John: Outlines and Commentary
By Derek Leman
© 2017 Derek Leman
Table of Contents
The preexistent Word (1-2), the presence of the Word in the world (3-5).
The Fourth Gospel has, in the terminology of Paul Anderson (Riddles of the Fourth Gospel) a theme of dialectical thinking. That is, the Beloved Disciple who is the source of this Gospel, is comfortable with truths in tension being both-and instead of either-or. Paul Anderson rightly says that in the Fourth Gospel we see both the most human Yeshua (weeping at Lazarus’ tomb, groaning on the cross) and the most divine. Here in the Prologue to the Fourth Gospel (1:1-18) we see Yeshua’s ultimate identity and the presentation is dialectical. Yeshua is in fact the Word, both the same as and different from God. He was “with God” and he “was God,” both being true. No one can understand the unity and differentiation of the Father and Son. We can merely accept that both are true (see my book, Divine Messiah, for a thorough look at historical evidence for and the meaning of Yeshua’s divinity). In form, the Prologue was likely a hymn, or perhaps the Prologue was adapted from an existing hymn. Paul Anderson believes it was added about the year 100 CE by the Elder, who was a student of the Beloved Disciple. But the text of the Prologue pre-existed in some form of hymn. Why begin the story of Yeshua with such an ultimate description, an ethereal and yet earthly theology? It is a way of giving explanation for the somewhat biographical approach which will follow. It was not immediately apparent to those who encountered Yeshua who he really was. He seemed to be a teacher and healer from Galilee. That he was in fact the divine Son, who pre-existed creation, was uncreated, and who was at once the same as God and differentiated from him was not realized until after the resurrection when early believers saw Yeshua from heaven, at God’s right hand, having his own divine glory. That divine glory is in the form of light. The Prologue calls this light the source of life for all people. This is because when God made the world, he did so through the Word. To put it starkly, Yeshua created the world. Yeshua is the light, and though there is darkness in this world, Yeshua will conquer the darkness. We who live in the present darkness await his return and believe by faith that the darkness has not overcome the light. It is in knowing who Yeshua really is, not only risen and ascended but pre-existent and divine, that we keep the faith while the reality of life is generally far from the light. That the Fourth Gospel is using terminology familiar to Jewish and Greco-Roman readers is part of the point. This is a Gospel written to Jews and Gentiles. In the Jewish world, talking about the Memra (Aramaic for Word) and speculating about various divine agent figures (chief angels, glorified saints, personified attributes of God) is common. In the Greco-Roman world, speculations about an underlying order of the universe, a Logos, sometimes personified as a shepherd, is well-known. All these attempts to understand reality, the Prologue asserts, find their answer in Yeshua.
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John the Baptizer is not the light but the prophet (6-9), the ironic reception of the Word by his own people and others (10-13), the Word born as a man (14), John the Baptizer’s testimony (15), what we receive from the Word (16), the Word surpasses the revelation at Sinai (17-18).
The author cites the testimony of John the Baptizer as evidence of the identity of Yeshua. The Baptizer’s testimony was that a greater one would come after. That greater one, says the gospel writer, was the very light which created the world but was not known by the world. The testimony of the Baptizer was misunderstood by some, who did not realize the most important part of his message was about the light that was to come. The light was not known by the world or even by his own people. Yet the light can be known by any person and those who believe become children of God. They experience a birth from above and thus become God’s children (vs. 13). Leslie Newbigin (The Light Has Come) explains that some have misunderstood what this light theme is all about. Many have read it as some kind of inner illumination, an enlightenment in which people receive mystical perception of truth from God. Yet the use of light in the Fourth Gospel is always about faith versus judgment (3:19-21; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9ff; 12:35ff, 46). The light of God’s pure holiness shines on the pollution of sin and error and reveals cause for judgment, but the purpose of this light is to create faith so that “whoever believes” will escape the darkness of unknowing. The light, then, is not inner knowledge but an encounter with holiness from which we either push away or which humbles us and opens us to believe and follow. Vs. 14 is a classic statement of the nature of the Divine Messiah. Yeshua is the pre-existent one, who was with God and also was God, the same and also differentiated from God, who took on humanity (Word made flesh). The saying of the Baptizer in vs. 15 indicates that Yeshua’s identity is more than merely human, since he both comes before the Baptizer and after him. It is possible that the Baptizer’s understanding of the divinity of Yeshua may have been partial, like the notion that a prophetic spirit such as Elijah’s was on Yeshua. But his words signify more than even the Baptizer likely realized. Yeshua brought the fulness of the Divine Presence to earth and those who followed him received all of the good things of God’s Torah with the added gift of full revelation of God’s being and ways. We have received grace (Torah) upon grace (Messiah), according to vss. 16-17. This is, therefore, not be understood as a contrast between law and grace, but as one who added the grace of fuller revelation (the appearance and life of Messiah) to the grace of earlier revelation (the Torah). The fact that numerous commentators read this is gracelessness (Law) versus grace (Jesus), says more about their presuppositions than anything actually contained in the words of the Fourth Gospel. In vs. 18 we come up against what seems to be an error, the idea that “no one has ever seen God.” Every reader of John is aware that many sightings of God have occurred in the Hebrew Bible. How can the writer make such a statement? He reflects a true understanding of the nature of God. All sightings of God have been of manifestations of God and not God in his Direct Being. God himself is beyond knowing, but his emanation, the Son who is in the Father’s bosom, revealed him by taking on humanity and incarnating deity into humanity (vs. 18). No theophany in the Hebrew Bible can compare to what Yeshua has done, the Divine Son who is co-equal with the Infinite One taking on humanity and living among us in veiled form, his Glory hidden but to be revealed.
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John the Baptizer denies exalted roles — Messiah, Elijah, the Prophet (19-21), John claims a renewed role as the voice from Isaiah (22-23), John declares his work a preparation for one greater (24-28).
The term “the Jews” in John means in essence “Jewish authorities who oppose the Yeshua movement.” It is not a statement about Jewish people in general, but terminology more fitting the first century context (akin to modern usage of a phrase like “the people in Washington”). Why do priests and Levites interrogate John? It is because he was immersing people and the priesthood possesses the expertise and authority in the laws of ritual washing (Raymond Brown, John I-XII: Anchor Bible). Paul Anderson notes that by baptizing people in free-flowing water, the Baptizer is challenging the stagnant Temple leadership who have set up pools for immersion (mikva’ot, singular = mikvah) (The Riddles of the Fourth Gospel, 209). John’s baptism is dynamic, a powerful declaration of allegiance to God and to renewal in the land. The Baptizer is a historical figure discussed in Josephus and other sources, the leader of a popular renewal movement. It was a problem in the early Yeshua-movement to clarify Yeshua’s relationship to the Baptizer. Was Yeshua greater or lesser, a student or a rival? The account in 1:19-28 explains Yeshua as the one greater for whom the Baptizer was preparing. In vs. 26, the Baptizer’s words “One whom you do not know” likely have meaning beyond the simple context. Those who claim to be leaders of the people of Israel and yet reject Yeshua do not know what disciples know. To know Yeshua is to accept his claims and to have your eyes opened by heaven. Further light in this passage comes if we think about the role of the word and our required response. The religious leaders, sadly then as now, have as first concern maintaining the status quo and holding on to authority. Authority is needed, but in balance with openness to the new thing God might be doing. When they try to pin John down (“who are you?”) his answer is essentially, “Who I am is not important, but I am the voice of those new things God promised in Isaiah, Ezekiel, and other prophets.” Ritual washing was important to the religious leaders, but as the voice of prophecy had revealed, something greater was coming. To have balance between maintaining tradition and openness to the new things of God, we must have a listening heart and wisdom. Leslie Newbigin (The Light Has Come) comments: “It [the voice of scripture] forbids you to try and file the word away in one of your already well-organized categories. It requires you to look up, listen, wait for the one who is coming.”
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John the Baptizer’s testimony: Lamb of God (29); after me, ahead of me, was before me (30); not chosen by me but revealed to me (31); I saw the Spirit descend (32); I heard the heavenly voice (33); I testify that he is the Chosen One (34).
According to Raymond Brown “Lamb of God” references both the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 and the Passover lamb. The Baptizer’s testimony (1:19-42) is about Yeshua as the Lamb. And so the Prologue, about the exalted identity of Messiah and the purpose of his coming (1:1-18), is immediately followed by another, complementary way of looking at who Yeshua is. And this slaughtered lamb theme will occur again, since the Beloved Disciple (the author) will in the crucifixion scene present some details that compare Yeshua’s means of death with the manner in which animals were killed. Yeshua as Passover Lamb is a bookmark theme, near the beginning and near the end, tying together this version of Yeshua’s biography. “Existed before me” in the Fourth Gospel is reference to Yeshua’s existence before creation as in 1:1-2; 8:58; and 17:5. But did the Baptizer himself really understand this about Yeshua, and at such an early stage when none of the disciples got this about him? The truth is, the Baptizer’s words could be interpreted as saying Yeshua was the one promised beforehand more so than the one who existed before creation. But, as is often the case, things people said about Yeshua during his lifetime came to have a greater meaning after he was raised and his true identity revealed. The descent of a dove as the Spirit on Yeshua is one of many eyewitness verifications of Yeshua’s identity in the early apostolic teaching. All four gospels include it. In a world where people wanted to know why they should believe in a “messiah” from the land of Israel, the signs that God had manifested himself in Yeshua was central to the teaching of the apostles. These verses describing the Baptizer’s teaching about Yeshua’s identity are at once Jewish in orientation and at the same time well-suited for teaching gentiles about the One who showed God to us. There is mystery involved when anyone comes to know who Yeshua is. As the Baptizer says, “I myself did not know him” but he was shown the identity of Yeshua through a powerful sign, “I saw the Spirit descend . . . it remained on him.” Leslie Newbigin (The Light Has Come) says we must realize, “This knowledge can only be a gift, never an achievement.” C.S. Lewis in The Silver Chair has a character protest, “But we asked to come here,” to which Aslan replied, “You could not have asked if I had not called you.” The things of heaven are just beyond our grasp, veiled even as they are evident, so that God must shine in through the windows of our inner soul to complete our knowledge. This happened to the Baptizer and he passed down to us the word of that revelation, which God alone can complete in our own souls.
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John the Baptizer identifies Yeshua to two disciples (35-37), the two stay with Yeshua for a day (38-39), Andrew introduces Simon to Yeshua and calls him Messiah (40-41), Yeshua gives Peter a second name (42).
This version of the call of the first disciples is radically different than in the synoptic gospels, where they are simply called at the lake in Galilee as if they did not previously know Yeshua. It is easy to harmonize the stories and assume that this account in the Fourth Gospel happened prior to the one in the synoptics. It would explain why the disciples in Mark, for example, were so quick to leave everything and follow. Also, if we adopt this harmonizing interpretation of the history of the disciples with Yeshua, we learn in John that they had messianic faith or hopes from the beginning of following Yeshua (and that the “Messiah” idea was not something which they discovered later). The Fourth Gospel is the “witness” gospel, the only one which claims to be written by an eyewitness (19:35; 21:24). The author (of either the final gospel or its first edition) is anonymous throughout and makes self-references only as “the disciple whom Yeshua loved.” He is known, therefore, as the Beloved Disciple. Most assume that he is John the Apostle, son of Zebedee, but this is not likely for a number of reasons (see Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses). Further, one of the themes that pervades the gospel is the Passover Lamb symbolism. Here in John 1, twice the saying about the Lamb of God is uttered. The first time is the saying is made (1:29), this is the witness of John the Baptizer. The second time, it is still declared by the Baptizer, but it is crucial to the story that the Beloved Disciple is one of the two who hears it (along with Andrew). The literary device of anonymity comes to play in vs. 35, with two disciples who are unnamed followed by the revelation in vs. 40 that one of them was Andrew. The reader is supposed to wonder who the second disciple was. Throughout the gospel we find such references to the author, always anonymous. He was a figure well-known to the early messianic movement. He will interpret Yeshua throughout as the Passover Lamb in keeping with what he heard from the Baptizer. The climax of the Passover Lamb theme will come in 19:31-37 (the water and blood).
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Yeshua calls Philip (43-44), Philip calls a skeptical Nathanael (45-46), Nathanael considers Yeshua anyway (47), Yeshua’s sign causes faith (48-50), Yeshua is the ladder (51).
This second story about calling disciples is parallel to the first one. Yeshua meets a disciple of the Baptizer who introduces him to another, except that Yeshua seeks out Philip specifically. What did Philip have in mind when he described Yeshua as the One written about in Torah and prophets? This is likely a way the early followers would describe him to a Jewish audience. The answer could be something specific like the Prophet of Deuteronomy 18 and Elijah (Brown). Or it could be more general: many themes in Torah point to the need for Yeshua’s presence and work and in the prophets there is not only Elijah but also the messianic king and the Son of Man. How did Yeshua’s saying about seeing Nathanael under a fig tree persuade him? The story does not seem intended to persuade the reader (not enough details about the seeing to clearly indicate a miracle). Yet it persuaded Nathanael. The likely answer is that this was Nathanael’s actual testimony. He is the one who came to believe in Yeshua because of a prescient vision of himself under a fig tree. That is a story that might have been told and which could have become well-known. Nathanael is a guileless Israelite because, though he had doubts, he was willing to come investigate Yeshua (Brown). This distinguishes Nathanael from many other Israelites (and gentiles) who reject the story of Yeshua out of hand without investigating. After Nathanael’s declaration of faith, Yeshua says he hasn’t seen anything yet. Greater things will be revealed. Yeshua is more than Philip and Nathanael realize, even though they have already received him as the goal of Torah and prophets, as the King of Israel. Yeshua says he is actually the ladder of the Jacob story (Gen 28), the Presence (Shekhinah) of God and the bridge between heaven and earth. It is not that the Torah’s prefiguring of Messiah and messianic redemption is inadequate. It is, rather, that people in Yeshua’s time failed to understand the heights of what Torah prefigured. Yeshua saw in the ladder vision of Genesis 28 a foreshadowing of what the prophets would say about God’s dwelling with people and people dwelling with God. The vision of Israelites in Yeshua’s time would need to be expanded. The promise was coming true in Yeshua, if they could manage to see it.
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Yeshua and disciples attend a wedding in Cana (1-2), Mary requests miraculous help with the wine (3-5), servants and water jars (6-8), the headwaiter is amazed at the wine’s quality (9-10), the first of seven signs (11).
This is the first of seven miraculous signs recorded in the Fourth Gospel. There is a mysterious indication that Mary knew Yeshua’s divine power, leading even very early in Christian history to speculation about miracles he may have worked in his youth (as in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas). The miracle is a sign fostering belief in his disciples, manifesting his Glory, his hidden identity (vs. 11). It is reminiscent of Elijah and Elisha serving the poor communities of prophets with provision, providing a valuable commodity for the people at the wedding in Cana. The interaction between Yeshua and Mary has led to centuries of speculation. Was Yeshua being rude to his mother? Yeshua’s saying is a Semitic idiom and could literally be rendered, “What to me and to you, woman?” (Brown). It means either “why are you unjustly bothering me” or “why are you bothering me with business that is not mine” (Brown). Why does Yeshua feel this is not his business? The answer he gives is that it is “not yet my hour,” meaning “my hour to be revealed as the hidden Glory revealed.” That hour will be at his death and resurrection. Yet Mary is persistent and, as is often the case, Yeshua is willing in spite of his objection. The interaction is like those who expect God to work even though they know the blessing is undeserved. Yeshua may have said his hour had not yet come to reveal his Glory, yet he fosters faith in advance of his hour with this sign and with others that will come. These signs lead to a greater understanding of the ultimate one, the resurrection.
