The Gospel according to John

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Introduction:

"The Gospel of John is anonymous; no name appears to explicitly introduce us to its author. Yet several clues are given throughout the Gospel, which help solve the mystery. One of those clues is the fact that a certain disciple is regularly referred to as, 'that disciple whom Jesus loved'. For example, in John 13:23–24, we read that this disciple whom Jesus loved was seated next to the Lord during the Last Supper. We know from reading the Gospel accounts that three disciples were closest to the Lord: Peter, James, and John. Since James had already died before the Gospel was written (85–95 C.E.), that left only Peter and John as possible authors. Another clue to the mystery author is found in John 19:26, where we read that the disciple whom Jesus loved was standing with Mary at the cross. Peter had fled earlier in the night, weeping because of his betrayal and guilt. Only John remained.

"The final clue is found in the last few verses of the Gospel. Peter was walking and talking with the resurrected Lord and during their conversation Peter, 'saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them' (John 21:20). Following Peter's conversation with Christ, that same disciple who was following Peter and Jesus wrote, 'This is the disciple who bears witness of these things, and wrote these things...' (John 21:24).

"While John never referred to himself directly, there is no question that this beloved disciple wrote the grandest account of Christ's biography in the whole world.

"John's purpose for writing the Gospel is very clear. 'Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in his name.' (John 20:30, 31)." [30]

The text quoted in the paragraph above emphasises salvation through belief, and the same idea occurs in the much-quoted John 3:16. John's is sometimes described as an intellectual Gospel, more attuned to Greek thinking than Jewish ideas. One might call it the first international version! However, one does not have to have deep understanding to understand John; he concentrates on hard evidence and practical service (see comments on the First Epistle of John). John frequently refers to witnesses[2 p.11]. After placing Jesus in a timeless context in the opening verses of chapter 1, he puts him in a historical context by reference to John the Baptist. It appears that he assumes that his readers have heard of John. This focus on the tangible physical evidence was unusual in an age that emphasized spiritual things. All five senses are mentioned:

  1. sight: 4:48, 9:1–7;
  2. smell: 11:39, 12:3;
  3. touch: 20:17;
  4. taste: 2:9;
  5. hearing: 1:37 [34].

This book has always been linked with someone called John[31 p.74], and "John's Gospel is part of a 'school' of writings which include the three Epistles and Revelation" [2 p.154]. The book was probable written in the last quarter of the first century, probable in the last decade. The author probably knew at least one, perhaps all, of the other three canonical gospels, as well as aural tradition.[2 p.101].

John's Gospel has a distinct style throughout, indicating that it had a single author.[31 p.89] A later editor would have removed difficulties such as 14:31b.[31 p.107] The author was able to instruct the churches because he embodied Christian tradition, and was well known, so no name need be mentioned.[31 p.29]

John frequently uses the term the Jews in a derogatory sense, and in the third person, suggesting that the intended audience was gentile Christians and excluded Jewish converts.[31 p.118–9] He means those Jews who reject Jesus, which may be the authorities in Jerusalem[35] or crowds demanding signs in Galilee[2 p.29]. He portrays Christianity as being what Judaism claims to be, and consequently his theology is grounded in Exodus and Deuteronomy[2 p.166].

The Gospel is precise concerning the geography and customs of Palestine, Judaea and Samaria. In John's Gospel hardly anything of consequence happens in Galilee, unlike the Synoptics. That points to an author who was not a Galilean fisherman as John son of Zebedee was. The Roman authorities only banished upper-class and influential people to remote islands like Patmos. Also John's Gospel shows excellent knowledge of Jerusalem and Judaea. Also it is less focussed than the Synoptics on the problems of the poor. Hengel concludes that the author of John's Gospel was not John son of Zebedee but a man from the Jerusalem upper class, known to the high priestly families, who witnessed Jesus's ministry and death in his late teens.[31 p.111, 124, 126, 130]

There are curious differences between John and the Synoptic Gospels (see Gospels); he places the Great Confession on the lips of Mary sister of Lazarus (John 11:27) rather than Peter; he gives greater prominince to women that the synoptics[46], such as most of Chapter 4 being focussed on the woman at the well. Another significant difference is that he replaces the institution of the Eucharist with foot-washing. The meaning of the Eucharist is there nonetheless, in verses like John 6:32–35 and 6:48–58. John validates Jesus's ministry by miracles, rather than as fulfilment of prophecy as in the synoptics[24]. John, the only disciple to witness the crucifixion, presents it not as martyrdom but revelation, giving a different emphasis to his entire Gospel[20].

The book is written more as drama than dogma or assertions, and so conveys richer meaning. Rather than telling us what to believe, it generally (the prologue being an exception) challenges us to ponder how the events of Jesus's life apply to our own context, often using the sequence "as... so..." By describing foot-washing in place of holy communion he makes the application of Jesus's example open to all believers rather than just the clergy[36].

There are allusions to the Hebrew scriptures, rather than the specific quotations in the synoptic Gospels. The glory and power of God is shown in many references to bounty. Jesus brings the limitless glory and power of God to all people without discrimination or limit; that is the Christian Gospel that we should demonstrate and proclaim, the light that should shine in darkness everywhere.[36] (cf. Isaiah 9:2.)

The Greek in the Revelation to John is poor, but that in John's Gospel is good, so many commentators suppose he must have worked on it with others. Nevertheless, both the Gospel of John and the Apocalypse are written in Greek with a strong Hebrew influence.[31 p.110] The teaching style favours sequences of three incidents or statements which build to a climax, such as John 1:1, and groups of "truly, truly" sayings[36].

John selected seven "signs" that clearly proved the deity of Christ and his rightful claim as Messiah. (The word used for "sign" is the one used in legal proceedings for a proof[35].) In them he met and exceeded needs of every kind, each time with commanding words echoing John 1:1:

  1. John 2:1–11: Turning water into wine in Cana
  2. John 4:46–54: Healing an official's son in Capernaum
  3. John 5:1–18: Healing an invalid at the Pool of Bethesda
  4. John 6:5–14: Feeding the 5,000 near the Sea of Galilee
  5. John 6:16–21: Walking on the water of the Sea of Galilee
  6. John 9:1–38: Healing a blind man in Jerusalem
  7. John 11:1–45: Raising Lazarus from the dead in Bethany.

There are also seven occasions when Jesus says "I am..." echoing the name of God: (Exodus 3:14, Isaiah 41:4 and 43:11). These replace the "dominical words" at the institution of the Lord's Supper in the Synoptic Gospels[35].

  1. John 6:35f (the bread of life);
  2. John 8:12 and John 9:5 (the light of the world);
  3. John 10:7–10 (the gate for the sheep);
  4. John 10:11–16 (the good shepherd);
  5. John 11:25–26 (the resurrection and the life);
  6. John 14:6–7 (the way, the truth and the life);
  7. John 15:1f (the true vine).

The book is structured as follows:

  1. Introduction: Who Jesus Christ was: John 1:1– 51
  2. Seven Signs of the Saviour: What Jesus Christ did: John 2:1–12:50
  3. In the School of the Saviour: How we should live: John 13:1–17:26
  4. The Passion of the Saviour: What we can believe: John 18:1–20:31
  5. The Farewell of the Saviour: Why we should serve: John 21:1–25.

Jesus is the light of the world, revealing God's love. By accepting him, and thus his message, people become born to spiritual life, and destined for eternal life in heaven. Jesus is the good shepherd of his people, who gives up his life for them. We should respond by "washing each other's feet" and the disciples are to "feed my lambs".

It is curious that John does not include any of the parables and stories Jesus told, nor the institution of baptism or holy communion (but see 6:54). Perhaps John omits holy communion because he sees the statement "I am the bread of life" as far too far-reaching to be summed up in a single ritual; Jesus is supposed to energise our entire lives.

It is sometimes claimed that John's Last Supper discourse (John 13:31–17:26) is too long to have been said on one occasion, and must be concocted from a number of sayings. In fact it amounts to just under 3,000 words, and could have been delivered at 100 words per minute in half an hour.

Commentary

1:1

John starts his Gospel with the same words as the start of the Greek version of Genesis; he was consciously writing scripture.[36] In re-writing Genesis 1, John is effectively re-writing Judaism.[2 p.181] This is a fresh start before God.

The opening sentence unites Hebrew and Greek fundamental beliefs: a universe at whose beginning God was already in control, and the logical words and ideas beloved by philosophers.[33] In so doing he connects the book with significant influences on his audience, and shows that the Gospel has unlimited relevance, connecting individual people with the cosmic[36]. The logos ("Word") or wisdom is present to some extent in every human being. Therefore everyone has some of the light that should lead us to God.

"As we come to John's Gospel, we are enabled to stand back from the events of Christmas in order to consider the bigger picture." What is actually going on here? John's answer is that, through the birth of the Christ child, God is communicating with us, speaking to us in a language that we can understand. In a miraculous way, he has entered our world and become one of us. He has clothed himself in human flesh in order that we can see with our eyes what he is like and hear with our ears what he has to say. That is what we mean by incarnation — the invisible God becoming visible, God entering our world and becoming one with us, making himself accessible." [1]

1:9

"true light" means the light source, rather than reflected light.

1:11

"his own" means "his fellow citizens"; the Greek cannot indicate possession[2 p.8].

1:12

Sons: see comment on Romans 8:14.

Some (including early commentators such as St Crysostom) understand this verse to mean that becoming sons [and daughters] of God is not an automatic and instantaneous process but one that progresses gradually through cooperation with the Holy Spirit.[2 p.175]

1:13

There is at a parallel between the miraculous conception of Jesus and the Christian's rebirth to eternal life by God's grace. Both occurred by God's will. Jesus is the fore-runner of our rebirth.

1:14

"Dwelt among us": the New Covenant relationship with God as "Emmanuel", unlike the way he dwelt outside the camp under the Old Covenant (Exodus 33:7).[2 p.158]

Like 2 Peter 1:17–18, this is an eye-witness account of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:2, Mark 9:2, Luke 9:28). In Mark 9:10 Jesus told the three witnesses to tell others about it, which John does through these words.

"Grace and truth" together are the nature of Jesus; Christians who lack one or the other are not true to their calling.

1:15

In Luke 16:16 Jesus says that the start of John's ministry was the start of the New Testament era.

1:16

"fulness" refers back to verse 14[2 p.9]. The subject has moved on from Jesus the eternal God to the Christian community as his people.

1:17

By mentioning Moses and Jesus, John is contrasting Judaism and Christianity. The word grace is never used in the Synoptic Gospels, but frequently in the Epistles; cf. Galatians 2:21.

1:18

To get the whole of John's teaching on this point, see John 12:37–50. cf. John 6:46, John 1:18. cf. 1 John 4:12.

1:21

It is curious that John denied that he was Elijah, but in Matthew 11:14 and Luke 1:76 Jesus said that in some sense he was.

1:23

John is identifying himself with Isaiah 40:3. Crooked paths are a metaphor for crooked actions, as in Isaiah 59:8.

1:29

= Matthew 3:13f, Mark 1:9f, Luke 3:21f.

cf. Genesis 22, Isaiah 53:7. In one sentence John the Baptist announces that Jesus supersedes the Old Testament system of sacrifices for sin. His statement was the first public announcement of who Jesus really was. It is also the first statement in John's Gospel about Jesus the Man, as opposed to the "Word"; so we can assume that the author thought it important.

