merely an echo but serves conceptually to embrace John within its biblical-theological framework, a framework in which an explicit connection—a continuation. Even development—with the Old Testament is being presented, including both the God of and the story told by the Old Testament. In Genesis, ‘in the beginning’ introduces the story of the ‘new creation, in John it introduces the ‘new creation” (comment on v. 1c). In other words, in the Genesis, the first verse is about the old creation. Here in John 1:1, it introduces the new creation, which has been launched.
However, he uses the bridge-word logos. It is not used in the Greek philosophical sense of abstract wisdom or rationalism, but logos is God-in-action, in saving and delivering his people in the biblical sense (Bruce, comment on v. 1). “As far back as Heraclitus (fifth century BC), the logos was understood to be the unifying principle of all things. For the Sophists [orators in ancient Athens of dubious methods] the logos was predominantly human reason. Philo, a prolific writer and leading citizen of the Jewish community in Alexandria, used the term more than thirteen hundred times as a mediating figure linking the transcendent God and the world … In general, Greek speculation viewed the logos as the principle of reason or order in the world” (Mounce, referencing Bruce, comment on v. 1).
Prof. Borchert offer the Hebrew background:
The phrase “the word [dabar] of the Lord” expresses one of the fundamental ideas of the Hebrew Old Testament. Among the many contexts in which it appears, it was used (1) as the basis for the covenant with Abraham (e.g., Gen 15:1); (2) as the foundation for the establishment of Israel’s laws (e.g., Exod 24:3–4) and the giving of the Ten Commandments (e.g., Deut 5:5); (3) as a clue to the closeness of the relationship of Israel with God (e.g., 1 Sam 3:1); (4) as the stated source for the proclamations of the prophets (e.g., 1 Kgs 13:20; 18:1; Isa 1:10; Hos 1:1; Joel 1:1); (5) as the wise means for guidance (e.g., Ps 17:4); and (6) as the key or way to enlightenment (e.g., Ps 119:105). Yet the creation statement of Ps 33:6 reminds us that in Israel’s thinking the word of the Lord carries in it the concept of an active power. The speaking of God in Genesis 1 is not merely the verbalizing of rationality that is basic to the Greek meaning of logos or the English word “logic.” When God spoke according to the Old Testament, his very speaking initiated the power to create or to order reality. (comment on v. 1)
The Word is God’s perfect divine expression, and logos is a bridge word for anyone trained in Greek philosophy in the ancient world, but the soil (origins) of John’s version of the logos is biblical.
Here are two verses:
He sent out his word and healed them;
he rescued them from the grave. (Ps. 107:20, NIV)
… so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Is. 55:11, NIV)
Commentator Carson writes of the Logos, God’s Word:
In short, God’s ‘Word’ in the Old Testament is his powerful self-expression in creation, revelation and salvation, and the personification of that ‘Word’ makes it suitable for John to apply it as a title to God’s ultimate self-disclosure, the person of his own Son. But if the expression would prove richest for Jewish readers, it would also resonate in the minds of some readers with entirely pagan backgrounds. In their case, however, they would soon discover that whatever they had understood the term to mean in the past, the author whose work they were then reading was forcing them into fresh thought …. (p. 116)
Morris is excellent here about the Word:
“The Word” points to the truth that it is of the very nature of God to reveal himself. A person’s word is the means by whereby he reveals what he is thinking … God is not to be thought of as aloof and indifferent. He reveals himself. But he reveals himself as he chooses. He is sovereign in revelation as in all else. We must guard against two misinterpretations. The one is that of thinking of the revelation as static. It is more than the revelation of certain truths about God. To know God is life eternal (17:3). The knowledge of God that the Word brings is not merely information. It is life. The Word is creative. The other is that of thinking of the Word as nothing more than an attribute or even an activity of God. John thinks of the Word as coming down to earth in the person of Jesus of Nazareth (v. 14). At the same time he partakes of the innermost being of God, for “the Word of God.” (Comment on v. 1, pp. 66-67)
Morris’ commentary on the entire chapter is excellent.
Next, I used the standard translation “with God.” With comes from the preposition pros (pronounced pross). It is used here as it is in Mark 6:3, when the Nazarenes, the people of Jesus’ hometown, said with a skeptical tone about him: “And aren’t his sisters here among us?” It could also be translated as “with” us in Mark 6:3. Jesus’s sisters lived among the people of this small village, in a dynamic face-to-face relationship with the people there. So an expanded translation of vv. 1-2 could read: “And the Word was in a dynamic, face-to-face relationship with God. He was in the beginning in a dynamic, face-to-face relationship with God.” In context, this translation expresses the relationship of the preincarnate Word and God and the preposition pros. And so the English preposition “with” does not do full justice to the Greek preposition in this context, but I decided to go traditional.
Here is Paul’s early statement on Jesus being the Creator and “tucked” inside or included in the Godhead:
… yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. (2 Cor. 8:6, NIV)
That verse, reflecting an early doctrine in the church, is very high Christology.
See Phil. 2:6-11, quoted under v.14. Or click on this link:
Since vv. 1-3 are the strongest statement on the Trinity, let’s discuss this wonderful doctrine, only briefly in area of systematic theology.
The Father, the Son, and the Spirit share the same “Godness” or divine nature. That’s why we can call ourselves monotheists, but we are trinitarian monotheists.
However, it is also clear from Scripture that during the incarnation the Son is submissive to the Father, and the Spirit is also submissive to the Father and the Son. Phil. 2:6: Jesus did not regard equality with God as something to hold on to, but he surrendered the environment of heaven and took the form of a servant.
Function or role: the Father is over the Son during the Son’s incarnation and redemptive plan
In their essence or essential nature: Father and Son are equal.
Verses 1-3 manage to say the Father and Son are equal in essence but different in persons.
In v. 14, below, we will look at the Son’s incarnation.
“And the Word was God”: For Colwell’s rule, go here and scroll down to the fourth point.
The best that can be said is that it is a general rule that opens the door to the standard translation (“the Word was God”), but the rule does not prove or guarantee the translation. The context of the entire chapter is the best reason for keeping “the Word was God.”
We are about to learn in v. 14 that Jesus is the Word who was with God at the beginning. When God created the entire universe, the Word was already there, before time and space were created out of nothing. In fact, it is through the Word that every little thing came into being or was made. There was never a time when the Word (the Son) did not exist. He was eternal.
“life”: this is more than mere existence. This is life of the next age, that age, which has broken into this age or right now. The next age has broken into this age and given us new life. It is eternal life right now.
Let’s look at life by the book—by the prominent Greek lexicon.
It is the noun zoē (pronounced zoh-ay, and girls are named after it, e.g. Zoey). BDAG says that it has two senses, depending on the context: a physical life (e.g. life and breath) and a transcendent life. By physical life the editors mean the period from birth to death, human activity, a way or manner of living, a period of usefulness, earning a living. By transcendent life the lexicographers mean these four elements: first, God himself is life and offers us everlasting life. Second, Christ is life, who received life from God, and now we can receive life from Christ. Third, it is new life of holiness and righteousness and grace. God’s life filling us through Christ changes our behavior. Fourth, zoē means life in the age to come, or eschatological life. So our new life now will continue into the next age, which God fully and finally ushers in when Christ returns. We will never experience mere existence or death, but we will be fully and eternally alive in God.
Clearly, John means the fourth definition.
In his comment on v. 4 Bruce writes: “In John 5:19-29, it is because the Son shares his self-existent life with the Father that he is able to impart life to others; so here the statement refers to a life-giving agency on the part of the Word. (The relation God / Word in the prologue [vv. 1-18] corresponds to the relation Father / Son in the discourses of the Gospel.” The life of the Word is especially important for one part of his creation—the human race.
Recall that Gen. 1:2 says that God called light into being when darkness was on the face of the deep. Jesus is the highest and best light when we were covered in darkness in our own lives (Bruce, comment on v. 5).
John is about to depict Jesus, the light, in constant conflict and misunderstanding with people dwelling in darkness. Jesus came out victorious, so the light was not extinguished or snuffed out, as one blows out a first-century lamp, even though the Son had to go through the cross. With such powerful opening verses revealing the heavenly origins of Jesus, there was no way that the Father would allow his Son is be defeated and finally and utterly. To this day, he still shines. “Light and darkness are to be understood ethically rather than metaphysically: ‘light’ is a synonym of good ness and truth, while ‘darkness’ is a synonym of evil and falsehood” (Bruce, comment on v. 5). Metaphysically means some high-level philosophy. In contrast, the Scriptures are interested in the light changing people’s lives so that their behavior will change.
Darkness is not only the absence of light, but positive evil (cf. 3:19; 8:12; 12:35, 46; 1 Jn. 1:5, 6; 2:8, 9, 11).
My translation “put it out” in v. 5 is an option offered by the Shorter Lexicon, for the verb katalambanō (pronounced kah-tah-lam-bah-noh) in the sense of extinguishing or putting out the light. Other translations of katalambanō: “grasp, comprehend and overcome, put out, master” … or “seize with hostile intent, overtake, come upon” (Shorter Lexicon). Grammarian Novakovic has “apprehend.”