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Interlude in Capernaum (12), Yeshua cleanses the Temple at Passover (13-16), the disciples see in him the zeal of David (17), Temple authorities question Yeshua (18-21), Yeshua’s meaning became clear after he was raised (22), Yeshua shrugs aside his rising popularity (23-25).
For many people it is a major question whether there were two Temple cleansing incidents with Yeshua or only one. If there was only one, many are concerned about whether it happened early in Yeshua’s career or late. Raymond Brown has an interesting solution. The stories in the synoptics place it late, just before the end, which is more realistic. But there is a reason for the way John presents it that makes perfect sense. That the overturning of tables and denunciation of the Temple authorities happened right before his death, is nearly certain. It makes sense that Yeshua would be arrested quickly after such an action. Nonetheless, John’s placing the event early in the career of Yeshua can be explained simply. The key is to understand that John 2:13-21 is about two things: the cleansing action itself and an exchange of words that happened between Yeshua and the Temple authorities. The exchange of words (vss. 18-21), says Brown, happened early, which is why John narrates it here. He adds in the Temple cleansing, even though it actually happened later, to suit his own purposes literarily. Especially, John wants to show Yeshua early on having zeal for the Temple and predicting his resurrection. It is part of the pattern of growing recognition of Yeshua’s lofty identity. According to John (in my opinion, John the Elder mentioned by Papias, not John of the Twelve), Yeshua knew of his destiny early. He was also filled with the messianic zeal of King David for the Temple. Yet he did not care about popularity and knew the crowd was fixed on shallow understandings of Messiah. He had much work to do to show what the messianic age would really be about.
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A Pharisees (Nicodemus) seeks out Yeshua at night (1-2); Yeshua’s “born from above” saying (3-4); new birth in the Spirit (5-8); understanding things from above (9-13); analogy to the serpent in the wilderness (14-15); love, judgment, faith (16-18); judgment, darkness, and light (19-21).
It is likely that 2:23-25 is intended to help us understand Nicodemus as drawn by Yeshua’s signs, but that his faith is as yet insufficient. Vs. 3 is a rebuff. Yeshua is challenging Nicodemus rather than accepting flattery. “Born from above” can also be “born again.” Yet “born from above” is the intended meaning as clarified in vss. 5-6. The message is simple: a person enters biological life through physical begetting and into eternal life through spiritual begetting. Raymond Brown notes 1 John 3:9 which puts it even more crudely: “God’s seed [i.e., sperm] is in him.” The new birth in the Spirit is a promise for Israel in the last days: the new Spirit, Spirit poured on us, Torah inscribed on the heart (esp. Ezek 36:24-27; also Isa 32:15; Joel 2:28-29; Jer 31:33). Yet it seems Yeshua is saying these promises of inner transformation can be (partially) realized starting with his glorification (death, resurrection, ascension). A teacher of Israel should understand the need for Israelites to be transformed by God, a dynamic transfiguring of who we are, but how could such a metamorphosis happen? Yeshua’s reference to his ascending (vs. 13) is yet future, as sometimes Yeshua referred to events yet to come in mysterious ways. When Yeshua ascends and sends the Spirit, people can receive new birth as a partial realization of promises like Ezekiel 36:25-27. In the last days people will become guilt-free, pure, and endued with the Spirit of God in perfect union so that their love and righteousness will be complete. Now, in between the ascension and the Second Coming, we can and must realize some of these transformations. We already can become sons and daughters begotten by God, a change to be intensified in the age to come. Yeshua is the light that has come into the world, but the natural tendency of people is to shrink from the light because it exposes what we know in ourselves is wrong. To know Yeshua and God means to risk coming into the light, to risk new deeds of love and trust that God is renewing us and dispelling the darkness we know to be within. In other words, we know ourselves to be stained and unworthy, but we seek to have God’s work coming through us and therefore to be redeemed by this life from above.
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Yeshua and disciples baptizing in Judea (22), John and disciples baptizing in Aenon (23-24), a dispute causes John’s disciples to seek him out (25-26), John delivers a sermon on Yeshua’s superiority (27-30).
Two famous chronology problems occur here: (1) 3:22 appears to contradict 4:2 and (2) Mk 1:14 and Mt 4:12 indicate that Yeshua began his work in Galilee after John was arrested. Possible interpretations of the chronology are many and tedious. (It could be that in the time the Fourth Gospel circulated there was controversy about whether some had been baptized directly by Yeshua and were of a higher order than ordinary disciples). Yet, in spite of questions about chronology, the message of this whole section is clear: the Baptizer viewed Yeshua as superior and explains something of Yeshua’s mysterious identity. Yeshua and his disciples remain south in Judea, immersing people as John had been doing. The Baptizer and his disciples are perhaps a little further north, just below Beth She’an (no one knows where Aenon was, but Eusebius located it south of Beth She’an). One of the Judean elite is with John’s disciples, probably a Sadducee — most of whom were priests and they controlled the ritual purification requirements at the Temple during that time. The Baptizer’s method of renewal through immersion would be a rival to the priests’ insistence that the Temple is the center of Israel’s piety. The disciples raise a concern about Yeshua as a possible rival to the Baptizer. His reply is very similar to and prefigures what Yeshua will say in 6:44: only heaven can give a person status and mission (and so Yeshua said no one comes to him except the Father sends them). So all new life comes from God and people are merely the vessels through whom he works, rendering all rivalries in kingdom work to be moot. Vs. 30 models the attitude of submission (“I must decrease”) which is not only important for John the Baptizer, but for any who would follow Yeshua. The parabolic comparison of a best man and a groom (vs. 29) is a good summary of John’s relation to Yeshua. Raymond Brown cites Augustine who summarized it this way: “I listen; he is the one who speaks (3:29). I am enlightened; he is the light (1:6-9). I am the ear; he is the Word (3:29).”
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From above vs. from earth (31), receiving heavenly testimony (32-33), Yeshua as revealer and giver (34-35), eternal life only in Yeshua (36).
Is this a continuation of the Baptizer’s speech from vss. 27-30 or is this a commentary by the Beloved Disciple (the author) on the section? Some have even suggested that Yeshua is speaking here (Brown), though it is odd to imagine Yeshua’s words popping into the narrative without any reference to him speaking. Earlier in this same chapter, Yeshua’s dialogue with Nicodemus probably ended after vs. 15 and vss. 16-21 were the Beloved Disciple commenting on the scene. Now vss. 31-36 seem to be the BD commenting on the Baptizer’s speech in vss. 27-30. Specifically this is about John the Baptizer (earth) and Yeshua (above). Vs. 31 repeats the idea from earlier in the chapter (vs. 6) that ultimate truth is beyond us and must come from heaven. Vs. 32, then, is like vs. 11: the one from above speaks and many on earth do not receive the witness. Vs. 33 certainly sounds like the BD speaking to his audience, saying that all who know the Baptizer was a true witness can set their seal to his words in affirmation. The Baptizer witnessed the revelation of the Son directly and personally and passes that testimony down for those who will believe. Yeshua is the One God sent (vs. 34) who received the Spirit (at his baptism). Vs. 35 is similar to Luke 10:22 and Matthew 11:27. Yeshua carries the authority over all things from God. Therefore, vs. 36, those who encounter Yeshua are required to believe in him or they are disobeying the revelation of God. This passage reflects a very high view of Yeshua, identical to God though at the same time differentiated from him, having full divine authority. To encounter him is to see enough of him to realize his identity, in seeing his identity to be convinced he is above all, and being convinced either to believe or to deny the evident truth for willful reasons.
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Leaving the Jordan for Galilee (1-3).
This transition marks the end of Yeshua’s baptizing work. He moves now into a time of signs (chs. 4-12) and then glory (chs. 13-21). These verses suggest that Yeshua withdrew from Judea, passing through Samaria where the next incident takes place, because there was an issue of rising notoriety. Implied is the idea that Yeshua did not wish to stay in Judea and come into confrontation at that time. Raymond Brown and many interpreters make much of the tension over who was baptizing between 3:22 and 4:2. According to Brown, this is “almost indisputable evidence of the presence of several hands in the composition of the gospel.” Brown rejects the usual harmonization, that in 3:22, the statement about Yeshua baptizing meant only that he authorized baptisms which, as 4:2 states, were performed by his disciples. Is Brown correct? Does 4:2 necessarily demonstrate multiple authors or editors (who failed to remove a discrepancy between adjacent sections)? We might answer this by proposing reasons for the statement in 4:2. Why might it be important to record that Yeshua himself did not baptize, but only his disciples? The two most apparent reasons would be: (1) to avoid depicting Yeshua as an imitator of John the Baptizer or (2) to clarify and prevent claims by any in the early Yeshua-community that they had a superior baptism from Yeshua himself (or in a chain of baptizers starting with Yeshua himself). Brown thinks (1) is the answer and that 4:1-3 was added later both to justify placing the Samaritan woman story here and to deny that Yeshua imitated John the Baptizer. Yet (2) is perfectly plausible. Yeshua’s disciple group was baptizing as he taught about the kingdom of God in Judea, but no one was baptized by Yeshua himself. And the import of 4:1-3 in general is that Yeshua was aware of coming confrontation and had work to do before forcing the issue in Jerusalem. Now was not that time.
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Yeshua comes to Jacob’s well in Samaria (4-6), the woman and living water (7-15), discussing true worship with the woman (16-26), discussing the harvest with his disciples (27-38), fruit from the Samaritans (39-42).
Yeshua’s conversation with the woman breaks with common customs about gender relations. The story is also part of a larger pattern in scriptural history, in which a male hero speaks with a woman at a well (Abraham’s servant, Jacob, Moses). In each case, the women in question are not of the holy family but are brought nearer to God by their interaction with the Israelite hero. Yeshua brings up living water, a theme that has its source in many passages such as Isaiah 12 and Ezekiel 36 (water from the wells of salvation, I will sprinkle clean water on you). The Fourth Gospel shows that in Yeshua what was promised and yet required accomplishment in the Hebrew Bible happens through and only through Yeshua. He is the focal point of God’s unfolding of atonement, redemption, ransom, liberation, reconciliation, and elevation of people toward the divine realm. Worship in Spirit means the kind of worship Yeshua’s followers will have after the resurrection and giving the Spirit. This has nothing to do with eliminating Temple worship and replacing it with (allegedly) superior worship in houses and churches/synagogues. It is a foreshadowing of a greater union with God that Yeshua’s followers will experience corporately (not individually) in worship. Worship in truth is a criticism of Samaritan revisionism. The Samaritans made themselves the chosen people and their mountain a replacement for Mt. Sinai and Mt. Zion. Yeshua’s food is restoring and reconciling people to God. The Samaritans exemplify faith, hearing and then investigating to come to the truth. In the book of Acts, we find that a contingent of Samaritans joined the Yeshua movement and doubtless this story in John 4 was a crucial one to them. The dialogue between Yeshua and the woman of Sychar can be outlined as follows:
…Yeshua the stranger requests a drink, crossing social boundaries.
…The woman at first perceives only the social issue.
…Yeshua mysteriously declares a lofty identity and an ability to give spiritual water.
…The woman is rightly skeptical.
…Yeshua adds more specific promises about what his water can do.
…The woman understands this as a possible gift of a prophet and desires it.
…Yeshua shows supernatural knowledge about the woman’s life.
…The woman recognizes that he is a prophet.
…The woman brings up the divide between Jews and Samaritans.
…Yeshua affirms Jerusalem as true, but says change is coming and something that transcends even Jerusalem is about to happen.
…The woman affirms her belief in King Messiah.
…Yeshua declares himself to be King Messiah.
…The disciples return and interrupt.
…The woman departs and says to her people, “Come and see a man who told me all I ever did!”
…Yeshua refuses to eat and teaches the disciples about greater bread, doing and obeying the commandments of God.
…Yeshua teaches about the kingdom harvest which they will engage in after he has departed.
…The Samaritan woman is doing already what Yeshua teaches his disciples, spreading the good news.
The passage raises a number of issues and questions:
…Why does Yeshua cross social boundaries, eating with sinners, talking with women, talking with Samaritans? The kingdom does not recognize social barriers.
…What is the meaning of the living water Yeshua offers? The simple meaning of “living water” is from a spring and moving source as opposed to stagnant water. Yet the analogy is between the stagnancy of life in this present world and higher life in the true world. The thirst of humanity, as C.S. Lewis has put it, is a desire for a satisfaction more desirable than any other satisfaction, something this world seems to promise but which can only be fulfilled beyond this world. As Augustine put it, it is a restlessness in our hearts which finds rest only in God. As Anselm of Canterbury put it, it is something God created us to want and which only he can give. Nothing else can really satisfy us and everything else we chase is only a substitute.
…Alister McGrath (The Intellectual Life of C.S. Lewis) says of this argument from desire (or from thirst, as Yeshua put it) that it is an abductive argument, a way of explaining an experience through a supposition. Finding in ourselves a desire which nothing in this world can satisfy, we might suppose the desire is right and true. If so, this world is insufficient. If so, we might suppose we were made for another world where this desire would be granted. As McGrath says, the scientific method is abductive and not deductive. That is, science observes phenomena and proposes explanations that account for these phenomena. The “truth” of a scientific theory is how rightly it explains what is observed. The truth of Yeshua’s thirst argument is not deductive proof, but explanatory power. If there is one powerful enough to satisfy universal human longings, he is one worth believing and following.
…How can Yeshua say, “neither in Jerusalem nor on this mountain”? The conflict between Jerusalem and Samaria is one in which only Jerusalem can be right. Yet Jerusalem also will experience a change in paradigm. Jerusalem is truth but it is about to receive a new level of Spirit. This is what Jerusalem’s own prophets, from Moses to Isaiah to Joel to Ezekiel to Zechariah had said.
…What is Spirit and truth? It is the new without jettisoning the old. It is Yeshua’s death and glorification and the in-breaking of the kingdom without leaving the true foundation of the Jewish scriptures.
…What is “he told me everything I ever did” about? The power of Spirit and truth comes to every person individually and exposes what is inside. The gap between our own experience and the desire we have for lasting satisfaction is exposed. When we recognize the more-than-prophet and more-than-king Yeshua, we find the authority and author of life.
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Departing for Galilee (43), a prophet not honored (44), received [shallowly] by Galileans.
This section is parallel to 2:23-25. In both, Yeshua is received by many because of his signs, but he regards this kind of faith as inadequate. Both 2:23-25 and 4:43-45 are followed by an encounter depicting imperfect faith. After 2:23-25, Nicodemus is ready to consider Yeshua a teacher, but cannot see that he is the heaven-sent Word. After 4:43-45, a royal official seeks him out and his whole house believes, but faith is placed in Yeshua as a messianic or prophetic healer. Throughout John, Yeshua is seeking to bring people beyond usual messianic expectations to a deeper faith in his divinity and as the giver of eternal life.