In Aramaic the words for Lamb and Servant are the same, "talya". There is therefore a direct connection between John's statement and both the Mosaic Law and the Servant Songs in Isaiah. Also notice the traditional Hebrew symmetrical style of story-telling, in that John first describes Jesus's eternal being ("Word") and then describes him as "the Lamb", which he will then repeat in reverse at the end of the Gospel when he describes the crucifixion and resurrection.

1:30

When John the Baptist says "he was before me" he does not mean that Jesus was born earlier, because when Mary was told about Jesus by the Angel, she was told that Elizabeth was already six months pregnant with John. It must therefore indicate that Jesus is an eternal being.

1:32

"remain" suggests Jesus's role as the one who provides the Holy Spirit for his people.[2 p.13]

1:36

See on John 1:29.

1:37

This is an example of John emphasizing the reality of the Gospel by mentioning all of the five senses.

1:38–39

In this subtle conversation Jesus asked two of John's disciples why they had started following him around; the disciples replied in a way that implied that they wanted to become Jesus's disciples and go with him wherever he went, which Jesus invited them to do.

1:42

See comments on Matthew 16:18.

1:44

The information in this verse is unique to John's Gospel, indicating that it was is not dependent on the other Gospels for its material. Andrew, John and Philip knew each other.

1:45

This remark may refer to Deuteronomy 18:15.[2 p.132]

1:46

See comment on Psalm 4:6.

1:47

See comment on Psalm 32:2. Nathanael was "true" in the sense that he spoke his mind.

1:48

See Psalm 139:2. Sitting under a fig tree was a sign of a successful Israelite in 1 Kings 4:25.

1:51

This verse is difficult to relate those before and after it, because the word "you" is plural in the original Greek[39]; it is not part of Jesus's conversation with Nathanael alone.

It is said that the Rabbis taught that the prophets used the Law, the Word of God, as a ladder to ascend to God and bring messages back from him; this verse portrays Jesus as the new Law, the Word incarnate.

Pryor[2 p.124f], quoting C.H. Dodd, takes this further, by comparing Jesus's comment with Jacob's Ladder in Genesis 28:12. Jacob was renamed Israel in Genesis 32:28 so he is the "representative and father of the nation"[2 p.126]. The original Israel failed to enter the Promised Land after 40 years in the wilderness; Jesus led a new way to enter into God's promises after spending 40 days defeating temptation in the wilderness, creating a "new Israel (see comment on Galatians 6:16). In Daniel 7:13–14 "one like a son of man" stood before God and received great and lasting authority. Jesus, a focus of the angels' worship, is the representative of a new Israel comprising people from all nations who, like Nathanael, believe in him.

2:1–11

John describes the wedding at Cana in Galilee as a "sign", in other words, something that points to something else. What had started like any other day developed unusual features that gave it special meaning. Taken together with the feeding of the 5000 (and 4000) it prefigures the Eucharist. The unusual features seem to be: wine running out at a wedding; Jesus's comment to his mother; Jesus's instruction to the waiters; and the comment indicating that the water had become excellent wine.

Mary sets an excellent example of prayer. Firstly she tells Jesus what the problem is, without telling him how to solve it. Secondly, she recognises that there may be practical things to be done in support of the answer to prayer.

Jesus's reply to his mother is interesting. He (like God the Father, though see Genesis 2:2) can never declare that he is "off duty". On this occasion he is not the bridegroom and so he is not responsible for the wine, but he is already aware that a time will come when he will be described as bridegroom and he will provide new wine to replace what "is finished" (John 19:30).

The miracle echoes Isaiah 55:1–2 — see comments about "wine without price" there. When Jesus answers his mother negatively but does the miracle anyway he is like the son who refused to work in his father's vineyard by went anyway. See also Bread in Appendix 2. It also has similarities with the first of the plagues on Egypt under Moses (Exodus 7:17f): the Nile was water that became undrinkable; the water at Cana became drinkable.

So the miracle seems to point toward then end of the Old Testament era and the start of a new one which is far better. Ritual cleanliness is replaced by a plain indication of God's blessing. This event is a sign of the fulfilment of Isaiah 62:4–5, the wedding feast of the Lamb, when God's people learn to call him "husband" rather than Baal which means "Lord" (Hosea 2:16).[3 p.44] God is identified as husband to his people in Jeremiah 31:32, and it is usual for the husband's family to provide wine for the wedding.

Grün suggests that John wanted to show Jesus as meeting and exceeding the hopes of the Greek cult of Dionysus (god of wine and inebriated love), whose priests used to place three pots of water in the temple on the day before his feast day, which would turn into wine for the feast.[4 p.173]

As Mary apparently guessed (verse 5), there was work to be done in order to receive God's response to the need. It involved hard work (shifting a lot of water) and embarrassingly peculiar thing to do (taking water to the steward as if it was wine). Similarly Rebekah worked hard watering camels in Genesis 24:14f, and subsequently received the blessing of a pivotal role in God's chosen people.

This miracle, of which the beneficiaries were probably unaware, is a reminder that God helps us in many ways that we are not aware of, provided we energetically play our part.

2:1

The significance of the mention of the third day may be a parallel with Jesus's resurrection on the third day (Matthew 20:19); there is a common thread of newness. It was also the day on which the Hebrews met God in Exodus 19:16.

2:3

Providing insufficient wine for a wedding was at the very least profoundly shameful; it could well escalate into a lasting feud between families. This is the disaster that Jesus acted to avoid.

2:4

"Hour": see John 16:21.

2:5

Mary was able to tell the servants what to do, so she seems to have had some authority, perhaps as a relative of the wedding couple and a principal guest, but to make way for the miracle she had to yield that authority to Jesus, so that he could do the Father's will in the Father's way and in the Father's time.

Perhaps John is emphasizing a parallel with the provision of food during the famine in Genesis 41:44–55. In both cases, while God was working incomprehensibly, strict obedience was essential (cf. Genesis 41:44).

2:6

Stone vessels were used to contain the vast amounts of water for the purification rituals associated with marriage, because they were believed to be immune from becoming impure, unlike pottery vessels.[31 p.111] The quantity of water that became wine equates to about 1000 typical wine bottles. The servants would have worked hard to draw so much, cf. Rebecca drawing for ten camels in Genesis 24:14.

2:7

The servants obeyed Jesus's command whole-heartedly, filling the pots completely. Had they stopped short, there would have been a reduced blessing.

2:9

This is an example of John emphasizing the reality of the Gospel by mentioning all of the five senses.

2:11

Jesus showed by providing wine in place of water that he was a priest after the order of Melchizedek[37 p.9] — see Genesis 14:18–20.

2:14–25

This incident sits uncomfortably next to the marriage at Cana; we might ask, is Jesus fun-loving or a spoil-sport? The Synoptic Gospels add that Jesus quoted Isaiah 56:7 which calls for joy for all in God's house. So both incidents in John 2 show Jesus seeking joy for people.

Pryor[2 p.15–16] thinks the connection is shown by the fact that the water that became wine was meant for Jewish purification, and then the Jewish Temple was purified (and p17 John conflates two events to mention here that Jesus predicted its destruction). In each case Jesus brought something new and better.

2:15

Since we are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), we should expect God to drive out our unholy ways.

2:17

The quotation is from Psalm 69:9.

2:19

See Appendix 2: Temple.

2:23–25

Pryor[2 p.18] says these verses are a prelude to chapter 3, but many see them as a conclusion to chapter 2.

3:1–8

The conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus seems disjointed, perhaps strained. Jesus is doing something so new that it cannot be explained in terms of traditional Jewish theology. Pryor[2 p.18] draws attention to the repetition of "man" in the last verse of chapter 2 and the first of chapter 3. In other words, Jesus who knew what was in man, knew what was in Nicodemus, and responded accordingly. The link with chapter 2 is strengthened by Nicodemus's opening remark about signs in verse 2.

Verse 3 might seem to be a challenge to Nicodemus, meaning that being Jewish, even being an important Jew, is not enough for salvation; but it can be read as Jesus affirming that Nicodemus's comment was perceptive and shows that his spiritual eyes have been opened.

Unfortunately Nicodemus was unable to understand Jesus's metaphor of being re-born, even when Jesus explained it in more detail in verses 5–8. Conversion to Judaism was regarded by Rabbis as rebirth; it was as if any sins committed beforehand were done by a different person, so the slate was efectively wiped clean. But Nicodemus would have regarded himself as saved already; he could not see his need for Jesus's sacrifice.[2 p.174]

We use the phrase "be born again" readily, but do we really understand it any better than Nicodemus? What did Jesus really mean? The context seems to be that Nicodemus, like us, was used to understanding God's world in a particular way, and to worshipping in a certain pattern. Jesus was trying to explain that God was starting to do something new, but it seemed that Nicodemus's great knowledge of the old ways actually made it harder for him to understand anything new. Jesus responds by asking him to start again — "be born again" — go back to basics. Jesus leads him through this process in verses 9–13.

Nicodemus, as a teacher of Israel, wanted to understand and to be able to explain to others. Jesus's mysterious remarks headed him away from that idea, to perceive things that even godly people can barely glimpse.

The underlying pastoral principle seems to be that Jesus challenges those who think they know a lot by showing them how much else there is that they don't know and indeed cannot know. False security must be replaced by trust in God, like when Jesus met a rich young man and he told him to give his wealth away (Matthew 19:21).

The fact that John tells us that this happened "at night" is John's way of saying that Nicodemus was "in the dark" — cf. John 7:50.

3:5

The process requires both human and divine involvement[2 p.19] (cf. Ezekiel 36:25–26); see comment on 1:12.

3:9–13

Jesus then abandons metaphors for deep truths and starts to teach Nicodemus in the simplest terms, based on Old Testament incidents that Nicodemus surely understands, in the following verses. The result is concise teaching that has helped millions over the centuries.

3:14

Jesus compares his coming death with the Serpent on the Pole (Numbers 21:9). Just looking at the bronze serpent may have seemed an absurdly small thing to do to be saved from snake-bite. It was an illustration of the simplicity of salvation through faith in Christ; faith rather than works. Nevertheless the Hebrews in the desert would never have thought that looking at the bronze serpent was the whole of their duty to God, and nor should the Christian think that obtaining salvation by faith in Christ completes their Christian duty. See also Matthew 7:16–18, 1 John 5:1–2 and James 2:17–20.

Jesus seems to have obtained a lot of his understanding of his own role from the Old Testament. See John 12:32 for ideas about how he learned that when he was lifted up he would draw not just the Jews but all nations to himself.

3:16–19

Verse 16 has been described as "God's valentine message". However, the following verses speak of increasing polarisation between people, developing Simeon's mysterious prophecy in Luke 2:34.

3:19

cf. Luke 12:2, 1 Thessalonians 5:4–7.

3:22

We should not take this verse too literally — see John 4:2.

3:23f

The seemingly unconnected stories about Nicodemus and John the Baptist are actually connected by the idea of salvation through water and spirit (:5)[2 p.21]. This passage shows that John the Baptist saw Jesus as being in another league from himself.

3:24

This is an example of John assuming that the reader knows background information (John the Baptist was imprisoned) that he too knew about, but chose not to discuss[35].

3:33–36

cf. 1 John 2:22.

4:5

The connection between the well and the patriarchs is emphasized, so that the story makes the point that the patriarchal faith cannot provide water that leads to eternal life.