GrowApp for John 1:1-5
A.. Has the enemy—Satan—tried to extinguish the light shining by the Son of God in your life? How have you come out victorious? Tell your story.
John Is Introduced (John 1:6-8)
6 A man appeared, sent from God; his name was John. 7 He came to be a witness, so that he may testify about the light, so that everyone may believe through him. 8 This man was not the light, but he testified about the light.
John is introduced. In the fourth Gospel, he is never called “Baptist” as such, but he does baptize, so his ministry is clear. A man has to know who he is and who he is not. John “merely” offered a testimony about Jesus, the light, with the purpose that people may believe in Jesus. Yes, John was sent from God, but his specific role was found in his testimony. John will repeat this purpose in v. 30.
“through him”: who is the “him”? Commentators say people believe through John’s preaching, so the word is sufficient to spark faith in an openhearted listener.
John will be called a lamp that burns and shines (5:35), but he is not the light (Mounce, comment on v. 8).
The theme of witness, here introduced, pervades the whole Gospel. The witness to the truth of God’s self-revelation in the Word is manifold: it comprises the witness of the Father (5:32, 37; 8:18), of the Son 8:14, 18), of the Spirit (15:26); the witness of the works of Christ (5:36; 10:25), the witness of the scriptures (5:39), the witness of the disciples (15:27), including the disciple whom Jesus loved (19:35; 21:24). The purpose of this manifold witness, as of John’s witness, is ‘that all might believe’: it is the purpose for which the Gospel itself was written (20:31)” (Bruce, comment on 1:6-8). The terms “witness” or “testimony” carries a legal meaning “of testifying or bearing witness to the true state of affairs by one who has sufficient knowledge or superior position. (Klink, comment on 1:7)
Morris says there are seven who bear witness to Jesus. (1) Each of the three persons of the Trinity: Father (5:31-32, 34, 37; 8:18); (2) Christ himself (8:14, 18; see 3:11, 32; 8:37); (3) and the Spirit (15:26; 16:14); (4) the works of Jesus bear witness (5:36; 10:25; see 14:11; 15:24); (5) Scripture (5:39; 5:45-46); (6) John the Baptist; (7) the disciples (15:27; see 19:35; 21:24).
GrowApp for John 1:6-8
A.. John came with a purpose—to testify about Jesus. What is your purpose? Are you living it now?
The World Did Not Recognize the Light, But Some Did (John 1:9-13)
9 The true light, which shines on every person, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world through him was made and the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, but his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who received him, to the ones who believe in his name, he gave the authority to become children of God, 13 not the ones born from blood, neither by the will of the flesh, nor by the will of a husband, but from God.
The true light is a metaphor, which symbolizes something. Let’s diagram it this way, starting from the bottom up:
2.. What Does It or He Symbolize?
1.. Physical Object or Person
Professional literary critics may laugh at this diagram as too simplistic, or they could create multiple layers, but I personally need these two layers for clarity. John’s Gospel is filled with metaphors and symbols, and I can keep track of them with this simple diagram.
Here it is filled in:
2.. Jesus’s Person, Character, and Message of Truth
So how does Jesus symbolize the light, more specifically? His person, character, and message is the light of the world. He clarifies the truth. His message or word is truth. He is the truth (John 14:6). God is light (1 John 1:5). Many may claim to shine a light, but Jesus is the true light, which enlightens or “lights up” every person. But “every” is potential—it is not automatic. That is, everyone may potentially come to the light and some may actually receive it, while others may reject it. It is possible to reject or not know or not acknowledge the light that shines on everyone (v. 10).
So we have two gigantic categories of people: those who receive him, and those who do not receive him.
“recognize”: this is the standard verb “to know,” which is relational, not merely abstract.
“world”: The Greek noun is kosmos (pronounced koss-moss). It could refer to the physical universe (17:5; 21:25). Or it could refer to humanity as a group. What we call humanity or humankind is, in John, the world. This is why God invades the kosmos. “The ‘world’ is the place or realm where God is at work, the place that is the main focus of God’s attention. God’s saving light invades the dark world. Jesus came to the dark world to save as many as those who believe in him and in his name. In sum, “it appears that the personification of the ‘world’ in John is the portrait of a class of people.” It is the dimension of a relational encounter between God and people (Klink, comment on 1:10, pp. 100-01).
“His own people” could refer to the limited number of his hometown of Nazareth or the entire nation of Israel, noting however, that thousands of Jews did convert after Pentecost (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 6:7; 21:20). “If they remain in darkness, it is not because there is no illumination for them, but because they deliberately prefer the darkness. Here, then, we have an anticipation of the theme which is elaborated more than once throughout the Gospel—that Jesus is ‘the light of the world’ (8:12; 9:5)” (Bruce, comment on v. 9, and talking about every human, not just Jews). Carson says that “his own” refers to the Jewish nation from which salvation comes (4:22). The expression “his own” is relational for John (1:41; 5:18; 10:3, 4, 12). It is not the status of Israel but its relationship with God and his Word (Carson, comment on v. 11).
Since the Greek is neuter plural (his own things), it could mean he came to his own creation and times, but most commentators just take it to mean his own people. John 13:1 is clearly about his own people: “Before the Feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to go from this world towards the Father. And having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1). “his own” in that verse is masculine plural, meaning his disciples.
A person has to receive him, and to those who have received him he gave the authority to become children of God. The KJV mistranslates it as “sons,” but Borchert points out that in John’s Gospel, the Greek word “son” (huios, pronounced hwee-oss) is never applied to Christians, but only to Jesus (comment on v. 12). Carson agrees: A believer becomes a child, but only Jesus is the Son of God. In Paul, believers are sons only by adoption. So both Paul and John “presume a distinction between the ‘sonship’ of believers and the unique ‘sonship’ of Jesus (comment on vv. 12-13)
“Authority” is the noun exousia (pronounced ex-oo-see-ah), and it means, depending on the context: “right to act,” “freedom of choice,” “power, capability, might, power, authority, absolute power”; “power or authority exercised by rulers by virtue of their offices; official power; domain or jurisdiction, spiritual powers.” In this context, it means he gives us authority to enter his kingdom and be born again (John 3:3). Now, inside of his kingdom, we can exercise his authority to overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Believing is a deep, heartfelt commitment. Believing in his name means to believe in him, his person, his character, and his being—who he is, the Lord, the Son of God and the Messiah. The noun name stands in for the person—a living, real person. Let’s develop this thought, so it can apply to you.
What’s in a name?
You carry your earthly father’s name. If he is dysfunctional, his name is a disadvantage. If he is functional and impacting society for the better, then his name is an advantage. In Jesus’s case, he has the highest status in the universe, next to the Father (Col. 1:15-20). He is exalted above every principality and power (Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:20-23; Heb. 2:14; 1 John 3:8). His character is perfection itself. His authority and power are absolute, under the Father. In his name you are seated in the heavenly places with Christ (Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1). Now down here on earth you walk and live as an ambassador in his name, in his stead, for he is no longer living on earth, so you have to represent him down here. We are his ambassadors who stand in for his name (2 Cor. 5:20). The good news is that he did not leave you without power and authority. He gave you his. Now you represent him in his name—his person, power and authority. Therefore under his authority we have his full authority to preach the gospel and set people free from bondages and satanic spirits and heal them of diseases.
Remember that believing in his name is more than just intellectual assent or agreement with a doctrine. Belief has to go from the head to the heart (see vv. 6-8).
In v. 13, this is talking about two kinds of birth, (1) one by blood (reflecting an early belief that blood carried a lifeforce or was the means of procreation, says Klink on v. 12), Or it could mean bloodline relationships (Borchert) and flesh (sexual desire) and by a husband, which some translations have “man.” However the sudden shift from one Greek word (anthōpos, pronounced ahn-throw-poss, meaning “human” in most contexts, but also “man” in others) to another noun (anēr, pronounced ah-nair, meaning “man” or “male” but often meaning “husband”) tells me that a husband is in view. But generic “man” (anthrōpos) also works here. (2) The point is that God’s gift of a new birth is qualitatively different from humankind’s new birth, which will be elaborated on in John 3.
The point is that flesh and spirit produce different kinds. They go together as a unit, but they are distinct. The body dies, and the spirit / soul, born of God lives on, but the body and spirit / soul will be reunited at the final resurrection (John 5:25-29).
In John 3:1-8, Jesus will speak again about being born of God. So this theme is being introduced in the Prologue.
GrowApp for John 1:9-13
A.. You have received him. You now have his authority to overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil. How it is going in that regard? Do you exercise this authority? What does it look like?