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Back in Cana for the second sign (46), a royal official seeks a miracle (47), Yeshua objects to seeking miracles in order to believe (47-50), the official confirms that his son was healed as Yeshua said (51-53), this was the second sign (54).
Chapters 2-4 are a section with bookends at Cana, and in this “from Cana to Cana” we find a parallel structure. First, the two Cana miracles have similarities: a request is at first refused, the questioner persists, and the sign causes people to believe in Yeshua (Brown). Further, after both Cana miracles, Yeshua goes to the Temple. This miracle is called the second sign that Yeshua performed in vs. 54. John 1:19 – 12:50, the first major section of the fourth gospel, is known as the Book of Signs, and records precisely seven signs that engender faith in Yeshua’s identity. The narrative does not limit the miracles of Yeshua to these seven signs (see 2:23 and 4:45), but makes the significant number seven a literary device to show the power of Yeshua and its effect on people. In the case of this second story, a gentile is accused by Yeshua of simply seeking signs, of having a shallow sort of faith in wonders divorced from understanding. Nonetheless, Yeshua heals his son in a way that requires the official to believe before seeing the evidence. And the official also learns something from Yeshua’s precise wording, “your son lives.” On returning home, he sees Yeshua has spoken truly and his son has already been healed. Because of Yeshua there is life. John is teaching his readers and in the next section we will hear that Yeshua is the bread of life, the living water, and the light of life. Although Yeshua castigates sign-seeking, regarding it as weak faith, he nonetheless accepts it as a beginning. To become real faith, it must grow and deepen into knowledge and experience.
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At a feast Yeshua comes to Jerusalem (1), a pool where unwell people come for a miracle (2-5), Yeshua heals (6-9), Jewish leaders angry at the man carrying a pallet on Shabbat (10-12), Yeshua encounters him a second time and he reports on Yeshua to the Jewish leaders (13-15).
This story begins a longer section themed around the Sabbath and feasts (Brown). We see Yeshua in relation to the Sabbath (5:1-47), Passover (6:1-71), Tabernacles (7:1-10:21), and Hanukkah (10:22-39). This section themed around the Sabbath has Yeshua performing a sign, defending his right to give life on the Sabbath, explaining his identity as the coming judge, and discussing belief and Moses. In vs. 1, the feast is unnamed. There is an old Christian tradition that this is Shavuot (Pentecost). Brown suggests that the feast is unnamed because the evangelist will follow the Sabbath theme. The pools at Bethesda in Jerusalem are today a well-known site to Jerusalem tourists. The last half of vs. 3 and all of vs. 4 (about the waters stirring and people receiving healing) are not in the oldest manuscripts and are probably later additions intended to explain why the man wanted someone to bring him to the waters. Yeshua’s command that the man carry the mat violates the Sabbath traditions (assuming the 39 prohibitions were already recognized by the scribes and Pharisees). If this is correct, it seems Yeshua is not only giving life on the Sabbath, but also challenging the legitimacy of the 39 prohibitions. Unfortunately, Yeshua does not give a clear guideline for Sabbath laws, what he would permit and prohibit. We might guess that Yeshua does not consider moving (and carrying) from a place of suffering a violation. Whatever is of life, of leaving behind suffering, is fitting to do on the Sabbath.
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Yeshua and the Father (16-24), Yeshua as the Resurrector and Judge (25-32), witnesses to Yeshua’s transcendent identity (33-47).
Because this section is so assertive about the exalted and divine identity of Yeshua, it has often been considered a late and inauthentic writing, supplied by later Christian writers. Raymond Brown notes, however, the complex scribal argument Yeshua is making (God did not completely cease work on the Sabbath, men were born and died, and only God can give life, etc.). Thus, Yeshua engages in redemptive work on the Sabbath in imitation of God’s work. This is a mark of genuine scribal-level debate that fits the context. It is not the kind of argument that would suit later Christianity. This section is profound, reflecting on Yeshua’s transcendent authority, at resurrection, the judgment according to works, the judgment given over to the Son, the Son as Life-Giver, the witnesses to Yeshua’s identity, and Yeshua as the ultimate subject Torah points to. Yeshua’s teaching that he works as his Father works and does what his Father is doing is saying, in essence, “Life does not cease on the Sabbath and my Father works to sustain life as do I.” The implication is not that Yeshua, by virtue of his identity, is exempt from the Sabbath law. It is, rather, a halachic statement: doing whatever promotes life on the Sabbath is permitted and Sabbath restrictions should not promote death or suffering to continue. In vss. 19-24, however, Yeshua does invoke his exalted identity as the basis of his authority to teach the true meaning of Sabbath. By virtue of his ability, which is like God’s, to give life, his authority should be recognized and those who fail to recognize it dishonor God in dishonoring Yeshua. This thought leads to a discourse in vss. 25-32 on the role of the Son as Resurrector and Judge. Yeshua then points to four reasons his opponents should believe in him: the testimony of John (vss. 33-35), the deeds of power that are signs (vs. 36), the witness of the Father (vss. 37-38), and the testimony of scripture through Moses which points to Yeshua (vss. 39-47).
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Multiplication of loaves and fish for the five thousand (1-13), Yeshua avoids being proclaimed king (14-15), Yeshua walks on water (16-21).
The feeding of the five thousand is a rare case of a story that is in all four gospels. One difference is in vs. 3, where Yeshua goes on a mountain to teach, whereas in the synoptic gospels he teaches on the shore. In vs. 4, the fourth gospel notes that the feeding happened near Passover (not mentioned in the synoptics), which gives the miracle a slightly different character (Moses and manna in the synoptics but Moses and unleavened bread in John). Vs. 7 shows with little doubt that the fourth gospel is aware of Mark (against the common theory) as in both accounts the disciples and/or Philip complain that it would cost 200 denarii to buy bread. Also, in vs. 8, there are five loaves and two fish, the same numbers as in the synoptics. Vs. 11 is both like the Passover and also like the later commemoration of bread and wine to remember Yeshua’s death (eucharist, communion). John alone brings the Passover theme to bear on this miracle. This is consistent not only with his use of Passover themes more specifically in the Passion story but also with his repeated focus on the feasts in relation to Yeshua’s work. Vs. 13 agrees with Luke that there were twelve baskets left over. The crossing of the sea (Yeshua walking on water) continues the Moses theme (the first Passover was followed by crossing the sea) and in Mark and Matthew the feeding miracle is also immediately followed by the walking on water. Vs. 20 is part of a theme in the fourth gospel. Yeshua sometimes says, “I am” followed by a predicate nominative (as in “I am the bread of life”), sometimes uses “I am” absolutely as in 8:24, “Unless you believe that I am you will die in your sins.” Vs. 20 is in between, reading literally “I am, do not be afraid” (which can also mean “it is I, do not be afraid”). The one who walks on water is strongly present as the “I am,” the Divine One who is reenacting Israel’s redemption from Egypt.
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The king-expectant crowd seeks Yeshua (22-24), faith and not bread (25-29), better than manna (30-34).
John 6:22-24 are difficult for several reasons. Where did the feeding of the five thousand happen? And what does the text actually say, since there are so many variations in the Greek manuscripts? Concerning the location of the miracle, Luke says it happened at Bethsaida (Mark and Matthew are non-specific). But then Luke does not contain the follow-up walking on water scene. John may be saying that the feeding miracle happened near Tiberias (if that is the meaning of his “sea of Tiberias” comment) and the walking on water brought Yeshua and the disciples back across near Capernaum. If so, then vss. 22-24 suggest that some people near Tiberias saw that Yeshua had left without a boat and, being mystified, came to Capernaum searching for him. The crowd was drawn by miracles and curiosity about Yeshua’s power and identity to know more about him. Then in vss. 25-34 we have a story with multiple points of view from within the crowd. On the one hand, Yeshua says the crowd cares only that they got their bellies filled and not about the sign. On the other hand, some in the crowd had wanted to make Yeshua king (vss. 14-15). Now in vs. 30, they ask for a sign (even though Yeshua said many of them did not care about signs). Is this crowd seeking signs or not and did they see the feeding miracle or not? Perhaps most helpfully we should think of the crowd as having many different kinds of people and Yeshua as addressing them all. Brown relates the bigger picture to a theme in John of misunderstanding like the kind we saw in Yeshua’s conversation with the woman of Samaria. There is a pattern to these misunderstanding stories: the crowd wants to understand Yeshua, Yeshua says something cryptic about his exalted identity, the crowd refers to Moses or the patriarchs objecting to new truth, Yeshua expresses himself as the goal of Torah, and the crowd desires to have the benefit. Thus, in vss. 25-34, the crowd wants to know how Yeshua got across the lake. Yeshua explains he has access to imperishable food. The crowd thinks back to Moses and the manna and wonders if Yeshua is claiming to be greater. Yeshua hints that he himself is the bread. The crowd, not really understanding, wants the bread that gives life. The rather confusing blend of motivations and questions in vss. 25-34 comes down to this: a hungry crowd in a poor land wants a king to help them and they are hoping Yeshua could be the one. They do not understand as yet that he is all they are looking for and more. They do not understand as yet what he is asking them to believe. In vss. 35-40 Yeshua will explain it to them and the controversy will begin.
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Yeshua as Bread of Life (35-40), Yeshua as true manna (41-44), Yeshua as the revealer of the Father (45-50).
Vs. 35 is one of many “I Am” (eigo eimi) statements in John, a theme which implies divinity. Brown classifies the “I am” statements into three categories: those with a predicate nominative (such as here where “the bread of life” is the predicate nominative), those which imply one (such as 6:20, “it is I”), and those in which Yeshua is absolutely “I am” (see 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19). In the type of “I am” statement here in vs. 35 (“I am the bread of life”), the reference to God’s name in Exodus 3:14 (“I will be”) is not emphasized. Rather, Messiah’s identity is described with metaphors (bread, light, door, way, good shepherd, true vine, resurrection and the life, etc.). These non-absolute “I am” statements are as potent as the absolute ones, for of what person could it be said that they are the necessary sustenance for life, the entry door to God, the light of revelation, and the shepherd over God’s people? Yeshua reflects on belief and unbelief in vss. 36-40. Quite apparently this issue of belief and unbelief was very important for the second and third generations of the Yeshua movement (the audience of the gospel). What wisdom is the evangelist giving about the problem of unbelief? He is saying that those who believe should not despair too deeply about unbelief. Yeshua will not lose anyone who was meant to come in faith, which is to say that all who do not believe would not believe in any circumstance. Faith is inevitable for those who will choose it. God draws people toward faith irresistibly and the call comes from above. Yeshua cites Isaiah 54:13 to the effect that God makes disciples out of people by his power. If interpreted absolutely, this section could be taken as a denial that people have free will. There is no need to interpret Yeshua’s words this strongly. They are meant as reassurance that God calls and works with those who would believe and that God does not allow any willing person to miss out on faith. Free will is seen in vs. 40, in that those who see and believe attain to the promise of resurrection. Those who see and understand who Yeshua is begin to demonstrate the promise of Isaiah 54:13, that men and women will be taught by God. The Holy Spirit is the teacher and believers have reasons for believing which are a mystery, something communicated inwardly by God.
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Living bread (51), Jewish leaders are scandalized by the saying (52), riddle sayings about the cross and resurrection (53-58), setting given as Capernaum (59).
It was impossible for those hearing Yeshua to understand his meaning. He had just fed people with a miracle of bread and fish, so no wonder they had trouble seeing past physical bread. The words sound ghastly even to those who do understand. “The bread is my flesh.” His words have to do with the necessity of his death on behalf of the world, his raising and enthronement to lead the world’s redemption, and his giving of the Spirit to regenerate people. The metaphor is manna, which the people ate and received life in the desert, just as the death of Yeshua and his raising give life. The Father sent Yeshua, gave him life, and so those who partake of Yeshua’s death receive life from the Father. There is a debate whether eating Yeshua’s flesh and drinking his blood is a reference to the early ceremony of remembrance (eucharist, communion) with bread and wine or if it is to faith that believes the death of Messiah is a cleansing renewal with God. By the time John wrote, it certainly was the widespread practice of Yeshua-followers to remember the body and blood (more often than the annual Passover by the evidence of 1 Corinthians and the Didache). To eat Yeshua’s flesh and drink his blood describes both faith and faith through the act of partaking in the remembrance ritual. There is no need to choose one interpretation or the other. Manna sustained people in the desert but Yeshua’s life and death and resurrection sustain people into the world to come.
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The disciples despair of being able to believe Yeshua (60), Yeshua on unbelief (61-64), the Father’s initiative required (65), many leave Yeshua (66), Yeshua asks if the twelve will also leave (67), Peter confesses faith (68-69), Yeshua speaks of choosing the twelve but of one being a traitor (70-71).
Yeshua has spoken of his identity and authority in the most exalted terms, but with an image that people are not prepared for. He does not describe his mission in conventional terms at all. Instead he mysteriously speaks of death and his body as bread and his blood as life. He describes himself in terms close to divinity (“I am the bread of life,” vs. 48) and says that belief is possible only by a miracle of God (“unless the Father who sent me draws him,” vs. 44). Against this background the disciples (not the Twelve, but the larger group including the Twelve) quail. Instead of softening his teaching or reassuring the troubled disciples, Yeshua waxes enigmatic again. What if they see him ascending? The image of Yeshua ascending is a motif in the fourth gospel and refers to the three-fold lifting up of the Son: up on the cross, up from the tomb, and ascending up the the heavenly throne. Yeshua knows that many of his early disciples, attracted by a promise of messianic renewal, will abandon him as the message he teaches is harder and less inviting than they expected. Finally, in vs. 67, Yeshua addresses simply the Twelve. Do they want to abandon him also? Peter, as is the case in other gospels as well, speaks for the group. His answer is good theology. There is nowhere else to go; the words of Yeshua are hard, but they are the words of life. It is not ease or comfort that draws a disciple, but the true glimpse of Divine power and promise regardless of the path required to follow. Yeshua then informs them that even amongst the Twelve, one will abandon and betray him.
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Tabernacles and the unbelief of Yeshua’s brothers (1-5), hatred of the world and Yeshua’s time (6-9), Yeshua goes in secret (10-13).
As his notoriety grew, Yeshua’s visits to Jerusalem had to be brief and fairly secretive. Only the Fourth Gospel records these visits to the Holy City. The three synoptic Gospels all follow Mark in showing only one visit during Yeshua’s career, a visit at the very end. When it came to making pilgrimage to the Temple, Yeshua was likely in danger near the Temple guard and chief priests. In Galilee, there was no nobility and power was distributed more broadly, so that Yeshua’s activities and message were less dangerous there. Yet he could not stay away from Jerusalem. The feasts of Torah called him there. Yeshua’s brothers mocked him about this, cajoling him to show his wonders openly in Jerusalem. The brothers seemingly admit that Yeshua can do miraculous things and yet they do not believe. This is part of the theme in the Fourth Gospel that signs are insufficient for deep faith (Brown). As Raymond Brown shows “go up” in John is language for going up on the cross (and the resurrection and ascension). So Yeshua’s saying is a riddle, that he will not “go up” seems to mean that he will not go up to the feast, but after this saying he does go. The meaning is that this feast is not yet his time to be crucified, to “go up” and complete his mission. The leaders will try to kill him at Tabernacles, but will fail. He will not “go up” yet, but he will go up to Jerusalem (higher in elevation, going to Jerusalem is always described as going up regardless of the direction). Meanwhile, there was much talk about Yeshua in Jerusalem, but it was whispered, since people who declared allegiance to him there might face arrest. In general, any talk of a populist movement (much less a messianic movement) would bring fast retribution in Jerusalem since the Jewish revolt against Rome was simmering (and would break out forty years later).