4:6f

The story of the woman at the well has similarities with the time when Abraham's servant, sent to seek a wife for Isaac, found Rebecca at a spring (Genesis 24:17). Jesus adopted Isaiah's job-description "suffering servant" (Mark 10:45), and like Abraham's servant he was in a foreign country at the time; Abraham's servant was from Damascus (Genesis 15:2) and Jesus was in Samaria whose capital is Damascus. Both asked a local woman for a drink, using their thirst as an opportunity to identify a receptive member of the community so that their mission could proceed. Abraham's servant invited Rebecca to become a key member of the great family who lived under God's promise, and in fact to help fulfil God's promise of numerous descendants.

But there are stark differences between the stories as well as similarities; Rebecca was a virgin, unlike the Samaritan woman who claimed to have no husband. Jesus invited the woman to become part of the community of people who believe God's message and spread the Gospel, showing that his ministry it to all nations, not just the Jews. Abraham's servant carried out his mission in God's strength and Abraham's name (Genesis 24:12) and we should carry out our mission in God's strength and Jesus's name. See also comment on Matthew 15:27.

We may wonder (since the text does not tell us) whether the woman had been married many times through her own fault. Also one could question her morals on the basis that she seems to have ended up in an unmarried relationship. She might have been the victim of the liberal divorce laws that Jesus criticised in Mark 10:2f.

4:10

cf. John 7:37, Zechariah 14:8. Was Jesus referring to Isaiah 58:11 or 55:1? The Samaritans accepted the "Living Water" in Acts 8:17. See also comment on John 6.

Jesus described the living water as "welling up", a continuous process. We need to receive from God continually, cf. the vine and the branches in John 15:5.

4:13–14

Jesus is offering refreshment far superior to that of Joseph's Well, that is, the Old Covenant. cf. John 6:37–40. Pryor[2 p.22] thinks that Jesus is alluding to Sirach 24:19–26 "those who drink me will thirst for more". However, the metaphorical water is similar to that in Isaiah 58:11 where it is linked to justice.

4:16

Jesus suddenly changes the subject from physical thirst to spiritual thirst. In this case, the woman's greatest need was for stability in her personal relationships.

4:20

The Samaritan religion says that God should be worshipped on Mount Gerizim, but Jesus taught that local religion is now redundant.[5]

4:21–23

"Hour": see John 16:21.

4:32

cf. Matthew 6:33, Mark 7:18–19, Romans 14:2, Romans 14:17–22.

4:37

One sows and another reaps. A reaper of the spiritual harvest is termed an evangelist. An American church growth specialist said that only about church member in ten has the gift of evangelism.[6] Those of us who are not evangelists should not think that lack of an instant harvest means that our work was unfruitful; we should view our work as planting, hoeing etc., with the expectation that someone else will reap the harvest, at another time.

4:44

cf. Mark 3:31–35.

4:46

This royal official (someone employed by Herod Antipas) could be the same person as the centurion in Matthew 8:5–13 and Luke 7:1–10, because the Herods employed some military people as servants. If so, the healing of this gentile's son confirms the Samaritans' identification of Jesus as the saviour of the world, not just of the Jews, in v.42. What Nicodemus could not understand in 3:1f, the gentiles do. Judaism had developed a limited mind-set which prevented people from perceiving what God was doing. From now on Jesus increasingly made claims which were unacceptable to Judaism.[2 p.24–25]

4:48

This is an example of John emphasizing the reality of the Gospel by mentioning all of the five senses.

4:52–53

"Hour": see John 16:21.

5:1

Suddenly the scene shifts from rural Galilee to the city of Jerusalem, many miles to the south. This chapter is heavy with irony: Jesus not only has power to heal, he also has authority to judge and admit people to heaven, yet he allows them to judge him instead. Those who reject him are condemned out of their own mouths, and choose not to go to heaven where he is going.

5:2–13

By picking one man to be healed, and specifically one that had sought healing at the pool for decades, Jesus demonstrated to them all that they were looking for healing in the wrong place.

5:4

This is regarded by some commentators as a marginal note that has been incorporated into the text[42].

5:6

The man might be used to making a living by begging. See comment on Mark 10:51.

5:8–9

The fourth commandment was interpreted as forbidding people from carrying anything on the Sabbath, so Jesus commanded the cripple to break that interpretation of the Law. Jesus's objective was not to re-integrate him into Jewish society but to set him free from its shackles.

5:10–17

See comment on Genesis 2:2–3.

5:14

Jesus's remark implies that the man also needed spiritual healing.

5:17–18

See comment on John 10:25.

5:18f

These verses are a key statement of John's theology.[2 p.27]

5:22

See Appendix 2 Judgement. Isaiah 11:3–4 says that the Messiah has insightful judgement and power over life and death; compare this with John 5:27–30 and the sharp two-edged sword in Revelation 1:16.

5:24

In the synoptic Gospels Jesus announces the Kingdom of Heaven in the present, and eternal life as a future hope. John combines the two; eternal life has already begun for the believer[2 p.150].

5:25

"Hour": see John 16:21.

5:27–30

See on John 5:22. The text here seems to be a compilation of several fragmentary recollections because 5:28 does not seem to follow 5:27.

5:28

"Hour": see John 16:21.

6

This chapter hints at parallels with Moses in the Exodus: a sea was crossed, a mountain climbed, many people were present, and were taught and fed miraculously in a wilderness.

This chapter (1) presents Jesus as a new Moses (see comment on 6:14) who provides living, lasting bread; (2) announces that Jesus will sacrifice his person for others; and (3) shows that Jesus is God whose life can sustain for ever. The text moves from actual bread from heaven, which the crowds liked, to metaphorical bread from heaven, which most rejected.[7] This is in contrast to what happened in Samaria in John 4, when the comparable metaphor of living water was widely accepted.

Jesus was compassionate when he saw the needy in front of him, even when this represented an inconvenient interruption.

The sequence of events here (miraculous feeding, walking on water, request for a sign, discourse about bread, the Great Confession, and Jesus talking about his coming sacrifice) exactly follows the sequence in Mark 6:31–8:33, though Mark adds a second instance of miraculous feeding. This suggests that this was the actual sequence as the events happened, not one selected by the gospel writers to make a certain point.[2 p.30]

6:1–14

The feeding of the 5,000, found in:
Matthew 14:14–21, Mark 8:1–9, Luke 9:12–17, John 6:1–14
cf. the feeding of the 4,000 in
Matthew 15:32–38, Mark 6:35–44

There are those who try to explain this miracle away, saying that the people must have had more food with them than Jesus thought. That doesn't do justice to the text. It's wrong to explain the incident away because it seems incredible; the passage is telling us that something incredible happened, which is precisely why we should sit up and take notice. It sits nicely along with the miracle of the water changed into wine at the wedding in Cana, when Jesus provided plenty of good wine for everybody.

The twelve basketfuls of leftovers are important; the manna in the wilderness couldn't be kept overnight, but the bread Jesus provided was worth saving, because it lasted. So Jesus was shown to be greater than Moses, because he provided lasting blessings, not temporary ones (cf. John 4:14). God's Holy Spirit wants to cause lasting good works to well up in us, using our meagre resources to achieve much more than we would think possible.

6:4

The Passover must have seemed significant to the feeding of the five thousand in John's mind. Passover was the festival when the Jews remembered being taken from Egypt to the Promised Land by God. During their journey through the desert a multitude was fed by "bread from heaven" (manna) and they were given the Law. Similarly, crowds followed Jesus everywhere, he fed them miraculously, and he taught them. So they would have compared Jesus with Moses.

In Jesus's day the Temple in Jesusalem used a three-year lectionary, and one of the three readings for Passover was Isaiah 51:6–16 which mentions the roaring of the sea, yet the redeemed pass through it. Verses 16–21 can be seen as a fulfilment of that.[2 p.32]

6:9

=Matthew 14:17, Mark 6:38, Luke 9:13.

6:10

cf. 2 Kings 4:42–44. The flock is surrounded by plentiful grass thanks to Jesus the good shepherd.

6:11

John's Gospel presents Jesus as God incarnate. It records Jesus giving thanks for the food, but not lifting his eyes to heaven, nor breaking the bread. John does wants us to think of Jesus wielding his own power rather than inviting heavenly power into a problematic situation, and there is no hint of Jesus as a broken sacrifice. cf. Matthew 14:13f, Mark 6:30f and Luke 9:16; see also 2 Kings 4:44, Psalm 145:15 and the feeding of the 4,000 in Matthew 15:36. Jesus is likely to have used the traditional words "Blessed are you, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth".

6:12

This verse might hint at the preciousness of the bread at Holy Communion.[8] But surely that is secondary, a sign that points to the deeper truths that we must seek. I see a threefold interpretation:

Firstly, the bread that Jesus gives is that unlike the manna which could not be kept overnight (Exodus 16:19–20), the bread Jesus provides is lasting. Jesus was bringing in a new, eternal, salvation.

Secondly, the disciples' task was a sign of their future role in seeking out lost people and uniting the scattered. A prayer in Didache "But concerning the eucharist" confirms this interpretation.

Thirdly, the amount collected demonstrated increase. Jesus is the living bread (6:35) and the increase in the bread is analogous to the spread of the Gospel and the growth of God's kingdom.

6:13

Under Moses, the people gathered manna in the wilderness (Exodus 16:16), and we might imagine that each carried a basket while collecting it. The disciples must have presented a similar scene as they wandered around picking up crumbs and putting them into baskets. The fact that the baskets became full indicates that there was plenty.

6:14

The "prophet who should come" refers to Deuteronomy 18:15–18, which by Jesus's time was interpreted not as promising a series of mortal prophets such as Joshua but a single outstanding one at the the end of the age, who would supply godly teaching — and perhaps Manna from heaven as well. Jesus's teaching features strongly in the next chapter.[2 p.111]

6:15

The people responded to the sign of the new Moses by trying to make Jesus king, a more secular kind of leader; cf.1 Samuel 8:19. Jesus started to teach them to see him not as their king but as their God, leading to the first I AM saying in verse 35.

6:16–21

See comment on verse 4. In verse 20 Jesus used the same phrase "I AM" as in his I AM sayings (verse 6:35).

"Jesus left the disciples frightened, confused, bewildered and in the dark." [40]

6:21

Jesus is fulfilling Psalm 107:30.

6:27

cf. seeking treasure in heaven (Matthew 6:19–24) and Matthew 4:3–4.

6:30

It seems amazing that, straight after the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus was challenged to do something comparable with the Manna in the Wilderness in the time of Moses.

6:35f

This is the first of Jesus's seven "I AM" sayings; the full list is:

  1. John 6:35f (the bread of life);
  2. John 8:12 and John 9:5 (the light of the world);
  3. John 10:7–10 (the gate for the sheep);
  4. John 10:11–16 (the good shepherd);
  5. John 11:25–26 (the resurrection and the life);
  6. John 14:6–7 (the way, the truth and the life);
  7. John 15:1f (the true vine).
6:37–40

cf. John 4:13–14, John 17:12.

6:46

To get the whole of John's teaching on seeing the Father, see John 12:37–50. cf. John 1:18, John 14:9, 1 John 4:12.

6:53

This verse appears to say that taking communion is necessary for salvation, and has been interpreted this way by influential writers such as Calvin, but verse 63 shows that it is actually the Holy Spirit that we must ingest. cf. Luke 22:19.

