Studies in his Life and Writings
By W. H. Griffith Thomas
OUTLINE STUDIES (Part 2)
The record of Christ's public ministry closes with chapter 12, and with chapter 13 the second division of the Gospel opens. In the first five chapters (13-17) we have the record of the last conversations of our Lord with his disciples, in which he revealed himself more fully to them and elicited their deepening faith (16:30). In chapter 13 he shows his love in action, and then, after the departure of Judas, he manifested his love in words (chapters 14-17). This occurred on the eve of his death, and the various events between the visit of the Greeks on the Tuesday ( 12:20) will be gathered from the other Gospels.
Let us see some of the features of true Christian service.
1. Based on Knowledge. We see this in verses 1, 3, 17. Notwithstanding the greatness of the Master, he was ready to stoop to serve. The motto of the Prince of Wales is "I serve," and there is nothing nobler or more royal than service.
2. Actuated by Love. We see the intensity of Christ's love for "his own," as he was about to leave them unprotected in the world (v. 1). Love is best proved by service.
3. Marked by Humility. James and John had just been striving for the highest places in the kingdom of God, and they were taught by Christ wherein true ambition and real greatness consisted (Matt. 20:20-28). So also when the Greeks came the lesson was taught of self-sacrificing, lowly service (John 12:24-26). In the same way Paul speaks of the restoration of the brother who had been overtaken in a fault, "in a spirit of meekness" (Gal. 6:1). There is scarcely anything so true to the Christlike spirit as humility. The Greek word for "humble" shows what the pagans thought of this grace, for they used for it a term expressive of the groveling of a reptile. Christ takes humility and glorifies it, so that now it is the highest, noblest, and truest expression of life. Augustine was once asked, "What is the first step to heaven?" and replied, "Humility." "And the second step?" "Humility." "And the third step?" "Humility." It has been quaintly said that when we attempt to wash the saints' feet, we must be particularly careful along three lines:(1) The water must not be too hot; (2) our own hands must be clean; (3) we must be willing for them to wash our feet.
4. Expressed in Helpfulness. There must be doing, not merely feeling (v. 17). Christianity is more than creed and includes deed, and our efforts on behalf of others will be shown in every circle of life.
The conversation of Christ on this solemn and momentous occasion could not ignore the presence of Judas, and we now see how this fact affected our Lord's words and attitude. A last attempt was made to win the traitor.
As we review this scene, the following points stand out with definiteness:
This section (chapters 14-17) has been called "The Holy of Holies" because it contains some of the deepest and most spiritual of our Lord's teaching. It has been described in general thus: Chapter 14, Consolation, an exhortation to Faith; chapter 15, Instruction, an appeal to Love; chapter 16, Prediction, an incentive to Hope; chapter 17, Intercession, an anticipation of Glory.
The keynote of chapter 14 is seen in the repetition of the phrase, "Let not your heart be troubled" (vs. 1, 27), and there seem to be seven reasons given why they were not to be troubled. Notice how each reason follows naturally from the one before.
The chapter may be summed up as follows:
After the discourses in chapters 13 and 14, it is probable that this one was spoken on the way to Gethsemane (14:31). It was intended to encourage the disciples by the assurance of their Master's presence, notwithstanding his approaching departure (14:18, 20, 27). This thought of Christ's presence is illustrated by the allegory of the vine, which would be familiar to the disciples as Jews. Three trees in the New Testament illustrate Scripture teaching; the olive (Rom. 11:17-24), showing the relation to Abraham the root, and the Gentiles the branches; the fig (Mark 11:13), illustrating religious profession; and the vine, expressive of fruitfulness (Psa. 80:8-11; Isa. 5:1-7; Jer. 2:21).
It seems important to get a general view of the whole chapter in order to see the fulness of Christ's teaching.
Christ said four things: Come unto Me (as Saviour); Learn of Me (as Teacher); Follow Me (as Master); Abide in Me (as Life). So that to "abide" is the highest requirement of Christ, and therefore applies to his faithful disciples.