The Incarnation (John 1:14)
14 The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as the only and unique Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
This verse introduces the theme of the Gospel that Jesus was sent from God and came down from heaven. It carried on the thought of vv. 1-2. “Tabernacled” is a verb that could be translated as “pitched his tent” among us. He incarnated among us. (“Incarnation” literally means the “act of changing into flesh”: -ion = “act of” and “carn” = “flesh” and “in” with a change = “into”).
“Flesh is the most vulnerable, the most corruptible, the most easily destructible part of the human body—in a word, the most impermanent. ‘The Logos is Eternal … They are literally poles apart ….’ Yet, and here is the paradox, in becoming ‘flesh’ the Word does not cease to be God. The Word is the God-man” (Klink, comment on v. 14, quoting another commentator).
Jesus was full of grace, which can mean God’s power and his graciousness, but he was also full of truth.
See v. 17 for a definition of truth.
Please see these posts for a systematic theological overview of Jesus’s life before, during, and after the incarnation.
There are many more parts in that series. Part 7 is an easy-to-read summary.
“One and only”: Son should be supplied because of the noun monogenēs, which means, at its root, “one and only Son” (see v. 18). The term monogenēs is not about birth, but about existence (Klink, comment on v. 14). This means that the term just describes the Father-Son relationship that has existed from eternity past. We should not over-complicate the wonderful term here in this verse. Let the professional theologians do that. Here are links for further study:
On the term monogenēs, Mounce writes: “John is saying that the Son is unique, the only one of a kind. God has as sons all who have been adopted into his family on the basis of personal faith, but Jesus is the Son of God sui generis (unique). He came from the Father ‘full of grace and truth … these two great Christian terms reflect the unmerited favor of God, who, true to his essential character, gives of himself for the eternal benefit of humanity” (comment on v. 14).
Here is Paul’s early statement on the glory and coming of Jesus from heaven.
6 [Christ Jesus] Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:6-11, NIV)
Do not let any professional religion teacher at a community college or a university tell you that John’s Christology is high because it is a late Gospel. No, the early church saw the truth. Jesus was God incarnate.
“glory” means, in many contexts, the light of God, shining to all the world. In saying that “we” beheld or saw Christ’s glory, John is probably referring to this passage about the Mount of Transfiguration:
1 Then after six days, Jesus took along Peter, James, and his brother John and brought them up into a high mountain privately. 2 He was changed before them, and his face shone as the sun, and his clothes became white like light. 3 Then look! Moses and Elijah appeared before them and were talking with him. 4 But in response, Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here! If you want, I’ll make here three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah!” 5 While he was talking, look! A bright cloud covered them. And then listen! A voice from heaven from the cloud speaking: “This one is my beloved Son, in whom I have been well pleased. Listen to him.” (Matt. 17:1-5)
This brightness is the glory of God.
Moses experienced the glory of God:
18 Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”
19 And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” 21 Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. 22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” (Exod. 33:18-22, NIV).
Commentator Bruce also saw this connection between the glory which Moses saw and the surpassing glory of Jesus. Further, he connects the glory of the old tabernacle with God pitching his tabernacle through his Son (comment on v. 14). “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them” (Exod. 25:8, NIV). When the tabernacle was completed, we read: “34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35 Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Exod. 40:34-35, NIV).
But Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Spirit, says that the glory which Moses experienced, soon faded away.
7 Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? 9 If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! 10 For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. 11 And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! (2 Cor. 3:7-11, NIV)
The glory of the New Covenant, initiated by Jesus, will last forever.
Carson says that Jesus’s glory was displayed in his signs (2:11; 11:4, 40); he was supremely glorified in his death and exaltation (7:39: 12:16, 23: 13:31-32), Yes, he also had glory before he began his public ministry, for in fact he enjoyed glory with his Father before his incarnation and returned to his Father to receive the fulness of glory (15:5, 24). While other men seek their own glory, Jesus’s relationship with his Father meant that he did not need to seek his own glory; he was secure in his relationship with his Father. He sought only God’s glory (5:41; 7:18; 8:50). (comment on v. 14).
Keener also brings focus to John’s definition of glory:
Jesus, in contrast to his opponents, accepts this only from the Father (5:41, 33; 7:18; 8:50, 54; 9:24; 12:41, 43; 16:14; 17:12). The Fourth Gospel applies Jesus’ “glory” to various acts of self-revelation (his signs–2:11; 11:4, 40), but the ultimate expression of glory is the complex including Jesus’ death (12:16, 23, 28; 13:31-32; cf. 21:9), resurrection and exaltation (cf. 7:39; 12:16; 17:1, 5). This glory thus becomes the ultimate revelation of “grace and truth”: where the world’s hatred for God comes to its ultimate expression, so also does God’s love for the world (3:16). If the Johannine [adjective for John] community’s opponents regarded the cross as proof that Jesus was not the Messiah, John regards Jesus’ humiliation as the very revelation of God; his whole enfleshment, and especially his mortality and death, continue the ultimate revelation of God’s grace and truth revealed to Moses (p. 411)
Once again, here are posts about the Incarnation:
The seventh part has an easy-to-read, helpful list. And there are many more parts in the series.
Other verses that exalt Christ to the highest level:
2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. (Heb. 1:2-3, NIV)
I really like Borchert here:
In analyzing this crucial verse of the Prologue it becomes quickly apparent that this verse is like a great jewel with many facets that spreads its rays of implication into the various dimensions of Christology—the theology of Christ. As a summary of this verse it may be said that the evangelist recognized and bore witness to the fact that the characteristics ascribed only to God by the Old Testament were present in the incarnate Logos, God’s unique messenger to the world, who not only epitomized in person the awesome sense of God’s presence in their midst as a pilgrim people but also evidenced those stabilizing divine qualities God’s people had experienced repeatedly. (comment on v. 14, emphasis original)
GrowApp for John 1:14
A.. What does Jesus “tabernacling” on earth—his coming to us—mean to you personally? Has he come to live in your heart?
B.. If so, does he lead you to become more like him? How?
Contrasting John and Moses with Jesus (John 1:15-18)
15 John testified about him and cried out, saying, “This is the one of whom I said, ‘The one coming after me outranks me because he was ahead of me!’ 16 For out of his fulness, all of us have received grace instead of grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only and unique God, who is in the bosom of the Father—that one has made him known.
We now end the Prologue of John. The major themes have been introduced.
John picks up his message and his testimony. The Evangelist (John, the author of the fourth Gospel) interweaves John’s beginnings with Jesus’ beginnings and contrasts them. Now the Evangelist introduces Moses for the purpose of contrast.
“testified”: see v. 7 for more comments.
John said that Jesus outranked him because Jesus was first or ahead of him. Jesus came down from heaven, while John was sent by God. Even though John began his ministry before Jesus did, John will decrease or even fade away (3:27-30). “ahead” of me could be translated as “prior” to me.
Bruce translates the key clause in v. 15 as follows: “He who is coming after me has taken precedence over me, for he existed before me.” I like it because it is much more theological than “outranks me.”
“grace instead of grace”: this phrase depends on “his fulness.” Jesus was the Word, the fullest expression of God, while the law of Moses, though it was thundered down from on high beginning in Exod. 19, was a set of rules to lead to right (righteous) behavior and the temple religion. The law and religion of Moses was not the fullest expression of God. However, it did offer some form of grace, because it initiated the call to the nation of Israel, but now, instead of the first kind of legalized grace, we receive the grace that Jesus offers. So that’s why I translate it “grace instead of grace” (Klink, comment on v. 16): grace bound by the law of Moses has been replaced by the grace that became or came through Jesus. Klink goes on to state that there is not one example of in all of Greek literature of the preposition anti (pronounced ahn-tee) means “upon.” It means graces replaces grace. All right, he convinces me. But how is “grace instead of grace,” as noted, means that the legalistic grace in the OT is replaced by the grace of Jesus the Messiah.
However, professional grammarian Novakovic says that “grace upon grace” is possible, and it is grace that come in waves, one after the other, on the shore (p. 16). I like the image, but the context tells me that it is a contrast with the limited grace Moses offered through the law. But now this grace has been replaced with a greater grace.
Carson is right: “The law, i.e. the law-covenant, was given by grace, and anticipated the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ; now that he has come, that same prophetic law-covenant is necessarily superseded by that which it prophesied would come. The thought is not dissimilar to Matthew 5:17-20 … It is the prophecy / fulfillment motif that explains why the two displays of grace are not precisely identical. The flow of the passage and the burden of the book as a whole magnify the fresh ‘grace’ that has come in Jesus Christ” (p. 133). Bottom line: the best translation is “grace instead of grace.” Or an expanded translation: “grace in Christ instead of grace in the law of Moses.” So I prefer Klink’s and Carson’s interpretation.
A prominent TV hyper-grace teacher, who obsesses over the one biblical theme of grace, says that the Greek allows for saying “Jesus is grace.” He acts like he knows Greek, but he really does not. His statement to his vast mega-church says too much. The teacher needs to cool his jets and not allow his extra-enthusiasm to distort his interpretation of a simple verse. “Grace and truth” came or became through Jesus. His full identity is not limited to those two Scriptural themes—two themes among dozens of others.