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The source of Yeshua’s teaching (14-19), Yeshua’s response to the Sabbath controversy (20-24), the people consider Yeshua’s claims (25-27), Yeshua on where he came from (28-30), the people put faith in his signs (31), Yeshua speaks in riddles of his ascension to the throne (32-36).
The people and the leaders are looking at conventional things: the source of Yeshua’s teaching, the place he is from, the signs he does. Yeshua points to much greater things they should consider: his origin as the preexistent Son of Man, his authority which should be evident in his power, his direct connection to God, and his destiny as the one who will ascend. In response to the Judeans questioning Yeshua’s education (Galilee was not the place where either priests or scribes studied), Yeshua gives three answers. First, true learning involves being willing to act on the principles taught, which in this case is Yeshua’s kingdom teaching. Those who practice the way of Yeshua find the truth in it while those who merely theorize about it find that intellect is a misleading master to sit under. Second, quoting education hardly matters when someone with special access to God is sent to speak. Third, they exhibit the same unwillingness to do what they claim to be learning by failing to observe what Moses taught. If the Judeans were living the teaching of Moses, they would recognize the teaching of the New Moses, and living his way would show them the truth far more clearly than mere academic study. When some of the common people put faith in Yeshua, the Pharisees (who had some political power and were in touch with the common people more so than the chief priests were) sought to have him arrested. In response, Yeshua hinted that he would be going away, referring to the lifting up theme that runs through John (up on the cross, up from the tomb, up in the ascension).
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Yeshua’s living water saying (37-39), the peoples’ uncomprehending deliberations about Messiah (40-44), division amongst the Jewish leaders and Nicodemus’ defense of Yeshua (45-52).
Vss. 37-38 can be translated either so that the living water flows from Yeshua or so that it flows from the believer. The flowing water likely refers both to the rock in the desert from which Israel drank (e.g., Exod 17:6; Numb 20:8) as well as the water from the Temple in the age to come (Ezek 47:1-12), from which living water will flow and heal the land. Yeshua’s saying, on the last feast day, with its famous water ceremony, was effectively a message that “something greater than the Temple is here” (see below: “The Temple Water Pouring Ceremony” for more). But the people continue in their appraisal of Yeshua in the lower terms of messianic deliverer, not understanding that his identity and power include, but are higher than, normal messianic expectations. He is speaking to them of high things, but they are worried about lower ones (is he qualified, is he a prophet, Galilee or Bethlehem, etc.). The power of Yeshua’s words is evident and the Temple guard say so when asked why they did not arrest him (“no one ever spoke like this man!”). He does not speak like a messianic pretender in that his words invite hearers to a higher understanding of union with God now as well as assurance of the coming world. The waters of the past, present, and future all converge into life in his message.
EXTRA NOTE: The Temple Water Pouring Ceremony. At the feast of Sukkot (soo-COAT), also known as Tabernacles or Booths, in the fall, the focus in Israel is on rain. There are two short rainy seasons in Israel and in the days of Yeshua a bad year of rain meant death to elderly people and perhaps also to some children. Prayers for rain were not a minor thing. Food was scarce enough that most people experienced hunger from time to time. So in praying for rain, a ceremony developed at the Temple in which the high priest would walk at the head of a great parade of Levitical musicians with a golden pitcher to draw water from the Pool of Siloam at the south end of the city and bring it up to the altar for a ceremony of pouring. It seems apparent that this ceremony lies behind Yeshua’s saying about water in vss. 37-38. The people, rightly, were asking God for water to provide life. Yeshua asserted that the true water they needed was himself.
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Yeshua teaching again at the Temple (1-2), Jewish leaders lay a trap for Yeshua concerning capital punishment (3-6), Yeshua rejects their case (7-8), Yeshua sends the woman away with compassion and a warning (9-11).
This story is not likely part of John’s gospel. It is not found in Greek manuscripts before 900 CE, nor is it in the Old Syriac or Coptic versions. It is found in the Old Latin and Jerome accepted it into the Vulgate. Some manuscripts place it here, in the middle of Yeshua’s Sukkot (Tabernacles) discourse. Other manuscripts put it in different locations, including even in the Gospel of Luke. The story is possibly genuine and deserves comment nevertheless. Yeshua’s rejection of this case almost certainly is on the grounds that the witnesses are malicious (see Exod 23:1). There is no way of knowing what Yeshua wrote on the ground. There is no principle that sinful judges cannot pass judgment. But wicked witnesses can invalidate a trial, which is likely what Yeshua referred to in saying “he who is without sin” (i.e., in this matter of this trial).
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Yeshua’s light of the world saying (12), accusation that Yeshua testifies of himself (13), Yeshua’s answer: you know not where I come from, the Father testifies with me (14-16), two witnesses and Torah (17-18), knowing the Father (19-20).
As Raymond Brown notes, there are three issues in this passage: light that rescues from darkness, Yeshua’s testimony about his identity, and Yeshua’s role as judge. This passage is still during the Feast of Sukkot (Tabernacles, Booths) which has been the setting since 7:2. Light (as in the menorah lit in the courtyard for the Feast of Tabernacles) is symbolic of the purity and transcendence of God. The Father, claims Yeshua, assigned him to be Judge and to give testimony to the will of the Father for Israel. Yeshua’s view of the Father seems apparent here and in other places: he is infinite and beyond knowing or seeing, so he sends the Son to reveal him in a way that finite beings can receive. There are a few discrepancies in this passage which should not be overlooked. Doesn’t vs. 14 contradict 5:31 (“If I bear witness to myself, my testimony is not true”)? Further, Yeshua cites the Torah about two witnesses in vss. 17-18, but the two witnesses in Torah must include two besides the party involved! What can we say about these internal tensions? These Pharisees seem to have caught Yeshua violating one of his own principles, but Yeshua shows them he is not merely a person claiming on his own to be Messiah. He is a teacher offering enlightenment, and his claim of exalted identity is from the Father and not himself. How is it true that the Father affirms Yeshua? Raymond Brown helpfully points us back to 5:31-39. The testimony of the Father has come through: (1) John the Baptizer, (2) the sign miracles, (3) the internal witness of the Father in those called to believe, and (4) the scriptures which contain many hints of Yeshua. The whole dialogue is a sophisticated discussion of self-proclamation vs. signs. And Yeshua is right, there are other witnesses and those whose basic posture is a willingness to receive divine enlightenment can see it.
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Yeshua speaks cryptically of his death (21-22), the leaders ask where he is going (23), you must believe that I AM (24), when I am lifted up you will know that I AM (25-28), I am always in union with the Father (29), many believed (30).
There are many “I am” sayings in John, including four with no predicate (8:24, 28 58; 13:19). These refer to such themes in the Hebrew Bible as Exodus 6:7 and 7:5, in which the Lord’s deeds show his identity and power. The prophets pick up this theme and “I am” becomes a common description of the Lord’s power and identity (e.g., Isaiah 43:25). Yeshua says when he is lifted up (on a cross, from the tomb, to the throne) all will know he is “I am.” He emphasizes his constant unity with the Father. Yeshua is from the Father, fully reveals him, always in communication with him, and yet is separate from him. These themes are well-reflected in historic Christian creeds about Yeshua’s co-equality with the Father. In the language of Judaism, we might say Yeshua is the sum of all the sefirot but not the Ein Sof. The divinity of Yeshua means that he shares God’s identity as the unique, transcendent One and Only. This is not a belief in two Gods, nor is it merely saying that Messiah is an aspect of God. He is one and the same as God while also being differentiated from him. He is with God and he is God. Both statements must coexist. We do not say God is Yeshua, as this gives the false impression that Yeshua is all there is to God. Searching for words to describe the unity of Yeshua with God is not easy. But realizing that God and Messiah are one, we know we have seen God up close.
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Challenge to would-be disciples (31-32), people object that as sons of Abraham they are already free (33), Yeshua’s answer: those who act sinfully are slaves to sin (34-38), people object that they are sons of Abraham (39a), Yeshua’s answer: by not doing deeds of Abraham you prove otherwise (39b-41a), people object: God is our one father (41b), Yeshua’s answer: if that was true you would receive God’s words (42-47), people accuse Yeshua of being a Samaritan and having a demon (48), Yeshua’s answer: one who keeps my word will not die (49-51), people object that everyone dies (52a), Yeshua’s answer: you won’t if you keep my words (52b), people object: you are not greater than Abraham (53), Yeshua’s answer: I have true knowledge of God and Abraham rejoiced to to see my day (54-56), people object: you have not seen Abraham (57), Yeshua’s answer: before Abraham was born, I am (58), the people make a move to stone him (59).
As the detailed outline of the dialogue above shows, Yeshua challenges those in the Judean crowd (“the Jews”) who are drawn to him and who are considering believing in him. Rather than accepting their belief, he challenges their faith to be deeper and more true. Vss. 31-32 contain two basic teachings: (1) true disciples absorb and follow the words of Messiah and (2) true disciples know they are slaves and need Messiah to set them free. It is the second truth which sparks the crowd to object. At issue is a Second Temple period Jewish belief which modern scholarship (e.g., E.P. Sanders) has labeled covenantal nomism. Covenantal nomism starts with the idea “we Jews are the covenant people” and assumes that Jewish people are all “right with God,” provided they do not abandon the covenant. Therefore, some basic Torah observance is required, just enough to remain in the covenant. When Paul teaches that salvation is “not by works of the law,” he has in mind covenantal nomism. It is Messiah, not attachment to a covenant, that saves. Note that later Christian interpreters (Augustine, Luther) misunderstood Paul, assuming “works” meant earning merit through personal worthiness, an idea that was not on the minds of Jews then or now. Yeshua says that hearing and doing the will of God is the way to be right with him. The issue in relation to God is not our status that matters. We do not begin our approach to God by concern for what he will do for us any more than we seek a mate with a selfish concern for what they have to offer us. We approach God as one to be reverenced and loved. It is normal for love to be returned in a relationship, so we have the promises of God’s blessing now and in the future. Yeshua puts the emphasis for believers on loving God and having awe for him, with encouragements in the form of promises of salvation for those who love God. Vs. 58 is perhaps the most potent of all the “I am” statements in John. Raymond Brown discusses the grammar of the “I am” (ego eimi) sayings in the Fourth Gospel (see The Gospel According to John, I-XII, pp. 533-4). These sayings fall into three categories. First, there are those with a predicate nominative. A predicate nominative is the noun which comes after the verb and which restates the subject of the sentence. So, John 6:35 is a good example, “I am the bread of life.” The phrase “bread of life” is equated with “I”. For grammar junkies, a predicate nominative is the direct object of a to be verb. Second, there are those uses of “I am” sayings in which it is possible a predicate nominative may be understood but not expressed. So, in John 6:20, “I am, do not be afraid,” the meaning may be, “It is I, do not be afraid.” Third, there are the most important uses in terms of understanding the statements Yeshua is making about his identity. These are the absolute uses. There is no predicate nominative. John 8:24, “Unless you believe that I am, you will die in your sins,” is an example. Many translations supply the word “he,” so that it reads, “unless you believe that I am he.” Yet, even so, who is the “he”? In John 8:58, Yeshua alludes to Exodus 3, where God reveals his name to Moses, and to various texts in Second Isaiah (41:4; 43:10, 13, 25; 46:4; 48:12; 51:12) about the unique divinity of God. He clearly claims to have pre-existed Abraham and to be fully Divine himself. Since in the other Gospels Yeshua is less direct about his divinity (he hints at it in ways that will be seen true after the resurrection) some doubt that this dialogue as recorded in John 8 is a real event. It is possible that the Fourth Gospel invented this dialogue to represent Yeshua’s true identity and the kinds of discussions and controversies early believers had with the synagogues after the resurrection. On the other hand, it may be that the Beloved Disciple was privy to some incidents in which Yeshua was more direct about his identity, things which Mark did not know.
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A question about a man born blind (1-5), Yeshua heals using clay and spittle (6-7), the neighbors do not believe this is the same man (8-13), the Pharisees denounce Yeshua as a Sabbath-breaker (14-16).
Raymond Brown notes that light and darkness imagery fill this story. One in darkness (the blind man) sees while those supposedly enlightened (Pharisees) do not. The disciples ask a theodicy question (how could God allow someone to be born blind). Yeshua does not answer the question as it is asked, but announces that this man will be healed and that this was in the plan of God. Yeshua uses clay to heal which sets up a Sabbath dispute (deliberately, it would seem). The use of saliva in healing is a feature found only Mark (7:33; 8:23) and John. Matthew and Luke tend to omit stories with potentially embarrassing features, such as actions of Yeshua that look like sympathetic magic. The Fourth Gospel is by a disciple who is not one of the Twelve but who witnessed the events that happened in Jerusalem (my opinion follows that of Richard Bauckham in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses). The author includes the feature about the clay and spittle because it is essential to the Sabbath dispute. Kneading is one of the forbidden acts on the Sabbath according to tradition and Yeshua kneads clay mixed with his saliva (Brown). Furthermore, it could be argued that healing could wait until after the Sabbath. In John 5:17, Yeshua gives his answer to such Sabbath disputes about healing: God works, even on the Sabbath, and so does Yeshua. Deeds of love and healing are not forbidden on the Sabbath. The light of the world gives sight to a blind man while the supposedly insightful Pharisees discount the miraculous sign in favor of their interpretation of the Sabbath. They will not be taught even by a miracle, but are immune to any new revelation which God might give them.
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The healed man’s faith (17), the leaders investigate (18-23), more testimony from the healed man (24-34), Yeshua’s assurance and teaching (35-39), blindness and judgment (40-41).
Vs. 22 raises historical questions about the role of synagogues in first century Jerusalem and many think the verse reflects more the time of the writing of the fourth gospel (after the Temple was destroyed) than the time of Yeshua. There is too much we do not know to be certain of any conclusion. Raymond Brown notes the contrast and the three-fold pattern distinguishing the blind man’s humble confession from the Pharisees’ erroneous and overconfident assertions. In vss. 12, 25, and 36, the blind man confesses ignorance and a willingness to believe. In vss. 16, 24, and 29, the Pharisees denounce Yeshua. The blind man who is healed comes more and more to enlightenment: believing in Yeshua’s healing (vs. 25) and that he is the Son of Man (vs. 36) and worthy of worship (vs. 38). The Pharisees, on the other hand, trust in their interpretation in spite of miraculous evidence (vs. 12), try to deny the obvious fact that the man was born blind (vs. 18), insist that Yeshua is a sinner (vs. 24), and confronted with the evidence by the blind man prefer to ignore the new revelation in favor of what they think they know about Moses (vs. 29). Yeshua’s final judgment on them is that they are not ignorant, but willful in their disbelief (vs. 41). Faith requires humble acceptance of the unexpected, a willingness to change and believe. Human nature is to doubt and trust our own self-determination. The light of the world heals blindness for the willing but the unwilling can remain blind as long as they refuse to see the light.