1. Its Nature. It includes union and communion. We are "in Christ" for life; including pardon, righteousness, rest, liberty, and purity. Christ is "in us" for life; including protection, power, testimony, and victory. From this union will come reciprocal communion. We are to abide in him and to allow him to abide in us. This does not mean seeking a new position, but remaining in one already attained, recognizing and living in the strength and satisfaction of our existing union.
2. Its Secret. It comes first from faith (John 6:56), and then it is maintained in fellowship; obeying (1 John 3:24); confessing (1 John 4:15); and loving(1 John 4:16).
3. Its Power. We find this in prayer (15:7) and in service (v. 5).
And thus we realize our position by the Holy Spirit (John 14:20; 1 John 4:13), and maintain it by the Word of God (1 John 2:14, 24, 28; 2 John 2, 9; John 5:38; 8:31 ). It is a real encouragement to remember that we abide even when we are unconscious of Christ. For just as when our body is asleep, natural food is in us and is being assimilated for our health and strength, so we rest upon the blessed fact of Christ's presence in us, whether conscious of it or not; and whenever there is an opportunity we realize it consciously and respond to it in surrender, trust, and obedience.
Chapter 15:26 to 16:14
Another part of Christ's farewell discourses on the eve of his crucifixion (13 to 16). In chapter 15 he indicates a threefold relation of his disciples: to himself (vs. 1-11), consisting of union and communion; to one another (vs. 12-17), consisting of love and service; to the world (vs. 18-27), consisting of enmity and persecution. In connection with the last point a promise is made of the Holy Spirit to vindicate Christ through his disciples after his departure. So that we have in marked contrast the enmity of the world and the power of the Spirit, the latter being the topic of the present lesson.
This section provides an opportunity of concentrating attention on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit as recorded in John's Gospel. There is a striking progress of doctrine which ought to find its counterpart in personal experience.
1. The Incoming Spirit (3:5). This is the commencement of the Christian life by the new birth of the Spirit.
2. The Indwelling Spirit (4:14). Under the same figure of water, the abiding presence of the Spirit in the believer is indicated.
3. The Out flowing Spirit (7:38, 39). Water again is used to suggest the Holy Spirit. The believer first drinks and then becomes a channel of blessing, rivers of living water flowing from him to others.
4. The Witnessing Spirit (14-16). This is the specific work of the believer through the Holy Spirit in testifying to the character of Christ, and thereby convicting the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. This is vital, because no one has heard of a conversion to God apart from some human agency, direct or indirect, personal or written. Our Lord said that the world could not receive the Holy Spirit (14:17), and no one has ever been led to Christ in any part of the world without some testimony to the Lord by life or word. This shows the solemnity and importance of our being filled with the Spirit, in order that the world may know of Christ, because it is only in proportion to our reception and experience of the Spirit that our witness to Christ will be effectual. The consciousness that if the world is not convicted through Christians it will not be convicted at all is one of the most solemn incentives to holiness, earnestness, and world-wide evangelization.
Thus we see that the Holy Spirit is a unique and distinctive feature of Christianity. Other religions have their founders, their sacred books, their philosophy and their ethics, but only Christianity has the Holy Spirit, and as the "Spirit of Christ," the "Spirit of truth," and the "Spirit of grace" he unites the Jesus of history with the Christ of experience. It is this that makes the essential message of Christianity not "Back to Christ," but "Up to Christ."
The farewell counsels have been given, concerning the Lord's own departure and the coming of the Holy Spirit. Now we notice the immediate results of what had been said.
These closing words (v. 33) may almost be said to sum up the great truths of these four chapters.
The most deeply taught believer pauses before this wonderful combination of simplicity and depth. Coming just prior to Gethsemane, it affords a most remarkable index to our Lord's attitude of mind and heart as he faced the great event of the Cross. Two ideas are seen to run through the entire prayer; the personal outpouring of the Son to his Father, and the intercession of the priest for his people. The lofty calm and victorious joy fulness in the very presence of death have often been noted. There seems to be a threefold petition.
And so the prayer is for the Glorification of Christ; the Preservation of the Apostles and the Unification of Believers.
Perhaps the entire prayer may be regarded as summarized in verse 18, where there are four references: "Thou"; "Me"; "the world"; "them." What Christ was to the Father then, we are to be to Christ now. "As... so."