See these links:
“grace and truth”: grace is for a sinner to be pardoned, and truth points to all types in the OT, fulfilled in Christ. “It is in this context that John uses the full name ‘Jesus Christ’” (Mounce, comment on v. 17).
People were born into the old Sinai covenant. Now people have to be born again to enter the New Covenant (Bruce, comment on v. 17).
The verses quoted under v. 14 prepares us for this section or pericope (pronounced puh-RIH-koh-pea).
“truth”: Let’s focus on the Greek noun. It is alētheia (pronounced ah-lay-thay-ah and is used 109 times). Truth is a major theme in the Johannine literature: 45 times.
BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, and the lexicon defines the noun in these ways:
(1).. “The quality of being in accord with what is true, truthfulness, dependability, uprightness.”
(2).. “The content of what is true, truth.”
(3).. “An actual state or event, reality.”
So truth gained from the world around us is possible. Our beliefs must correspond to the outside world (outside of you and me). But it goes deeper than just the outside world. We must depend on God’s character and his Word. That is the meaning of the first definition. God is true or truthful or dependable, or upright. Everything else flows from him.
For good measure, let’s look at some definitions from the larger Greek world. The noun alētheia means I.. truth; 1.. truth as opposed to a lie; 2.. truth, reality as opposed to appearance. II.. truthfulness, sincerity, frankness, candor (Liddell and Scott). So I.2 says that truth goes more deeply than appearances. And the second definition (II) links truth with character. It is interesting, however, that frankness and candor is a synonym of truth. This fits the apostolic preaching in the book of Acts. Maybe we could call it boldness and fearlessness.
“Christ”: see v. 20 for more comments.
“only and unique”: this is the Greek word monogenēs.It means “begotten,” so the clause could be translated as the “begotten God.” This means that the Son is eternally generated by the Father. See v. 14 for more comments.
Please see this post:
Here are verses about “seeing” God. Exod. 24:9-11:
9 Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up 10 and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as bright blue as the sky. 11 But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank. (Exod. 24:9-11, NIV, emphasis added)
Verse 18 is a strong statement of the equality of the Father and the Son. Indeed, the Son is called the “only and unique God.” We must not believe that we can see the Father, up in heaven, unless God invites him, as Isaiah was invited (see Is. 6), though he did not see God’s face in all his power and glory and purity, in his full essence; otherwise, Isaiah would have died (Exod. 33:20). Only the Son of God, who is from the Father and has lived with the Father has seen God in his glory. The Son is eternal and has always been with the Father. Therefore, you and I have not seen God in his pure essence, who is pure spirit, in his total glory; if we did, we would die—vaporize. So in Exod. 24:9-11, these men saw God as he partly revealed himself in a limited way. I like how they ate and drank. It shows God allows some level of enjoyment in his presence.
However, Jesus, who came from God, has made him known, Moses’s face shone with the glory of God, but even he did not see God in his pure essence. In contrast, Jesus came from the Father’s bosom—which speaks—metaphorically—of intimacy and closeness with the Father John 6:46).
2.. What Does It or He Symbolize?
1.. Physical Object or Person
Yes, a bosom, from a human point of view, is a physical thing which humans can relate to.
Here it is filled in:
2.. Intimacy and Closeness
Moses cannot claim this relationship and heavenly origin. Therefore Moses made God known in his own times and culture through the law, but it was time for the Father to take a gigantic leap forward and send his very best—his Son.
After mentioning Lazarus being in Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:22) and of the Beloved Disciple leaning on Jesus’s bosom at the Last Supper (13:23), Bruce writes: “In those two passages the expression denotes a place of special favour next to the principal person at a banquet; it may have the same meaning here, but there is also a suggestion of the mutual love and understanding of the Father and the Son and of the Son’s dependence on the Father. Only one who fully knows the Father can make him fully known” (comment on v. 18).
This verse reminds me of these verses in Matt. 11:25-27:
25 At that time, Jesus answered and said, “I acknowledge to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the ‘wise’ and ‘understanding’ and revealed them to infants. 26 Yes, Father, because in this way it was well pleasing to you. 27 All these things have been given to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father and anyone to whom the son of Man decides to reveal him.” (Matt. 11:25-27)
And this similar one in Luke 10:21-22:
21 At that very time, he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden this from the wise and intelligent and revealed it to children. Yes, Father, because this way is your good will for you. 22 Everything has been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is, except the Son and to whomever the Son wills to reveal him.” (Luke 10:21-22)
These two passages are sometimes called the “Johannine bolt from the blue” (“Johannine” is the adjective for John). John’s Gospel, in comparison with the Synoptics, is not so far off that we do not have the core of Jesus’s teaching in the Fourth Gospel.
GrowApp for John 1:15-18
A.. You have received the ultimate expression of grace in Christ. He revealed God’s favor and love to you. How has this changed your life?
Testimony of John the Baptist (John 1:19-28)
19 This is John’s testimony, when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to him and so that they may ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He proclaimed and did not deny and declared: “I am not the Christ!”
21 They asked him, “What, then? Are you Elijah?”
He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the prophet?”
He replied, “No.”
22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? We must give an answer to the ones who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
23 He said:
I am a voice crying in the wilderness,
Make straight the path of the Lord! [Is. 40:3]
“Just as Isaiah the prophet said.”
24 Then there were those commissioned by the Pharisees. 25 They asked him and said to him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ nor Elijah nor the prophet?” 26 In reply, John said, “I baptize you in water; someone stands in our midst whom you do not know, 27 the one coming after me, of whom I am unworthy to unbind the strap of his sandal.
28 These things happened in Bethany beyond the Jordan River, where John was baptizing.
Jerusalem was the capital of Israel, where the temple stood. People in the Greco-Roman world knew of it, so John is communicating that these commissioned priests and Levites were from the headquarters or the highest level of religious officialdom. John was making an impact.
Levites served the priests, so the Levites were more numerous. This table was produced in the context of the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke’s Gospel. It still gives an idea of the differences:
|Offer sacrifices||Perform music accompanying sacrifices|
|Disqualified by impurity and blemish||Disqualified by impurity but not blemish|
|Serve God directly||Serve the priests|
|Guard the Court of the Priests||Guard the non-priestly courts|
|Superintend maintenance of temple complex||Maintain the temple complex|
|Not marry a widow or divorcee||May marry a widow or divorcee|
|May only mourn close relative||May mourn anyone|
|David E. Garland. Luke. Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Zondervan, 2011), p. 442. He gets it from Harrington, Holiness, Rabbinic Judaism, and the Graeco-Roman World.|
Messianic expectations were high at this point. Many devout and nationalistic Jews yearned for a Messianic figure to throw off the Roman yoke of oppression—oppression as they saw things.
The name “the Jews” could refer to citizens of Israel; the title may refer positively to them (salvation is from the Jews in 4:22); Jesus himself was a Jew (4:9). Some Jews believe (11:45; 12:11); others came to faith and then turned away (8:30). In 7:1 the expression is geographical: the people of Judea. However, most often it refers to the Jewish leaders, the Jerusalem establishment, who actively oppose Jesus or fail to understand him and who finally seek his death. However, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea are viewed positively (3:1-15; 7:50; 19:38-42) (Carson, comment on v. 19). Recall that thousands of Jews converted after the ascension and Pentecost (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 6:7 [large number of priests], 21:20).
Bruce insightfully writes of these two verses:
At the time when John commenced his public career as a preacher of repentance in the Jordan valley, there was a widespread sense of expectancy abroad, especially among pious Israelites who were ‘looking for the redemption of Jerusalem’ (Luke 2:38). The sudden appearance of the strange preacher and baptizer, displaying the authentic marks of the prophets of old, made a deep impression on his fellow-Israelites. Less than a century before (63 BC) the native Hasmonean dynasty had fallen and the land of Israel was incorporated in the Roman Empire. This loss of independence and the failures of the hopes that had been pinned to the Hasmonean priest-kings brought about a revival of the ancient hope of a Messiah from the line of David. (comment on vv. 19-20)
“testimony”: see v. 7 for more comments.
Luke 3:15 says that everyone was in expectation and began to wonder whether John might be the Messiah. Then in 3:16 he replied clearly that he was not.
“he proclaimed … “declared” are the same Greek verb, which is often translated as “confess.”
What does the term Christ or Messiah mean? The term means the Anointed One. In Hebrew it is Messiah, and in Greek it is Christ. It means that the Father through the Spirit equipped Jesus with his special calling and the fulness of power to preach and minister to people, healing their diseases and expelling demons (though demon expulsion is not mentioned in John’s Gospel). The Messiah / Christ ushered in the kingdom of God by kingdom preaching and kingdom works.
One of these Messianic figures was Elijah.
5 “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” (Mal. 4:5-6, NIV)
The last clause prophesies destruction, so the people of John’s and Jesus’s generation must be careful of how they evaluate Jesus.