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The thief vs. the shepherd (1-2), sheep and shepherd (3), the voice known by the sheep (4), the sheep will not follow a stranger (5).
Are these sayings given at Sukkot (Tabernacles) or Hanukkah (Dedication)? The chronological setting is unclear. One of the most common meanings of “shepherd” in prophetic sayings is the leaders of the people. Yeshua’s sayings about the sheep-gate and the Good Shepherd most closely parallel Ezekiel 34 (“son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel . . . I myself will search for my sheep . . . I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep . . . I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David”). If these sayings occur near or at Hanukkah, they are also especially appropriate. It was Israel’s leaders in the days of the Maccabees who led Israel astray (Jason and Menelaus). They conspired with Antiochus to de-Judaize the land and Temple and to Hellenize (assume Greek practices) in place of Torah customs. Yeshua seems to be comparing the leaders of Judea in his time to the earlier false shepherds from the days of the Maccabees. They control the wealthy and powerful Temple state which is oppressing the people (demanding that they pay tithes but not using the tithes for justice, for the needy, and to govern according to Torah). They are the thieves who steal. Yeshua is the shepherd who comes in by the gate, who knows the sheepfold and who properly cares for the sheep. Vss. 1-5 set up the parable which will receive more detailed applications in vss. 6-21. The first part of this parable (1-3a) focuses on the gate. God, the owner or keeper of the sheep, has only one way for shepherds to come in and lead the sheep. But the leaders of Israel have not come God’s way (Brown). The second part of this parable (3b-5) focuses on the sheep-shepherd relationship. Sheep follow only the caring shepherd who knows them by name and whose voice is familiar to them. Yeshua will build on this later in identifying the true sheep and the true shepherd.
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The leaders fail to understand Yeshua (6), Yeshua explains the sheepgate (7-10), Yeshua explains the shepherd (11-16), Yeshua will lay down his life (17-18), misunderstanding and reaction (19-21).
Yeshua’s message is a variation on the themes of Ezekiel 34. The situation in Ezekiel’s time and Yeshua’s is similar. The shepherds over the people are not leading them in the pattern God established for return and restoration of the covenant promises. So God appoints a shepherd who will be a true leader, whose actions and character are purely good. Yeshua is claiming to be the Good Shepherd of Ezekiel, to be able at last to bring people through the door everyone dreams about, but no one seems to know how to open. The current leaders are more like thieves and robbers who are grasping and greedy and see the sheep as resources for their own enrichment. To be the Good Shepherd, Yeshua has to do what no one among Israel’s leaders has been willing to do — to lay down his life. This message is not found in Ezekiel 34 and it is something Yeshua knows will scandalize people, causing many not to believe in him. He explains to them a true shepherd must be willing to face death to deliver the sheep from danger. Yeshua cares for the sheep, gives his life for the sheep, knows the sheep by name, is known by and knows the Father, and he will bring Israel and other sheep into one flock in the much desired age to come. His words about laying down his life and taking it up again would be understood after his time as an explanation of the death of Messiah. He has the right to lay it down and the power to take it up again, so that the resurrection vindicates his claim. His words about the “other sheep, not of this fold,” would be understood after his time as an explanation of the Gentiles who are drawn to Israel’s Messiah and become co-heirs of the kingdom. This is all the plan of the Father, and the role Yeshua plays as the Good Shepherd who gives all for the sheep was ordained from the beginning and is God’s way of reconciling all things. But the crowd includes many who think Yeshua is deluded, that his claims are those of an insane person, and that he poses a potential threat of anti-Roman rebellion.
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At the Temple at Hanukkah (22-23), asked if he is Messiah (24), my signs/works testify (25), not my sheep (26-29), I and the Father are One (30), threat of stoning (31).
Although signs are insufficient objects of faith (see 2:23-25), they are a beginning and should lead to deeper faith. Yeshua’s signs should lead Israel’s leaders to believe in the exalted identity he professes and the renewal he offers (10:25). The talk about sheep being snatched away (vs. 28) is a follow-up to the previous talk of thieves versus the true shepherd. Because Yeshua’s sheep have his teaching, they are immune to being “snatched away” by the false shepherds, being protected by a knowledge of the truth that surpasses susceptibility to religious manipulation. Israel’s leaders will not be able to stop the Yeshua movement, because its growth is guaranteed by the divine power of the shepherd in union with the Father. Vs. 30 in context of other Yeshua-sayings about the Father is a statement of co-equality — a cornerstone of the doctrine of the Trinity. Yeshua (in his true identity as the eternal Son) is co-equal in nature with the Father. Brown summarizes the long and growing list of statements about Yeshua’s union with the Father: Yeshua is from the father (8:42), has the Father with him (7:29), is loved by the Father (3:35), knows the Father intimately (8:55; 10:15), does what the Father shows him (5:19), speaks what he hears from the Father (5:30), is taught by the Father (8:28), is given the power to judge by the Father (5:22), can give life (5:21, 26; 6:57), does the Father’s will (4:34; 6:38), and lays his life down and will take it up again by the Father’s decree (10:18).
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Yeshua points to his signs (32), the leaders say he is liable to death for blasphemy (33), Yeshua uses the analogy of people being in God’s image (34-36), Yeshua argues that his works show his union with the Father (37-38), the leaders fail in the plan to arrest him (39).
Yeshua’s defense follows three lines of thought: (1) it is not I who make myself equal with God, but the Father who reveals me through my works as being equal, (2) the principle of lesser to greater applied to Psalm 82:6 shows all the more that divinity can be applied to me, and (3) you have to explain the works I do if you say I am blaspheming. In Psalm 82:6, the unjust judges are referred to as divine (because judging is divine work) and yet they will die. All the more, then, Yeshua is worthy of divine description since he does the work of the Father. The miracles of Yeshua, especially his resurrection, are part of the story of who he is. Those who witnessed and reported his miracles to us did not think they were “normal” but reported them as remarkable, as having changed the lives of people who witnessed them. A modern person who thinks people in ancient times were merely superstitious and too ready to believe in wonder workers should be able to see in the gospels that the miracles of Yeshua were extraordinary. Yeshua’s argument here is that only divine power could explain what he has been doing. And the charge of blasphemy does not fit with the evidence of divine power in Yeshua’s actions to heal and reverse the working of death and brokenness in the lives of people he came across.
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Yeshua retires beyond the Jordan (40), many believe in him (41-42).
These verses are a conclusion of sorts to a section in the fourth gospel, bringing the reader back to the events and locale of 1:19-28 (the work of the Baptizer at the Jordan). As in Mark 10:1 and Matthew 19:1, Yeshua retires beyond the Jordan for a short peace in preparation for his journey to Jerusalem. The pause before going to Jerusalem suggests that Yeshua may have come to this place for strengthening before facing what lay ahead.
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The news of Lazarus reaches Yeshua (1-6), the decision to go to Jerusalem to raise Lazarus and also to die (7-16), Yeshua’s arrival and sayings about being resurrection and life (17-33), raising Lazarus (34-44).
Yeshua deliberately waits until Lazarus is dead four days (vss. 5-7, 17). Yeshua’s motives in this healing are not only glorification of God, but also love for a personal friend (vss. 5, 35). Specifics of Yeshua’s relationships in Judea (esp. Martha and Mary) are reported only in Luke and John. Perhaps Mark had little access to stories of Judean events in Yeshua’s life and Matthew’s main source is Mark. The Lazarus miracle is only in John. This is one of many evidences that the Beloved Disciple (the source of this Fourth Gospel) was Judean and not Galilean. This account is not just about the miracle itself, but is used by the author to depict the way Yeshua’s miracles frightened the Jewish leaders (Brown). The authors of the synoptics may not have realized how crucial the Lazarus raising was in sealing Yeshua’s fate. The Beloved Disciple, unlike the other authors of Gospels, was an eyewitness and had a unique perspective on which events led to the death of Yeshua. The Lazarus miracle perfectly illustrates the way Yeshua took future hope (resurrection) and emphasized its partial realization here and now (vss. 24-26). Yeshua is the raiser of the dead and all who are in Yeshua, because they have attached themselves to him, have resurrection already in a partial sense. Note that Messiah’s reaction to death is not that it is insignificant. The fact of afterlife does not diminish the tragedy of death. Even the one who knows he can raise Lazarus weeps at death, because it is separation even if it is not the end of existence. Because of our belief that Yeshua is the divine Messiah, we understand from this that God is grieved at death, that death is not God’s will and is destined to cease. Our divine Messiah is the resurrection, since he died to end death and rose to foreshadow life.
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Believers and enemies (45-46), the Sanhedrin’s ironic verdict and Caiphas’s unintended prophecy (47-50), statement of the higher divine purpose (51-52), Yeshua as a marked man (53-57).
The highlight of this story is an early tradition, based on the eyewitness testimony of the Beloved Disciple, that the high priest had uttered an unwitting prophecy about the meaning of Yeshua’s death. The prophecy was unwitting in that the high priest did not intend to affirm Yeshua’s identity. But it was prophetic in that his words foretold that Yeshua’s death would be a representation of all Israel, as if all Israel suffered when Israel’s Messiah suffered. It was a total identification with the people, with Yeshua taking on himself the experience of what would soon come to Israel when the Romans would turn their killing eye on Jerusalem. Israel’s Messiah was slain by Romans forty years before Jerusalem was slaughtered. And Caiphas’s words were even more true than he could possibly have realized in their saying the death of one man could save Israel. Many thousands in Israel would, soon after Yeshua rose and ascended, choose to follow a path now in this life that foreshadows the life to come. That is, they would begin eternal life now in this life. This is ultimately the meaning of being a disciple of Yeshua. The Gospel author rightly comments on Caiphas’s unintended prophecy: the Spirit spoke through Caiphas without Caiphas’ knowledge. He adds a note that the meaning of Yeshua’s death was not only for Israel, an important point since at the time the Gospel was written a large number of Gentiles were clinging to the messianic promises. The author regards the mysterious prophecy of Caiphas to be a crux for understanding Yeshua. The cruel high priest did not intend these meanings to be found in his words, but rather meant simply that by having Yeshua killed, they could prevent trouble with Rome. Vss. 53-57 then show the tension rising as Yeshua’s end in Jerusalem approaches. But the Fourth Gospel will spend a long time furthering the story and contemplating the last teachings of Yeshua before his arrest.
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Yeshua at Bethany (1-2), Mary anoints Yeshua (3), Judas objects (4-6), Yeshua defends Mary (7-8).
All four gospels have an anointing scene, but the details between them do not exactly agree (compare Mk 14:3-9; Mt 26:6-13; Lk 7:36-38). Matthew’s story is almost verbatim from Mark, so we really have three versions. Luke’s account is the most different of the three. The following list notes similarities and differences:
–In Mark and Luke they are at the home of Simon, called a leper in Mark and a Pharisee in Luke (not necessarily a discrepancy).
–In Mark and John they are at Bethany.
–In Luke and John the woman anoints Yeshua’s feet, while in Mark it is his head.
–In Luke it is a sinful woman, while in John it is Mary of Bethany (not necessarily a discrepancy).
–In Mark and John there is a complaint about the waste of money because of the expensive perfume used.
–Mark and Luke both refer to the alabaster flask while Mark and John both refer to the nard (a kind of perfume).
–Mark and John both show Yeshua referring to his burial and how perfume is appropriate.
–In Luke the woman is a sinner and the host assumes Yeshua does not know her while in John this is Mary of Bethany, one of Yeshua’s friends, well known to him as per John 11.
Of the four stories, Luke’s has the least in common with the other three. John’s story seems to combine elements of both and identifies the woman as Mary of Bethany. Brown notes two oddities in the story: feet are not usually anointed and perfume is not usually wiped off. In Mark’s account, the anointing is on the head and is intended to designate Yeshua as Messiah, but Yeshua reinterprets it as anointing for burial. John’s account does not mention pouring over the head, but only the anointing of the feet (again, not necessarily a discrepancy). Only a corpse would be anointed all over, including the feet. John presents Mary’s action as prophetic, whether she intended it so or not. She foreshadowed her Lord’s burial in her act of devotion.
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The multitude looks to Yeshua while the leaders plot his death (9-11), the Triumphal Entry (12-18), the leaders fret (19).
The fourth gospel puts the Triumphal Entry (recorded in all four gospels) in the context of a multitude yearning for messianic hope in the signs Yeshua has performed (specifically the raising of Lazarus) while the leaders are fretful about his popularity and seek a plan to kill him. In the Triumphal Entry, Yeshua acknowledges that he is king, though he has been reticent to own the title due to popular misunderstanding (that his purpose was merely to be a rebel leader). In the Fourth Gospel it is clear that Yeshua rode the young donkey as a sort of acceptance of the Messianic role, an enactment of a Messianic prophecy. This is not a miracle, but an enactment making a claim. Vs. 16 says the disciples did not fully grasp the significance of Yeshua’s actions at the time. The disciples may not have understood this action right away as an enactment of Zechariah 9. It was one of the things Yeshua did before his resurrection that came back to their memory (see 14:26) and added depth to their understanding of Yeshua’s teaching. So, if the disciples did not grasp the allusion to Zechariah 9, how is that they were joining in with people calling him king of Israel? Likely those on the Mount of Olives that day were thinking more of a conqueror king but Zechariah 9 is about a king who brings peace instead of war. The author of the Fourth Gospel more than hints that Yeshua’s kingship is larger than anyone thinks when he has the leaders say, “the world has gone after him.” Like the saying of the high priest in 11:50, the Pharisees do not realize the full import of their words. Yeshua is not only Israel’s king entering Jerusalem prophetically, but also the one to whom the nations will turn in faith to bring about peace on earth.
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The first Gentiles come to Yeshua (20-22), Yeshua’s hour has come (23-26), the voice from heaven (27-30), the judgment of the world and the lifting up of Yeshua (31-33), objection that Messiah is forever (34), Yeshua urges them to walk in the light (35-36).
Yeshua takes the coming of Gentiles as a sign that his time has come, since the Hebrew Bible has said the Gentiles will inquire of the Root of Jesse (“In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire,” Isa 11:10 ESV). Then the story moves into a pathos-filled view of the Son of God agonizing over what must soon come. While the other gospels have the Gethsemane scene (Yeshua praying in the garden the night he is arrested), the Fourth Gospel locates the agonizing instead here, before the Last Supper. Only by dying does the kernel produce wheat. Yeshua says, “now is my soul troubled.” Should Messiah ask to be delivered from his time of testing and suffering? It is the very purpose for which he has come. Poignantly the Fourth Gospel makes a literary choice that is compelling and emotional for the reader who gets Yeshua’s story. Whereas the other gospels record the voice of the Father from heaven at the baptism and transfiguration, the Fourth Gospel knows of another time the voice spoke from heaven. It is here, during Yeshua’s agonizing, and when he has resolved his will to do the painful thing for love. Upon Yeshua’s prayer that the Father would be glorified in his agony, the words come down, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” Yeshua says he will be lifted up from the earth and draw all people (Jews and Gentiles) to himself. This lifting up is onto the cross, then up out of the tomb, and then up to the heavenly throne. The agony of Messiah is not the end of the story and the Fourth Gospel emphasizes hope and the deeper meaning. The willingness of the divine Messiah to taste death, to experience in himself the fate of human beings, is the defeat of Satan. The crowd cites Psalm 89:35-37 to say that Messiah will be forever, so how can Yeshua die? Yeshua urges them to believe the light while the light is with them. The time of darkness (between Yeshua’s death and resurrection) is about to come. Those who trust and believe what they do not understand are blessed to be in the light.
