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Lectures in Biblical Theology
of The New Testament
by C. D. Cole
Lecture 20 of 23
Johannine Theology by Dr. C. D. Cole
We are reminded once more that in the study of Biblical Theology we are occupied with the Bible in its historically progressive aspect according to periods and persons; that is in the light of the writer and the time of writing. In the study of the writings of John we reach the very pinnacle of Divine revelation, both as to time and content. We usually think of Paul as the greatest theologian, but in John we find even deeper things of God and Christ and of sin and salvation.
Every book of the Bible has its own prominent and dominant theme. In Romans we have justification by faith based upon the redemptive death of Christ; in Peter it is the doctrine of hope concerning future good also based upon the death of Christ; in James it is the nature of faith which makes it more than mere profession in talk, and more than mere belief there is a God. James makes saving faith a loving trust in Christ as Lord and Saviour which is evidenced in good works. In Hebrews we have the superiority of the New Covenant to the Old Covenant given at Sinai. In Galatians we are occupied with the liberty we have in Christ, or deliverance from the curse of the moral law and from the ceremonial precepts of the law of Moses. And now in John we are occupied with Jesus Christ in the flesh as the eternal Word.
I. THE LIFE OF JOHN
The sources for the life of John are of various kinds, and of different degrees of trustworthiness. All that we know about his birth is that he was a son of Zebedee and Salome. He had a younger brother named James. He must have been from a well to do family. His father had servants. “And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him,” (Mark 1:20), and his mother was one of a number of women who followed and supported Jesus. “There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome; (Who also, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered unto him;) and many other women which came up with him unto Jerusalem,” (Mark 15:40-41). Further evidence of wealth is that John was acquainted with the high priest who was of the upper and wealthy class. “And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple: that disciple was known unto the high priest, and went in with Jesus into the palace of the high priest,” (John 18:15).
As to education, it seems that John never attended the Rabbinical schools; however, he must have had some academic and religious training at home. “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus,” (Acts 4:13). As to personal character, John was a typical Galilean, industrious, hardy and stern. He and James were nicknamed “sons of thunder.” “And James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; and he surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder,” (Mark 3:17). He is seen acting as a bigot. “And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us,” (Mark 9:38); as vindictive. “And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?” (Luke 9:54); as ambitious and scheming. “Then came to him the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him,” (Matt. 20:20). Christ made John over and transformed him into the apostle of love.
John and other apostles were forced to leave Jerusalem because of the wars that ended in the destruction of the city and nation. He made Ephesus his headquarters until he died about the year 100 A.D. He was buried at Ephesus. His chief opponent was Cerinthus who taught that Jesus was the natural son of Joseph, and that the “eon” or spirit of Christ came on Him at baptism and left Him before His death.
There is much extra biblical literature about John. There is the story of his leaving the bathhouse in fear of its falling on him when he found Cerinthus in it. Another tradition is that in his last days, days of increasing infirmity, he had only one brief message in which he exhorted believers, saying, “Little children, love one another.” We know from the Bible about his exile on Patmos where he wrote the book of Revelation. His character might be summed up in the one word “intense.” His love for Christ was intense, and his abhorrence of false teachers was intense. “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed,” (2 John 1:10); “I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church. Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God,” (3 John 1:911). There was nothing flabby about John. Morally he stood straight with no string for a backbone.
This lecture will emphasize the doctrine of the eternal Word. John’s gospel has an evangelistic purpose and was written to tell the story of Jesus so that men might have life through believing in Him. “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name,” (John 20:31). John’s first epistle was written to believers to give them assurance of salvation. This epistle is a book of evidences, written to show how one may know he has been born again. “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God,” (1 John 5:13). As evidence of salvation, John emphasizes three things: righteous living, “If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him,” (1 John 2:29) ; love for God and His people, “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God,” (1 John 4:7); “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death,” (1 John 3:14); and perseverance in faith, “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him,” (1 John 5:1; “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us,” (1 John 2:19). We will next consider three of the above verses more particularly.
“If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him,” (1 John 2:29). Salvation or the new birth results in a changed life. A saved man is a righteous person although not in the absolute sense of sinlessness. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” (1 John 1:8-9).
“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God,” (1 John 4.7). The same perfect tense as in 2:29. “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is (has beenperfect tense) born of God: and every one that loveth Him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of Him,” (1 John 5:1).
II. THE PREINCARNATE CHRIST
John writes about a person whom he calls the Logos or Word. And John describes Him as an eternal Person. “In the beginning was the Word,” (John 1:1). The verb here denotes eternal existence, and describes the Word in relation to time. Whatever beginning is meant, the Word was in the beginning and before the beginning; therefore, the Word had no beginning. In speaking of John the Baptist, the evangelist John uses another word. “There was (Gk. egeneto, came into being) a man sent from God whose name was John,” (John 1:6). And in speaking of the Word as flesh, John says, “And the Word was made (egeneto, became) flesh and dwelt among us,”... (John 1:14).