6:56

Think of a wedding; it’s not just two people becoming one, but two families coming together. The groom becomes a member of the bride's family; the bride becomes a member of the groom's family. Similarly, as we receive the Holy Spirit we become members of God's family; as he enters us, we enter him.

Also, in order to take Christ into the world, we must first take him into ourselves.

7:1f

The more Jesus said about himself, the more division appeared among the people and even his family. As he clarified himself, they clarified their responses to him. Those who tried to fit Jesus's teaching into their existing world-view found it impossible, as Nicodemus did in Chapter 3[2 p.36].

7:28

cf. Isaiah 42:1–9, and see comments on verse 37.

7:30

"Hour": see John 16:21.

7:37

Standing up and speaking out in the temple was a shocking thing to do. Traditionally a Rabbi sat down to teach (cf. Luke 4:20). Perhaps this was to contrast with standing to read; by sitting to preach they indicated that their words were not on a level with God's word.

The context was significant. Deuteronomy 16:13f gives instructions for the Feast of Tabernacles comprising seven days; by Jesus's time it had become traditional on those seven days to pour water from the Pool of Siloam so that it ran down from the Altar, and then in the evening to light large seven-branched candlesticks giving much light (perhaps the seven lights imply all light[11], in other words, perfect knowledge, though Grün[4 p.115] says the number seven symbolizes something earthly being made divine). The Pool of Siloam was demolished in AD70[35] so the author demonstrates knowledge of Jerusalem in the time of Christ.

It had become traditional to add an eighth day ("the greatest day of the feast") on which the water and lights were absent. It was on the eighth day that Jesus offered to supply water and light himself.

The words he used resemble Isaiah 55. Some commentators see poignancy in the suggestion that some might be "thirsty" at the climax of the feast when they would hope to be "full". cf. John 4:10. Jesus does not just call those who are thirsty for God, but those who are thirsty for anything, not realizing that God can meet every need. Therefore evangelism should seek out those who are aware of need of any kind.

7:38

cf. James 2:17–26.

7:50

Nicodemus met Jesus by night (John 3:1–21) but their conversation seemed inconclusive. While he defends Jesus here, there is no evidence that he has progressed beyond being an enquirer; he does not dismiss the faith out-of-hand, but is not yet an adherent.

7:53–8:11

This incident sits uncomfortably in its context of Jesus teaching about himself in the temple (though perhaps those who didn't want to hear that message were glad of a distraction from it); it serves here to confirm Jesus not judging, yet basing what he said on the Law[2 p.40].

8:5

As in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–6) Jesus takes a relevant portion of the Law (Deuteronomy 17:7 in this case) and demands a higher standard by saying that whoever casts the first stone must be without sin. This principle is similar to his teaching on hypocrisy in Matthew 7:1–5 and the parallel account in Luke 6:41–42.

8:12f

This is the second of Jesus's seven "I AM" sayings; the full list is:

  1. John 6:35f (the bread of life);
  2. John 8:12 and John 9:5 (the light of the world);
  3. John 10:7–10 (the gate for the sheep);
  4. John 10:11–16 (the good shepherd);
  5. John 11:25–26 (the resurrection and the life);
  6. John 14:6–7 (the way, the truth and the life);
  7. John 15:1f (the true vine).
8:19

Some say that this comment was an unkind reference to the uncertainty surrounding Jesus's parentage (cf. John 8:41), so John's Gospel is consistent with the Virgin Birth, though John does not mention it explicitly.

8:20

"Hour": see John 16:21.

8:33

Contrary to the remarks reported here, Judaism teaches that Abraham's descendants were slaves in Egypt, and when these words were spoken they were under Roman rule.

8:41

Some say that this comment was an unkind reference to the uncertainty surrounding Jesus's parentage (cf. John 8:19), so John's Gospel is consistent with the Virgin Birth, though John does not mention it explicitly.

8:42

See comment on John 10:25.

8:44

The "father of the Jews, a murderer from the beginning", was Cain.[31 p.119] cf. Revelation 2:9 and 3:9 "Synagogue of Satan".[18 p.116]

8:58

Jesus's statements here and in Mark 2:5 force one to regard him as either a madman, a devil (by which he seems to mean a liar motivated by evil) or God; there are no alternatives.[10 p.52] See Matthew 16:16 for some of the evidence available to the disciples to guide their decision, and see comment on John 10:25. Jesus himself commented on this in John 10:21.

9:1–38

This is an example of John emphasizing the reality of the Gospel by mentioning all of the five senses.

It would be out of character for God to make the man blind just so that Jesus could heal him, and such an argument would not apply to the millions of other blind people. Jesus's point must be that we all have strengths and weaknesses. By using our strengths to show love to others, and allowing them to do the same for us, we show God's character. (Thus this incident is consistent with John's decision to describe Jesus washing the disciples' feet rather than the institution of Holy Communion.) In this case, the healing of the blind man revealed God's glory by symbolising the way Jesus brings light into darkness[2 p.41].

As the encounter unfolds, the man who was blind calls Jesus "a man" in v.11, "a prophet" in v.17, "of God" in v.33, and he worships him in v.38. But the pharisees consistently call Jesus "a sinner" in v.16 and v.24.

9:3

See comment on 1 Kings 17:18.

9:5f

This repeats the second of Jesus's seven "I AM" sayings; the full list is:

  1. John 6:35f (the bread of life);
  2. John 8:12 and John 9:5 (the light of the world);
  3. John 10:7–10 (the gate for the sheep);
  4. John 10:11–16 (the good shepherd);
  5. John 11:25–26 (the resurrection and the life);
  6. John 14:6–7 (the way, the truth and the life);
  7. John 15:1f (the true vine).
9:6

The Anointed One anointed the man.

9:7

Jesus sent the man to the pool called "sent"; but Pryor thinks the pun relates to Jesus being sent from God[2 p.42].

9:38

This is the only occasion where John records "earthly" Jesus receiving worship[2 p.42].

10:1–10

'Many years ago Eric Bishop was travelling by donkey from Nishapur in eastern Iran, to Sabsevar. He wrote "In the afternoon I set out to see the sights about the village. Not far away I came to a mound of earth piled up in a large circle, like a crude rampart, and on the top of the mound all around the circle was a heap of dry thorns. As I stood wondering what this might be one of the villagers approached me. "Salaam," I said, "please tell me what this enclosure is for." "Oh, that is for the sheep," he replied. "they are brought in here for the night for safety." "Good," I said, "but why have the dry thorns been piled on top of the wall?" "That," he replied "is a protection against wolves. If a wolf tries to break in and attack the sheep, he will knock against the thorns, and they will make a noise, and the shepherd will wake up, and drive off the wolf." "That is fine," I said, "but why does the wolf try to climb over the wall? Here is the entrance to the enclosure; it is open. There is no door to keep out the wolf; he could easily enter here." "Oh no," said my guide, "you do not understand. That is where the shepherd sleeps, the shepherd is the door." ' [12]

Jesus's heavy use of analogies with sheep may have arisen from the fact that when he was in the Jerusalem area he usually stayed with Mary, Martha and Lazarus in Bethany on the Mount of Olives. It would be natural for him to enter the city from there via the Sheep Gate, where there has been a sheep market for thousands of years. See also Ezekiel 34.

10:4

See comment on John 10:27.

10:7–10

The shepherd provides for the sheep a rhythm related to that of workdays and sabbaths: the sheep pass periodically through the gate of the sheepfold, going out to feed, and in to rest.

This is the third of Jesus's seven "I AM" sayings; the full list is:

  1. John 6:35f (the bread of life);
  2. John 8:12 and John 9:5 (the light of the world);
  3. John 10:7–10 (the gate for the sheep);
  4. John 10:11–16 (the good shepherd);
  5. John 11:25–26 (the resurrection and the life);
  6. John 14:6–7 (the way, the truth and the life);
  7. John 15:1f (the true vine).
10:10

Jesus has paid the price of sin and set us free. Heaven's riches are ours, paid for on his account. If you buy something for somebody (e.g. a birthday present), your hope is that they will enjoy it to the full, unhindered by worries concerning its cost to you. So fulfil his wish: enjoy yourself! But heaven's riches are not to be enjoyed by grasping and hoarding them (Matthew 10:37–39). For a start, they don't keep (cf. the manna — Exodus 16:4) and also they achieve nothing and lose their lustre when they are not used (Luke 19:12f).

10:11–16

Good Shepherd: cf. Ezekiel 34:11f. This is the fourth of Jesus's seven "I AM" sayings; the full list is:

  1. John 6:35f (the bread of life);
  2. John 8:12 and John 9:5 (the light of the world);
  3. John 10:7–10 (the gate for the sheep);
  4. John 10:11–16 (the good shepherd);
  5. John 11:25–26 (the resurrection and the life);
  6. John 14:6–7 (the way, the truth and the life);
  7. John 15:1f (the true vine).
10:22

The Feast of Dedication (celebrating the re-dedication of the temple in 165 BCE after it was defiled by invaders) is now known as Hunukkah, the feast of lights. The winter weather echoes the cold reception that Jesus received in Jerusalem.

10:25

"I told you": Jesus had been understood as claiming equality with God in John 5:17–18, in 8:42 and 8:58.

10:27

cf. John 10:4. Sheep knew Jesus's voice at the empty tomb (John 20:11) and the restoration of Peter (John 21:12).

10:28–29

Some people interpret these verses to mean that a person who has believed the Gospel and been saved cannot thereafter be lost. St Paul did not agree, as shown by 1 Thessalonians 3:5. Nobody else can separate us from Christ, but we can choose to go our own way. Indeed he was afraid that at the last he might prove to have missed the prize — see Philippians 3:12.

10:33

See comment on John 10:25.

10:34

Jesus cites Psalm 82:6–7, which was traditionally interpreted as a reference to the Hebrews wandering in Sinai[2 p.46]. They were given heavenly law, fed with heavenly food, and their sandals did not wear out; yet they sinned, and a whole generation died in the desert.

11:1f

The raising of Lazarus from the dead to new life is the climax of Jesus's healing ministry, and the authorities found such a dramatic miracle happening so close to Jerusalem unacceptable. So this event made Jesus's death inevitable, and John wants us to see the irony of the life-giver giving his own life.[2 p.11]

11:2

The mention of a future event shows that the author expected his audience to read and re-read the Gospel, gaining more insight as they did so. This verse is also an indication that the raising of Lazarus anticipates and sheds light on the raising of Jesus.[38]

11:22

cf. John 15:7.

11:24

Mary understood the resurrection as a promise for the far future, but in the next verse Jesus urged her to see it in the present.[38]

11:25f

This Gospel was written after some believers had died, which seemed to contradict Jesus's promise "...shall never taste death" (8:51). John takes care to reassure Christians that physical death does not conflict with the hope of eternal life[2 p.153]; cf. Mark 10:30 and Luke 18:30 which speak of the world to come.

This is the fifth of Jesus's seven "I AM" sayings; the full list is:

  1. John 6:35f (the bread of life);
  2. John 8:12 and John 9:5 (the light of the world);
  3. John 10:7–10 (the gate for the sheep);
  4. John 10:11–16 (the good shepherd);
  5. John 11:25–26 (the resurrection and the life);
  6. John 14:6–7 (the way, the truth and the life);
  7. John 15:1f (the true vine).
11:27

cf. Mark 8:27–30.