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Midrash on Isaiah 53:1; 6:10; and unbelief (37-41), belief among the council with fear (42-43).
The apostles and early Yeshua-community found in the scriptures a testimony of sayings relating to the life of Yeshua. The verses are used midrashically: in a tradition which applies concepts from the sacred texts to a new situation and interprets them loosely. Here the evangelists uses Isaiah 53:1 and 6:10 to describe the unbelief of those who saw the signs but were unchanged. The use of Isaiah 6:10 is interesting to note because the synoptic gospels place it in the context of the Parable of the Sower and Yeshua’s saying that his parables are meant to be a mystery to the unbelieving but a revelation to those who would follow. The use of Isaiah 6:10 in John suggests that the synoptic use of the verse was known and lingers in the background. Vs. 41 is a remarkable saying, declaring that Isaiah’s foretelling was directed toward Yeshua and perhaps even that the vision of Isaiah 6 (of the train of God’s robe in the Temple) was a vision of Yeshua’s glory. The apostles learned over time and reflection that Yeshua (the Son) was the shekhina or manifested glory of God (the Father). That is, the Son is the same in being as the Father, but is separate in another sense, the divine person who acts in the world while the Father remains transcendent. The section closes with a note that there was some fearful faith in Yeshua amongst the Jewish leaders. We will later see Nicodemus participate in Yeshua’s burial.
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Seeing and believing the Father through the Son (44-45), the Light which frees from the darkness (46), those judged by unbelief and disobedience to the Prophet (47-48), Yeshua’s message of eternal life is what the Father told him to speak (49-50).
This section is a summary of the whole Book of Signs (1:19 – 12:50) and summarizes the message and identity of Yeshua in a different but parallel way to the Prologue (1:1-18). Yeshua has come as the Light and as the Sent One (the Prophet-Like-Moses of Deuteronomy 18). Those who believe in him (not just “believe me” but “believe in me”) as the Light, believe the One who sent him (the Father). Also, 12:44-50 reiterates points made in 3:15-19, but whereas chapter 3 emphasizes present hope, 12:44-50 emphasize future hope (vs. 48, “at the last day”). Yeshua’s union with the Father is complete, so that believing in him brings a person into union with the Father. Yeshua’s word about rejecting and disobeying him is echoed in the synoptic gospels and draws from Deuteronomy 18:18-19, “if anybody fails to heed the words he speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.” Yeshua is the Prophet-like-Moses and whoever rejects his words rejects the One who sent him, so that it is not Yeshua who condemns, but the Father.
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Yeshua’s awareness of the end and his love (1), Yeshua’s footwashing in full knowledge of the coming end (2-5), Yeshua and Peter discuss the footwashing (6-11).
Vs. 1 is an introduction to what many call “The Book of Glory” (John 13-20). All of Yeshua’s actions from this point on concern his love for the disciples and those who will come from them. The death of Yeshua is interpreted not as a scandal, but a victory: a return to the Father (Brown). What, then, is going on in this story about the footwashing and what does the dialogue between Yeshua and Peter mean? Raymond Brown (Anchor-Yale Commentary) sees it as a prophetic-symbolic action, comparable to some of the actions of Isaiah, Ezekiel, and other prophets. The night before his death, Yeshua engaged in a dramatic demonstration for his disciples, shocking and amazing them. His action pointed to the meaning of the death he would die the following day. In spite of his exalted position, one they will understand even more clearly when they see him raised and ascended to the right hand of power, Yeshua takes on the role of a subservient person. He does what is good and needed for his friends. The action is a parable for something with larger meaning: Yeshua is the servant of those he loves and will humble himself to the point of death to do what is good and needed for his friends. The meaning of vs. 8 is clear if, and only if, we understand that footwashing is a symbol for the death of Yeshua. Only the death of Yeshua gives his followers a part in him. It is difficult to understand why the divine Messiah must die and many explanations have been given. It seems the largest reason involves God’s desire to identify with his children. When God enters into humanity in the mystery of Messiah’s divine-human nature he takes on himself the full human experience, all the way down to the human experience of death (see my book, Yeshua Our Atonement, for more). We are in Messiah because Messiah incorporated us into him, by taking on himself the painful task of experiencing the human condition and redeeming it from within. Peter’s misunderstanding in vs. 9 is a corrective: only the washing Yeshua gives is necessary (Brown). Once the principle is accepted, that we as humans need a cleansing from God given through Messiah, we might be concerned no amount of cleansing can be enough. Yeshua tells Peter that what he will do for him, what Yeshua does for us all, is sufficient. If Yeshua calls us clean, we are clean.
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Yeshua asks if the disciples understand (12), passing down the example of servanthood for the purpose of redemption (13-17), warning of a false disciple (18-19), whoever accepts a disciple accepts Yeshua (20).
In the first half of the footwashing story, the action is a symbol of Yeshua’s death. The second half is now about the work the disciples will do in imitation of their master. The way of Yeshua is not merely about afterlife, but is a call to imitation in this present life. The Gospel of Yeshua is focused on the salvation of the cosmos, bringing from this present world the world to come (kingdom). Every individual disciple is part of something much larger. By imitating Messiah in service and humility, we tip the balance of the world closer to redemption. Our Master inspires us in the way he has gone before, in the way he has loved us, in the way he knows us better than ourselves. We would declare ourselves healthy and ready for life beyond, but he died knowing there was no other way to elevate us to where he is. We saw no need of a physician, but he was our physician anyway. If our Teacher made such a difference in history with his unconditional love, what could the combined love and service of millions of us do for the world? The saying in vs. 16 is also found in Matthew and Luke (Matt 10:24-25; Luke 6:40). It is a basic principle of discipleship. Yet into the positive message about disciples, Yeshua speaks of the betrayal he is about to face. Not all who call themselves disciples are true. He alludes to Psalm 41:10(9) concerning the one who shares bread and yet betrays. Then Psalm 41:11(10) asks of God, “let me rise again” (as Brown notes in his commentary). Yeshua does not quote this verse specifically. Yet here is a hint in the way he quotes the verse right before it, something the disciples must have realized later. The drama of the Psalmist’s own pain and prayer was playing out in Yeshua’s life. What the Psalmist prayed for figuratively, resurrection, would follow literally for Yeshua. Yeshua knows this and confirms his belief in his resurrection and glorification in his next saying: “that when it happens you will believe that I am.” What is meant by “I am”? The “I am” sayings in the Fourth Gospel come in three types: those with a predicate nominative such as “I am the bread of life,” those which mean something like “it is me,” and pure uses which mean “I am he.” This saying in vs. 19 is an absolute use, meaning, “that you may believe I am [the Divine one]” ( the “I am” of Exodus 3). The betrayal must happen, as it is part of the unfolding story that Messiah must be killed. But that death will not end the story and afterwards the disciples at last will understand who Yeshua really is.
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Yeshua is troubled about the betrayer (21-25), Judas is indicated by the sign of dipping (26), Satan enters Judas and he leaves (27-30).
Only the Fourth Gospel shows the relationship of the Beloved Disciple to Yeshua. At the Last Supper table the Beloved Disciple is reclining next to Yeshua, the place of greatest honor at the banquet (possibly the upper room was rented by the BD). Most readers assume the author of this Gospel is John the son of Zebedee and identify the BD with that John. Yet there are problems for equating John of Zebedee with the BD. John of Zebedee is Galilean, but the Fourth Gospel shows intimate knowledge of Judea; John is an unlearned fisherman, but the Gospel is very literate; the Fourth Gospel does not report the transfiguration or Gethsemane, though John witnessed them. In spite of these difficulties, Raymond Brown maintains that the Beloved Disciple is John, son of Zebedee. Richard Bauckham, on the other hand, argues for John the Elder, also a disciple of Yeshua though not of the Twelve. John the Elder is a figure known from comments by Papias and other second-century writers. It is likely that people confused the two Johns (with Yochanan or John being the most popular Jewish name in the first century in the land). Perhaps the best evidence that John the son of Zebedee is not the Beloved Disciple is the mention of John in chapter 21, whereas the Beloved Disciple has gone out of his way not to name himself. The idea that the author of the Fourth Gospel is a Judean would explain many features that are included and many that are missing in this Gospel. Meanwhile, in 13:21-30, Peter has to go through the BD to ask Yeshua a question. The theme of the betrayer, Judas, has more detail here than in the synoptic Gospels: Yeshua handed him the bowl to dip in and Satan entered Judas at that time. The betrayal is one of the dark spots on Yeshua’s mission and it troubles him greatly. As Yeshua had said in vs. 18, this betrayal is an echo of Psalm 41:10(9), in which a table companion betrayed David. (But see 41:11(10) with its reference to “raise me up,” which can be read as a comment on what happened to Yeshua).
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God is glorified in the Son of Man (31), God will glorify the Son of Man (32), Yeshua is going where the disciples cannot follow (33), the new commandment of love (33-34), Peter’s misunderstanding about following Yeshua (36-38).
The events leading to Yeshua’s death are about to unfold and he describes this as a glorification rather than a humilation. The theme throughout the fourth gospel is that the lifting up of the Son of Man (on the cross, from the tomb, to the throne) is his glory and not his shame. The glory that the Father will give to the Son of Man is seen in the resurrection and ascension of Yeshua. The disciples knew Yeshua as a miracle worker and powerful teacher. They hoped he was the messianic king. They did not comprehend the truth that Yeshua is far above all other beings in heaven and earth, equal with God. They would come to know only after the cross and resurrection, when Yeshua would be glorified by the Father, appearing from heaven showing his inherent, eternal glory. Meanwhile, the departing Yeshua gives the love command in a new form. The basis of love for disciples hereafter will be in imitation of the total giving of the Son. Love has a new depth for Yeshua’s followers and love is made a clearer priority for Yeshua’s followers. The community of Yeshua is to be defined by that love and win the world through it. Peter misunderstands about where Yeshua is going. Yeshua challenges that his love is not yet deep enough so that Peter will, instead of following, deny him.
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Yeshua is leaving to prepare a place in the world to come for his followers (1-4), Thomas protests they don’t know the way (5), Yeshua is the way and the true revelation of the Father (6-11), Yeshua’s presence will be with the disciples after he leaves (12-14).
How will the disciples carry on after Yeshua departs? What will life as a disciple be like between the ascension and resurrection? The disciples, of course, do not really understand what Yeshua is talking about, as they will all fall away from him during the period of his arrest and execution. Yet it must have come back to them after the resurrection that Yeshua had prepared them with these teachings. The message of John 14 is vital for disciples in our present time because, of course, we are in between the ascension and resurrection. Believing unites us with Yeshua. How does belief accomplish this? It is mystical, a bond determined by the the will of God. The Father regards us as being in Yeshua. A place is secured for us in the world to come, we have a true revelation of the Father (the Ein Sof, God in his direct Being), and we have the power of the living Presence of Yeshua working among us. Yeshua is the Way, the one emanating from the Father who shows the true knowledge of the Father and gives the life of the eons from the Father. Knowing Yeshua is truly knowing God in his fullness, for this is why Yeshua came (to mediate the infinite, unknowable God to people who are finite and in need of union with God). The promise of asking in Yeshua’s name is not about a formula (using the words in prayer “in Yeshua’s name”), but a condition on the promise: the prayers of Yeshua’s followers are answered in the general sense of fulfilling the Father’s plan in Yeshua. That is, our continual prayer results in divine power moving on earth to glorify Yeshua, but we should not take this as a granting of specific requests.
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Love for Yeshua and commandments (15), the Paraclete who will come after Yeshua (16-17), Yeshua’s presence after he goes away (18-21), question about Yeshua’s private revelation of himself (22-24).
The Fourth Gospel has a lot to say about the Paraclete (Advocate, Comforter). Luke’s gospel also emphasizes the Spirit of Yeshua, present with the believing community after Yeshua’s departure. Yet the Fourth Gospel provides another perspective, one with much more detail. Raymond Brown argues, and I agree, that it is not as simple as saying the Comforter is the Holy Spirit. Rather, it is the Spirit of Yeshua which is mediated to us by the Holy Spirit (see Brown 1135-44). The kind of presence which comes to us, all of us who are in the community of Yeshua, is different than any manifestation of the Spirit which has come before. Only those who know Yeshua can receive this presence (see Paul, 1 Cor 12:3, “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit”). By means of this presence, we “see” Yeshua, a saying in vs. 19 that refers to more than the post-resurrection appearances to the disciples. This “seeing” Yeshua by the Spirit is a mystical union, one which operates in the realm of intuition and spirit, not in the realm of mind and direct communication. Those who know him and have this union through the Comforter are disciples active in community with other disciples, drawn to the messianic ethics of Yeshua, dedicated to living out the Master’s commandments of love. Judas (not Iscariot) wonders why Yeshua does not reveal his identity to the world in glory now, but is making himself known only to the disciples. This is the question often on our minds: why are God and Messiah hidden, so that belief is more difficult? Yeshua’s answer is telling: you as the community are to obey my commands, to know me in your Spirit, and that is enough to reveal me to the world.
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The words of Yeshua after he leaves will come through the Paraclete (25-26), peace is what Yeshua gives us (27), Yeshua is going to the Father who is greater (28), Yeshua overcomes Satan, but submits instead to the Father’s will that he must die (29-31).
The relationship between Messiah and God (the Son and Father) is unfathomable. Messiah speaks God’s words, not his own (see 14:24). Similarly the Spirit (Comforter) reveals Messiah (the Son), speaking not his own words but reminding the disciples of the things Messiah said to them. Brown comments on the order: the Spirit reveals the Son, the Son reveals the Father. Meanwhile, the peace Yeshua leaves is about a truth that transcends the physical reality we live in. Yeshua’s leaving (death, resurrection, ascension) can be a source of joy, not sorrow, if we comprehend the meaning. The manifestation of God, Yeshua in the flesh, returns to the right hand of the Ineffable (called the Ein Sof in Jewish thought, the “Endless”). Yeshua has shown them God-made-flesh and is returning to God-beyond-all-knowing. It will appear as if evil has won the day, that a good man has been once again put down by evil men, which is the pattern of human civilization. Yet in reality God who knows all has invaded humanity from within and what appears to be a defeat is Messiah being lifted up. The meaning of Yeshua having come but now being at the right have of power is peace. Light has shone in darkness and darkness will never overcome it.
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The parable of the vine (1-6), remain and obey (7-10), love and fruit (11-17).