The prophet was predicted by Moses himself:
15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. (Deut. 18:15)
John plainly said that he was not Elijah (v. 21). However, Matt. 17:10-13 plainly says that he was Elijah, in spirit:
10 And the disciples asked him, saying, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” 11 In reply, he said, “Elijah must come and restore all things. I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they wanted. In this way the Son of Man also is about to suffer by them.” 13 At that moment the disciples understood that he spoke to them about John the Baptist. (Matt. 17:10-13).
So how do we reconcile these competing claims or beliefs? John was not yet fully aware of his ministry. At the time when the priests and Levites asked him their question, he did not believe that he was Elijah. Sometimes we need to grow in our calling. He will say that Jesus was the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, but then in Matt. 11:2, while in prison he asked:
2 When in prison John heard of the works of Christ and sent word through his disciples, 3 he said to Jesus: “Are you the Coming One, or should we expect someone else?” (Matt. 11:2-3)
Yet in Matt. 3:11 John loudly proclaimed that Jesus, the Messiah, will baptize people with the Spirit and fire. Only Jesus was preceptive enough to see that John had come in the spirit of Elijah. John never saw it. Bottom line: John lived a rough life, suffering persecution and imprisonment, and sometimes he was unsure of his calling and who his cousin Jesus was. One or two times he miscalculated. He was, after all, only human.
Isaiah 40 speaks of comfort for God’s oppressed people because warfare has ended. However, John—both the Evangelist and the baptizer—lifted it out of a warfare context and spoke of the Messiah. The baptizer is about to proclaim that Jesus will take away the sin of the whole world (v. 29), so John realized the Messiah would not be a conquering military general.
Mounce writes: “When an ancient dignitary was about to visit a province of the realm, the message would go out to prepare the way by removing all obstacles from the road and making it as smooth as possible. The road that the Messiah would travel was the road into the hearts and lives of the people. Only national repentance could prepare the way for that spiritual journey, and John had come to prepare the nation for the advent [coming] of the Messiah.”
Verse 24 could be translated as “some who were sent were from the Pharisees.” In other words, some Pharisees were members of the delegation, next to the priests and Levites. But literally the Greek says as I translated it.
You can read about this group here:
The Pharisees, and it looks like these particular priests and Levites, were the Watchdogs of Theology and Behavior (David E. Garland, Luke: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament [Zondervan, 2011], p. 243). The problem which Jesus had with them can be summed up in Eccl. 7:16: “Be not overly righteous.” He did not quote that verse, but to him they were much too enamored with the finer points of the law, while neglecting its spirit (Luke 11:37-52; Matt. 23:1-36). Instead, he quoted this verse from Hos. 6:6: “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:13; 12:7). Overdoing righteousness damages one’s relationship with God and others.
The group commissioned by the Pharisees asked him the same thing, except they added the question why John was baptizing, since he was not the Messiah. His reply was that they did not know who the Messiah was. In first verse of the next pericope (v. 29), John will announce who the Messiah was. See v. 20 for more comments on “Christ.”
Unloosening the straps of sandals was the work of slaves (household servants). John considered himself lower than a household servant (b. Ketub. 96a).
There is a manuscript dispute; it seems some scribes wanted to correct any misunderstanding about Bethany, so they changed it to Bethabara. However, since scribes were motivated to correct, the authentic name of the town was most likely Bethany (NET). The problem: there is no known Bethany beyond the Jordan River, unless it was a tiny village or settlement that soon disappeared. Bruce writes that some identify this Bethany with Beth-Bara (Judg. 7:24) and others with Beth-nimrah (Josh. 13:17).
Carson says that it refers to Batanea (Bashan in the OT), which was not a town or village but an area in the northeast of the country; Jesus withdrew to this area at the end of his ministry when his opponents in Judea were trying to kill him (10:39-40). Over the centuries, these names get tweaked or adjusted (comment in v. 28)
So the question becomes: how brittle is your faith when unanswered questions come up? Does it snap in two? If so, then you do not understand how the NT came to us. If it breaks in pieces at the slightest pressure, then you need to make adjustments. Fiery youth pastors and pastors need to calm down. Your faith needs to be placed in Jesus and his resurrection and his Lordship and Sonship.
My view of Scripture: It’s very high, but I don’t believe in “total inerrancy” or “hyper-inerrancy”; I allow for these unanswered questions, without diminishing the truth of the passage (and so do some “total inerrantists”).
Begin a series on the reliability of the Gospels. Start with the Conclusion which has quick summaries and links back to the other parts:
The Gospels have a massive number of agreements in their storylines:
Don’t obsess over the differences, but celebrate the huge numbers of similarities.
See this part in the series that puts differences in perspective (a difference ≠ a contradiction):
Celebrate the huge number of similarities in the four Gospels. Don’t read them in bad faith, as if the Gospel writers were deliberate deceivers or plagiarists. Critics today read these ancient texts with the subtlety of a jackhammer. They are part and parcel of their own age.
GrowApp for John 1:19-28
A.. John mostly knew his role. He knew who he was and who he was not. What is your role in the kingdom? If you don’t know, then one thing is certain: how do you proclaim Jesus in your small world?
The Lamb of God and the Spirit’s Anointing (John 1:29-34)
29 The next day, he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Look! The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the whole world! 30 He is the one about whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who outranks me because he is ahead of me!’ 31 I myself did not know him, but in order that he may be manifest to Israel, for this reason I came baptizing in water.” 32 Further, John testified, saying: “I saw the Spirit like a dove coming down from heaven and remained on him. 33 I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize in water—he told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit coming down and remaining upon him—this is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit!’ 34 And I saw and testify that this one is the Son of God.”
See v. 15 for another way to translate “outranks.”
Jesus is the lamb of God. John borrowed from the Suffering Servant theme in Isaiah: “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter […] (Is. 53:7). Jesus took our place on the cross, placing on himself vicariously our iniquities and transgressions.
John also had in mind the Passover supper in John 19:36. The lamb here in v. 29 refers to the Passover lamb in Exodus before the Israelites left Egypt in a massive exodus or departure.
6 Take care of them [the animals, including lambs] until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. 7 Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. (Exod. 12:6-7, NIV)
When the angel of judgment inspects the houses and sees the blood of the lamb, then the angel passes over and spares the household. Jesus fulfills this festival with his own sacrificial death.
Jesus’s death on the cross is the means by which he takes away the sin of the whole world. It is so effective or efficacious that the offer can go out to the whole world. But the “taking away” of sin is not automatic, because John clearly teaches everywhere that each individual must believe or have full trust in the Son of God. Recall v. 12: “But as many people who received him he gave the authority to become children of God, to the ones who believe in his name.” So the offer of his sacrificial death on the cross goes out to the whole world, but then each individual must exercise his faith to receive it; each individual must apply it. To use the language of the professional theologians, the sacrifice for salvation extends to the whole world, but its application is for the one having faith in Jesus.
Salvation: in the Son
Extension: universal; application: all those who put faith in the Son.
Borchert sees the connection between the lamb and the atonement:
This Lamb-of-God concept in John is most probably a synthesis of two biblical motifs: the servant of the Lord theme as represented in a passage like Isaiah 53 and the theme of Passover. But this Lamb is a special kind of lamb—one that “takes away [airōn] the sin of the world.” The theme of taking away sin is directly related to the Hebrew kpr, which involves “wiping away” or getting rid of sin. Such “getting rid” is not merely done by “covering” it over and acting as though it were gone. The getting rid of sin in the Bible is done by the smearing of blood, the symbol of God’s “pardoning” of humanity through death and the consequent “reconciliation of humanity with God.” (comment on v. 29)
“takes away”: it can mean “removes” (2:16; 11:39; 19:38; 20:2, 13, 15) or “destroys” (10:18; 11:48; 15:2; 19:15, 31) (Klink, comment on v. 29)
John baptized hundreds of thousands of people throughout his ministry, and some scholars say up to a million people. Now that’s a revival! However, John teaches us that his main mission was to point out or spot the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One. Jesus was John’s relative (Luke 1:36), but John did not quite realize whether his relative was the Messiah. He had to get Jesus’s Messianic calling confirmed. So the one who sent John—God—told him to look for the man on whom the Spirit, like a dove, would descend and remain on him. John testifies to us today that he perceived or beheld or saw the Spirit descend from heaven and remain on Jesus. John was the one who would introduce Jesus to Israel.
Here are some of my posts on a more formal doctrine of the Spirit (systematic theology):
Once again, for my own clarity, reading from the bottom up:
2.. What Does It or He Symbolize?
1.. Physical Object or Person (or living thing or animal)
Here is the diagram filled in:
2.. The Spirit’s Peace and Tenderness
A dove speaks of tenderness and may allude to Gen. 8:8-12, where Noah sent out a dove three times from the ark, and on the third time it did not return and so confirmed that God’s ancient judgment was over. Right now, the Spirit looking like a dove teaches us that those who believe in the Messiah as the Son of God will not come under a negative judgment. But we don’t need to press this OT imagery too far.
