John 1 (day 998) 24 September 2012
1-5: John’s gospel is generally considered to be the last of the four chronologically as well as last in the arrangement of our Bibles. The so-called “prologue” (verses 1-18) reads more like a Greek philosophical text than a historical narrative. Indeed, John includes very little historical narrative; his book consists mainly of discourses and dialogues. The key terms introduced in these verses are Word, Life, Light and Darkness. For John, Word is God’s incarnating partner in creation. Life is the power of God transferred into God’s creatures. Light is God’s presence and Darkness is whatever seeks to avoid or defeat God’s presence.
6-9: John the baptizer (not John the evangelist) is introduced next, and the concept of Light is given more explanation. John’s job is to testify to the Light, God’s presence among them, and to introduce the True Light (Jesus, of course), who’s job will be to more fully present the Light, the presence of God.
10-13: The mission of the True Light is explained more fully. He will empower those who believe in him to become children of God, born of spirit and not just of flesh and blood. It is a new step in the evolution and development of God’s relationship with human beings.
14-18: Jesus appears, described by John the baptizer as “God the only Son” who brings grace and truth to supplement (or replace?) the Law.
19-23: Now we move into the historical narrative. John begins his story of Jesus with an account of the activity of John the baptizer. We are immediately informed of the interest of the Jewish officials in what John the baptizer is doing, although to this point we have no idea what he is doing or where he is doing it. Nevertheless, it is clear that there is considerable interest in him, and their questions reveal what people are saying about John; that he is the Messiah, or Elijah, or the promised prophet to come, all of which John denies. He only claims to be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of the “voice crying in the wilderness” (Isaiah 40:3).
24-28: We learn more in this short paragraph. The Jews mentioned in verse 19 turn out to be specifically the Pharisees, whose initial interest in John may simply reflect their sincere belief that the Messiah would come. They apparently have the idea that when the Messiah does come he will undertake the task of baptizing those who will join his movement that will restore Israel’s greatness. Thus we learn that John is baptizing people, and what’s more, he is baptizing them in the Jordan River at a village called Bethany. This is the only verse in the Bible that mentions Bethany “beyond the Jordan,” meaning east of the Jordan, in what is today the nation of Jordan. There is another Bethany near Jerusalem where Lazarus lives with his two sisters Mary and Martha.
29-34: Notice that in this gospel it is never said that John baptizes Jesus. We are told that John sees Jesus coming toward him and announces that Jesus is the
“Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world,” a designation loaded with all kinds of religious baggage. Twice John declares that he does not know Jesus (although in Luke he and Jesus are cousins). He testifies that he saw the Spirit like a dove descending upon and remaining on Jesus, perhaps an image taken from the story of Noah on the ark getting ready to embark into a new world. Furthermore, John makes it clear that his commission from God is to baptize with water until he sees the one on whom the Spirit descends, and that one will begin to baptize “with the Holy Spirit.” Finally, John announces that Jesus is the Son of God.
35-42: Jesus has not just come to the Jordan to be baptized. He has remained in Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan at least for several days. When John sees him again a day or so later he points Jesus out to two of his disciples, Andrew and another man, and tells them that Jesus is the “Lamb of God.” They call Jesus “Rabbi,” and ask where he is staying. It seems an odd question to us, but they simply want to know where Jesus is teaching so they can come and learn from him. Andrew in turn brings his brother Simon whose name Jesus immediately changes to Cephas. Peter is the English version of the Greek name Petros, which is the Greek version of the Aramaic name Cephas. Now you know. It is worth while noting, of course, that in the synoptic gospels Simon doesn’t get a nickname until much later.
Of note here is that Simon and Andrew, who were Galilean fishermen, are found at the Jordan River where they had undoubtedly gone to be baptized by John, and that at least one of them, Andrew, was a disciple of John.