Yeshua takes the familiar image of the vineyard and makes a parable with new associations out of it (see Isa 5; Jer 2; Ezek 17; Psa 80). Comparisons to the imagery of the Hebrew Bible should not be pressed too closely as Yeshua is being creative with the symbolism. Nonetheless, that Yeshua is claiming to be the true vine, fulfilling in himself the ideal identity of Israel, is surely intentional. In the Hebrew Bible, Israel is a vineyard planted by God. Yeshua slightly changes that symbolism: his followers are branches connected to his vine. Yeshua’s new image is more relational and connected, not just something started by God (a vineyard), but people joined to Yeshua (as branches). In John’s either-or (dualistic) way of thinking (light/dark, life/death), a person has only two choices: either believe and continue following Yeshua in a life of loving deeds or lose faith and be a dead branch fit only for pruning from Yeshua’s vine. This is not necessarily about final destinies (heaven or hell), but about being either in with Yeshua or cast off from Yeshua here and now. Those who are in Yeshua are clean, trimmed branches ready to bear fruit. The idea of remaining or abiding in Yeshua is simple: continue believing and obeying Yeshua. The promise is then that his living presence remains mystically in us. And this union with the Son (and thus with the Father) is the only way we can have the highest kind of life. Those outside of Yeshua can do loving deeds (being made in God’s image), but natural life can only bring one so far. Only the divine life inside, the living presence of Yeshua (the Paraclete), can bring us to the highest realm of life. Those who remain outside of Yeshua are in danger of completely missing God and the life of the age to come (vs. 6).
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JOHN 15:18 – 16:4a
Hatred from the world (18-20), the opposition’s ignorance and liability in judgment (21-24), senseless hatred (25), the testimony of the Paraclete (26-27), I have told you to prevent your disillusionment due to coming persecution (16:1-4a).
The Fourth Gospel often uses either-or thinking and in that mode we can say the world has two paths that are clearly diametric to one another: love and hate. Yeshua is the one who reveals to us the inner being of God in a way no written scriptures ever could. He reveals to us an unconditional love that is behind all things, the true backdrop to all reality. Yet we live in the foreground, a world which is permeated with evil, a hatred for love, an insistence on independence and self-rule, and a terrifying will to conquer and dominate. As their master is about to depart, the disciples need to be prepared. Yeshua has told them they have eternal life. They might think joy and perfection will soon follow. Instead a long period of delay, of faithlessness, and of persecution of the Yeshua-movement will follow. But the Paraclete (the living presence of Yeshua communicated by the Spirit) will communicate the story and truth of life, love, and goodness (in the scriptures, in the teaching of the Yeshua-movement, and through those in union with Yeshua who speak words of truth and life). Yeshua notes that the guilt of the leaders in his generation was particularly in seeing and still rejecting. Vs. 24 suggests a possibility that the strong warnings in the fourth gospel may be lessened for people in our time who did not witness the signs of Messiah. Perhaps God’s standards of judgment are complex and we should not be too quick to assume we know the final destiny of individuals who have not placed explicit faith in Yeshua. Nonetheless, regardless of the question of final destinies, peace and assurance come only in knowing Yeshua (being in union with him and thus with the Father). The living Presence of Yeshua is with the whole community that follows him. Individuals who cut themselves off from the community (private religion, not needing the congregation) are missing the work of the Paraclete in their lives. The words of truth and life (the testimony of the Paraclete) are communicated in the community (teaching, mutual learning, etc.).
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Sadness and the advantage of Yeshua going away (4b-7), the Paraclete will challenge the world (8-11), the Paraclete will teach Yeshua’s followers (12-15).
Vs. 7 is a crux for understanding who the Paraclete is. Why should not the Spirit be able to dwell in all Yeshua-followers while Yeshua is still here? Why must Yeshua go away for the Paraclete to come? Putting all the passages together, it becomes evident that the identity of the Paraclete is twofold: both the Spirit and the living presence of Yeshua (Raymond Brown). How can both be true? As the Son came to speak only the Father’s will, so the Spirit has come to speak only for Yeshua. That is, the Paraclete is the Spirit, but what the Spirit communicates is the living presence of Yeshua in and through Yeshua’s followers. The Paraclete is how Yeshua is with us now and we are in union with him. The Spirit is a separate person from the Son, but the Son and Spirit share a union so that the Spirit’s presence can be also the presence of the Son. Having union with the Son is vital for peace, joy, knowledge, relation to God, and assurance of life in the age to come. Thus, the coming of the Paraclete (Brown calls it “the presence of the absent Jesus”) is to the advantage of Yeshua’s followers. The Paraclete’s voice to the world is the community of Messiah (the scriptures, the teaching of the congregations, the words of Yeshua’s followers). The story of Yeshua convicts the world or sin, divine justice, and judgment. That is to say, the community of Yeshua, in which the Presence of the absent Yeshua dwells, convicts the world.
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Yeshua will be absent but then later present again (16), the disciples are confused (17-18), Yeshua explains the coming time of absence (19-24), plain speech and direct connection to the Father (25-28), the disciples have insight into Yeshua’s omniscience (29-30), Yeshua reminds them they will have a time of confusion and doubt (31-33).
When Yeshua says his disciples will see him again after a little while, does he mean the resurrection or the return or the Paraclete? Brown argues it cannot mean the resurrection, because the disciples did not have all questions answered from seeing the resurrection (23). Augustine argued that this is about the return of Yeshua, but Brown doubts we should think none of Yeshua’s promise in these verses is for now. Rather, he argues this refers to the present experience of the Paraclete (the living Presence of Yeshua among us). Through the Paraclete, Yeshua’s followers have: (1) unspeakable joy and (2) an understanding complete enough to make further questions about where Yeshua is going irrelevant. We now understand the enthronement of Yeshua and his identity as the Son, the Radiance of the Father, the Word of God. Though the disciples claim they understand (29-30), they clearly do not. After the cross, they show they did not grasp that the Son must suffer or what Yeshua meant about leaving. Yet they may have had insight, temporarily, into the omniscience of Yeshua, his full knowledge of the inner being of God. Yeshua rebuffs their claim to knowledge and tells them they will be scattered and think they have been left lonely and abandoned. But Yeshua conquers the world and they will see hope.
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Yeshua asks for glory (1-5), Yeshua as revelation (6-8).
What Yeshua is asking for in requesting glory is not personal eminence for himself, but the revelation of his identity to the world, so that people can see and be saved. That is, people can grasp the truth of Yeshua’s identity and be transformed in their thinking, opening them up to a new level of relationship with God. The very knowledge that Yeshua is a mediator with the Father advocating for us is freeing and comforting (John 8:32). It is obvious, if we read closely, that Yeshua’s purpose in this request is not glory but love. It is so the Father will be glorified (vs. 1), it is in order to give eternal life (vs. 2), it is in order that people will gain divine knowledge (vs. 3), and it is based on the work Yeshua has done (vs. 4). The glory Yeshua requests will come when he is lifted up — lifted up on the cross in death, from the tomb in resurrection, and to the throne in ascension. John 17:5 has Yeshua stating privately, only to God and with close disciples present, a truth that was hidden while he walked among us. He appeared to be a wonder worker, a teacher from Galilee. Some believed he could be the promised Messianic king. None saw, before he rose from the dead, what he truly was: the Divine Messiah, who existed before creation, who is equal with God, and who was destined to become human in order to join humanity and divinity in a great act of revealing God to the world. What if God was one of us, we should ask? The answer is seen in Yeshua. What we read in the Hebrew Bible about the nature of God is consistent with the idea of the Divine Messiah, but nowhere does it say Messiah is fully divine. Jewish tradition is also consistent with the realization of the Divine Messiah, but nowhere does it specifically depict Messiah as fully divine. Even though we see the disciples overhearing Yeshua’s prayer, they did not understand his divinity as yet. It was not until after the resurrection, when they saw him from heaven, with his own divine glory, enthroned beside God, that these Jewish monotheists realized the truth of what Yeshua prays here in John 17:5. God has sent his Radiance, his Name/Word/Wisdom/Glory, personally into the world in the person of Yeshua.
——-In John 17 we have a bit of comforting divine knowledge, the kind of realization that transforms our thinking. When we see what God is like by looking at Yeshua, the very image of his being, we are transformed. The Fourth Gospel is not asking us to come up with a plan of salvation, but rather to see truth about God — who he is, what he thinks about us, what he is willing to do for us, how we can expect him to treat us when we encounter him, and how we are related to him.
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Prayer for the disciples (9), Yeshua brought revelation of the Father into the world and is not leaving (10-11), prayer that God will empower and protect disciples in the world (12-16), consecrating (setting apart) disciples in the world (17-18), consecrating Yeshua (19).
How can Yeshua say, “I am not praying for the world”? Yeshua came to offer life to the world (John 3:16), but the meaning of “world” changes after people encounter Yeshua. “World” becomes the designation of those who do not choose to follow the true revelation of the Father (C.K. Barret said, “The only hope for the cosmos is precisely that it should cease to be the cosmos,” — cited in Brown). The disciples remain in the world bearing the light, since Yeshua is leaving and taking the light with him. But he is sending the light back via the Paraclete, the living Presence of Yeshua dwelling through his disciples. Yeshua showed the world God’s being and character and disciples of Yeshua are to do the same. Being in community with one another, disciples connect with the mystical presence of Yeshua and develop inner qualities that attract people to want to share the experience. Yeshua’s prayer is priestly. He is the consecrated priest (19) and also the sacrificial victim consecrated for atonement. The disciples are consecrated (17-18) or set apart for the mission of bearing the truth (that Yeshua is the Word of God).
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Prayer for those who will believe in Yeshua (20-23), that these believers will be with Yeshua (24-26).
Brown notes that “those who believe” in the thought of the fourth gospel are not merely those who assent to the idea of Yeshua as the savior, but who love and are committed to him, know that he is the one who reveals the Father, and confess that he is the Son of God and Messiah. A genuine faith, which is more than mere belief, includes a commitment to community in Yeshua. The congregation of Yeshua, beginning with the apostles, is a fellowship originating with the apostles. All Yeshua-congregations should have a unity (not uniformity) like the Father and Son. This unity allows for diversity (such as denominations and ethnic affiliations) but has beneath it a deeper connection of mutual love. The Qumran sect also spoke of building a unified community lasting until the end of the age. Yeshua prays that this community will be with him, see the love which has been eternally between the Father and Son, and in the meantime have union with the Son and through him the Father. The love that is shared between Father and Son is to be in us and this is equated with Yeshua being in us (the Spirit empowers love). Yeshua’s prayer is about the interim state, the time between now and the great resurrection at the end of the age. That is, he prays for a unity and love now in the world that mirrors the love of Father and Son. He also prays that we will be with him in the interim between death and resurrection. The world to come is not mentioned here. As Yeshua is about to die and be raised, his thought is about the way we will experience death (he knows our resurrection will wait for the end of the age).
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The arrest of Yeshua (1-11), trial before Annas (12-14), Peter’s first denial (15-18), questioning by Annas (19-24), Peter’s second and third denials (25-27).
The Kidron brook stands between the city and the Mount of Olives, which is where Yeshua and the disciples went to pray on the night he was arrested. The Fourth Gospel gives us new information about this Garden (which Mark calls Gethsemane, the place of the olive press): that Yeshua had been coming to this place with his disciples often. Jewish Temple guard (not Roman soldiers) come to arrest him there. Yeshua’s declaration to the guard, “I am he,” is part of a theme in the Fourth Gospel of hints of his divinity. There is an allusion to Exodus 3:14 and passages in Isaiah such as 43:25, “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake” (ESV). When Yeshua says, “I am he,” to the guard, the form is deliberately ambiguous: he is saying both “I am the one you are asking for” and “I am” in the sense of declaring his divinity. The Fourth Gospel further shows the power of Yeshua’s declaration by noting that the soldiers fall down (an allusion to falling before divinity in worship or every knee bowing, a la Isaiah 45:23, “To me every knee shall bow”). Meanwhile, John’s account differs considerably from the synoptics, causing much discussion about what is or isn’t historical in the various accounts of the arrest and Jewish trial of Yeshua. The questioning before Annas is found only in the Fourth Gospel. And the Fourth Gospel leaves out a trial by the full Sanhedrin. And the theme of contrasting Peter’s failures with Yeshua’s triumphs is an important part of the Fourth Gospel’s telling (Peter’s restoration will be the subject of John 21). Whereas Yeshua thwarts human power with divine authority, Peter fails to triumph with human power (Brown). Yeshua truthfully owns up to his teaching while Peter denies knowing Yeshua. Yeshua’s answer (I am) causes the Roman soldiers to fall to the ground (a hint of revealed majesty and the protective power of the divine name). But Yeshua submits willingly. Yeshua ensures that his disciples are set free in this moment of his arrest (laying down his life for his brothers).
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JOHN 18:28 – 19:16
Yeshua brought before Pilate (28-32), Pilate questions Yeshua (18:33-40), Yeshua is mocked (19:1-3), Pilate tries to release Yeshua (4-8), Pilate follows the will of the crowd and condemns Yeshua (9-16).
Brown comments that the fourth gospel has followed an independent historical tradition and has mixed this history with highly shaped theological and literary reshaping. That is, the fourth gospel is historical just as the synoptics, is based on an independent tradition, and takes more freedom in shaping stories to fit theological themes than the synoptics. The trial before Pilate in the fourth gospel, he says, is the height of theological shaping (thus, playing more loosely with history than other narratives). John’s account of the Roman trial is much more detailed than in the synoptics. Pilate represents the person having to choose between the world and the truth, the one who sits on the fence, unwilling to commit. This posture results in tragedy. Yeshua is the king and must be followed wholly. Pilate and the soldiers who mock Yeshua ironically proclaim him king. His crucifixion is an ironic enthronement as he is lifted up with the sign “King of the Jews”. Pilate will not commit to his intuition that Yeshua is good. Being uncommitted he does evil. The message is that Yeshua requires total commitment and not a distant appreciation. People must choose truth over the world.
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Golgotha, the place of the skull (17), two other men crucified with him (18), the “King of the Jews” placard (19), the chief priests complain about the placard (20-21), Pilate overrules them (22).
All four gospels mention the place of the skull (only Luke does not include the name “Golgotha”). John alone omits that Simon of Cyrene was conscripted to carry the cross part of the way. All four gospels report that two were crucified with Yeshua. All four gospels record the titulus or placard nailed to the cross reading “King of the Jews.” Craig Evans comments that Roman prisoners being marched to crucifixion sometimes are recorded as wearing a placard around their neck detailing their crime (Jesus, the Final Days). All four gospels record the placard but the exact wording varies in all four accounts. John alone details the irony of the placard. The chief priests have handed Yeshua over to the Romans as a pretender to the kingship. Yet Pilate has marked Yeshua satirically as the actual king. Yeshua has said many times in John that he would be glorified by being lifted up. John ensures that the reader gets the point: though delivered by his own people and crucified by Romans as a pretender king, the true kingship of Messiah is revealed in his death.
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The soldiers gamble for his clothes (23-24), Yeshua entrusts his mother to the Beloved Disciple (25-27), Yeshua dies (28-30), his legs were not broken (31-37), the removal and burial (38-42).