11:32

Mary repeated the words that Martha said in verse 21.[38]

11:33

Jesus found that Mary and Martha were too overcome with grief to engage with his theological teaching. This verse is unusual, if not unique, in John's Gospel in showing Jesus apparently overwhelmed by his context. With hindsight we regard his emotion as a sign of his affection for Lazarus and compassion for his sisters, but cynics watching might have seen it as regret that he had been unable to save him.[38]

11:38f

The people who heard Jesus's command to open the tomb struggled to believe that any good could come of it, but they obeyed, and Lazarus was raised. So when Jesus calls for faith, he means sufficient faith to obey, rather than unwavering confidence in the result.

11:39

This is an example of John emphasizing the reality of the Gospel by mentioning all of the five senses.

11:42

The raising of Lazarus is like conversion. He hears the voice of Jesus, albeit dimly through the bandages, and obeys the call to come out to a new life. But notice that he needs help from fellow believers to become fully free. Also, saying things to God for the benefit of those overhearing seems foolish to us. Perhaps this indicates the lengths to which we need to be prepared to go in order to give glory to God rather than ourselves.

11:43

Other examples of the power of God's word ability to bring new life into any situation, no matter how hopeless, are the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37) and the sharp two-edged sword (Revelation 1:16). The story is also comparable with the raising of the dead in the last days (Revelation 20:4). See comment on Numbers 20:1–13.

11:48

It is curious that the Jewish authorities seemed so certain that what Jesus was doing would lead to the destruction of the temple; in fact he was superseding it with a new concept of what a temple is (John 2:19).

11:49–50

Caiaphas compromised the law and his morals, urging that the ends justified the means.

11:55f

John presents Jesus as being in charge of his own destiny. Here it is shown in the authorities' inability to arrest Jesus when thay want to. The appropriate time for Jesus to die for the sins of the world is the Passover, though the authorities wanted to avoid that.

12:1–2

Cf. Matthew 26:6 and Mark 14:3 which appear to relate the same incident. See also Appendix 1 Mary Martha and Lazarus.

12:3

See comments on Luke 7:38. This is an example of John emphasizing the reality of the Gospel by mentioning all of the five senses.

In Matthew 26:7 and Mark 14:3 the ointment is poured onto Jesus's head (soon to be disfigured by the crown of thorns), but this verse emphasizes the anointing of his feet, suggesting a link with the coming washing of the disciples' feet in John 13.

12:4–5

cf. Matthew's account in Matthew 26:8–9.

12:12–16

See comments on Matthew 21:2–7 and Revelation 7:9. Hosanna: see comment on Matthew 21:9.

Jesus rides an untrained animal as he fulfils God's word, unlike Numbers 22:23f where Balaam is disobedient to God and as a result his donkey, which had previously been faithful, is disobedient to him.

12:19

Even the pharisees could not avoid a grudging compliment.

12:21–22

See comments on John 1:44.

12:24–26

These verses are about foolishness. God's way is folly to men, and vice versa. Compare the theology with that in Revelation 2:1–17.

Describing a seed that is dormant in the ground as "dead" is exaggeration (hyperbole or metaphor); Jesus does this to show that the analogy is less dramatic than the real thing he is trying to explain. Pryor sees a parallel with the call to Christians to die to self in order to live fully[2 p.52]. Death was provided by God in Genesis 3:22. See comment there. Therefore death is not the problem, rather it is part of the solution. Without it we have no hope of salvation.

12:27

"Hour": see John 16:21. John admits that Jesus was troubled, but does not dwell on it, because his purpose is to emphasize Jesus's power.

12:32

This verse develops the thought in verse 20 and John 3:14. Jesus seems to know prophetically (probably from the Old Testament, e.g. Isaiah 52:13–15 and Isaiah 11:10) that his crucifixion will draw gentiles as well as Jews to him, so when he hears that Greeks have arrived this is to him a confirmation that the time for crucifixion has arrived.

12:37–50

cf. John 1:18, John 6:46, John 14:9.

12:38

The reference is to Isaiah 53:1. "Arm" presumably means strength, implying miracles that show God's power.

12:40

This reference is to Isaiah 6:10.

12:44–50

By repeating that he was sent by [God] the Father, Jesus asserts that his words have God's authority.

13:1–17

Jesus turned his attention from the Jews to his disciples, the natural consequence of 11:54. However, "his own" is not necessarily limited here to his followers (in contrast with 1:11 where it might mean the Jews, or perhaps the whole earth); he has not ceased to love even those who reject him. He died for his enemies as well as his friends, though they reject his offer.

By washing the disciples' feet, Jesus reversed their expectations, and revealed their pride or laziness. The greatest of all is the servant of all (Matthew 23:11, Mark 9:35, Luke 22:26), cf. Matthew 19:30, Romans 12:10, Philippians 2:8–9. Jesus describes himself as a deacon.

The timing (after the meal) and Jesus's comment in 13:8 indicate that Jesus washed the disicples' feet as a symbolic rather than a functional action. Pryor sees two meanings in it. Firstly, it points forward to Jesus's death cleansing his followers from sin, as the dialogue between Jesus and Peter shows. Secondly, Jesus is modelling christian service[2 p.59] living out a parable of the ultimate self-sacrifice, his coming death[2 p.171].

Peter was reluctant to accept Jesus's help, but Welby says "Giving up self-reliance allows us to receive the gifts that others have to offer." [41]

"Hour": see John 16:21.

13:14

Jesus expanded this verse into a universal principle in verse 34.

13:23

The phrase "the disciple whom Jesus loved" introduced here (and also found in John 20:2, 21:7 and 21:20) "raises the uncomfortable possibility that Jesus might have had favourites." [32] But it is more complicated than that, because the phrase always occurs in a context mentioning Peter.

13:30

Jesus had associated night time with evil rather than godly deeds in John 9:4.

13:34

This verse develops the theme illustrated by verse 14, and repeated in John 15:12–26.

13:35

Jesus appears to be referring to love between his followers, rather than for outsiders.

14:2–3

Jesus described the Bridegroom's role in adding a room for his wife onto his father's house. There is no limit to the number of people that can be accommodated in heaven; if we had to compete with each other to get in, Jesus would have told us. cf. Revelation 21:16.

14:5

Thomas asks "where are you going" and then a few verses later Jesus says "none of you asks where I am going" so the text seems garbled.

14:6–7

Jesus describes role as that of a priest, making it possible for people to reach God. (He is the High Priest, and calls his followers to participate in this work, teh priesthood of all believers.) Somehow his death is central to this, opening a way for us to avoid ignorance and destruction.

cf. Isaiah 43:11. This is the sixth of Jesus's seven "I AM" sayings; the full list is:

  1. John 6:35f (the bread of life);
  2. John 8:12 and John 9:5 (the light of the world);
  3. John 10:7–10 (the gate for the sheep);
  4. John 10:11–16 (the good shepherd);
  5. John 11:25–26 (the resurrection and the life);
  6. John 14:6–7 (the way, the truth and the life);
  7. John 15:1f (the true vine).
14:8

See comment on 1 John 3:6.

14:9

The disciples who saw Jesus saw the Father, not in his entirety, but in the way that they were best able to understand the Father's nature, that is, incarnate as a human being.

cf. Colossians 1:15. To get the whole of John's teaching on this point, see John 12:37–50. cf. John 1:18, John 6:46, 1 John 4:12.

14:12

cf. Psalm 60:12, Daniel 11:32. Some say that the church does greater miracles simply by having many people in all parts of the world, so that the Gospel is shown more widely[36], but that interpretation does not do full justice to the meaning: Jesus speaks of one (not many) doing greater works. Paul did great miracles (Acts 19:11–12) but found others doing "greater works" a problem; see 2 Corinthians 11:1–15.

John's Gospel uses the words "signs" and "miracles" many times. This verse is not about signs or miracles but works, meaning someone's whole activity and the results that come from it. The context suggests that these "greater works" are related to powerful speech.

14:13

See comment on John 15:7.

14:15–17

cf. John 15:17, James 2:14–26; if we love Jesus we will love his people. The word "If..." challenges us across the centuries; it seems that Jesus new that division within the church would damage our witness. Yet, if we love somebody we take note how our actions affect them, and we modify our actions to minimise pain to them and maximise the good we can do for them. Our conscience tells us whether we are hurting God. Those who hate God learn not to heed their consciences, and cannot please God.

In these verses belief leads to the presence of the Holy Spirit; similar words are used in verse 21 which promises the presence of Jesus. Thus for John the Spirit is the presence of Jesus[2 p.145–146].

14:16

Comforter: cf. Appendix 2: Paraclete.

The word "another" is significant. It shows firstly that Jesus saw himself as a "comforter", and secondly, that the Holy Spirit continues Jesus's work. Of the various aspects listed under Appendix 2: Paraclete, the role of advocate and counsellor stand out. Also the Holy Spirit is now "God with us" (Emmanuel).

14:21

See comment on verses 15–17.

14:22

Judas not Iscariot: see Appendix 1.

14:23

Those who do what Jesus says have the Holy Spirit living within them, establishing permanent contact.

14:26

The three members of the Holy Trinity are apparent in this verse. The Spirit's teaching will equip the Disciples (then termed Apostles due to the Holy Spirit's action promised in Acts 1:8 and carried out in Acts 2) to be the yardstick of doctrine for the Church, becoming its foundations as described in Revelation 21:14. The Spirit's effect is shown in "in the pre-Easter situation of the disciples' time with Jesus, the meaning of what Jesus has done and said is not apparent to them. But subsequent to the giving of the Spirit they not only recall the event/saying, but are able to make sense of it in the light of either Scripture (2:17, 27; 12:16) or their own experience (15:20, 16:4 — persecution)[2 p.147, original italics].

Comforter: cf. Appendix 2: Paraclete.

14:31

The text might be assembled from fragmentary recollections because after Jesus says "lets go" he talks for another three chapters; or perhaps he talked as they got ready and set off.

15

This chapter presents Jesus's sayings in pairs of sentences, the second of which clarifies the first, such as verses 1–2, 4–5, 9–10, 12–13, 14–15, 26–27. The metaphors present a stark "black-and-white" distinction between the church (rooted in Jesus by love) and the world (characterized by hatred).

The last of the great "I AM" sayings in John's Gospel. Jesus is introducing a metaphor in which he is a vine and we are its branches (verse 4); he has previously described the [Heavenly] Father as "Lord of the harvest" in Matthew 9:38. The key point of the Parable of the Vine is the importance of the Apostles' dependence on Jesus.[13] Brown[14] compares this metaphor with "the Body of Christ" (1 Corinthians 12:27) while Tasker[15 p.173] says that it re-uses a metaphor often used on the Old Testament of God's people, who God "planted" but who failed to provide the required "fruit" (Isaiah 5:1–7). The word "true" means that Jesus takes their place in order to fulfil what they have failed to do.[16]

15:1f

This is the last of Jesus's seven "I AM" sayings; the full list is:

  1. John 6:35f (the bread of life);
  2. John 8:12 and John 9:5 (the light of the world);
  3. John 10:7–10 (the gate for the sheep);
  4. John 10:11–16 (the good shepherd);
  5. John 11:25–26 (the resurrection and the life);
  6. John 14:6–7 (the way, the truth and the life);
  7. John 15:1f (the true vine).
15:2

A vine-dresser prunes off any leaves that are shading grapes from the sun, preventing them from ripening, and also removes whole branches so that the optimum balance between quality and quantity is achieved[17]. The Old Testament pictures God pruning a fruitless vine, representing people who did not serve him whole-heartedly, in Jeremiah 5:9–10[16]. There is an apparently deliberate similarity between the Greek words translated pruning in verse 2 and cleaning in verse 3, so there is a common thought running through them[18].