“testified”: see v. 7 for more comments.
John said that he did not know Jesus, yet an interpreter may deduce from Matt. 3:14 and Luke 1:39-34 (Elizabeth, mother of John, and Mary, mother of Jesus, knew each other and were even relatives) that John surely knew Jesus. Is this an irreconcilable discrepancy? Reply: John was isolated from a young age, in his calling. His parents lived in the hill country of Judea, while Joseph and Mary settled up north in Galilee. They must have heard about each other from their parents over the years, but in John’s Gospel, the verb “to know” goes deeper than just a superficial acquaintance or “Yeah, I heard of him.” John did not know Jesus in the Messianic sense, until God revealed to him who his relative (Jesus) was (Borchert on vv. 31-34).
What does it mean “like a dove”? This was a temporary visual image for the purpose of spotting who the lamb of God, who the Son of God was. The Spirit does not remain in this form throughout time.
“the one who sent”: this refers to God sending John.
“outranks me”: see vv. 15 and 29.
But why did the Evangelist (the author of the Gospel) say that John proclaimed “the lamb of God,” but then the baptizer says he did not know who the coming one was? The Greek is actually in the pluperfect tense, which puts the action back in time. So John had not known who the coming one was, but after seeing the Spirit descending and remaining on him, he put the pieces together. So the author is merely compressing or retrofitting this pericope or unit or section of Scripture into a united whole.
Baptizing with the Spirit means immersing people in the Third Person of the Trinity. To be baptized with fire speaks of purifying the recipient. It also speaks of judgment because God evaluates people and burns away their old bad habits and sins.
Here is Jesus baptizing 120 disciples in the Spirit and with fire:
1 And when the Feast of Pentecost had fully come, all of them were together in that one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there was a sound like the rush of a powerful wind. The whole house was filled where they were sitting, 3 and tongues as fire were seen by them, were distributed among them, and settled on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other languages, as the Spirit gave them inspiration to speak and declare. (Acts 2:1-4).
Seeing the Spirit anoint Jesus, John was convinced that Jesus was the Son of God.
“Son of God”: Let’s look into some more systematic theology (as I do throughout this commentary). Jesus was the Son of the Father eternally, before creation. The Son has no beginning. He and the Father always were, together. The relationship is portrayed in this Father-Son way so we can understand who God is more clearly. Now he relates to us as his sons and daughters, though, surprisingly, in John’s Gospel we are not called “sons,” but “children.” Only Jesus is the Son. In any case, on our repentance and salvation and union with Christ, we are brought into his eternal family.
For more information about the Trinity, scroll back up to v. 2.
I like Borchert’s summary of this pericope:
This pericope thus provides in these four confessions concerning Jesus a magnificent summary of Johannine Christology: (1) he is the Passover Lamb who removes the sin of the world as confirmed on the cross; (2) he is the one who is able to accomplish this divine task because he is the preexistent one as affirmed in the Prologue; (3) he is the one who brings salvation not merely as a past historical event but as the living reality of God in life as witnessed by his baptizing with the Holy Spirit, the one who is our supporter or Paraclete; and (4) he is the one who as the Son of God has truly embodied God since he is the unique one (monogenēs) from the Father.
GrowApp for John 1:29-34
A.. Jesus baptizes or immerses people in the Spirit. When and how did this happen for you?
Two of John’s Disciples Follow Jesus (John 1:35-42)
35 The next day, John was standing again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus walking by, he said, “Look! The lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him speaking and followed Jesus. 38 But Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi (which means Teacher), where are you staying? 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” So they went and saw where he was staying and stayed with him on that day. (It was the tenth hour.)
40 Andrew, one of the two disciples who had heard John and followed Jesus, was the brother of Simon. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. When Jesus saw him, he said, “You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which means Peter).
Let’s clarify an historical matter. In v. 39, it was the tenth hour. If it was Jewish timing (from sunrise, it was 4:00 p.m. or 16:00h). If it was Roman timing (from midnight and noon), the hour was 10:00 a.m. It is probably the Jewish timing. The reason John mentions it is the Sabbath. They were remining within the bounds of the Sabbath, which began at sunset, by not traveling too far, which would be considered working on the Sabbath (Mounce, comment on v. 39).
This is a pericope or unit of Scripture about following Jesus, instead of a righteous and gifted man (John).
Commentator Klink will add up these days and count six days, which relates to the six days of creation (pp. 160-62). Let’s wait until then. For now, please note that these days are not just whimsical and serve no purpose.
Once again John saw Jesus and proclaimed him as he was—the lamb of God. See v. 29 for fuller comments.
Two of John’s disciples left John behind to follow Jesus, yet John did not become insecure about their decision, but let them go. John will later proclaim that he will decrease or diminish and even fade away, while Jesus will increase (3:27-30). It takes a lot of inner strength to recognize that the end is near for one’s ministry and even for a career.
“disciple”: the noun is mathētēs (singular and pronounced mah-they-tayss), and it is used 261 times in the NT, though many of them are duplicates in the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. BDAG says of the noun (1) “one who engages in learning through instruction from another, pupil, apprentice”; (2) “one who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical reputation or a particular set of views, disciple, adherent.”
John seems to use the term less officially than do the Synoptics, where their introduction to the readers in their narratives is formal. John seems to mean, at this early time, “followers” and more loosely “those who were intrigued by Jesus.” But how deep do their beliefs about him go? Not very deep, for they will waver later on.
Then Jesus asked the profoundest question for all of humanity. People have heard of Jesus, and he asks them, even today, “What are you looking for?” Or “What are you seeking?”
What are people looking for? They are looking for deep satisfaction or fulfillment. They are looking for a way to numb the pain and disappointment. But how do they find deep satisfaction and the way to numb the pain? Relationships? This may help a little bit. But relationships can go bad at any time. Smoking cannabis or taking other drugs like alcohol? No, that is not the way. Ingesting chemicals tweaks and twists the brain, but then the “high” or effects of the chemicals wears off. None of this works in the long run.
What about other religious or philosophical systems? Buddhism says to deny one’s desires. I talked to my students about this, and some of their desires were wholesome, like having another baby or wanting their children to advance and thrive in their futures. Desire is not bad. Don’t listen to modern, Western versions of Buddhism, which tell you that you can have your desired cake and eat it too. Original and pure Buddhism says no. You must “flat-line” your desires. And don’t believe that Buddhism is tolerant and accepts all beliefs. The Buddha reacted against and rejected Hinduism.
Islam says to submit to Allah and shariah law. And Islam, as we all know, has many other problems built into it.
Judaism says to seek the Name and follow the Torah and traditions. It is difficult to even convert to Judaism. And will following 613 laws really bring fulfillment, to humanity and even to those who convert or were born Jewish? I can’t know fully what they believe inside their own minds; maybe some naturally disciplined people can follow hundreds of laws and enjoy it. And the same with Islam. Some people are naturally disciplined and like law-keeping and rule-following. Shariah has thousands of them. But even if we boil them down to the Five Pillars, they can still be difficult, like the Ramadan fast. They feast during the morning and evening, and some even gain weight! What kind of fast is that?
Taoism says to live like water and take the low places, without struggle. Connect somehow with the Tao, whatever that is. It’s too impersonal.
Hinduism has millions of gods, and we don’t know who they are, yet people offer sacrifices to idols in their temples. One of the gods says that rats must live, and people feed them, so the rats multiply. How does this promote life? The gods may be deceiving spirits.
Communism says to fight the power and keep up the struggle. Yet, fighting to achieve dominance oppresses people when the fighters eventually get into power. How has communism and its weaker version, socialism, bettered humanity over a long time? Right now, the Europeans are not reproducing, and who will fund these nonparents when it is their turn to become pensioners? Not enough people will be working. Leftwing political ideologies cannot sustain themselves and eventually break down, sputtering to a halt.
These religious and other systems are for the toughminded, and they offer some insights, like taming desires and not stealing.
However, they offer no loving Father and life in the Spirit, who is sent by the resurrected King of kings and Lord of lords. These systems do not make room for the divine nature, from the true God, to live in people (1 Pet. 1:4), by the indwelling of the Spirit. Without life in the Spirit, under the Lordship of Jesus, people have to struggle to juggle all these complications.
So what are you looking for? Look for your answer in God through Christ—not a god by any other means or names. Only in surrendering to him can people find deep satisfaction which lasts.
Then Andrew does the one thing we should all do. We first find our family members and bring them to Jesus. He is not on earth, so we have to proclaim his Lordship and bring them to church, when they are ready. We don’t have to become missionaries to a remote part of the globe (unless God calls you); we can go to our families and pray for them. Pray that they will have a hunger for the things of God.
For fuller comments on the two synonym titles Messiah and Christ, see v. 20.
In effect they are asking him: ‘To where will you be leading us?’” (Klink, comment on v. 38). The fact that he used the word “Rabbi” or “Teacher” confirms the intention of these two followers.
