For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.
The Lord has given me something I never asked for: a commute that’s an hour and a half each way. Though it wasn’t part of my plan, it was part of God’s plan, and through this work God has graciously provided for me and my family. Praise His Name!
A few months ago I bought audio Bible MP3s and started listening to Scripture during the commute. It’s really been a blessing to hear a whole gospel over the course of a week, and all four gospels plus Acts over the course of a month — there are themes that show up clearly when you read several chapters together that aren’t as apparent when reading only a single chapter.
We see one such theme in the gospel of John.
The seven middle chapters of John, starting with Chapter 5 and going through chapter 11 — the bulk of the narration of Jesus’ public ministry — have a common pattern to them:
- Jesus speaks the truth of God.
- Immediately, there is division: some believe and some do not. Those who do not believe react with anger and opposition to the truth.
- In the face of this anger and opposition, sometimes Jesus drives still deeper with the truth.
- Those in angry opposition to the truth react with unbridled fury.
Let’s watch the sword in action.
Chapter 5: Sabbath
This one starts with an action rather than words.
- Jesus heals a man who had been ill for thirty-eight years, and He does it on the Sabbath.
- The Jews persecute Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath.
- Jesus does not back off; rather, He presses the point: “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.”
- The Jews seek all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.
Chapter 6: Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood
Jesus feeds the five thousand. Afterwards, the Jews ask for a sign. They give the example that their fathers ate manna in the wilderness.
- Jesus answers, “I am the bread of life…I have come down from heaven.”
- The Jews grumble because he says he is the bread that came down out of heaven.
- Jesus says again,”I am the bread of life,” but this time presses deeper: we must eat of his flesh. “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”
- The Jews begin to argue with each other, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?”
- Jesus presses still deeper: we must not only eat his flesh but drink his blood. Jesus doesn’t merely say this once, but three times:
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.”
- Many of his disciples stop following him, but the Twelve remain.
Chapter 7: Where Does This Understanding Come From?
Jesus goes up to the temple and teaches during the Feast of Booths. The Jews ask each other where his understanding comes from (“How has this man become learned, having never been educated?”) Jesus turns it around and teaches where the listeners’ understanding comes from.
- First He answers, “My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me.” Then He goes on to say who will be able to discern the truth of His teaching: “If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself.” Jesus speaks of His righteousness (v.18), particularly in healing the man on the Sabbath (vv. 21-24) — but of the people’s unrighteousness (v.19).
- At first the crowd says, “You have a demon!” (v.20) Then some say, “The rulers do not really know that this is the Christ, do they? However, we know where this man is from; but whenever the Christ may come, no one knows where He is from” (vv. 26-27).
- Jesus asserts more pointedly that not only is it true that He is from the Father as He has said, but that 1) despite their claim to the contrary, they know this, and 2) they do not know the Father. “You both know Me and know where I am from; and I have not come of Myself, but He who sent Me is true, whom you do not know. I know Him, because I am from Him, and He sent Me” (vv. 28-29). The problem is not where Jesus’ understanding is from, but where the crowd’s (lack of) understanding is from. It is from their not knowing God.
- Division: “So they were seeking to seize Him…but many of the crowd believed in Him” (vv. 30-31).
There are more echoes of this in the chapter:
Jesus cries out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'” At this, there is another division over Jesus’ origin:
Some of the people therefore, when they heard these words, were saying, “This certainly is the Prophet.” Others were saying, “This is the Christ.” Still others were saying, “Surely the Christ is not going to come from Galilee, is He? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the descendants of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” So a division occurred in the crowd because of Him (vv. 40-43).
And another: the division between the chief priests and Pharisees and the officers they had sent to seize Jesus (v.32) — the officers come back without Him, saying, “Never has a man spoken the way this man speaks” (v. 46), but the Pharisees say, “You have not also been led astray, have you?” (v.47)
And still another: Nicodemus speaks up, saying, “Our Law does not judge a man unless it first hears from him and knows what he is doing, does it?” This draws their ridicule. (And as a side note, Nicodemus, who previously had come to Jesus at night, now gains the honor of enduring shame for the Name. Praise the Lord, who emboldens trembling sheep to be manful warriors for His kingdom!)
Chapter 8: A Question of Fatherhood
Chapter 8 contains the most extended back-and-forth in the book of John.
- The opening assertion: Jesus says, “I am the light of the world” (v.12)
- The Pharisees’ objection: “You are testifying about Yourself; Your testimony is not true.” (v.13)
- Jesus reveals that there are two witnesses, thus establishing the truthfulness of his testimony: “I am not alone in it, but I and the Father who sent me.” (v.16)
- And the battle is joined. Jesus’ lineage called into question: They answer, “Where is Your Father?” (v. 19)
- Jesus speaks several things concerning Himself and His relationship with the Father, concluding, “He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” (v. 29) And many believe in Him.