The aim is the removal of hindrances to fruitfulness, in other words, removal not only of evil but even of things that might in other circumstances be good but which are actually obstructing the fruit that we have individually been appointed to produce (perhaps this is what circumcision was supposed to signify in Genesis 17:10). An example is the appointment in Acts 6:1–6 of Deacons, including Stephen, to look after the poor widows so that the Apostles could concentrate on their core ministry. It is not clear what fruit is expected in general terms; 4:35–38 uses similar language and seems to mean evangelism linked with prayer[2 p.64–65].

15:3

This verse is intended to encourage the Apostles in case they feel threatened by the mention of pruning[16]. It also says that this chapter links friendship with Jesus with fruitfulness, unlike the rest of the Gospel which links belief with salvation, so perhaps Jesus is urging the Apostles (and all Christians who have accepted, through following their teaching, the same call) to move into a still deeper relationship with him.

15:4

cf. John 14:10f. At first sight, two things cannot be simultaneously inside each other — imagine a Russian doll — though two people can be mutually in love. Perhaps Jesus uses the word "in" in different ways: we are parts of his body, the Church, while his Holy Spirit dwells in us. The analogy of electricity flowing in a wire provided the wire forms part of a circuit may be useful. The next verse explains this difficult concept.

15:5

Here perhaps is the explanation of Paul's enigmatic phrase in Christ as found in Romans 8:1 for example. Jesus apparently means that as a branch is totally dependent on the water and nutrients it receives from the roots via the stem, so Christians must maintain close contact with him in order to receive the strength they need to bear the fruit he seeks. Tasker[15 pp174–175] suggests that the Eucharist represents the same truth, and regrets that some are too proud to accept their need of sustenance from Jesus and thus become unfruitful "dead branches".

John's Gospel is unique in including the foot-washing while omitting the Eucharist, though verse 5 suggests that this not due to a fundamental difference in his theology, rather that he prefers to present it in other ways.

Vine: cf. Psalm 80:8f.

15:6

Everything that was pruned off a vine in verse 2 is disposed of as described in this verse.[13] The Gospels agree that Jesus spoke of people being in danger of thrown out like rubbish, e.g. Matthew 25:30, Mark 9:47, Luke 13:28, as well as John 15:6. The Oxford Bible Commentary p989 says this is ironic, since it is what Jesus himself suffered at the hands of sinners, and is "probably an allusion to the last judgment". The consequences of not being in Jesus's "good books" are repeated in Revelation 20:15.

15:7

cf. John 11:22, John 14:13. Comparison of this verse with verse 5 suggests that answers to prayer are the means to the fruit that Jesus has in mind. When Christians who are "in Christ" pray, Christ is thus praying, and also their wills are aligned with his, so their prayers are effective[15].

15:8

The Apostles will glorify the Father by virtue of their role as Jesus's representatives in the world.[16] The word become is interesting, because the people Jesus is talking to have been known as his disciples throughout his public ministry (see Luke 6:13). So becoming Christ-like is not instantaneous but a gradual process. They will become full disciples when they have become able to bear fruit by producing new disciples, and that this will glorify the Father as he is seen working through them.[15]

15:9

The love of the Father for the Son is everlasting and immeasurable, yet unsentimental and tough enough to withstand the Crucifixion. Jesus trusted the Father's love and power sufficiently to go to the cross; we are called to be equally trusting. He is not only the source of our strength (verse 5) but also the model for our behaviour.

15:10

The "flip side" of this coin is that disobedience damages the close connection with Christ, preventing us from drawing on his resources as we should (verse 5).

15:11

Jesus promises his followers a share in his joy as his will is done; cf. Matthew 11:28–30 and 25:21.

15:12

This statement is comparable with Matthew 22:38–40 and John 13:3–35. Jesus's love is the foundation on which Christians build their love for one another[16].

15:13

When he spoke these words Jesus was about to demonstrate the highest standard of love and obedience, on the cross.

15:14

cf. Matthew 12:50. It follows from the verses 12–14 that the benefits of Jesus's sacrifice on the cross are available to those who are also prepared to make sacrifices for his sake. Perkins[16] compares this friendship with the relationship between Moses and God (Exodus 33:11).

15:15

This verse echoes the promise of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:31–33, a key characteristic of which is that through the Holy Spirit we understand God's objectives and seek ways bring them about. Communication (through prayer, as in verses 7 and 16?) is essential for friendship. John 14:26 indicates the role of the Holy Spirit in this.[15]

15:16

The Apostles had been called individually by Jesus (Matthew 4:1f). By "fruit" Jesus means "missionary activity" [16]. "Fruit" fits the metaphor of verses 4–5, while "fishing for people" (Matthew 4:19) was a more appropriate metaphor when Jesus was talking to a fisherman beside the sea. See the comments on verse 7 regarding "give you whatever you ask". The "fruit" lasts because each generation of Christians is called to pass the Apostles' teaching on to their children and neighbours.

The text makes answered prayer "in my name" conditional on lasting fruit. This could be because the fruit create the conditions for prayers to be answered, or because those who closely identify with God and his mission will know what God wants and their prayers will be focussed on that.

15:17

As Jesus's representatives we are called to love those he chooses (verse 16) to love.

15:18

Jesus is drawing a distinction between his followers and "the world" which opposes him, and will therefore oppose them. The Prince of Peace has not yet brought universal peace because many people don't want it, preferring to strive to satisfy their greed.

15:19

Each person has to choose whether to identify with the world or with Jesus; since these are in opposition, we have to take sides. The phrase "out of the world" implies that everyone who has not chosen remains on the world's side.

15:20

Jesus apparently refers to his statement recorded in Matthew 10:24. See also Matthew 10:34f. He repeats from verse 18 that "the world", which opposes him, will therefore oppose his disciples also.

15:21

Jesus repeats the idea in Matthew 9:37; John 6:57 records Jesus explaining that his heavenly Father had sent him. The persecution of the Christians was started by the Jews (not the Romans) not long after the events described here (Acts 4:1).[18]

15:22

Rejecting the words and works of the Son of God is itself a sin, besides the consequential failure to do what God requires[14 p.354].

15:23

This emphasises the idea of verse 21. See John 14:9.

15:24

This clarifies the idea of verse 22. See also Matthew 11:23–24 and 12:41–42.

15:25

Jesus is quoting Psalms 35:19 and 69:4[19], or Psalm 69:5[16]. If it is indeed the Psalms, it is curious that he describes the phrase as part of "their law"; firstly because "their" implies that he dissociates himself from the idea, despite being a Jew, and secondly because "The Law" usually means the five "Books of Moses", Genesis to Deuteronomy.

15:26

Jesus promises the gift of the Holy Spirit, described as "the Advocate", that is, one who defends us from accusation: see Appendix 2: Paraclete. Tasker p179 adds that in defending them the Advocate will naturally "expose the world's errors" as well; "This great Advocate for the defence will also act as counsel for the prosecution." Jesus took this role in Matthew 12:3.

15:27

Since this command is addressed to those who have been with Jesus "from the beginning" of his public ministry, it probably relates to the special preaching ministry of the Apostles. This special calling led them to ask others to carry out the administrative and pastoral duties which would otherwise have been a distraction (Acts 6:2). The Holy Spirit will testify (verse 26) and the Apostles share this work in order to make disciples.[16]

16:7

The Spirit is a person who arises from the relationship between the Father and the Son; the way human relationships have a certain character is a poor reflection of this truth[10 p.149]. Therefore the Son must return to the Father for the Spirit to be given. We find the Holy Spirit difficult to see because he always shows us God. See also the comments on Ephesians 4:8.

Comforter: cf. Appendix 2: Paraclete.

16:8

It seems from this verse that the Holy Spirit is an advocate (:7) upholding the reputation of the Father. This is in contrast with Jesus who is our advocate (1 John 2:1).

16:9–11

These three cryptic phrases demand careful thought, starting with a definition of sin. Right and wrong must be judged against God's standard which Jesus summarised along the lines "love God with all you've got, and your neighbour as yourself". Those who reject the words of Jesus, reject God, so disbelieving Jesus is sin. But the second and third phrases are more difficult. Jesus was treated like a criminal and sentenced to death. But God raised him from the dead, and promoted him to the highest place in heaven. Jesus is vindicated, showing that the human judges' verdict and death sentence were wrong. [45].

cf. John 3:18 and John 12:31.

16:12–15

cf. John 18:18–28, Ephesians 1:17–19.

16:16

cf. John 20:17.

16:21

John's Gospel often uses the word "hour" in a special sense. The meaning is clear in this verse where Jesus compares his coming suffering, and that of persecuted Christians, with a woman's labour pains. There is trauma and anguish, but the prospect of new life makes it all worthwhile.

Paul uses the same analogy of labour in Romans 8:22.

16:23

Experience shows that this verse does not mean that anything we pray for will come true; and the passage itself (especially verse 33) does not promise us an easy life.

16:32

"Hour": see John 16:21.

17

Rather than getting distracted by the details of the prayer it is worthwhile to notice the simple fact that in most of it Jesus is praying not for himself, nor for the world, but for his disciples, cf. Matthew 11:25–27.

Ford sees this chapter as a midrash on the Lord's Prayer[36], while Pryor sees it as a summarizing conclusion of the "farewell discourse" in preceding chapters[2 p.71]. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

17:12

cf. John 6:37–40.

17:17–19

The concept of "sanctifying" is borrowed from the setting-apart of sacrificial animals in the Law of Moses[2 p.71].

18

The precision of the geographical details of the Jerusalem area shows that John was familiar, as someone who came from near there[2 p.73].

18:2

Jesus went to a place where Judas would look for him; John emphasizes Jesus's sovereignty by showing that he chose to be betrayed[2 p.74].

18:5–6

Perhaps the guards recoiled because Jesus used the divine name I AM, and they were suitably afraid[2 p.74]. See also comment on verse 17.

18:9

cf. 6:39, 17:12 [2 p.75].

18:10

The name Malchus is not recorded in the other gospels, which shows that John used other sources.

18:11

It is intrigueing that Jesus rebuked Peter from using his sword, when according to the Luke 22:38 he let them bring swords. Perhaps the disciples were allowed to use the swords to defend themselves but not Jesus.

18:17

It is ironic that Jesus told the guards who he is using the divine name I AM (v.5), but Peter was afraid and said "I am not"[2 p.75].

18:18–28

Unlike the other gospels, John does not describe this questioning as a trial, because the sentence had already been decreed in 11:53 [2 p.76]. cf. John 16:12–15. See comment on John 19:26–27, John 21:9.

18:26

See comment on John 19:26–27.

18:28–19:16

See comment on Exodus 12:47.

