Notes of a Reading on John's Gospel: 2-3

John 2‑3  •  15 min. read  •  grade level: 7
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(Chapter 2,3)
In this chapter we get particulars as to the third day. In chapter 1 we have from verse 35 two days of testimony, during which we see a Jewish remnant gathered; and now in chapter ii. we get the third day, in which we get two things-a marriage and a judgment; the marriage is at Cana in Galilee, the judgment is in Jerusalem, where Jesus drives out those who were defiling the temple. In the chapter, however, we get intimation that after all the temple was only " empty, swept, and garnished," for He was the true temple. The whole of this and the following chapter comes in before John is cast into prison, so that we learn that, before the commencement of Christ's ministry in Galilee, mentioned in Matt. 4, there was a dealing of His with those of Jerusalem. The scenes in John's Gospel are mostly laid in Jerusalem, but in Galilee in the other gospels.
The miracle of turning the water into wine, in connection with the marriage at Cana, is a figure of the marriage of Christ with the Jews-His recognition of that people as His own in the latter days. Its taking place at Cana sets forth His taking up the poor remnant of His people and leaving those of Jerusalem. When this marriage takes place, He will change the water of purification into the wine of joy. Water was set there for purification. It is a figure of the word which, in His absence, is here for our purification, not as the wine of joy. We are said to be "washed with water by the word." Our way is to be cleansed by taking heed to the word.
As to the judgment, it is the Lord whom they sought suddenly coming to His temple, according to Malachi. He did not, however, present Himself thus, but coming to it He finds these things in the temple, and therefore puts them out. The cleansing is by judgment here. He puts out those who defiled the temple. Thus have we in figure the two things which characterize the third day-the marriage of Christ with the remnant, when He will turn the water of purification into the wine of joy; and the judgment, by which He will put away those that defile God's house. The Jews asked for a sign in proof of the authority on which He did this; and He refers them at once to Himself. " Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."
It is beautiful to see the two things in this chapter, but they are morally instructive as well as figurative. The present separation of Christ from the people is seen in what passes between
Himself and His mother. When she comes He would not have to do with her, but the hour is coming when He will have to do with her. Still we find He went down with her to Capernaum. Having really done with the people after the flesh, He says to His mother, " Woman, what have 1 to do with thee;" and yet although thus separate from her He goes and dwells with her. We have the same thing in Luke, when he was twelve years of age. When He provided for His mother at the cross, it was in a certain sense the hour when He should do so. Going away Himself He provides for His mother as a thoughtful, dutiful son would do.
In the end of this chapter (2) we get into a transition. When He was at Jerusalem, many believed on His name when they saw the miracles which He did; but now He will not have it. Man may sincerely believe many things in the flesh, but this is what Christ will not own. Come here in a divine character He will not take Israel up on the ground of the flesh. That kind of faith which can be in man naturally He will not have-in fact it was valueless, even as far as man was concerned. Jesus did not commit Himself to them, although they had an honest conviction that the man who did all these miracles must be what He said He was.
