the ministry of messiah (8)
Christ’s Opening Ministry
In our last study we considered the joyful occasion of the marriage at Cana which Christ attended with his mother and some of his disciples. On this occasion Jesus performed the miracle of the changing of the water into wine in which he manifested forth his glory. This was the first of eight signs or miracles significantly recorded in the Gospel of John. Jesus now goes from Cana to Capernaum still with his mother, his brethren and his disciples “and they continued there not many days”. We understand that Capernaum was a beautiful city on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Its name means ‘garden of abundance’. “It rose under the gentle declivities of hills that encircled an earthly Paradise” (Farrar).
From Capernaum Jesus then travelled to Jerusalem for the Passover which would no doubt be the first Passover of his ministry. Jesus had visited the temple annually for many years, and it must have grieved him to see them selling animals in the courts of the temple and to see the money changers who made a profit from the Jews of the dispersion to change their foreign coins for the shekel of the sanctuary, but Jesus must have held his peace as he saw these things year after year.
Now the situation was different. He had been baptised, had been anointed with the Holy Spirit without measure and had faithfully endured the forty days temptation in the wilderness. He therefore entered the Temple with authority. This was his Father’s House although the magnificent edifice had been built by Herod for his own glorification. In the tabernacle in the wilderness and Solomon’s temple, all the symbolism in these buildings pointed forward to God’s purpose of salvation in Christ. Jesus would see this as he entered this building. He was the living embodiment of this building. The Law of the future Temple will be “Upon the top of the mountain the whole limit thereof found about shall be most holy” and Jesus saw as he entered how they had desecrated this Holy Place. His entry into the house was a fulfilment of those words which we have only recently read in Malachi. Let us turn to Mal. 3:1-2:
“Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner’s fire and fuller’s soap.”
Let us note that it is described as “his temple”. Hence the words we read John 2:15-17:
“And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables; And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise”.
There does not appear to be any opposition to what Jesus did. They had come to know him very well and greatly respected him and possibly recognised the righteousness of his action. The Jews however did seek a sign, questioning Christ’s authority. The Master’s answer is found in John 2:19-22:
“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body. When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said”.
The Jews however never forgot these words and at the end of the Master’s life used them against him, but falsely quoting them, as we see from Matthew 26:60-61:
“At the last came two false witnesses, and said, This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days”.
THE LEPROUS HOUSE
The words of the Master show the close connection between the temple of his body and the temple in Jerusalem. Also that the temple of Christ’s body was far greater than the edifice Herod had built. This edifice would eventually be destroyed. To understand this we need to remember that Christ visited the temple at the beginning of his ministry and at the end. In this first visit it was found wanting and he purified it by driving out those who desecrated it. At the end of his ministry he again visited it and is was found wanting and only fit to be destroyed. It was the leprous house of Leviticus 14 and we read in verses 44-45:
“Then the priest shall come and look, and, behold, if the plague be spread in the house, it is a fretting leprosy in the house: it is unclean. And he shall break down the house, the stones of it, and the timber thereof, and all the mortar of the house; and he shall carry them forth out of the city into an unclean place”.
We note in verse 36 that the priest commanded that the house should be emptied, which Jesus did on his first visit. The Jews could not believe that this magnificent edifice built by Herod could be destroyed. Moreover the Master’s words, likening it to his body were both strange and offensive to them. The sign of Jesus’s authority to say these words would not be seen until he had risen from the dead. They thought that they had destroyed the temple of Christ’s body, but the Father raised him up again. The temple in Jerusalem therefore had to be destroyed as the Master saw with grief (Mt. 23:37-38).
Let us note the words in John 2:23-25:
“Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man”.
Jesus “knew what was in man”. The Jews believed on Jesus because of his miracles, but they were fickle and Jesus knew this, therefore “did not commit himself unto them”. The first verse of Nicodemus, came to Jesus by night, a man who eventually became a disciple of Christ and who was with the Master both at the beginning of his ministry and at the end, as we read in John 19: 38-40:
“And after this Joseph of Arimethea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore and took the body of Jesus. And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight. Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury”.