43-51: Philip is perhaps another of John’s disciples who has become an acquaintance of Jesus; some commentators imagine that he was Andrew’s unnamed partner in verse 35. After all, they are all three from Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus decides it is time to go to Galilee, and invites Philip to go with him. Philip recruits Nathanael and brings him to Jesus. The exchange between Jesus and Nathanael is obscure and begs more information. When Jesus designates him as one “in whom there is no deceit,” he may simply have been commenting on his name, Nathanael, which means “Gift of God.” The reference to the fig tree is completely obscure and we have no idea why Nathanael is so impressed that Jesus could have seen him there, or why he is thus immediately convinced Jesus is the Messiah and gushes, calling Jesus the Son of God. Jesus replies with another confusing statement in which he refers not to the Son of God but to the Son of Man. The imagery of angels climbing up and down a ladder or stairway between earth and heaven is of course from the story of Jacob (Genesis 28:12).
John 2 (day 999) 25 September 2012
1-11: John is the only evangelist to tell the story of the wedding in Cana. He and his disciples are invited to the wedding; his mother Mary is already there (although her name is never given in John’s gospel), indicating that perhaps the bride or groom is a relative. It would certainly be an embarrassment to run out of wine, but we are left to wonder why his mother thinks he can do anything about it. She does, however, instruct the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do, and they follow his instructions to the letter, filling the jars “to the brim.” The water turns to wine and the party is saved. It is the first miracle John tells us about in his gospel. Interestingly enough, nobody knows about the miracle but the servants and the disciples and the mother of Jesus. The miracle seems to serve the purpose, though, of solidifying his disciples’ faith in him.
12: Jesus now moves to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers and disciples. This is the last time we will see her until we see her standing at the cross in chapter 19. John’s gospel hints that his mother and brothers are much more involved in Jesus’ early ministry than we might gather from the other gospels. The implication is that his family no longer lives in Nazareth but has taken up residence in Capernaum, and that his mother is widowed.
13-22: In John’s gospel Jesus goes to Jerusalem early and often. All the gospels tell the “cleansing of the temple” story, but John is the only one who places it this early. Much more detail is included here than in the other gospels (compare Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-17, and Luke 19:45-46). Here we have Jesus wielding a whip of cords. Here John lists the kinds of animals being sold and tells us that Jesus chases the cattle and sheep out, orders the bird vendors to leave and overturns the money changers’ tables. Note also that in John his opposition in Jerusalem is “the Jews,” whereas the other gospels identify several specific groups; Pharisees, Sadducees, chief priests, scribes, and elders. Here John turns the questioning of the Jews into an opportunity for Jesus to prophesy his death and resurrection.
23-25: Jesus stays in Jerusalem amid growing speculation among the people, but he does not trust the crowds, John says, because he knows people all too well.
John 3 (day 1000) 26 September 2012
1-10: Nicodemus is called a “leader of the Jews.” He is a key character in John’s gospel, but unmentioned anywhere else in the Bible. He is a member of the San Hedrin, the ruling body, and later we will find him defending Jesus in that assembly (7:50). Furthermore he and Joseph of Arimathea together will bury Jesus (19:38-40). He comes to Jesus by night, indicating that he is personally intrigued by Jesus but does not want his colleagues to know that he is. He refers to “signs” that Jesus has done, which leaves us wondering what John may have left out of his narrative to this point. Jesus, however, wants to use the occasion to make sure Nicodemus understands that the kingdom of God is not something controlled by the San Hedrin, but by the Spirit. Nicodemus is probably a Pharisee because he tends to take everything literally, including the Law (see again 7:50). He doesn’t understand what Jesus means by being born again. When Jesus explains the necessity of being born of the Spirit in addition to water (but does he mean the water of the womb, or the water of baptism?), Nicodemus can’t quite grasp the concept and Jesus chides him for his thick-headedness.
11-15: Nicodemus disappears from the conversation at this point. Jesus continues his teaching, however, and it seems clear that his words about the “Son of Man” and being “lifted up” are directed at future readers of the gospel.
16: Perhaps the best-known and most often quoted verse in the gospel, this saying of Jesus forms the centerpiece of John’s understanding of who Jesus is and why he came and what the outcome of faith in him will be.