Chapter 3 Then comes Nicodemus on the same ground, but with his conscience exercised. He comes apart from the world " by night." The Lord meets him with what was needed (by Israel it is true, but also) for everybody. Christ here clearly shows that He is not come to fall in with Judaism, but He brings out at once that God needed something else. Christ would not teach flesh. " Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." The original word is weakly translated " again;" it really means "anew," from the beginning (ἄνῶθεν, from above, from the beginning, anew). The real force of the expression is" apparent from the answer of Nicodemus, who took it to mean a new birth. Now without this new birth, the kingdom of God could not be seen. Christ could not teach the old nature, or at least would not. The flesh or old nature is never spoken of in the Old Testament as such. In Gen. 6:33And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. (Genesis 6:3) we get, " My Spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh;" but this striving was between the Spirit of God in the ways and words of the godly, and the evil course of the ungodly. The spiritual nature in contrast with the flesh we do not get in the Old Testament. We do not read of any such conflict as this in one man of old. The full character of the flesh in man is brought out in the New Testament.. It was in the death of Christ that sin got its condemnation. This brought the flesh fairly out-put it in its own place. Law never brought it out thus. It is true that the moment I get to know that the law is spiritual, then I get fully upset, condemned. " I had not known lust unless the law had said, Thou shalt not covet." But even this did not condemn sin in the flesh, because I am still hoping that I may do better. But when I see the death of Christ, I see that the flesh contains no such thing as good. " The carnal mind is enmity against God, and is not subject to the law of God neither indeed can be." It was condemned by the death of Christ as a sacrifice for sin, by what He bare for us, in our place. This, therefore, settles what and where it is. A true heart is often harrassed by the presence of the flesh, but there is deliverance when I find that God has condemned it by Christ's death on the cross, and that I have got another spring of life, on which the fruits of the Spirit grow. Now in the third chapter of John we get the thought that an entirely new thing is needed, and that it came down with Christ, was manifested in Him. It was with Him before He came down into the world, but it came down to us in Him, acting, it is true, in man's faculties and feelings, but still a new life. The thing is that we must have a nature capable of enjoying God. The Holy Ghost is, of course, required to reveal God, but when He is so revealed, I must have a nature capable of receiving and enjoying God and the things of God. For the character of this new life, see John's Epistles and also in Galatians. It should also be remembered that our life is not its own source, it is not the fountain, nor even a fountain, but a communication, quite derivative. It is not said that life is in me, but in Christ from whom I have it, have it in Him.
Verse 5. The bearing of this verse upon the life is, that water represents the application to us of the word of God, and that the Spirit is the divine communicator of life. Water is a common figure of the word. " Ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you." The word is the instrument by which the Holy Ghost works. It is that which appeals to men, and made effectual by the Spirit, purifies the person-the individual. The person is not a different one, but a new life which was not in any sense there before is put into him. We are thus begotten again, connected with which there is the washing of the person from the impurities connected with the old life. The result of the work gives us the fact of a new thing in us, but that it is not of us, but derived from another, see verse 6: " That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."
Verse 7, &c. All must thus be born again-not Jews simply-but all. To see the kingdom of God is to apprehend it, to enter it, is more the idea of going in, taking a place in it. One might see it before it came, but one could not positively enter it until it was set up.
Verse 12, &c. Here Christ mentions the distinction between earthly and heavenly things. The new birth belongs to both. New birth was requisite for the earthly blessing of the Jew as Nicodemus ought to have known. Still the heavenly things in principle begin with the new birth, but as to their actual historical introduction, we do not get them till after the cross. Hence, when Christ comes to speak of the cross (ver. 14) He drops the kingdom and talks of eternal life, without which there could be no enjoyment of what is heavenly; but this revelation of what is heavenly brings out the complete ruin of what is natural; for so far from man being capable of enjoying what is heavenly, he is perishing, so we get the wondrous statement of the Son of man being lifted up, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish. The thought of perishing is deeper than the question of the kingdom. There was a must be that man should be born again, and there was a must be that Christ should be lifted up. Everything for man depended on this; even the Jews get their earthly blessings in connection with the heavenly man, But the Jews never get to that fullness of blessing which belongs to the heavenly people. Even in the millennium the Jews will not have the vail rent. They will not see Christ even as we now see Him by faith. They will see His manifestation on earth, but this is very different to what He is in heaven to us now, much more to what He will be to us in the glory. In the millennium the Jews do not see Christ as the light of the heavenly city, but they see His light through the city, through us. There is however, a manifestation of Him outside on earth which they will see, but this sight of Him will be very different from what we shall see of Him in heaven.
New birth depended, for us, on the death of Christ. All blessings come to us from that death. We get life through a Christ that died and was raised again, and we get it in the power in which He is risen. This is that which distinguishes the saint of the present dispensation. We are blessed in and with Christ. Death and resurrection are our portion, even His death and resurrection. We are not simply blessed through His death and resurrection, as the Jews will be at the latter day.