John uses Jesus's trial before Pilate to voice his theme of kingship. The account has a nested structure, showing a sequence in alternating locations: [2 p.76–78]

APilate outside with the Jews
Jews demand death sentence (18:28–32)
  BPilate inside with Jesus
Discussion about kingship (18:33–38a)
    CPilate outside with the Jews
Jesus innocent, Barabbas choice(18:38b–40)
      D Pilate inside with Jesus
Jesus scourged (19:1–3)
    C'Pilate outside with the Jews
Jesus declared innocent
Jews call for crucifixion (19:4–8)
  B'Pilate inside with Jesus
Discussion about power (19:9–11)
A'Pilate outside with the Jews
Pilate passes death sentence (19:12–16)
18:31

John, the only disciple to witness the crucifixion, presents it not as martyrdom but revelation, giving a different emphasis to his entire Gospel.[20]

19:1

=Matthew 27:26.

19:2

Exodus 28:38 indicates that wearing something on the forehead indicates that sin is being dealt with. Jesus bore our sins and the crown of thorns (also related in Matthew 27:29 and Mark 15:17) meant that his forehead was stained with his own blood. Perhaps the crown of thorns symbolises the way Jesus was bearing our sins.

19:5

Pilate tries to make Jesus look ridiculous by scourging, and then produces him to the Jews with the words "Behold the man" to make their charge that Jesus is a false king look ridiculous. In so doing, Pilate unintentinally announced the "New Adam" (1 Corinthians 15:47).[2 p.78]

19:15

The statement "we have no king but Caesar" is an astonishing denial of the values of the Old Testament and Apocrypha, when the Jews vigorously opposed pagan rulers. Some commentators see this verse as a sign that the Jewish authorities admitted their apostasty.

19:19–22

Pilate's notice Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews when written in Latin read Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudæorum so the capital letters were INRI which is often used as an abbreviation in paintings of the crucifixion. The version in Hebrew would have read Yeshua Ha-Notzri Ve-Melech Ha-Yehudim; if so its initial letters were YHVH resembling the name of God[21] which has become anglicised as Jehovah. No wonder the Jews found it offensive and asked for changes!

19:24

= Matthew 27:35. This verse fulfils Psalm 22:18.

19:25

Mary the mother of Jesus was one of several parents in the bible who had to give up their children — see Exodus 2:3.

Since Mary the wife of Clopas is sister of Mary the mother of Jesus, she is Jesus's aunt, and Clopas is his uncle. If Clopas is an alternative spelling of Cleopas, which some commentators consider possible, we see them again in Luke 24 on the Emmaus road in verse 13 and inviting Jesus into their home in verse 29.

19:26–27

A Bishop of the Roman church, being interviewed by the BBC during the funeral of Pope John-Paul II on 8 April 2005, said that Mary is taken to be the mother of the church because Jesus told the disciples she was their mother from the cross. That is not what Jesus said; the references are all to one single disciple. That doctrine is not supported by a careful reading of the Gospel.

Matthew 13:55–56 indicates that Jesus grew up with four brothers and two or more sisters, so appointing John to act as surrogate elder son should not have been necessary for the sake of providing Mary with a pension for her old age. Some say that this exchange indicates that the Christian church should have a special place in its heart for believing Jews, being born out of Judaism — but why, if that is the intention, was it John who was appointed rather than, say, Peter? The same would apply if Mary was in need because she was staying in Jerusalem with the eleven while all her children were in Galilee, but Acts 1:14 says that this was not the case. Jesus did not want to commit his mother to other members of his family because they were not yet Christians.[22]

Why was John chosen? Perhaps he was the only male disciple still present. The other factors that seem to make John unique are: he was a "son of thunder" (Mark 3:17); he was one of the "inner group" allowed to witness some healings, the transfiguration, and the passion in Gethsemane (Mark 5:37, Mark 9:2, Mark 14:33); he could be selfish Mark 9:38, Mark 10:35; he was one of those sent ahead to prepare the Passover (Luke 22:8); he was fit and perhaps younger than the other disciples (John 20:4) and Jesus loved him particularly (John 13:23). The only other possibility would be if Jesus's crucifixion made the family home (which would be in his name, as eldest son with no surviving father) forfeit.

The question can also be looked at from John's point of view: did he need a new mother? He was clearly well-connected (John 18:15); while Peter was questioned three times, nobody seems to have thought it odd that John was in the High Priest's courtyard in the middle of the night during Jesus's trial; also he is able to give us background information such as relationships between participants in John 18:26. Perhaps his social situation became untenable when he became known as a follower of the Jesus who had been found guilty of blasphemy.

I conclude that Mary was distraught at the appalling sight of Jesus on the cross, and Jesus wanted her to take a conscious step of letting go of her emotional ties to him; John's faithfulness was demonstrated that he was the only disciple to remain through the crucifixion; and John's precarious position could be improved at the same time.

19:29

Hyssop: see Appendix 2: Hyssop. The mention of a herb is a sign that this event parallels Exodus 12:22.[3 p.42] It seems that John is emphasising not Jesus's sacrifice (so he omits the Last Supper) but a new Passover, which is the start of a new Exodus.

19:30

The word translated "finished" is an unusual one, reserved for formal contexts; it appears also in Luke 13:32. It was used when a legal deed was completed, and written across a custodial sentence to record that the sentence had been served and the person could go free. Robin Griffith-Jones translates it as "perfected".[23]

19:34

This fulfils Zechariah 12:10. The water and blood flow and the spirit is relinquished; see 1 John 5:3. At this moment Jesus's broken heart releases its love into the world.[4 p.99] John mentions the water and blood because they are significant: firstly they confirm that Jesus was dead, and secondly they symbolise life and cleansing flowing from his death.

Irenaeus in Against Heresies (c.180 CE) cites the tradition of the elders of Asia Minor that Jesus's ministry lasted several years as John's Gospel shows, and Jesus died at the age of about 50. [31 p.4]

19:35

cf. John 21:24.

19:37

This verse refers to Exodus 12:46, and perhaps Psalm 34:20.[5 p.lix]

19:38f

See comment on Luke 23:51.

19:39

"The amount of spices used to anount Jesus is vast, and is reminiscent of accounts of royal burials".[2 p.83]

19:40

After all the Jews' fuss about avoiding uncleanness on the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus throw caution to the winds and handle a dead body. In so doing they become unclean (Numbers 5:2) and unable to celebrate the feast (John 18:28, but see also comment on Exodus 12:47), following Jesus's example in situations like Luke 7:14.

20

In this chapter we see how three different characters (all identified by name) are able to relate in their different ways to the resurrection. Peter storms in and finds things are solid enough to handle; John pauses and finds plenty to think about; Mary weeps and encounters the risen Jesus.

We also see a progression from events in Jerusalem early in the morning, when the disciples are focussed on practical matters relating to Jesus's body, to the evening, when some are going home and pondering what has happened.

20:2

"The disciple whom Jesus loved": see comment on John 13:23.

20:4

Peter was the first male disciple to meet the risen Jesus (Luke 24:34), but the account emphasizes that the beloved disciple was first to see the empty tomb. It seems likely that this gospel was written for a community who knew knew that disciple, and the text intends to demonstrate his credentials.[2 p.87]

20:6–7

A grave robber would not have taken the shroud off before removing the corpse. A wild animal would not have folded anything neatly. If Jesus's body had been transported out of the tomb miraculously, the grave clothes would have fallen much as they were. The folding of the head-cloth is consistent with angels releasing Jesus from the grave-clothes.

20:9

Why did Jesus not ensure that his disciples understood properly what was going on, thus saving them several days appalling anguish? Perhaps it was necessary for them not to understand the plan, but to think that this was defeat, so that the devil and his forces would think the same, and be taken in. This would also explain why legions of angels sang at Jesus's birth but not at Golgotha.

20:10

Why did the disciples go to their own homes? To grieve? To think? To hide?

20:11

Mary knew Jesus's voice: cf. John 10:27 "my sheep know my voice".

20:12, 14

Why did the angels and the Lord appear to Mary but not to the disciples? The disciples were examining the facts as they found them, but Mary was actively seeking the Lord, wherever he might be. Those who seek, find. Seeking the empty tomb and finding it was interesting and informative, but somehow failed to lead the disciples to the Lord.

The two angels follow the pattern set by the two cherubim flanking the Temple's sacrificial altar (Exodus 25:18).[23]

Jesus not recognised: see Appendix 2: Resurrect.

20:13

John, wanting to show Jesus's glory rather than his suffering, emphasizes that weeping is not an appropriate response.

20:15–17

This is one of those irritating conversations in which nobody answers the questions put to them. It seems apt that Mary supposed Jesus to be the gardener, an echo of Genesis 2:8.

20:16

This is the only verse in the Gospels in which Jesus addressed a woman by name[34].

20:17

This is an example of John emphasizing the reality of the Gospel by mentioning all of the five senses. In John 16:16 Jesus says that he will become visible again once he has ascended, and that is presumably the normal situation in his resurrection appearances; but this is different because he says he as not yet ascended to the Father. Perhaps therefore on this occasion (unlike Luke 24:37) he did appear as a ghost, which could not be touched. See also Psalm 105:15.

An alternative view presented by Revd Rosalind Brown[25] is that Mary had already embraced Jesus, and was holding him tightly, but he knew he had to go elsewhere.

Jesus's curious phrase "my God and your God" serves to emphasise that what happened to him can happen to us too. Some people compare this verse with the promise to the thief on the cross "today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43) and draw deductions concerning Purgatory. I disagree; to assume that the way time elapses in the heavenly realms bears any relation to its passing here is unsound; see comment on Psalm 90:4.

20:19

Fear and unbelief may hinder the Gospel, but don't keep Jesus out. It is as if to somebody in a resurrection body this world is about as real as a virtual reality scene. The walls are illusions, and you can look like anyone you like!

20:21

The Disciples were being sent on the same mission as Jesus; they were to continue the same task. This appointment was confirmed when they saw the Ascension (Acts 1:9).

20:22

cf. Mark 1:8. Jesus himself had received the Holy Spirit "like a dove" at his baptism (Luke 3:22), which led immediately to the start of his ministry. Now it was their turn! The word translated "spirit" (pneuma) can mean wind of breath, so Jesus's action demonstrated the gift.

Sometimes Pentecost (i.e. Acts 2) is confused with the giving of the Holy Spirit, but this passage shows that Pentecost was a later empowering of the Disciples and outpouring on others. Jesus's statement in Acts 1:8 shows that his breath and the words "receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22) left them without the power that they needed for their mission. They needed to receive more than once, cf. John 7:37 "come to me you who are thirsty": drinking is not a once-for-all experience but one we do often (except in John 4:14).

With the Holy Spirit he gave them three things:

  1. authority to forgive sins, as he had done (Luke 7:48)
  2. understanding so that they could teach, as he had done (Mark 4:1; cf. 1 Kings 3:9)
  3. courage and purpose to continue his work.
20:23

cf. the Lord's Prayer: Matthew 6:12 (= Luke 11:4), and Matthew 6:14–15, Matthew 18:35, Mark 11:25, Luke 6:37.

We bind things both on earth and in heaven when we hold on to hurt rather than releasing it in forgiveness — see the comment on Matthew 7:1–2.

However, this verse has always been interpreted as enabling the Church to forgive sins (the word you here is the plural form), and perhaps consists of authority to define what is sinful. In the Anglican Church's ASB in the service for the ordination of Priests this passage is the set Gospel reading. If we had to rely on Matthew 16:19 alone we might doubt whether this authority was given to Peter alone; however in Matthew 18:18 Jesus repeats it in addressing all the disciples. This is commonly interpreted as giving authority to the wider Church. The context of the giving of this authority is the giving of the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). Its purpose (and therefore its scope) must be to continue the ministry Jesus has already demonstrated, including forgiving the sins of people he met, but not including making any change to God's law.