17-18: The importance of faith in the Son is clearly stated; it is the difference between condemnation and salvation.
19-21: Jesus’ words here recall the beginning of the gospel where light and darkness are first mentioned as overarching symbols of good and evil.
22-24: The place names here have not been clearly identified. The best guess is that “aenon” means “springs” or “fountains” and that “Salim” is a village on the west side of the Jordan River about halfway between the river and the city of Samaria. John has thus moved further north, and Jesus and his disciples are in Judea baptizing (we are told later that his disciples were doing the baptizing, not Jesus himself – 4:2).
25-30: The Jews are still interested in John and his baptizing operation, and so are naturally curious that Jesus should be giving the impression of having usurped John’s authority to do the same. John will have none of that, but tells them that he is happy to hear about Jesus’ activities. He has already averred that he is not the Messiah, but merely a “friend of the bridegroom” who rejoices when the bridegroom arrives. From now on, he says, Jesus will become more and more important and he less and less.
31-36: Jesus has come “from above,” he says, and those who accept him will be rewarded with eternal life, while those who reject him “must endure God’s wrath.”
John 4 (day 1001) 27 September 2012
1-6: Although John is willing for Jesus to surpass him in popularity, Jesus senses that such popularity may be perilous, and when the Pharisees begin hearing about him he decides it is time to head back to Galilee. Such a journey would not require going through Samaria, but we get the impression that he is in a bit of a hurry to remove himself from inspection and speculation, so he takes the shortest route and finds himself outside the village of Sychar about 25 miles NNE of Jerusalem and 35 miles SSW of the Sea of Galilee. The name Sychar does not occur elsewhere in the Bible, but John identifies it as the site of a well dug by Jacob on land given to Joseph (no record of this is in Genesis).
7-15: While Jesus rests at the well a Samaritan woman comes to draw water and Jesus asks her for a drink. We are told now that the disciples had gone into Sychar to buy food. She is surprised that he would ask a drink of water from her, since Jewish men don’t customarily associate publicly with women and Jews don’t associate with Samaritans. As was the case in the exchange with Nicodemus, in the conversation that follows Jesus once again uses an ordinary thing to teach an extraordinary truth. The common thing in this case is water. The extraordinary truth is, once again, the gift of eternal life (compare 3:16, 36). For her part, the woman has as hard a time understanding Jesus as had Nicodemus. She, too, is interpreting his words too literally.
16-26: Jesus gives the conversation a personal turn by asking her to bring her husband even though he apparently already knows her situation, though John does not explain how he came by the information. She says she’s not married and Jesus tells her that he knows she has had five husbands and is currently living out of wedlock. Her reaction is that he must be a prophet to know such things about someone he’s never met. Then she acknowledges again the differences between Jews and Samaritans and alludes to their different customs of worship. Jesus tells her that the place of worship is not important, but rather the attitude of the worshiper. She then reveals her faith that the Messiah will come, and he in turns reveals himself as the Messiah.
27-30: The disciples return, and the woman goes back into the village. She tells her people about the man she met at the well, though questioning whether he can be the Messiah.
31-38: In the exchange between Jesus and his disciples, he once again uses ordinary things to teach extraordinary truths. Food is turned into God’s claim on one’s life. The harvest becomes a symbol for God’s gathering of the faithful. As in the encounter with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, the theme in this lesson for his disciples is eternal life.
39-42: Jesus actually stays with the Samaritans in Sychar for two days, and they are convinced that he is the Savior of the world. What a contrast to his own people, the Jews!
43-45: In Galilee, Jesus finds that he already has a reputation because his countrymen saw “all that he had done in Jerusalem,” although John has only reported the cleansing of the temple and the nocturnal conversation with Nicodemus.