“where are you staying?” is not avoiding the question from Jesus, “what are you looking for?” Instead, they are telling him exactly what they are looking for: they are looking for someone to follow. They want to go where he was ‘staying’ because he was now their leader, their teacher.
See more comments for the title “Christ” in v. 20.
Jesus saw him (the Greek verb means to “gaze intently”) and, with his intense gaze, Jesus gave him his second name after Simon, and Simon was an extremely common name: Cephas, an Aramaic name meaning Rock, which means Peter, because Peter in Greek means “Rock.” So, humorously, but accurately, his name means “Rocky.” Later in Peter’s life of discipleship, Jesus reaffirms this new name, in a more public setting (Matt. 16:18). Here the name change is private. Peter was the lead apostle, in all the Gospels and in the first fifteen chapters of Acts. By God’s grace, he lived up to his name change, after Pentecost (Acts 2).
Peter’s full name was Simon bar-Yoḥanan (Jonathan), which can come into Greek abridged as John (v. 42) or Jonah (Matt. 16:17).
On the title Messiah, see vv. 19-20.
GrowApp for John 1:35-42
A.. Andrew found his brother Peter and brought him to Jesus. What is your outreach like to your family and friends?
Philip and Nathanael Follow Jesus (John 1:43-51)
43 On the next day, Jesus resolved to go into Galilee, and he found Philip. Jesus said to him, “Follow me!” 44 Philip was from Bethany, the town of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found the one of whom Moses wrote in the law and also the prophets, Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Then Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good be from Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him and said about him, “Look! A true Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “Where do you know me from?” Jesus replied and said to him, “Before Philip called you, I saw that you were under the fig tree.” 49 Nathanael replied to him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel! 50 Jesus replied and said to him, “Because I said that I saw you under the fig tree, you believe?” You will see greater things than these. 51 I tell you the firm truth: You will see heaven opened up and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
This is another pericope about witnessing to friends and family. To be a disciple is to be a missionary.
As noted under v. 35, Klink adds up the days and sees a parallel with the six days of creation (pp. 160-62. Let’s wait until then, but the point for now is that John is not being whimsical and careless.
Bethsaida was on the northside of the Lake of Galilee, east of the Jordan River, which feeds into Galilee. It literally means “house of fishermen” or “Fishertown” (Bruce, comment on v. vv. 43-44). The other Gospels say that Peter and Andrew (and James and John) lived in Capernaum, slightly farther south and on the west side of the Jordan River and still on the Lake of Galilee (Luke 5). They were in the fishing business. Why did Peter and Andre move? I don’t know. They may have met James and John and their father Zebedee, who lived in Capernaum. They became business partners. (It would not surprise me if the four men were related somehow, like cousins, or through Peter’s unnamed wife, cousins again, or two brothers and a sister, but there is no available information to confirm any of this, so let’s not run wild with speculation).
“law and prophets”: The phrase is the shorthand way of saying the whole Old Testament. Further, Novakovic has “also the prophets,” hinting that the grammar does not really assume that Moses wrote the prophets. John knew this. Novakovic is right. “Prophets” is in the nominative case, while “law” is in the dative.
Who is Nathaniel? He comes from Cana of Galilee (21:2), so he had a rivalry with nearby Nazareth. Some scholars say he was Bartholomew, but this would mean that he took another Jewish name (Bar-Tolmai), which just was not done because Jews instead adopted a Greek or Roman name. But Nathaniel and Bartholomew are not nicknames. They are Hebrew, and typically Jews took as their second name a Greek or Latin (a name like Nathanael / Bartholomew is not the same as a nickname, like Cephas or Peter) So who was Nathaniel? Who was Nathanael? Bauckham is right: Nathanael is a close and early disciple who never “graduated” (my word) or was never selected to be one of the twelve (pp. 103 and 110, note 61). He may have been one of the seventy-two (Luke 10:1-12).
Then Nathanael expresses some prejudice. Acts 24:5 says that some people contemptuously and dismissively referred to the early Christians as the “Nazarene sect” (HT: Carson, comment on v. 46). Nazareth is inland from the Lake, by quite a distance for the ancient world (you can look up Bible maps all over the web.) You may come from a despised town or have despised origins or family. Don’t let popular prejudice stop you.
I like Philip’s response: come and see for yourself. One grammarian says the phrase could be translated as “If you come, you will see” (see 11:34). I like that, but most translations go with the more obvious “come and see.” Sometimes people have to find out for themselves. You can talk to them for only so long; then they have to investigate it for themselves. Nathanael is about to find out that something good can come from Nazareth!
Joseph was Jesus’s legal descent. Philip was speaking from his limited perspective at this stage in the story.
See this post about how Joseph relates to his ancestry:
In any case, Jesus’s pronouncement on Nathanael is profound. Nathanael was truthful, a son of the covenant, an Israelite, without deceit. “It may be paraphrased ‘one who is all Israel and no Jacob’” (Bruce, comment on v. 47). He was a real Israelite.
Nathanael asks him the natural question: how do you know me? Where did you get your information? What is the source of your knowledge of me? Note how Nathanael did not deny the praise. Why would he? It was the truth. Can Jesus say this about us? Jesus implies that he got this information on the whereabouts of Nathanael under the fig tree from the Spirit. Fig tree can symbolize “home” (e.g. Is. 36:16; Mic. 4:4; Zech. 3:10). However, it is more likely that Jesus saw Nathanael in the Spirit, by revelation.
For us Renewalists, this is a word of knowledge. It is available to us, when the Father wills it by the power of the Spirit. We know something that we could not know by study or research.
If he did this miracle of knowledge by the power of the Spirit, then we can do the same, according to the Father’s will, because we too have the power of the Spirit. Yet some theologians say it was by his divine nature. The testimony of Scripture says that Jesus was anointed by the Spirit and worked all of his miracles by the Spirit (see Acts 10:38; John 3:34).
Further, the Father and the Spirit cooperated with his divine nature, so the first and third persons of the Trinity are working together in the Son of God. His entire ministry was about doing what the Father did and in a similar manner.
19 “Jesus then replied and said to them, “I tell you the firm truth: The Son is unable to do anything on his own, unless it is something he sees the Father doing, for the things that he does—the Son also does those things in like manner. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows to him everything that he himself is doing” … (John 5:19-20).
“Unable” should not be over-interpreted, but simply means that in his ministry, the Father empowers him. So in those two verses, the Father and Son cooperate to do the works–the miracles. And the Father anointed the Son with the Spirit. Thus, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit performed the works or miracles in the Gospels. It is the Trinity working together who inaugurated the kingdom of God and confirmed it by the signs and wonders. We too, by the Father’s will, and in the name of Jesus, through the power of the Spirit can do the works of God.
It is clear that “Son of God” “King of Israel” are different terms to refer to the Messiah (Mounce, comment on v. 49). They are titles found in Ps. 2:6, 7:
6 “I have installed my king
on Zion, my holy mountain.”
7 I will proclaim the Lord’s decree:
He said to me, “You are my son;
today I have become your father. (Ps. 2:6-7, NIV)
See vv. 14 and 49 for more comments about the Son of God.
“greater things”: It is the angels of God ascending and descending. Nathanael may not have seen them literally, but if he is perceptive, he will be able to perceive that God is with Jesus through the teachings and even his death and resurrection. Nathanael will see the greatness of the Son of Man (Carson, comments on vv. 50-51).
“I tell you the firm truth”: it literally read, “amen, amen, I tell you.” “Truth” comes from the word amēn (pronounced ah-main and comes into English as amen). In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) Jesus says amen only once, but in John he very often says the word twice, so I translate the double word as “firm truth.” It expresses the authority of the one who utters it. The Hebrew root ’mn means faithfulness, reliability and certainty. It could be translated as “Truly, truly I tell you” or I tell you with utmost certainty.” Jesus’s faith in his own words is remarkable and points to his unique calling. It means we must pay attention to it, for it is authoritative. He is about to declare an important and solemn message or statement. The clause appears only on the lips of Jesus in the NT.
Klink points out (comment on 1:51) that no Jewish sage or Rabbi around this time ever said these words about his own pronouncement or statement. Instead, he would use it to affirm someone else’s opinion. Jesus is the only one to use it of his own teaching. It is very solemn. We need to pay attention because what follows is very important.
“you will see”: the verb and pronoun is plural, so Jesus is talking to the disciples, not just to Nathaniel. They will see the revelation of God in Christ.
The wonderful image of angels ascending and descending refers to Gen. 28:10-12.
12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. (Gen. 28:12-13, NIV)
The rest of the passage goes on to say that God will grant Jacob all of Canaan. To spiritualize things more, God is about to give his Son the whole world (John 3:16). It seems the commentators who follow adopt the spiritualized interpretation, without looking for literal angels ascending and descending.