John describes the Word in relation to God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” (John 1:1). The preposition means that the Word was in personal intercourse with God. The Word is also described in relation to creation. “All things were made (egeneto, came into being) by Him,” (John 1:3). Creation implies and involves a Creator. Dr. Conner points out that Christ was not the independent but mediate Agent in creation. “Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds,” (Heb. 1:2).
John writes in refutation of a form of Gnosticism that was growing up in his day. This was a mixture of Greek and Oriental philosophy which sought to account for existence or being. According to their dualistic conception of existence there are two eternal, independent, and antagonistic principles of being from which come all the good and all the evil which exist. To them matter is essentially evil, and since Jesus was a physical being it was held inconceivable that the Divine nature should have immediate contact with the material side of existence; therefore a real incarnation was unthinkable. The Docetics denied the humanity of the Word; that is, that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. His humanity was not real but only a phantom or illusion. John did not hesitate to call these Gnostics liars and antichrists. “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world,” (1 John 4:2-3).
III. THE PURPOSE OF THE INCARNATION
Why did the eternal Logos become a human Person? John gives two reasons.
1. To reveal God. “No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him,” (John 1:18). This means more than that man cannot see God with the physical eyes. It means that man cannot discover God by reason or anything else at his command. Paul says that the world by wisdom cannot know God. God must reveal Himself, for man cannot discover Him. This is why Jesus Christ is called the Word of God. A word is a means of revelation, we show what we are by our words. A word is a means of communication, vehicle of thought. Jesus Christ has declared or spelled out God to us.
2. Another reason for the incarnation is the salvation of sinners. The incarnation was essential to redemption. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” (John 3:16). “Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people,” (Heb. 2:17). The salvation of sinners poses a moral problem, the problem of the just God receiving sinful men. Salvation could only be righteously and fittingly done by One Who is both God and man.
IV. THE INCARNATION ATTESTED
John gives testimony to prove that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh; that He was a real human being, a person.
1. There is the testimony of His disciples. John says they had seen, heard, and handled the word of life. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ,” (1 John 1:13). He was revealed to their physical senses.
2. Speaking of John the Baptist “The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe....The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.....And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God,” (John 1:7,29,34).
3. John’s disciples confessed Jesus as the Christ. Andrew, “He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ,” (John 1:41). “Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph,” (John 1:45).
4. The Samaritan woman told her neighbors “Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?” (John 4:29). And many of the Samaritans confessed Jesus as the Christ. “And said unto the woman, Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world,” (John 4:42). The blind man witnessed to Him as the Son of God. “And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him,” (John 9:38). Martha acknowledged Him as the Son of God. “She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world,” (John 11:27).
5. There is the testimony of Jesus Himself. He veiled the Messianic title under the name of the “son of man.” In John’s gospel Jesus does not directly call Himself the Christ, but He makes the claim in an indirect way. “And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man,” (John 1:51); “Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” (John 2:19); “If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?” (John 3:12); “Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he,” (John 4:26). On many occasions Jesus claimed to be God, and the Jews would charge Him with blasphemy. “Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God,” (John 5:18). “For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself.,” (John 5:26).
6. The testimony of His miracles. In all four gospels the miracles of Christ are mentioned as proof of His Divine character. “But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house,” (Mark 2:10-11). Peter, on the day of Pentecost, said that God had approved Jesus by miracles and wonders and signs. “Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know,” (Acts 2:22). His miracles proved all His claims to be the Christ and Son of God. John calls these miracles signs so that men might believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God. “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name,” (John 20:31).
Nicodemus thought of His miracles as signs of His Divine mission. When He fed the five thousand He spoke of Himself as the bread of life. When He opened the eyes of the blind He reminds them that He is the light of the world. When He raised Lazarus from the dead, He tells Martha that He is the resurrection and the life.
The chief sign to accredit His Person and mission was His resurrection. When He had cleansed the temple the Jews demanded a sign as proof of His right to do what He had done. “Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” (John 2:19). And John says that He was speaking of the temple of the body which He would raise up from the dead. On another occasion when the people were gathered together, Jesus said, “For as Jonas was a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of man be to this generation,” (Luke 11:30).That empty tomb of Joseph, in which our Lord was buried, ought to convince every man that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ and Son of God. A Moslem once said to the Christian missionary, “We have one thing you Christians do not have; we have a grave to which we can go in our religious devotions.” Exactly so, said the missionary, “we too have a tomb but it is empty, for we worship and serve a living Redeemer.” He is able to save unto the uttermost because He ever liveth to make intercession for us.
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