All four gospels mention that the Roman soldiers gambled for Yeshua’s garments. The property of a criminal to be executed was forfeit and all Yeshua had was his garments. John goes into the most detail, mentioning that there were four garments and that a seamless tunic was too valuable to tear. His is the only account making a connection between this event and Psalm 22:19(18). Yeshua is like the righteous sufferer of the Psalm. And in the tradition of Midrash, when a scripture is cited, the whole context is in view. Thus, quoting Psalm 22 is more than a hint that Yeshua is not only a righteous sufferer, but also that God will vindicate him, as the Psalms says, “when he cried out to Him, he [God] listened.” Yeshua’s resurrection will be the answer of God to the injustice of his execution. The Beloved Disciple is, based on the evidence given by Richard Bauckham in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, the author and source of the Gospel of John. His identity is mysterious, but Bauckham makes a strong case he may be the Elder John (not the John of the Twelve) who was a disciple of Yeshua and who is known from Papias and other early writers. It seems the Beloved Disciple lives in or near Jerusalem, which would explain why the fourth gospel has almost entirely a Jerusalem perspective on the events of Yeshua’s career (unlike the Galilean perspective of the synoptics). Only John mentions the legs of Yeshua remaining unbroken and compares it to Psalm 34:21(20). Only John mentions the piercing of Yeshua’s side and connects it to Zechariah 12:10. As vs. 35 declares, the Beloved Disciple was present at the cross while the Eleven were hiding, and his gospel alone includes these details which he personally witnessed. John also gives more details about the location of the tomb near a garden than any other gospel.
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Mary Magdalene sees the empty tomb and brings Peter and the beloved disciple (1-4), the two disciples see the grave cloths empty (5-7), the beloved disciple believes (8-9), the two disciples depart (10).
Vss.1-18 go together, two episodes completing one story. Vs. 1 only mentions Magdalene, but in vs. 2 she says “we,” so that John’s account likely assumes other women mentioned in the synoptics were present. John focuses on Mary Magdalene and the Beloved Disciple in his account. They represent for him a kind of love and faith to be commended. Magdalene is not the same person as Mary of Bethany, nor was she a prostitute. All we know of her is that she had seven demons cast out of her (Luke 8:2) and she was at the cross and tomb. The fact that the stone over the tomb was rolled away is reported in all four gospels (Mark 16:4 and parallels). The four gospels tell the story of the empty tomb and the sequence of events with some differences in detail. Only John mentions Magdalene reporting to Peter before seeing the angel(s) (or men in dazzling garments). The “race” between Peter and the other disciple (the Beloved Disciple who appears throughout the gospel) is part of a theme. Peter is the active, impulsive disciple. The Beloved Disciple observes and contemplates. Why the note about the grave clothes? Brown argues it is not something about their position or how they were laid, but merely the fact that the grave clothes were there at all. If the body had been taken, there would be no grave clothes. The Beloved Disciple, who throughout the gospel is more observant, believes with this evidence. John emphasizes what has been apparent in all the cross and tomb accounts of the gospels: none of the disciples believed in the resurrection before it happened. In this first episode of two, the emphasis is on the faith of the Beloved Disciple. He is quick to believe and he observes the signs of Yeshua’s majesty and Glory. The message is that those who contemplate the events of Yeshua’s death and resurrection will believe and in that faith find life.
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Magdalene sees two angels while weeping (11-12), she sees Yeshua unknowingly (13-15), Yeshua calls to her and gives her a command (16-17), she reports as commanded (18).
As Peter and the Beloved Disciple are looking into the tomb, Mary Magdalene is weeping, distraught over not knowing what has happened to Yeshua’s body. She sees two angels, who appear also in the three other resurrection accounts as either one or two figures. She then sees Yeshua without recognition and repeats her anxious question about the location of her master’s body. It is not clear if Yeshua’s form is veiled as in Luke 24 or if this is a matter of Magdalene not expecting to see her master risen. Yet Yeshua’s voice brings Magdalene to recognition. Magdalene’s term of address to Yeshua (“Rabboni” in most translations) is likely the Greek transliteration of the Aramaic rabbuni, a form of rabbi that is attested in the Targums. It is possibly a more personal or endearing way of addressing a teacher (Brown). Yeshua’s saying to her (“do not cling to me”) suggests she may have already grabbed hold of him. Brown argues that Yeshua is telling Mary, “This is not yet my return, so don’t hold on to me, I must ascend yet and you will have to wait for my return.” There is a real possibility that Yeshua ascended immediately upon rising and his appearances for forty days were an interim period in which he would ascend to the throne and descend to appear. His saying to Mary is present active indicative in 20:17 (“I am ascending”).
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Yeshua appears to the fearful disciples (19), the disciples see his wounds and know it is him (20), Yeshua commissions them to go (21), Yeshua empowers them to go (22-23).
Mark’s account of the resurrection appearances either never existed or was lost very early. That leaves three gospels to compare with each other. Of these, John and Luke (24:36-49) record this scene and have much in common in their descriptions of it. Both say it happened in a room in Jerusalem and that Yeshua was suddenly in their midst. John makes it clearer that his appearance was miraculous since the doors were shut. Both say that the disciples were fearful. They needed to see Yeshua’s wounds as evidence. Both depict the purpose of the visit as commissioning the disciples, much as prophets had an encounter with God and were commissioned to go out doing heavenly business. John, whose tendency is to see earthly things in light of heavenly realities, adds that Yeshua sends them in the same way he had been sent, that the risen Messiah is to the disciples as the Omnipotent Father was to Messiah. There is a connection between the mission of Yeshua and that of his disciples. The origins of the sending are divine in both cases. Then Yeshua breathes on them and indicates this is in some way giving them the presence of the divine Spirit. The story does not say they experience a miracle related to the entrance of the Spirit, but what they will go out and do in Yeshua’s name is based on the earlier promises in John of the Paraclete (Comforter). Vs. 23, speaking of the power disciples have to bring forgiveness or withhold it, has been mired in theological controversy ever since. Some churches include a ritual to absolve sins, believing this to be a power of the church that can be dispensed through gathering and speaking it together as truth. Other churches deny that there is any reality to human beings even in Yeshua’s name dispensing forgiveness to others. Raymond Brown cuts through this controversy, arguing from evidence in John’s Gospel that Yeshua is empowering them to do as he has done. He spoke to his generation (9:39-41) offering the nation peace with God or giving them the alternative of rejecting the new information from God. It is important to see that the guilt which remains on people who do not accept God’s message is not their eternal destiny. Rather, it was Israel’s earthly destiny that suffered when the nation rejected God’s intervention through Messiah. Thus, forty years after Yeshua spoke these last earthly words to the disciples, the Roman unleashed terror and death on Jerusalem. The lesson for disciples today is not — as many have claimed — that the church’s message brings either heaven or eternal hell to people. Rather, it is that, like Yeshua, we his followers offer peace in this life to people who would benefit here and now from knowing what God’s love it truly like. It is like Yeshua. As Brown says, we who are Yeshua’s followers have the power to “isolate, repel, and negate evil and sin” through teaching the message of God’s forgiving love. It is in the way this message transforms people’s fears, awakens their inner desire to love and be loved, and inspires their imagination with the vision of the world to come that it “saves.”
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Thomas hears and doubts (24-25), an appearance to Thomas and the others eight days later (26-29).
Throughout the text of John there have been many statements of Yeshua’s exalted identity, his oneness with the Father, that seeing him is seeing the Father, that he existed before Abraham, and so on. At last, vs. 28, the saying of Thomas, is the full realization of Yeshua’s identity as God who has become a man. It is what Yeshua has been strongly hinting all along. He is more than Messiah. Thomas sees the one who defeats death and understands that he is God (understood in the sense of the Son who emanates from the Father). Yeshua connects Thomas’ faith to the kind of faith that will be needed in the community to come after he departs. Yeshua came to build a lasting community of followers who would carry on the work of the disciples.
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Yeshua’s many other signs (30), the purpose of John’s gospel (31).
It is a common opinion in scholarship that 20:30-31 is the original ending of the fourth gospel and that chapter 21 is a postscript added later. Yet there are reasons to disagree (see Richard Bauckham’s The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple). These verses are the end of the signs of Yeshua, but chapter 21 continues the purpose of the book beyond the signs and looking to the mission of the disciples. Vs 30 is a bit like the endings of sections in Kings where the deeds of the king are said to be more than those recorded in the book (also like Sirach and 1 Maccabees and other books with ending summaries). Regarding these signs of Yeshua, the Fourth Gospel records seven of them, with the seventh being the resurrection (see 2:18-19). There were many other signs, but John has recorded them in a numerical pattern of seven, a number of miracles he considers more than sufficient to lead someone to believe. John makes it easy to see that this is his purpose. The Thomas story, the last incident before this summary, referred to those who were not around to see Yeshua in person, but who will believe anyway. John’s desire was to see this happen and so he wrote the story in a way that would help people believe. Yeshua is more than a man or even a prophet, John and his circle came to realize, even more than most definitions of a Messiah. In every way imaginable way he is more. Believing in him now, in this in-between time, results in life for us, a more abundant way of living in the here and now. In our believing we are open to see the invisible, to experience the unprovable, to see Messiah in our daily lives and know he is with us.
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Yeshua appears at the lake (1), seven disciples (2), Yeshua incognito guides them to a great catch (3-6), the Beloved Disciple recognizes him and Peter rushes to him (7-8), the catch of 153 fish (9-11), Yeshua eats fish and bread with them (12-14).
The author of John (the Beloved Disciple) several times refers to the lake in Galilee as the Sea of Tiberias. This could reflect an increased importance of the town of Tiberias after the Temple destruction. Many times the fourth gospel uses numbers symbolically, such as the seven signs of Yeshua. Here seven disciples (Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James and John of Zebedee, and two others) are gathered. The fact that the sons of Zebedee are named is key evidence that the Beloved Disciple is not John son of Zebedee (and not one of the Twelve, see Richard Bauckham, The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple). The Beloved Disciple has carefully avoided naming himself throughout and is likely one of the two “others.” He only appears in vs. 7 in the role that the Beloved Disciple usually plays: the perceptive witness (Bauckham). Peter is the active disciple, running or swimming to Yeshua, but the Beloved Disciple is the perceptive witness who first recognizes the Lord. Bauckham argues that the author has used extensive numerical symbolism throughout his gospel, but it comes to a climax here. The number 153 is triangular, the sum of the numbers 1 through 17. (Note: the most famous triangular number in the Bible is also in the Johannine literature: 666). It is no accident that the number of fish is 153. Furthermore, this is a use of gematria (numerical patterns in the scriptures), which as Bauckham gives evidence was a method used already before the first century, to connect the scene with Yeshua in Galilee to Ezekiel 47. Ezekiel 47 is the great river of life passage, which revives the Dead Sea into the Living Sea and leads to a great catch of fish. The numerical value of Eglaim and Gedi in Ezekiel 47:10 is 153 and 17 respectively. The author is saying that Yeshua is the one who will bring about the life-giving waters of the messianic age.
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Peter’s threefold reinstatement.
All four gospels record the fact that Peter denied Yeshua three times. The greatest of the twelve is second only in Judas to in the depth of his betrayal. Yeshua’s threefold repetition of “do you love me” is Peter’s clue that the Lord is reinstating him as one who tends sheep, reinstalling him after the threefold betrayal. The fact that the word for love varies between agape and phileo is not a clue to a some deeper meaning. The two words for love can be synonymous and furthermore, the words for “tend” and “sheep” vary in this story as well. It is common in writing, especially in stories with a threefold repetition, to vary the key words (Brown). What does Yeshua mean by “more than these” in vs. 15? Two suggestions are “more than your life as a fisherman” or “more than these other disciples.” If the meaning is “more than these other disciples,” Peter does not make any such boast now, having been humbled by his threefold failure. He simply responds, “you know that I love you.” In the third instance, Peter adds “you know all things.” He appeals to Yeshua’s all-knowing and asks for judgment based on knowledge. Peter knows that his failings are not from lack of love and he is chastened. Yeshua’s threefold commission is that Peter would tend the sheep. Peter goes on to be the early leader of the community, boldly proclaiming Yeshua at the feast of Shavuot, in the Temple courts, healing people in the street, and eventually bearing the same fate as Yeshua in Rome.
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Foretelling of Peter’s death as a martyr (18-19), Peter inquires about the beloved disciple’s death (20-23).
Several things are going on in this chapter. First, the “rivalry” between Peter and the Beloved Disciple comes to its conclusion here. Second, the community of Yeshua is very concerned at the time John is written about the problem of the death of all the disciples and witnesses of Yeshua. Some of Yeshua’s statements sounded very much as if the return of the Son of Man would occur before all the disciples were gone. By now, almost all are dead. The Beloved Disciple is virtually (if not actually) the last one alive. Peter has been dead approximately two decades by the time this is written. Vss. 22-23 address this concern: Yeshua did not say he would return while the Beloved Disciple was alive. He merely said, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?” The Beloved Disciple knew his community was about to enter into a new era of faith, the kind in which people would have to believe based on written testimony from the eyewitnesses (which explains why several times he emphasizes as a writer that he saw and writes what he witnessed). Also at issue in this final scene of John is a sort of rivalry between Peter and the Beloved Disciple as nearest to Yeshua. Richard Bauckham argues that the Beloved Disciple is the “Elder John,” mentioned by Papias, one of the disciples, but not one of the Twelve (not John of Zebedee). The Beloved Disciple is a Jerusalemite, and thus was not present at the early Galilean career of Yeshua. This explains why the Jerusalem scenes in John have by far the most detail and why little is recorded about the early Galilean works of Yeshua. The Beloved Disciple has been the more perceptive witness (he believed in the resurrection first, he recognized the post-resurrection Yeshua first on the Sea of Galilee). Peter has been the most active disciple, the leader of the Twelve, the one who stated loudest his loyalty in spite of failing to live up to it. Vs. 18 is almost certainly a reference to the death of Peter (traditionally by crucifixion upside down in 64 CE). Hearing a foretelling of his death, Peter is jealous that the Beloved Disciple may remain until Yeshua comes. Yeshua responds that Peter must follow, whatever his assignment, and leave mysteries of timing and return alone. The message to readers is clear: follow Yeshua and do not be anxious about the return.
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The Beloved Disciple’s closing summary.
The Beloved Disciple is possibly the author of the entire gospel (see Richard Bauckham, The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple). He asserts in more than one place that he has witnessed the events of Yeshua’s life and reports what he himself saw (19:35; 21:24; see also 1 John 1:1-4; Rev 1:2). He is a Jerusalem disciple, a fact that is evident because the scenes in John that take place in Jerusalem are described as by an eyewitness (with more detail). He does not record all of the deeds and sayings of Yeshua. No one could, as is true not only in telling Yeshua’s story but any story at all. The gospels are selective and the sayings and deeds they report are designed with literary and spiritual purposes in mind. The Beloved Disciple writes especially to help people believe (20:31). The assertion of 21:24 is part of the larger theme of eyewitnesses as the preferred sources for the life of Yeshua. These witnesses told of their encounters orally in the early congregations and the written gospels (except for Mark, which was earlier) came about as the witnesses were disappearing. Richard Bauckham makes a strong case that the Beloved Disciple is the Elder John, not John son of Zebedee, who is known to us in some sayings by Papias. He resided in Ephesus and was greatly respected and sought out as one of Yeshua’s disciples (but not one of the Twelve) and lived to an old age.
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