Klink says that when Jesus says that heaven opening up and seeing it is “regularly used as a promise that the disciples will be given some spiritual insights (cf. 11:40; 16:16, 17, 19). … The disciples will ‘see’ (i.e. experience) Jesus in all his works and in his entire person. Jesus is the one who reveals the Father (1:18). What is unique about Jesus is not only his sonship or that he is God or is intimate with the Father. But also that he provides for some to ‘see’ God. Jesus will later declare that ‘the one who sees me has seen the Father” (14:9). This emphatic statement declares that Jesus is (and always was) the opening of heaven. The nature of this opening, this vision, is not to be sought entirely behind one statement but in Jesus’s person and work, which the rest of the Gospel will explicate (Klink, comment on v. 51).
So, the allusion to Jacob’s ladder must be redefined. Jesus’s revelation is more than just a one-time vision. “Jacob saw a vision; the disciples saw the Word-become-flesh. The statement of God is now in the form of a person,” that is, Jesus (Klink, ibid.).
Mounce says that this imagery simply means that Jesus connects heaven and earth “He is the mediator between God and humanity (cf. 1 Tim. 2:5).” Even though the verb is in the future tense (“you [plural] shall see”), Mounce says that “the reference is not to some future point in time but to the entire period of Jesus’s ministry now beginning in Judea” (Mounce, comments on v. 51). Evidently, Jesus is just getting started.
Jesus seems to say, “You think Jacob’s ladder is awesome? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”
Beasley-Murray (emphasis original):
The natural reading of v 51 is that the angels ascend to heaven and descend to the Son of Man [Greek: “upon the Son of Man”]; he is the point of contact between heaven and earth, the locus of the “traffic” that brings heaven’s blessings to mankind. “You shall see” relates not to a future beyond the death of Jesus (as in Mark 14:62), but to the entire gamut of the action of the Son of Man for the kingdom of God: from the heaven that became open at his baptism, the blessings of saving sovereignty will be poured out through him–through the signs that he performs, the revelation of his word, the life that he lives, the death and resurrection that he accomplishes (his “lifting up”), till the goal is attained when the Son of Man welcomes the redeemed to his Father’s house (14:3). (comment on v. 51, p. 28)
Then Beasley-Murray goes on to say that the angelic imagery is the affirmation of his entire ministry “for the achievement of divine divine purpose,” including the teachings in the synoptic Gospel all the way to his ultimate Parousia [Second Coming]. The synoptics give revelation to the future Son of Man, the Gospel of John brings this revelation down in his Incarnation (ibid.).
The words which follow may be a Johannine parallel to the Synoptic prediction of the day when the Son of Man will be manifested on clouds of heaven ‘with great power and glory’ (cf. Mark 13:26; 14:62). But here the imagery is taken from account of Jacob’s vision at Bethel, when he saw ‘a ladder set up on the earth and reached to heaven; and, behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it’ (Gen. 28:12). In this application of Jacob’s vision, however, the union between heaven and earth is effected by the Son of Man; he is the mediators between God and the human race. (comments on vv. 50-51)
Then Bruce goes on to say that Jesus, speaking to an audience in Jerusalem, is referring to his crucifixion. When they see the Son of Man lifted up, then they will know that “I am he.” His being lifted up refers to his exaltation. So Bruce sees a spiritual application related to Christ’s crucifixion and exaltation; he does not see angels going up and down a ladder or often in Jesus’s ministry. Don’t interpret it overly literally.
Carson says that Jesus alludes to the experience in Jacob’s life. The disciples will see heaven-sent visions of divine matters (Acts 7:56; 10:11; Rev. 4:1; 19:11). The disciples are further promised heaven-sent confirmation that the one “they have acknowledged as the Jewish Messiah has been appointed by God.” Jesus is the new Israel, and revelations come through him; just as old Bethel has been superseded by the temple, so Jesus supersedes the temple (2:19-22) and the sacred mountain of the Samaritans (4:20-24). Therefore, the angels descending and ascending will not be literal until after Pentecost, because Jesus himself is the supreme revelation, just as he was the one at the top of the ladder. “There above it [or ‘him,’ meaning ‘Jacob’] stood the Lord, and he said: ‘I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac'” (Gen. 28:13) (Carson, comments on vv. 50-51).
Morris says that the references in Acts 7:56; 10:11; Rev. 4:1; 19:11 are not in view here. So what do the angels refer to, then? The place of the ladder is taken by the Son of Man himself. He is the means to heaven and by him the “realities of heaven” are brought down to earth. The expression is figurative. Jesus will reveal heavenly things and supersede Jacob’s ladder. The revelation of heavenly things through Jesus is a theme developed through the Fourth Gospel. The wide-open heaven and ascending and descending angels symbolize the power and love of God (comment on v. 51).
Keener also spiritualizes the ladder and angelic imagery. He writes: “Thus, in short, Jesus is Jacob’s ladder, the one who mediates between God in heaven and his servant Jacob on earth (cf. John 14:6).” Jesus now mediates between God and Israel in his time. “As Jacob’s ladder he is also Bethel, God’s house (Gen. 28:19). If he replaces Bethel, he also replaces the temple, because he is the new temple (1:14; 2:19-21; 4:20-24; 7:37-39; 14:2; 23) (pp. 489-90). Evidently, we should not look for literal angels ascending or descending in Jesus’s ministry, and we do not find this throughout the Fourth Gospel.
Borchert also says that Jesus takes over the revelatory imagery of Jacob’s ladder and the angels:
Jesus was prepared to open their [the disciples’] eyes. The process was begun by reminding Nathanael of Jacob’s great Bethel experience. In the midst of Jacob’s fearful crisis, Yahweh (the “I AM” of Gen 28:13) had to teach Jacob that God was really present in the world. Here in the Nathanael story Jesus illustrated the meaning of the word becoming flesh and tenting (presencing himself) in our midst (John 1:14) by informing Nathanael that the rabbi he was facing was none other than the personal embodiment of Bethel (“meaning house of God”).
So Jesus is much greater than Jacob’s ladder and replaces it as the center of God’s revelation, particularly during the Incarnation.
So it looks like these commentators are in agreement in the main interpretation (with some minor differences). John spiritualizes Jacob’s ladder and claims that Jesus takes it over and fulfills it. There is no need to look for literal ascending and descending angels. These scholars’ interpretation should not be dismissed out of hand. Double meaning in John’s Gospel abounds, as I note in my two-level diagram that is found throughout John 1-15.
However, if you insist on taking the imagery literally and looking for angels at the beginning (Matt. 4:11) and then the end (John 20:12) of his ministry and places in between, then go for it. For my part, I believe these high-level commentators have the better interpretation.
“Son of Man”: it is used in the divine sense (Dan. 7:13-14), where the Son of Man ascends to the throne of God. And it means an ordinary human, as seen in the prophet Ezekiel, where the title is used many times. Jesus was the Son of Man in both senses—divine and human.
Now we have the issue of Luke 5, where Peter sees Jesus work a miraculous catch of fish and falls to his knees and begs Jesus to depart from him, for Peter is a sinful man. In contrast, here in John’s Gospel Peter seems to accept Jesus easily. How do we account for the differences? John and the Synoptics omit data and compress time. Peter may have reacted so willingly because a major theme in John is that Jesus’s disciples believed better than they knew. Peter’s belief may be shallow at this point. In Luke 5, however, he got his miracle that fits his entire career as a fisherman: a miraculous catch of fish. That triggered his surrender to Jesus so that Peter followed him then and there. Luke’s version expands on and supplements John’s version.
See the links to the reliability of the Gospels under v. 28, above.
Here is a multi-part study of angels in the area of systematic theology, but first, here is a summary list of the basics:
(a) Are messengers (in Hebrew mal’ak and in Greek angelos);
(b) Are created spirit beings;
(c) Have a beginning at their creation (not eternal);
(d) Have a beginning, but they are immortal (deathless).
(e) Have moral judgment;
(f) Have a certain measure of free will;
(g) Have high intelligence;
(h) Do not have physical bodies;
(i) But can manifest with immortal bodies before humans;
(j) Can show the emotion of joy.
GrowApp for John 1:43-51
A.. Nathanael said, “Can anything good be from Nazareth?” Has anyone doubted your background and disqualified you from believing in Jesus? How did you overcome their doubts?
Beasley-Murray George R. John. Word Biblical Commentary. Rev. ed. Zondervan, 1999.
Borchert, Gerald L. John 1-11. New American Commentary. Vol. 25a. Broadman and Holman, 1996.
Bruce, F. F. The Gospel of John: Introduction, Exposition, and Notes. Eerdmans, 1983.
Carson, D. A. The Gospel according to John. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Eerdmans, 1991.
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (United Bible Society, 2014).
Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of John: A Commentary. Vol. 1. Baker Academic, 2003.
Novakovic, Lidija. John 1-10: A Handbook on the Greek Text. A Handbook on the Greek Text. Baylor UP, 2020.
Klink, Edward W. John. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Zondervan, 2016.
Morris, Leon. The Gospel according to John. Rev. ed. Eerdmans, 1995.
Mounce, Robert H. John. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. ed. Zondervan, 2007.