We read of the Master’s discourse with this man in John 3:1-8:
“There was a man of the Pharisees, names Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born again when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again, The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is everyone that is born of the Spirit”.
Nicodemus recognised the authority of the Master and that he was “a teacher come from God”, because of the mighty works which he did. Jesus seems to pick up his words “from God” in his response. “Born again” is better rendered “born from above”, i.e. born of God (Jn. 1:13). It is noteworthy that this “ruler of the Jews” did not understand what the Master was saying. Jesus was a challenge to the authority of the Jews. With his ministry there was a new beginning, the Spiritual Creation, having its roots in the natural creation in Genesis. The Master’s coming and impending sacrifice was the new wine which replaced, but fulfilled the law, represented by the “six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews” (2:6). Where Jesus speaks of being born of the Spirit, this applies to the gospel preached by the Apostles as we read in 1 Peter 1:23-25:
“Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. . . But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you”.
What the Master was doing was a work of God, not perceived by the religious leaders of his day and indeed not perceived by the religious leaders of our day; hence his words in verse 8 and his further words in John 6:44-45:
“No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall all be taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me”.
Brother Thomas elaborates on this in “Elpis Israel” as follows, with regard to the new birth:
“A son of God is a character, which is developed out of the “incorruptible seed” (1 Pet. 1:23) of God, sown into the fleshy table of the heart. When this seed, or word of the kingdom, is received, it begins to work in a man until he becomes a believer of the truth. When things have come to this pass, he is a changed man. He has acquired a new mode of thinking; for he thinks in harmony with the thoughts of God as revealed in His law and testimony. . . When therefore, such a believer comes out of the ground by a resurrection from among the dead, the spirit of God, worked by the Lord Jesus, first opens the grave, and forms him in the image and after the likeness of Christ; and then gives him life”. (“Elpis Israel” p.135-6, 14th Ed. Rev. 1949).
It should be noted that when Brother Thomas wrote “Elpis Israel” he believed that “the dead are raised incorruptible”, but when he wrote “Anastasis” seventeen years later he recognised that the responsible dead will come out of the grave in their mortal state (see “Anastasis”, p.187 and 199, in “Phanerosis and other writings”, 1954 Ed. Christ. Office”).
Returning to the Master’s discourse with Nicodemus, his response to Jesus’s words concerning being born of the Spirit is “How can these things be?”. The Master’s response shows that he should have known. But Jesus knew as we see from his words in verse 11:
“We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness”.
Who are the “we” Jesus is referring to in these words. We conclude that they apply to John the Baptist (see v.22). This is brother Carter’s conclusion in “The Gospel of John”. But he adds:
“The “we” covers the Christ –body, the rulers of the Age to Come, who had attained to a fuller knowledge than the rulers of that day, and who would supersede them” (“The Gospel of John”, p.52, 1953 Ed.)
I think we could take it further. It was the beloved Son speaking in harmony with his heavenly Father (Jn. 5:17). The Master then continues in verses 12-13:
“If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? “And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven”.
If the foregoing words of Jesus were earthly things, the Master’s point is that Nicodemus would not be able to believe if Jesus now told him heavenly things.
We conclude that the words of verse 13 are in parenthesis, possibly a interjection by John as John 1:18 is. Some argue that the words “which is in heaven” are omitted by some ancient authorities. A footnote to this effect is in the RV. However the basis for this, namely the Vatican and Sinaitic manuscripts and Westcott and Horts’ reliance on these manuscripts, which are questionable, is possibly unreliable and therefore we accept the words “which is in heaven” are in the original. Brother John Carter in his book “The Gospel of John” gives a lengthy exposition of verse 13 which is well worth reading. The words “came down from heaven” are not to be taken literally as the words “a man sent from God”, which are applied to John are not to be taken literally. Jesus came down from heaven, in that he was the Son of God born of Mary, a virgin, expressed in the words;
“The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God”(Lk.1:35).
Moreover everything about the character which he manifested was from heaven as we see from John 3:31.
