Reading the Gospel of John (9)

A Guide to Reading the Gospel of John (9)                                                                                  Day Nine

The Feeding of the 5000 (John chapter 6)

John chapter 6 contains two miracles, or signs: the feeding of the 5000 (In addition to the 5000 men, how many women and children were present?) and Jesus’ walking on the sea in a storm to meet His disciples. The miraculous feeding is the only miracle that appears in all 4 Gospels. Matthew, Mark and Luke show that this miracle related to the Great Confession; but John begins to point to the Messianic Banquet. One of the greatest miracles of Moses was to feed God’s people manna in the wilderness (although it was God who fed them). So people anticipated that when the Messiah came He would provide a great banquet for His people — the Messianic Banquet (Isaiah 25:6-8). (See also Revelation 19:6-9)

In addition to the two miracles, this chapter contains the first “I AM” statement of Jesus: “I am the bread of life.”

The Beginning of All Ministry (John 6:1-3)

We must not overlook the secret of the beginning of all ministry. Large crowds began to gather, and Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat down with His disciples! We know how to run, and work hard, but we need to pray, “Lord, teach me to sit with You!”

The Two Signs (John 6:4-19)

The Banquet — When Jesus saw the large crowds, He “knew what He would do”. (John 6:6) Nevertheless He asked the disciples where they would get enough bread to feed the people. Why do you think Jesus asked this question? Was Jesus seeking their prayers? Was He willing to let them participate in the miracle? How did the disciples respond? What do you think was in Andrew’s mind when he told Jesus about the little boy’s 5 loaves and two fish?

What was the people’s reaction? (John 6:14)

What kind of “king” did they try to force Jesus to become? What would have happened if Jesus had allowed them to make Him their “Bread King?”

Walking on Water — Jesus was forced to withdraw from the crowds who were trying to use Him for their own political purposes. Here we find a basic principle in Jesus’ ministry style: Withdrawal and Engagement. God taught Elijah this same principle when he began his ministry (see 1 Kings 17:1-3 and 18:1). Jesus command to “Abide in Me” includes these two elements: Withdrawal to rest in His presence and be restored by His Word, and engagement with the world by walking with Jesus into the dark corners of the world. We must learn the proper balance of these two principles to be effective in ministry.

The Gospel of Mark tells us that Jesus sent His disciples into a boat to go before Him, while He went up to the mountain to pray. Matthew 14:22-33 says that Peter also walked on water to meet Jesus. Even though he sank into the stormy sea, he still attempted to walk by faith; the other disciples remained in the boat.

I Am the Bread of Life (John 6:22-59)

 The people were looking for social and political freedom, but they had missed Jesus’ message about the Kingdom of God. Read carefully through this important section and try to understand Jesus’ message to the people, and the people’s desire.

What was the people’s basic wish? Consider how this prevented them from hearing what Jesus was offering.

What was Jesus promising to give to them? How did Jesus use the word “bread”? What did He mean when He said I am the Bread of Life?

Notice in John 6:51 that Jesus begins to use the word flesh in place of the word bread. John 6:56 is a key verse that theologians have argued about throughout much of Church history — Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.

Some Bible interpreters teach that these words can be understood only if they are referring to the Lord’s Supper. Others maintain that John took these words from pagan religions that were later incorporated into the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Others even suggest that these words were actually spoken by Jesus at the first observance of the Lord’s Supper in the Upper Room. Some teach that each time Christians partake of the Lord’s Supper the bread and wine are literally transformed into the body and blood of our Lord; this view is called transubstantiation, meaning that the bread and wine are miraculously changed into Christ’s body and blood. Others teach that Jesus was only speaking symbolically.

The argument continues today, and Christians disagree. What we can know is that when we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we are not simply symbolizing Jesus’ act on the cross; Jesus is actually, really present with us as we eat the bread and drink the cup. However we may decide to interpret this, the central truth is that Jesus is calling us to cultivate this mystical union with Him, to become one with Him.

Remember the Prologue to the Gospel of John. Jesus came as the bearer of light, to remove the darkness of our minds and reveal God to us; He also came as the giver of eternal life, to destroy the power of death.

What is Jesus asking us to do when He says, Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him . . .?

Simon Peter’s Great Confession (John 6:60-71)

Jesus interprets the miracles for His disciples. The disciples mentioned here are not just the 12, but rather the larger group of disciples who followed Him. Jesus reminds them that His words are spirit and life.

But many of His disciples turned back and no longer wanted to be associated with Jesus. The large crowds that had followed Jesus so fervently are no longer there. Jesus and His 12 disciples are left alone.

Jesus asks the question, Do you want to go away as well? Simon Peter’s great confession contained both a question and an answer: Lord, to whom shall we go? Where could a person go after leaving Jesus? Back to the false religion of the Pharisees? Back to nothing — nihilism? These are questions facing us today.