46-54: We are back in the Galilean village of Cana where Jesus had performed his first miracle. (Remember, though, that the only witnesses had been his disciples and the servants at the wedding banquet.) A “royal official” from Capernaum begs him to come heal his son. “Royal official” probably means that he was employed in the administration of Herod Antipas. Jesus initially seems to brush aside the request, lamenting that people want to see “signs and wonders” before they take his message seriously. The official begs him again but Jesus, instead of going to the man’s house, simply pronounces the child to be well. To his credit the man believes him and heads home. The encounter with Jesus took place at 1:00 p.m., and the man would therefore have not reached Capernaum that same day, since it was about 25 miles. When he arrives home the next day he learns that the boy’s fever had suddenly broken at the very time Jesus had pronounced him healed, thus confirming that Jesus had indeed been responsible for the healing.
John says that this is the second sign Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee, but the only other “sign” he has recorded is the conversation with the woman at the well.
John 5 (day 1002) 28 September 2012
1: This is the second trip reported by John that Jesus makes to Jerusalem (see 2:13).
2-9: The Sheep Gate is at the northern end of the city, a primary entry point for visitors coming from that direction. The pool of Beth-zatha or Bethesda is inside the city near that gate and very near the temple grounds.The poolside is crowded with people suffering from various maladies. They believe (according to verse 4) that an angel periodically stirs the pool, and then there is a rush to be the first one in the water to be healed.(Unfortunately some contemporary versions of the Bible choose to go by more recently discovered, though ancient, manuscripts that do not include verse 4. It seems to me that without verse 4 the conversation between Jesus and the invalid makes no sense.) Jesus approaches one man whose condition we are not told except that he has been ill for 38 years – tradition has it that he is paralyzed. He asks the man if he wants to be healed, an odd question given the setting. The man, however, does not answer the question but simply complains that he can’t beat the others to the water because he has no one to help him. Jesus tells him to get up, pick up his mat and walk, which he does.
10-18: The Jews are quick to accuse the man of violating the Sabbath by carrying his mat. When they find out Jesus is the one who told him to do it they are quick to condemn him for healing on the Sabbath. Jesus tells them that his Father doesn’t stop working on the Sabbath, and therefore neither will he. They assume that by “my Father” Jesus means God, and conclude that he is uttering blasphemy by claiming to be God’s son, and they are determined to kill him.
19-24: Jesus launches into a long lecture aimed at the Jews which describes his relationship to God. For John’s readers this is Christology 101. The Son does whatever the Father does. The Father shows the Son all that he does, and will show him even greater works “than these” – a reference to the healing they have just witnessed. The Father even raises the dead, and the Son has the same power. The Son is authorized by the Father to judge – that is to say, the Pharisees are not authorized to do so. Furthermore, whoever believes him will have eternal life and not be judged. Have you noticed how the theme of eternal life keeps popping up?
25-29: There will be a resurrection. The dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, who is authorized to execute judgment because he is also the Son of Man. This is one of the passages that early Christian theologians used to explain the nature of Christ as being fully human and yet also fully divine.
30: Yet, the Son carries out the role of judge only in service to God’s will.
31-38: Jesus tells them that there are three sources of testimony that validate what he is saying. The first source is the witness of John the baptizer (see 1:26-27). The second source, he says, is the work he is doing – the miracles that they have witnessed. The third source is the Father, but since the Father’s word is spoken by the Son they, the Jews, refuse to believe.
39-47: Jesus tells them that they are misusing and misinterpreting the scriptures. Moses will be their judge, he says, because Moses wrote about him (see Deuteronomy 18:15) but they refuse to believe it.
John 6 (day 1003) 29 September 2012
1-15: All four gospels tell stories of Jesus feeding a huge crowd with scant fare. John’s account is different only in the details, but the similarities are remarkable. Compare this paragraph with Matthew 14:15-21, Mark 6:35-44, and Luke 9:12-17. John differs mostly in his mention of the young lad, and the concluding verse that has the crowd clamoring to crown him king. We note that the crowd’s reaction is exactly the opposite from that of the “Jews” (5:18).