Jesus then makes reference to the serpent in the wilderness which demonstrates that he truly came in the flesh i.e. in the same nature which was influenced by the reasoning of the serpent in the beginning. Just a comment on verse 16. The word “so” means “in this manner”, showing that God’s love is conditional, depending upon our belief in “his only begotten Son and all that is implied in this. This is confirmed in verses 18:21:
“”He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath no believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be rep, roved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God”.
Verse 19 is very important. It shows the light or knowledge is the ground of responsibility. If a person knows the truth and then rejects it, they could be amenable to judgement.
It is not clear where the Master’s discourse with Nicodemus ends but is was probably at about verse 21. What is significant is the this man whose name means “victorious among his people” is with Christ at both the beginning and end of his ministry (see Jn 19:38-39).
JOHN THE BAPTISER
We next read of Jesus having left Jerusalem but still in Judea, with his disciples baptising. John is at Aenon near Salim, baptising because there was much water there. A question then arises concerning purifying which no doubt relates to baptism and John gives his testimony concerning Christ which we read of in verses 27-31:
“A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease. He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthy, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all”.
Christ now had to increase and John had to decrease. Similarly with us brethren and sisters, Christ must increase in us and self must decrease. John’s final words show the great authority of Christ:
“He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true. For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for god giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him. The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him”.
Jesus now moves north, for he “must need go through Samaria”. He goes to a very significant place, Sychar or Shechem. It was here that Abram first built an altar, when the promises were made to him. Jacob bought this piece of land from the children of Hamor and he built an altar here and Joseph and Joshua were buried here. Now Christ, the promised seed came here. It was a place avoided by the Jews because they had no dealings with the Samaritans. Shechem meant burden bearer. The Master had to carry the burden of the flesh so he sat down weary at the well. It is very possible that the woman came at midday to the well, which was an unusual time, because of the possibility of scorn from others because of her marital status. Jesus however knew what was in man and ignores both this and the fact that she was a Samaritan. He saith unto her, “Give me to drink” Here again Jesus brings out deep spiritual lessons as we see from John 4:9-10:
“Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? For the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans. Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of god, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water”.
These words are explained in John 7:38-39:
“He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this he spake of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Spirit was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)
The words, “out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” should be understood to apply to the Lord Jesus. Like Nicodemus, the woman does not understand Jesus. Jesus explains in verse 14:
“But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be a well of water springing up into everlasting life”.
The Master now shows his authority in another way. He reveals that he is a prophet, knowing that she has 5 husbands and the one whom she had now was not her husband. She perceives that he is a prophet (v.19). The Master then shows a third deep spiritual lesson in verses 21-24 in response to their worship at this mountain:
“Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when she shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth”.
As the woman was not married to the last man, the Samaritans were not married to Yahweh. Salvation was of the Jews. As with the woman taken in adultery and the Master’s words, “go and sin no more”, we conclude that this woman would not have gone back to her adulterous background. These words show that there was to be a movement away from Jerusalem (see Acts 1:8). Worship was not to be henceforth from the temple, but “in spirit and in truth”. How are we in the spirit? By being begotten through the word as we have already considered (see Jn 17:17 & Rom. 8:9). Jesus now reveals that he is the Messiah and she returns to the city with great intent even forgetting her waterpot. The consequence was that many Samaritans responded to the truth (v.39).
We see in this incident the greatness of Christ. He had rested at the well because he was weary. The disciples returned from the city with food for him. But the water of life was of more importance to him than his necessary food. Hence his words in verse 34:
“My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work”.
He showed that NATURAL HARVIST WAS SYMBOLICAL OF THE SPIRITUAL HARVIST as we see from verse 35:
“Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest”.
This had started with the Samaritans. It is noteworthy that the first two people recorded in John to whom the Master preached the truth after his disciples were Nicodemus, a Pharisee and this woman, a Samaritan. There was a great work before him which he had to finish in his 3 1/2 years ministry, which he had just begun. May we brethren and sisters have the same dedication of Christ:
“Therefore, my beloved brethren¸be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).