Think carefully about Peter’s confession.

Lord . . . You have the words of eternal life. What does this mean to you? How would you interpret this to others?

We have believed, and have come to know, that You are the Holy One of God. Read John 17:3 and interpret this statement.

Why do you think Jesus responded to Peter’s confession with a warning that one of the 12 would betray Him?

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Reading the Gospel of John (8)

A Guide to Reading the Gospel of John (8)

Day Eight

The Light Shines in the Darkness

Beginning in chapter 5 and continuing through chapter 12, Jesus is in direct confrontation with the religious leaders of Judaism. John is the only apostle to record these lengthy discourses, and he records them after a “lifetime of meditation.” (William Temple) The outlook of the Jewish leaders is irreconcilable with Jesus. Their choice is either to accept Him as Lord and Savior or to put Him to death. The religious leaders’ attacks grow stronger and sharper, and unbelief grows among the people; yet the powers of darkness in these people cannot overcome Jesus! (See John 1:5)

But these chapters also reveal Jesus’ intimacy with His Father and His compassion for all of God’s people. We should meditate on them as John did before he wrote his Gospel.

The Healing at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-29)

Multitudes of sick people — blind, lame, paralyzed, lay around the pool, forced to be alert to the moving of the waters that brought about a cure for those who could immediately immerse themselves in the pool. Jesus was not disturbed by this superstition; rather He was attracted to them because of their tragic situation and because they still had not lost their desire to be made well.

One man had been there 38 years! Use your imagination to try to understand his loneliness and despair, his long days and nights of darkness, yet his continuing hope for healing. His is almost like a microcosm, compared to the macrocosm of the nations of the world that are like invalids still hoping to be healed. Korea is in a similar situation.

Remember that good study always includes asking questions of the text.

Do you want to be healed? Why do you think Jesus asked this question?

Ronald Wallace once said that to this man, the pool had become what the Temple next door had become to many of its diligent members — “a place of uneventful and unbroken ritual.” Can this happen in the Church today?

After healing the man and meeting him later in the temple, what did Jesus say to him? Why do you think He said that?

Why do you think Jesus performed this miracle on the Sabbath?

What did Jesus mean when He said, “My Father is working until now, and I am working?”

Take time to evaluate the confrontation between Jesus and the Jewish leaders, especially in John 5:15-29.

“ . . . He was breaking the Sabbath . . . He was even calling God His Father . . . making Himself equal with God . . . whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him . . . as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son also to have life in Himself . . .”

Witnesses to Jesus (John 5:30-47)

Consider the 5 witnesses to Jesus Christ in this passage. Do you find them convincing?

Jesus’ Intimacy With His Father

The most important thing we can learn from chapter 5 is Jesus’ relationship with His Father, because to be a disciple of Jesus means that we also must have the same relationship.

Consider three important things we can learn about being a disciple of Jesus.

  1. John 5:17 and John 5:19 (Remember Jesus’ words in John 4:34 and think about the work we do.)
  2. John 5:20 (Why do we need to wait upon the Lord before “rushing to work for Him?”)
  3. John 5:30 (Jesus inability to do anything on His own . . . Why did He say this? What are the things you can do on your own?)
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Reading the Gospel of John (7)

A Guide to Reading the Gospel of John (7)

Day Seven

Jesus’ Pastoral Conversation with the Woman at the Well

The Apostle John had good reasons for placing these two pastoral conversations side by side — first the conversation with a leading Pharisee, and then the conversation with a woman of Samaria. One reason would be that Jesus loves all people, not just important leaders but also common, everyday people.

But John also wants us to see the contrast between the two people, and how Jesus related to each of them. Nicodemus, the Pharisee, came to Jesus at night, almost in secret. He was seeking a conversation with Jesus about his religious questions. He left with a clear understanding of eternal life, but he made no decision. When he left Jesus, the night of darkness still covered his soul.

The woman of Samaria came to draw water, not to meet Jesus. She came at mid-day, seeking to avoid other women who usually would come in the early morning hours. Jesus was not abrupt in His conversation with the woman; she was a woman in need, but Jesus revealed His need to her: He simply asked for a drink of water, allowing her to minister to Him. She was somewhat sarcastic, but at the same time revealed knowledge of spiritual matters. She left as a completely transformed person, and as an evangelist to her entire village. Light was shining in her soul.

Jesus came to bring life. (John 4:1-42

The Samaritans were a break-off group from Judaism. They worshiped God on Mount Gerizim. They believed in the Pentateuch (first 5 books of the Bible) but rejected the writings of the prophets.

Jesus “had to pass through Samaria.” He could have taken the normal route that Jews normally took, but the Holy Spirit told Him to go through Samaria, because the Father was sending Him there for a purpose.