From verses 14-17 we have, as it were, the two sides of truth. Verse 14 brings out the necessity on man's side for Christ's being lifted up, " The Son of man must he lifted up, that whosoever believes might not perish." In verse 15 we find the other side, even that God in the greatness of His love has given His Son for us. 'These are the two sides of truth, necessity in man and love in God. Eternal life is precisely the same as everlasting life. The difference is one instance of the bad habit in the translators of the Authorized Version in using different words to represent the same word in Greek. The literal meaning of the word translated perish is utterly marred.
Verse 17, &c. Here we get this great truth that God did not send His Son to condemn the world, but to express His grace towards man. Hence is brought out man's sad condition, for the world would not have Him. The word condemn here is very unhappy; it should be judge the world: " He that believeth on him is not judged, but he that believeth not is judged already." The thing is that Christ did not come to judge the world, yet in one sense He did judge. He was light, and the fact of His coining was necessarily judgment. But still His purpose was grace. If a man do not believe he is judged already, for his very rejection of Christ manifests his condition, proves him utterly lost; hence
Verse 19. " This is the judgment, that light is come into the world, but men loved darkness rather than light." His presence had the effect of judging, although He did not come to judge. There is a difference between condemnation and judgment. Judgment supposes an action of judging, but condemnation is simply telling out the sentence. It is here that if God judges the result must be condemnation, for man is a sinner. If I were the maker of this table, and I examine the table for the purpose of judging its real character, I am in reality judging myself as a workman; so if God had judged man as He made him, He would have been judging Himself. But if man has departed from God, then God judges him, and it must be condemnation. This principle goes further, explain- in.. why it is God will not judge the new life, because it is of Himself, and He cannot judge Himself.
All these verses up to verse 22 are addressed to Nicodemus, although, as John generally does, he gets into great general truths.
Verses 22.-36. Here we get John the Baptist giving place to Christ, and rejoicing that he has to do so. He especially testifies that Christ is from above-from heaven -and hence that no man receiveth his testimony. A very solemn statement. John's spirit here is very beautiful-the Bride is Christ's. To see gathering to Christ going on was a great joy to John, but there are some interesting details here.
The question arises about purifying between some of John's disciples and the Jews. It was a question about Christ and John, and, with a very low thought of the case, many went to Christ and left John. But John answers those who come to him about it, by showing that he is not the Christ, yea, never pretended to be. It was the One who came from above who was above all; but if this is so, there remains another solemn thing, and that is, if Christ came from above, no man receives His testimony. We have here also John's abdication, he gives up to Christ in solemn contrast with the Jews, who give up Christ. How different the spirit of the two! The Pharisee and John's disciples both seemed stirred up at the thought that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John. Not that He Himself baptized, but His disciples baptizing gave currency to the report. This John met by giving way to Christ with joy, although, as to man, none will receive Him. But while no man naturally receiveth the testimony, yet it is said, " He that hath received his testimony," showing us that divine grace has come in. Merely human belief Christ would not have. (See close of chap. ii.) To receive Christ's testimony, evidently supposes something quite new in the heart, and in connection with it we have the words of God and the Spirit given. And further, the Father having given all things into the Son's hand, Christ as the Son appearing on the scene alone, life in Him, but wrath abiding on those who believe not.
Christ did not begin publicly to preach until John was cast into prison. (See Matthew and Mark.) Christ was teaching and working miracles, but still He did not offer Himself' as the Messiah, saying as He does in Luke, " Now is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears."
It is John the Baptist that speaks in these closing verses. It was not John's every-day preaching, but so to speak, his dying note. Some have said that the language of these last verses is that of the Apostle and not of the Baptist, and have grounded upon it an objection to the gospel. But the notion of such is that man is the author of the gospels and not God.
(Continued from, page 380, Vol. VII)