16-21: The incident of Jesus walking on the water is recorded in three of the four gospels (Matthew 14:22-27, Mark 6:47-52). Matthew includes the bit about Peter trying to duplicate the feat, otherwise they are remarkably alike.
22-24: In John’s gospel we get the impression that much of Jesus’ time in Galilee was spent trying to find some peace and quiet!
25-34: The crowds find Jesus in Capernaum. Jesus tells them they have followed him because he fed them, but that they should instead be expending their energy to obtain eternal life – there’s that theme again! There is some discussion and misunderstanding among the crowd about what he means by the bread from heaven. In John’s gospel, Jesus is presented as speaking in these riddlesand is seldom clear about anything. There are no parables in John’s gospel.
35-40: When they say, “Give us this bread always,” Jesus responds with one of the “I am” sayings so distinctive in John’s gospel. Actually, John has been playing with identity statements from the very first chapter. First, there were the “I am not” statements of John the baptizer: “I am not the Messiah” (1:20); “I am not Elijah” (1:21); “I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal” (1:27); “I am not the Messiah” (3:28). Jesus, however, said to the woman at the well, “I am he” (4:26) when she spoke of the Messiah. Here he identifies himself as “the bread of life.” He has fed them with bread (and fish), a miracle that has drawn them to him. Taking that miracle as a starting point he begins to teach them that he himself is the “bread of life,” and that all who believe in him “may have eternal life,” sounding again what is perhaps the major theme of the gospel. (“Eternal life” occurs 3 times in Matthew, twice in Mark, 3 times in Luke and 17 times in John.)
41-51: The crowd is turned off, not by his claiming to be the bread of life, but by his claim to have come down from heaven. Jesus tells them again that he has been sent by the Father. He introduces the imagery of the manna in the wilderness that was sent down by God, and declares that partaking of that manna only provided temporary nourishment, but that partaking of him (learning from and believing in him) will result in eternal life. When he says “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh,” we understand that he is speaking of the crucifixion and using the imagery of bread to represent his body.
52-59: The “Jews” enter the picture and literalistic as they are they cannot hear Jesus allegorically. A literal interpretation of his words leads them to the conclusion that he is talking about cannibalism. Jesus responds by enhancing the imagery of bread=flesh and making it sound even more repulsive by adding blood to the mix. (We, of course, read the words and immediately see a reference to Holy Communion.)
60-65: His disciples aren’t sure what to make of this language. Jesus explains that he is using the words “flesh” and “blood” to refer to “spirit” and “life.” Some of them, however, do not believe, including the one who will betray him, and we know who that will be.
66-71: Jesus has gathered a large following, but now many of them, turned off by his talk of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, abandon him. In the other gospels Jesus handpicks the twelve, but in John it would appear that the twelve are all that remain after he talks of eating his flesh and drinking his blood. In other words, “The Twelve” are not who he picks, but merely who sticks around. Actually, John’s gospel only refers to “the twelve” four times, and three of them are in this paragraph which speaks of the betrayal of Judas Iscariot. It is interesting that the only other occurrence of the term in reference to the disciples is the post-resurrection appearance in which Thomas’ doubt is confronted. It is as if the term “the twelve” is John’s way of identifying those who only tentatively believe in Jesus.
John 7 (day 1004) 30 September 2012
1-9: Having lost many of his followers Jesus is careful to stay for awhile in his home territory. His brothers want him to go to Jerusalem for the celebration of Succoth and perform a few miracles to call attention to himself, but Jesus refuses. They go without him.
10-13: Even though Jesus told them he is not going, he does go incognito to find out what is being said about him. There is a lot of talk about him, but not publicly, and opinions about him fall on both sides.
14-18: Soon enough he makes a public appearance, teaching in the temple compound. The Jews are surprised. Apparently they have been of the opinion that he is an unlettered rural rabbi from the hinterlands of Galilee, but his teaching, which he has not done before at the temple in a formal way, reveals a rather extensive education. Jesus denies any special knowledge, though, saying only that his teaching comes from God.