The change from chapters 13 to 17 to chapter 18 is like going from warmth to cold, from light to darkness. After the farewell discourses (13-16) and our Lord's prayer (17) for himself (vs. 1-5); for his disciples (vs. 9-19); and for his Church (vs. 20-26), came the incidents of the betrayal and trial. As in 13 to 17, we have the development of faith, so in 18 and 19 we have the culmination of unbelief. The picture of Christ in these chapters is one of calm dignity and real majesty, showing that the last and supreme test was met victoriously, and that his closing hours were in entire consistency with his beautiful life and ministry.
Although John was one of the three taken apart from the rest in Gethsemane, and was thus fitted to write of that solemn time, he omits all reference to it, not only because what others had written was sufficient, but also and chiefly because the special line of his Gospel was the presentation of the Lord as the object of faith rather than as the suffering Son of Man. Thus we learn from John alone how the Lord's personal presence at first overawed the company who came to apprehend him.
1. The Wickedness of the Fallen Heart. This is exemplified in Judas. Notwithstanding the wonderful privileges of three years, he was ready to betray his Master. He does not seem to have been a monster of evil, but simply of selfishness, which led to insincerity as a disciple, falseness as an apostle, theft as a man, and at length perdition as a traitor. The cause of the crime may have been originally avarice, which perhaps developed into revenge. The sin had been growing for some time (6:64). All this shows the solemn truth that intellectual capacity is not everything and that formal adhesion to Jesus Christ, even to the extent of being numbered among his apostles, is not enough. We also see the awful possibilities of evil when the heart is separated from Divine grace. John Bradford, one of the martyrs in England at the time of the Reformation, once saw a criminal on his way to execution, and said, "There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford."
2. The Love of the Divine Heart. This is pictured in Jesus Christ. We see his willingness towards his Father (v. 11); we notice his effort, even at the last, to win Judas (Luke 22:48); we mark his thought for the safety of his disciples (v. 8); we note his attitude towards his captors; and we observe his reminder to Peter (v. 11). As we think of all this, we remember and rejoice in the love that gave Jesus to suffer and die.
3. The Imperfection of the Renewed Heart. This is illustrated in Peter. We naturally feel interested in the blessedness of enthusiasm (v. 10), and yet we must not fail to see the danger of mere impulse (v. U). Looking at the whole story of the denial (vs. 15-18. 25-27), we notice beyond all else the weakness which comes from loss of faith (Luke 22:32).
As we contemplate these three aspects of character, we cannot help realizing the solemn lesson, based upon two contrasted texts: "Apart from, me ye can do nothing" (John 15:5); "I can do all things in him that strengtheneth me" (Phil. 4:13).
The particular purpose of each Gospel is not easily seen in the selections made of the events of the Passion. It has been suggested that John's account is marked by the proofs of consistency with what precedes, that the tests in all severity were triumphantly passed. "The end matches the beginning. The last scenes fit perfectly upon those that have gone before" (H. W. Clark, "The Christ from Without and Within," p. 217).
In this episode we see four attitudes which tell their own story:
The Fourth Gospel gives a remarkable fulness of narrative in connection with the trial before Pilate, and very little of the proceeding before Annas and Caiaphas. The latter were powerless to accomplish what they wanted. Prudence also suggested that all possible consideration should be given to the Roman Governor, who is said to have been jealous of his own power.
The story is a wonderful study in human nature. It records a conflict between right and wrong and of the oscillations in Pilate's mind as he desired to do the former and yet succumbed to the latter. It is an illustration of what Simeon had long ago said, that in contact with Christ the thoughts of the heart would be revealed (Luke 2:35).
The passage seems to be naturally divided into four sections; verses 1-3; 4-8; 9-11; 12-16; and the recurrence of the word "therefore" is impressive.
The record shows the struggle between vacillation and malignity:
After the ecclesiastical trial (twofold) came the trial before Pilate, which is marked in John by seven aspects, the circumstances ''shifting alternately from the outside to the inside of the palace" (Whitelaw). Note also the solemn repetition of "therefore" all through the scenes. The result of Pilate's weakness in yielding was the delivering of Christ to be crucified. John's account is in some respects supplementary to, and in others independent of, the other Gospels, and seems to proceed along two lines, illustrating at once man's sin and God's purpose. The picture of Christ is also strikingly majestic, and his life is seen to culminate in the sacrifice.