As you read through this passage, what can we learn about this woman? About her lifestyle? About her knowledge of the history of her nation? About her theology?

What does Jesus want this woman to know? How does He deal with her sin?

What do we learn about worship through their conversation? (Consider the fact that Jesus revealed His greatest teaching on worship to this woman and not to the religious leaders.)

What is the significance of this statement? “So the woman left her water jar.” This statement is a good example of how John sometimes uses double meanings in his Gospel. From what did she become free?

What was the first thing she did after realizing that she had met “the Christ” (Messiah)? What was the result? Take note of her expression “come and see . . .” Jesus spoke these words to Andrew and John; and Philip spoke the words to Nathanael. (1:39, 1:46) Finally, the Samaritan woman spoke these words to her community!

Consider the mindset of the disciples at this time. Notice how Jesus uses the word “food” in both a natural and symbolic way.

What is your greatest satisfaction in life?

Jesus is welcomed in Galilee (John 4:43-54)

 John now selects two miracles that reveal God’s glory in Jesus: the healing of the official’s son at Capernaum (John 4:46-54) and the healing of the blind man at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-17).

When the official asked Jesus to come down and heal his son, Jesus tested him to see if he actually believed. Jesus saw a man who would trust Him fully. Jesus said, “Go; your son will live.” The official’s faith has been described as “faith that rebels.” (See D. S. Cairn, The Faith That Rebels.) What was this official rebelling in faith against?

Professor Ronald S. Wallace, as he was teaching us seminary students the Gospel of John even back in the 1950’s, told us that perhaps we all should pray this prayer to Jesus even today, for all the children in the world: “Sir, come down, before our children die! He spoke of nuclear danger, of society marked by child abuse, homelessness, child slaves throughout the world, ofs refugees (Today, 60 years later, over half of the world’s refugees are children under the age of 18!). Dr. Wallace did not know at that time about the evil attacks through the internet.

Jesus is telling us early in the Gospel of John that we must have a faith that rebels against Satan’s plans of destruction and trusts in the unlimited power of God to answer the prayers of His people.

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Reading the Gospel of John (6)

A Guide to Reading the Gospel of John

Day Six

Jesus’ Pastoral Conversation with Nicodemus (John 3:1-21)

Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin, which was composed of the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes and priests. The leaders’ sin was perversion of Truth by setting up a tradition of their own in place of the Word of God.

Why did Nicodemus come to speak with Jesus? Was he disturbed by the fanaticism and irrational attitudes of some of his colleagues? Was he dissatisfied with his own spiritual experience? In addressing Jesus as “Rabbi,” did he simply want to discuss with Jesus some aspects of the law?

Why did he come at night? Remember that the Gospel of John frequently uses symbolism. Was he afraid of other leaders, or of public opinion? Was it because he “belonged to the night?” As you read through this Gospel, note that very soon after this conversation he defended Jesus against his fellow Pharisees (7:50-52).

Take note of Jesus’ approach to Nicodemus.

  1. Jesus’ first words are blunt, possibly intended to shock Nicodemus out of his self-confidence. Nicodemus was looking for progress; Jesus speaks only of re-birth.
  2. After shocking Nicodemus, Jesus appeals to him. He explains the re-birth he was speaking of as a complete inward renewal brought about by the Holy Spirit. Perhaps they even talked about Ezekiel’s promise in Ezekiel 36:25-27.

How does Jesus use the setting of their conversation? Perhaps they are talking on the flat rooftop in the cool of evening, with a gentle breeze blowing. How does Jesus relate His message to the environment surrounding them?

John 3:12 — Jesus speaks of “earthly things” and “heavenly things.” What does He mean?

3. As Jesus talks of heavenly things, Nicodemus seems to close his interview with Jesus. But Jesus continues to proclaim the Gospel to him. He gave the clearest, simplest, most beautiful invitation found anywhere in the Scriptures. Jesus speaks of the sacrifice made in heaven “out of the fullness, uncalculating tenderness and grace of the Father’s love.” (H. R. Mackintosh)

John 3:16 ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

John Calvin, in his commentary on the Gospel of John, said: “Our hearts will never find calm repose until they rest on the unmerited love of God.”

  1. Read again John 3:16-21 to seek to understand how Jesus uses the word “light” as opposed to darkness.
  2. Did Nicodemus change at a later time? Read John 7:46-52 and John 19:38-42 and consider how he may have changed.

 

John the Baptizer’s Final Witness to Jesus (John 3:22-36)

As the last in a long line of Old Testament prophets, John was aware that God was the “Husband” of Israel, and Israel was the “unfaithful wife.” John began to understand his role as the “friend of the Bridegroom.” (John 3:29-30) His task was to work as the messenger of the Bridegroom, and to prepare the bride for the Bridegroom’s coming.