Jesus presses deeper: Though already many have believed in Him, Jesus doesn’t leave it there. He goes on to talk about freedom: “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (vv. 31-32)
- The offense of slavery: Those who had believed say, Hey, we are Abraham’s descendants and have never been enslaved. How can you say “You will become free”? (v.33)
- Jesus presses deeper: they are slaves: “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.” Slaves do not stay in the house forever; only the sons do. So, he asserts, you do need to be freed. Jesus ends, “I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father” (v. 38).
- The offense of impugned fatherhood: They say, Hey, Abraham is our father! It seems obvious to them — they can prove their lineage back to them. Jesus’ claim seems ludicrous to them. “What in the world are you talking about, Jesus? Abraham is our father! You have a demon!”
- Proof of their fatherhood, part 1 — violent desires against a man who speaks God’s truth: Jesus does not back down. He has better proof of their true lineage: “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do. You are doing the deeds of your father.” (vv. 39-41)
- Jesus’ lineage questioned a second time: They say, “We were not born of fornication [implication: ‘like you were’]; we have one Father: God.” They ignore Jesus’ point and try to say again, “Our lineage is certain, it’s yours that is in doubt.”
- Proof of their fatherhood, part 2 — they do not love the truth, and in this they are like their father the devil, not like Abraham. (vv. 42-47).
- Jesus’ lineage questioned a third time: There is no repentance at this point, but merely another angry retort. The Jews say, “Do we not rightly say that you are a Samaritan [i.e., of illegitimate fatherhood] and have a demon?”
- Jesus presses still deeper: After denying that He has a demon, He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he will never see death” (v. 51)
- Incredulity: The Jews say, how can you say that? Abraham died and so did the prophets. Are you greater than Abraham?
- Jesus says, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad” (v. 56). Jesus is saying yes, I am greater than Abraham, because Abraham rejoiced to see My day.
- More incredulity: The Jews say, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?”
- Jesus answers, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I AM.”
- They pick up stones to throw at him.
Chapter 9: Blindness
- Jesus heals (again, on the Sabbath!) a man born blind.
- This creates a division:
Therefore some of the Pharisees were saying, “This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.” But others were saying, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And there was a division among them.
- This time, it is the formerly blind man who presses the sword of the Spirit deeper. Look at his new boldness:
They reviled him and said, “You are His disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where He is from.” The man answered and said to them, “Well, here is an amazing thing, that you do not know where He is from, and yet He opened my eyes. We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him. Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.”
The blind man sees clearly the work of God, and speaks boldly of it.
- The Pharisees are moved to action:
They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?” So they put him out.
They cannot see the work of the Spirit and are confirmed in their blindness. But the blind man sees Jesus, believes in Him, and worships Him (vv. 35-38).
This division between the false and the true is not accidental. It is a major reason Jesus came into the world, and Jesus says so:
And Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things and said to Him, “We are not blind too, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains. (vv. 39-41)
We have to leave chapters 10 (The good shepherd, the thieves and the robbers) and 11 (Resurrection) for another time.
Let’s take note of some things though.
Look how Jesus refused to let those around Him escape the truth of God. He confronted them with it — and He did not cower at their anger. He was truly speaking the truth in love, because faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God — He was giving them opportunity to repent!
In our day, we act as if confrontation is a sin. We believe in “tolerance”, which we take to mean not confronting anyone about anything. Brothers and sisters — but especially brothers — is this the example of our Savior?
It most assuredly is not. Jesus wields the living and active sword of the Spirit, and in these chapters of John can’t you see it piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow?
- Why did Jesus mention that His Father was “working until now” when the Jews were already angry with Him for breaking the Sabbath (chapter 5)? Was this kind of Him?
- Why did Jesus offend by talking about eating flesh (chapter 6) — and then add insult by also speaking about drinking His blood?
- Why can’t Jesus be satisfied to answer the question of where His understanding comes from (chapter 7)? Why must He point out His hearers’ own lack of understanding?
- Why did Jesus not leave well enough alone when many had just believed in Him (chapter 8)? Why did he have to go on and press the point that his listeners were slaves?
Why doesn’t Jesus take more care not to offend? It’s almost as if Jesus is drilling into just the spot that would be the sorest.
Why couldn’t Jesus be a better example for us? we secretly ask.
Jesus is love in the flesh, perfectly obedient to His Father. All His words are truth spoken in love. Yet we read and are not inspired — we are appalled. Appalled at the Holy One. We do not recognize holiness when we see it, and when our Shepherd-King does battle, it is indistinguishable from sin to our eyes.
Brothers (I speak specifically to the brothers) — how is it that we know so little of our Savior that our eyes cannot distinguish pure holiness-in-action from sin? Do we realize there is a war raging? Are we sitting idly, with glazed eyes and dull countenances? Where is our battle raiment? Do we know how to use the Sword?
Souls are dying. We’ve been commanded — there’s no more time to disobey. We need to learn from the example of our Savior, and from that of the apostles and prophets and men of faith who have gone before us, what manful obedience to our King means.
And as we do, let us gird up our loins, ready to joyfully suffer shame and disgrace for our Lord.
And may many believe, and may the Lord preserve His church!