20:24

Does this mean that Thomas had missed out on the new gift of the Holy Spirit? Perhaps that is why his "gospel" is regarded as outside the canon of scripture.

Thomas is an example of a type of person to whom tangible things are essential. Today such people have to rely on shrines and historical sites, and the signs of God's working today.

20:27

Jesus's wounds remain visible in heaven (Revelation 5:6).

20:28

We malign Thomas when we view him as an example of doubt; this verse is perhaps the first in which Jesus is acknowledged, worshipped even, as God.

20:29

cf. 1 Peter 1:8.

20:31

I doubt that the disciples understood "life in his name" to mean heaven, rather they were appointed to a role in carrying on his work, living in harmony with God's purposes.

Tertullian says this is where the Gospel ended, and a Coptic copy does indeed end here.

21

Most commentators regard John 21 as a late addition with input from John's disciples[2 p.92]; note the use of "we". That raises the question, why was it done? Michael Green[26] puts forward three suggestions, to which others can be added:

  1. to record the re-instatement of Peter, the head of the early Church;
  2. to put an end to the rumour that John would not die before Jesus returned;
  3. to record Jesus's commands at the re-instatement of Peter as the mission of the Church (cf. "The Great Commission" in Matthew 28:19–20);
  4. to show that weak disciples can be effective with Jesus's help.

Pryor raises the possibility that a cult had elevated John on the basis of belief that he would not die before the Second Coming, which threatened the stability of the community as he aged yet the Second Coming seemed as far away as ever. It became necessary to justify John's status by comparison with that of Peter.[2 p.94]

21:3

"The waters seem as empty as the fishermens desolate hearts".[27]

21:6

To restore their relationship, Jesus took Peter back to its beginning in Luke 5:4.[43 p.287]

21:7

Very few people recognized Jesus after his resurrection, so this was a significant achievement on the part of the "disciple whom Jesus loved" (John) indicating spiritual insight, which would enhance his status in the early church.[28] He probably recognized a parallel between this huge catch of fish and the earlier one in Luke 5:6. I speculate that other people may have seen Jesus risen from the dead, but did not recognise him at all.

"The disciple whom Jesus loved": see comment on John 13:23.

21:9

Before his reconciliation could begin, Peter had to come to Christ; he first had to perceive him, then turn to him. The charcoal fire may have been a reminder of the fire near which Peter denied Jesus three times (John 18:18); the fish and bread may have been a reminder of the feeding of the 5,000 (John 6:9f); so the scene spoke of Jesus's power and Peter's failure.

21:10

When Peter moved towards Jesus, he was asked to bring the first-fruits of his catch.

21:11

cf. Luke 5:1–11. Many commentators agree that the number 153 must be significant or it would not be mentioned. It happens that 153=17x3x3, but this formula has no clear significance. George Brooke[28] devotes a whole chapter to it. He says that Augustine thought its significance lay in the fact that 153 is a "perfect number" because 153=1+2+...+16+17, but no convincing reason for this fact to have sufficient importance has emerged.

Brooke[28] is more persuaded by recent evidence from the Qumran scrolls showing that there was a lot of interest in the Flood around the time when the Gospel events happened, particularly at the season of Sukkoth when the incident with the 153 fishes is supposed to have taken place. There was a popular theory, based on the details given in Genesis, that Noah's Ark was afloat for 153 days, and it grounded on the 17th day of the 7th month. Also Ezekiel 47:10 was read at the feast of Sukkoth, which defines the Holy Land as extending from En Gedi to En Glaim and gematria of the letters of Gedi and Glaim in both Hebrew and Greek gives the result 153. This would suggest a connection between the catch and Noah's salvation in the Ark on the one hand, and the whole of the Holy Land on the other.

153 is the square on the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle whose other sides are 12 (the number of Jesus's chosen disciples) and 3 (this was Jesus's third resurrection appearance to them) because 153 = 12x12 + 3x3; "this was immediately apparent to Pythagoreans, members of a religio-philosophic movement based on the teaching of Pythagoras thqt was undergoing a revival in the first century AD." Also the length of that hypotenuse is the square root of 153 = 12.37, which is the number of lunar months in a solar year, parameters determined by God.[44]

There were believed in Biblical times to be 153 species of fishes (the number that Aristotle had identified), so the catch represented them all (cf. Matthew 13:47–48) signifying that the Gospel is to be preached to all peoples. This interpretation is supported by the remark that the net was not broken. In other words, there is room in God's kingdom for all (so the church must find room for all as well).

The disciples couldn't lift the fishes out of the sea; those who are converted continue to live in the world.

21:12

The restoration of Peter follows a pattern similar to that of the restoration of Elijah in 1 Kings 19:5f. Peter was thinking about the past, but Jesus spoke about the future.

"They knew": cf. John 10:4 and John 10:27 "my sheep know my voice".

21:15–17

Jesus addresses Peter as Simon; he had not been the rock he was called to be, but left the Christian community in Jerusalem and went back to his secular work. Throughout the conversation it is clear that the flock belongs to Jesus, and he will hold Peter accountable for it.

The English words do not show the subtlety of the original conversation. In verses 15 and 16 Jesus asks for agape (adoring love) but Peter can only offer philo (friendship). In verse 17 Jesus only asks for friendship and Peter agrees. Peter was probably upset for several reasons: firstly, Jesus was asking him to go further than he felt able; secondly, he was facing his triple failure; thirdly, he was learning to be more realistic about his discipleship than when he claimed to be ready to die with Jesus.

It is an over-simplification to call this event the restoration of Peter (reconciliation is a better word); Peter is not being returned to where he was, but asked to go further than ever before. He was being pressed to think about his commitment. He learned that he must die for his faith, not heroically but humbly.

The three-fold re-instatement is similar to the three iterations of the covenant to Abraham followed by his ministry to Lot — see Appendix 1 Abraham. By using slightly different words for the sheep, it also implies that different parts of Jesus's flock require different kinds of care. Little lambs may need active feeding, but adult sheep are led to a fertile place and expected to feed themselves.

21:18

Nouwen[29] generalises Jesus's prophecy about Peter's death into a statement that ageing is accompanied by increasing willingness to accept the leading of others. I disagree. Jesus was telling Peter something new, something Peter could not otherwise have known, not something true of most of us.

21:20

"The disciple whom Jesus loved": see comment on John 13:23.

21:24–25

cf. John 19:35. Pryor[2 p.3] interprets this as meaning that much of the content was written by the apostle John, and a scribe edited the final document, adding phrases such as "the disciple Jesus loved". Hengel says the text was finally completed by a group, and finds modern examples of authors unable to finally edit their thoughts into a cohesive whole.[31 p.84] He supposes that John's pupils had to do the final editing of the Gospel.[31 p.98]

References:

  1. Tony Horsfall in New Daylight bible notes for 29 December 2008
  2. Pryor John: Evangelist of the Covenant People (London: DLT 1992)
  3. Ord D. and Coote R. Is the Bible true? New York: Orbis, 1994
  4. Grün, Anselm OSB The Seven Sacraments (London: Continuum, 2003)
  5. Word Biblical Commentary — John by George R Beasley-Murray
  6. C Peter Wagner Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church (Ventura, CA, USA: Regal Books, 1985) reported in Christianity+Renewal magazine January 2002 p.14
  7. Cottrell, Rt Revd Stephen (Bishop of Reading) writing in New Daylight 15 January 2015
  8. Day A Preaching Workbook (London: SPCK, 1998) p.53
  9. Calvin Institutes of Christian Religion IV 17 (7)
  10. C S Lewis Mere Christianity
  11. Hertz, Dr J. The Soncino Edition of the Pentateuch and Haftorahs 2nd Edition 1970 p.955
  12. The Expository Times, Vol. 71, Oct. 1959-Sept.1960 Published by T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, Scotland
  13. Guthrie in Carson et al (eds) New Bible Commentary (Leicester: IVP, 4th edn 1994) p.1056
  14. Brown An Introduction to the New Testament (New York: Doubleday, 1997) p.354
  15. Tasker John (Leicester: IVP Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, 1960)
  16. Perkins Chapter 61: The Gospel according to John, in Brown et al (eds) New Jerome Biblical Commentary (New Saddle River: Prentice-Hall, 1990) p.976
  17. Robinson, J. Jancis Robinson's Wine Course (London: BBC Books, 1995) pp.64, 70
  18. Keiffer Chapter 60: John in Barton and Muddiman The Oxford Bible Commentary (Oxford: OUP, 2001) p.988
  19. Holy Bible New International Version (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1988 edn.) footnotes to verses
  20. Badhams, Leslie (1956) Love Speaks from the Cross — The Seven Last Words (Wantage: Ikon, 1993 edn) p.18
  21. Shalom Ben Chorin
  22. McKnight The Real Mary (London: SPCK, 2007 UK edn.) p.92
  23. Griffith-Jones, Revd Robin (Master of the Temple Church, London), writing in Church Times 20 August 2004 p.13
  24. Satlow, M.
  25. Brown, Revd Rosalind in Church Times 20 July 2012 p.22
  26. Green, M. in Freed to Serve (London: Word, 1983) p.112
  27. Margaret Silf writing in New Daylight 11 April 2012
  28. Brooke The Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament (London: SPCK, 2005) p.295
  29. Creative Ministry (New York: Doubleday, 1991 edition) p.34
  30. adapted from the Trans World Radio booklet When heaven came down... by Stephen Davey (used with permission)
  31. Hengel, Martin The Johannine Question (London: SCM, 1989)
  32. Nichols, Bridget "Man, a brittle crazy glass" in Church Times 18/25 December 2015 page 24
  33. Revd David Atkinson "Stars of wonder, stars of grace" in Church Times 18/25 December 2015 page 27f
  34. Piotr Ashwin-Siejkowski of Kings College London, speaking at a "Bishop's Study Day" at Southwark Cathedral on 11 October 2016
  35. The 'Jews' of the Gospel of John talk by Prof. Joan Taylor of King's College London at a "Bishop's Study Day" at Southwark Cathedral on 11 October 2016
  36. David F. Ford of Cambridge University, speaking at a "Bishop's Study Day" at Southwark Cathedral on 11 October 2016
  37. Barker, Dr Margaret Who was Melchizedek and who was his God? 2008. Online, available from: http://www.templestudiesgroup.com/Papers/Melchizedek_Barker.pdf, accessed 5 February 2017
  38. Nichols, Bridget "A meeting with raw grief" in Church Times 31 March 2017 page 16
  39. Brown, R The Gospel according to John I–XII New York: Doubleday "Anchor Bible" series, 1966 p.88
  40. Runcorn, Revd David writing in New Daylight 19 January 2018
  41. Rt Revd Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury @JustinWelby Tweet dated 29 March 2018
  42. Fee, G D The First Epistle to the Corinthians Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987 p.705
  43. Paula Gooder Phoebe London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2018
  44. Ted Harrison "Divine numerology" in Church Times 26 April 2019 page 15
  45. Brown, R The Gospel according to John XII–XXI New York: Doubleday "Anchor Bible" series, 1970 p.712
  46. Bragg, Melvyn The Book of Books London: Hodder & Stoughton 2011, p.307

© David Billin 2002–2020