19-24: He accuses them of charging him with breaking the law while they do the same themselves. The one work he says he performed is a reference to his healing the man at the pool of Beth-zatha (5:2-9) on the Sabbath. Jesus points out that what he did is no more breaking the Sabbath than is their own practice of circumcising on the Sabbath.
25-31: There is much speculation in the crowds now about whether or not Jesus might be the Messiah. On the one hand, his Galilean background is against him; on the other hand, he has done some pretty powerful things. Jesus’ own statement on the subject is both clear and vague at the same time – clear to those reading about it later but vague to those hearing it of the moment – a common characteristic of his pronouncements in John’s gospel.
32-36: Police are dispatched to arrest him, sent by the chief priests and the Pharisees, but nothing more is said about them. Jesus makes a pronouncement about going away after a little while longer, an expression we understand to be related to his coming passion, but the Jews, of course, have no clue what he is talking about.
37-39: The last day of the Festival of Booths (Succoth) involves a ritual pouring out of water in the temple by the priests. Jesus uses the occasion to call followers to himself, promising that “living water” would flow from the heart of believers. John interprets the saying as a reference to the Holy Spirit, which has not as yet been given.
40-44: The disagreement among people in the crowd is not resolved by Jesus’ pronouncement. Some believe in him; others are stuck in their idea that the Messiah must come from Bethlehem. If they would just read the gospels of Matthew and Luke they would find out that he was in fact born there
45-52: John picks up the strain of the story from back in verse 32. The police return empty handed. The Pharisees, fundamentalists all, are beside themselves. They cannot believe that the police have been duped by this imposter. Nicodemus, who had a private conversation with Jesus (3:1-10), points out that they are judging the man without first giving him a trial. They turn on him. They have decided that the scriptures cannot support the idea that the Messiah could be a Galilean.
John 8 (day 1005) 1 October 2012
1-11: This has long been my favorite story about Jesus in the gospels, and it pains me that in recent decades scholars have begun to conclude that it is not an original part of the gospel. My response is that, even though there is some manuscript evidence that the story may have been a later add-on, that doesn’t mean it is not an authentic account of a real event. The story of the woman taken in adultery is so well-known that we can dispense with the usual commentary. The focus is usually on the scribes and Pharisees and their judgmental attitude. In the context of the last paragraph of the last chapter it can be seen as a clever attempt to trick Jesus into exceeding his authority as a judge so that he can be formally charged. Jesus, of course, turns the spotlight back on them and wins the day. But take a closer look. Twice we are told that Jesus “bent down” to write with his finger on the ground, and twice we are told that he “straightened up.” However, the Greek word translated “straightened up” (anakupsen/anakupsas) does not indicate that he stood up, but rather that he simply straightened so as to look up. In other words, as soon as the woman is brought to him, he kneels, placing himself below her. When the scribes and Pharisees leave, he is still kneeling. In terms of authority, he is in the inferior position, deliberately placing her in a position of strength. What a beautiful description of the way Jesus related to people who were outcast.
12-20: It is tempting to connect this teaching to the story of the woman caught in adultery and his refusal to condemn her. (“I judge no one,” he says in verse 15). The opening line, “Again Jesus spoke to them,” is a reference to the crowds who came to hear him teach – see verse 20.
“I am the light of the world” is the second of the “I am” statements Jesus makes in John’s gospel. The first was “I am the bread of life” (6:35). Scholars generally agree that there are seven such sayings:
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.” (6:35)
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness.” (8:12)
“I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved.” (10:9)
“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, even though they die, will live.” (11:25)
“I am he (Lord and Teacher)… whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.” (13:19-20)
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (14:6)
“I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (15:5)
Furthermore, the 7 “I am” sayings are bracketed by 7 “I am not” sayings. The gospel began with John the baptizer saying “I am not” four times (1:20, 21, 27 and 3:28), and at the end we will have three more “I am not” statements; two by Peter (18:17, 25) and one by Pilate (18:35).