What was John’s greatest joy? (John 3:28-30) What did his joy cause him to confess?

John’s final witness is an appeal to his listeners to listen not to him, but to listen to Jesus, who “gives the Spirit without measure.” He closes with an appeal to his generation to choose eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.

Spend some time meditating on John the Baptizer’s humility, and on his complete focus on Jesus.

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Reading the Gospel of John

This is an important correction to John 1:42 — Simon’s name change to Peter.

I am very grateful to my dear friend Gary Parrett, former professor at Gordon-Conwell Seminary, for correcting my statement about Simon Peter’s name change in John 1:42. For many years, I have thought that the name Simon means a “reed,” easily broken in the wind. But Gary helped me understand the true meaning of the name Simon, which is “he hears.”

I had heard many Bible teachers refer to Simon as an easily broken reed, but with the name change to Peter he became a solid rock. But after more careful research I can find no evidence in either the original Hebrew, or the Aramaic or Greek, to support that meaning. The biblical name “Simon” means one who listens, with the intent of obeying.

Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter as a challenge for Peter to hear properly. As Gary says, “Jesus changed his name to Peter in a visionary way and He challenges us all to seek His calling for each of us.” When we listen to God and then obey, we become firm in our faith.

Gary is a theologian whose theology leads into doxology — from study and knowledge of God into praise. He and his wife, Holly (Hosun), are worshipers and have composed and sung many of their own songs and hymns. He has given me permission to quote two verses of one of them that relate to Peter.

Into the Waters Deep (Luke 5:1-11)

O Simon, on this very day,

put all thy lesser dreams away.

Thine eye cannot a glimpse now see

of all I have in store for thee.

Wilt thou by faith, then, take this leap?

Put out into the waters deep~,

and for a catch let down thy net.

My child, thou hast seen nothing yet.

 

Thy doubtful question well I know:

“Am I to reap where none can sow?”

And weary, too—I see thy strain;

so great the toil, so small the gain.

But hear my word, friend, and obey,

I will transform thy world today,

though thou shalt sense it by degree.

What wonders wait? Obey, and see!

 

Gary’s willingness to correct and help is a wonderful blessing to me, and to us all. It makes me rejoice that we are studying the Bible together as a community. Let’s learn together and minister together as members of His Body.

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Correction to Wedding Feast

The wedding feast at Cana is in John chapter 2 (not chapter one as I mistakenly wrote).

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Reading the Gospel of John (5)

A Guide to Reading the Gospel of John

Day Five

A Wedding Feast (John 1:1-12)

Jesus and His disciples are invited to a wedding. Jesus performs His first miracle, or sign, there, and His disciples come to believe in Him.

Significance of the Wedding Feast

It would have been natural for Jesus to spend time alone with His disciples as He began to train them. But He takes them to a wedding. Consider the significance of this by reading about Jesus’ teaching that the Kingdom of God is like a wedding feast, a covenant relationship (Matthew 22). Read also Revelation 19:6-19 about God’s people in heaven attending the Wedding Feast of the Lamb

Why do you think Jesus took them to a wedding in Cana of Galilee as He was beginning to train them as His disciples?

Notice that Jesus did not participate in the religious activities of the wedding. He is in the background.

Why do you think Jesus performed this first miracle of changing water into wine? What does this mean for us today? Remember that all of Jesus’ miracles are signs pointing to a truth about God.

Cleansing of the Temple (2:13-25)

It is important to note that the other 3 Gospels place this story of the cleansing of the temple at the end of their books, but John places it in the beginning. But the issue is the same: Conflict with Satan. The other 3 Gospels show Jesus confronting Satan first in the wilderness; but in the Gospel of John, Jesus confronts Satan first in the one place where most people would think evil did not exist — in the temple!

Jesus challenges Satan not only in the wilderness but also in the temple of God, where Satan and his evil powers were firmly entrenched!

Consider the significance of John’s placing Jesus’ first challenge to Satan in the temple!

What was the original purpose of the temple? How were the people abusing this purpose? Jesus was attacking the religious leaders’ attitude towards God!

Read Ezekiel 47:1-12 and Revelation 22:1-5 to understand the importance of the River of Life flowing out from the temple to heal the nations. As you read through the Gospel of John, you will find that Jesus speaks of the river of life flowing out of the inner life of His believers. (See especially John 7:38-39)

How does this relate to the importance of Jesus cleansing the temple as His first act of confronting the religious establishment of His day? Note that the prophet Malachi prophesied that the Lord whom everyone was seeking would “suddenly come to His temple” . . . but who can endure the day of His coming?” (Malachi 3:1-2)

In what ways do you think the events of John chapter 2 are important for understanding the Gospel of John?

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