1. The Cross is Central. We see this by a simple comparison of the passages in our Bible dealing with the events of the last week of Christ's earthly life, as contrasted with the lack of detail for the remainder of the three years. John gives nearly one-half of his Gospel to these few days. This alone shows the centrality of the crucifixion, but we may also look at it along these four lines:( 1 ) Predicted in the Old Testament; (2) Foreseen by Christ; (3) Emphasized by Christ; (4) Proclaimed by the Apostles.
2. The Need is Absolute. Why should the death of Jesus Christ be made so prominent? The answer is "to save sinners" (1 Tim. 1:15). And we may think of the various aspects of sin, as they are dealt with by the Cross:(1) Sin as guilt; (2) Sin as bondage; (3) Sin as defilement; (4) Sin as enmity.
3. The Value is Vital. In every way the Cross is of supreme importance:(1) Against Rationalism, which tends to emphasize the life and forget the death, though Christ came into the world to die; (2) against Formalism, which tends to accept intellectually the fact without spiritually and personally trusting the One who died; (3) against Romanism, which, with all its emphasis on Calvary, tends to think only of the act and fact of the death of Christ rather than of the Christ who died and now lives forever (Rev. 1:18); (4) against Skepticism, which tends to deny the power of the Cross for human needs.
This chapter Is the second part of the section 18-20, and as 18 and 19 record the climax of unbelief, so 20 tells of the culmination of belief, and gives the crowning joy of the entire section beginning with chapter 13. After the burial of Christ (19:38-42) and the Jewish precautions for security (Matt. 27:62-66) came the resurrection. John's account, while in some respects supplementary, is yet selected on the principle of 20:31, to elicit faith. The various appearances are not easily arranged in order, but this constitutes a proof of their accuracy in the absence of any effort to fit them in. Certain features are common to all four Gospels, including the omission of any description of the actual resurrection and the limitation of the appearances to believers (Acts 10:40, 41). If only we knew all the circumstances, the arrangement of the appearances would be doubtless quite simple.
1. The Necessity of the Resurrection. Why "must" Jesus rise? (1) As a proof of the truth of his own words, for he had foretold it so clearly that his veracity was at stake, unless he rose; (2) as a testimony to the truth of the Old Testament, which had foretold it (Psalms 2 and 16; Isa. 53):(3) as a vindication of Christ's character, for a perfect life could not close in a cruel and shameful death; (4) as a vindication of God, for all through his life Christ had appealed to God, and, as Paul said afterwards, it would have proved God to be false if Christ had not been raised (1 Cor. 15:15).
2. The Proofs of the Resurrection. How may we be assured that Christ did rise? (1) The fact of the empty grave and the disappearance of the body. It must have been removed by human or superhuman power. (2) The remarkable transformation in the disciples from gloom to gladness, from despair to hope, and from sorrow to joy. Only three days and this change took place. (3) The existence of the primitive Church, for every one believes that the Church of Christ came into existence as a result of accepting the resurrection of the Master. (4) The influence of Christ upon men and communities from the time of Paul onwards. Only One who is living and Divine could affect men's lives in this way.
3. The Value of the Resurrection. For what reasons do we make it prominent? (1) Evidential (Rom. 1:4); (2) Evangelistic (Rom. 4:25; 1 Pet. 1:21); (3) Spiritual (Rom. 6:4); (4) Eschatological (1 Cor. 15:20,21).
After 20:31 the addition of this chapter seems strange at first sight, but further consideration shows that it is an integral and essential part of the Gospel, and as an Epilogue answers to the Prologue and so completes the record of the glory of Christ as the Revealer of God and the Redeemer of man. There are three main parts: The Pre-Incarnate Life of Christ, 1:1-18; the Incarnate Life, 1:19 to 20:29; the Post-Incarnate Life, 21:1-22. This chapter forms a sort of parable of Christ's present life above in relation to his people. The keynote is Service.
Looking on this chapter as typifying or symbolizing the entire period of the history of the Church, we may note how it is marked by service which' is to be crowned with glory.