And further furthermore, the statements that accompany the “I am” statements might well have been used as a basic primer for new Christian converts: “Whoever comes to Jesus will never be hungry.” “Whoever follows Jesus will never walk in darkness.” “Whoever enters the gate by Jesus will be saved.” “Whoever believes in Jesus, even though they die, will live.” “Whoever receives one whom Jesus sends receives Jesus; and whoever receives Jesus receives the one who sent Jesus.” “No one comes to the Father except through Jesus.” And finally, “Those who abide in Jesus and Jesus in them bear much fruit, because apart from Jesus you can do nothing.”
21-30: We are still in the temple courtyard in the treasury area, a large open court where the huge offering boxes were placed. Jesus is speaking to the crowds in general, and the crowds include the “Jews,” which in John’s gospel is a general term for all those who oppose Jesus. Jesus prophesies his death, but he does so in riddles designed to evade those who do not believe in him. His opponents do not grasp his meaning, but many in the crowd do.
31-38: The term “the Jews who had believed in him” occurs nowhere else in the gospel, and must refer to those mentioned in verse 30. Yet, the tense of the verb indicates that John is referring specifically to those who once had believed in him but now were against him. Jesus tells them the truth will make them free, and they react as we might expect: “Who are you calling slaves?” Jesus explains that they are slaves to sin – aren’t we all? – and says that he knows they are plotting to kill him.
39-47: The confrontation becomes more heated. They assert their ancestry from Abraham and claim God as their Father; Jesus tells them their opposition to him is proof they are not children of God at all, but children of the devil! The proof is that they don’t know the truth when they hear it.
48-59: Jesus continues accusing them of being thick-headed and undeserving of Abraham who “rejoiced to see my day.” They become so angry that they start gathering rocks and he has to flee.
John 9 (day 1006) 2 October 2012
1-12: The story of the healing of the blind man takes up the entire chapter. It is the longest and most involved and detailed healing story in any of the four gospels. As he walks in the city with his disciples he sees a man who has been blind all his life, although we are not told how Jesus comes by this information. The disciples take the tact of the Pharisees and look for someone to blame for the man’s blindness. Jesus says he is blind “so that God’s works might be revealed in him,” then heals the man with a mud poultice. It would be a better world if we could learn to see every human malady as an opportunity for God to be glorified. When the man goes to wash in the pool Jesus has moved on and is nowhere to be found.
13-17: Surprise! It’s a Sabbath day! The Pharisees can’t see past their rules and proclaim that Jesus cannot be from God, but their pronouncement does not get unanimous support. The formerly blind man has a high opinion of Jesus, as we might expect.
18-23: The investigation continues as “the Jews” summon the man’s parents, who will confirm only that they are indeed his parents, but offer no other corroboration for fear of being banned from the synagogue.
24-34: They interrogate the formerly blind man again, trying to intimidate him into denouncing Jesus as a sinner. It is clear that the spreading news of the man’s miraculous healing is throwing an obstacle in the path of their search for a way to discredit Jesus and eventually have him put to death.
35-41: Jesus finds the man and asks him if he believes in the “Son of Man,” the Messianic designation he uses most often in the gospels. The story ends with Jesus making a pronouncement about the “blindness” of the Pharisees for not acknowledging his being sent from God, in stark contrast to the man who was blind but now “sees” Jesus’ true identity.
John 10 (day 1007) 3 October 2012
1-6: Jesus continues to confuse his detractors by using figures of speech that confound them. Here he introduces a picture common throughout the Israel of that day. There are three “characters;” the gatekeeper, the shepherd, and the sheep. The Jews don’t understand the scene, but with the gift of being able to read ahead we can figure out most of it. At this point we can at least discern that the sheepfold represents Jerusalem (or perhaps all of Israel, or perhaps the world); the sheep are the common people; the gate seems to represent the teachings through which the sheep enter into life; and the shepherd represents Jesus (he says so in verse 11). The identity of the gatekeeper is uncertain. The stranger probably represents the religious leaders with whom Jesus has been sparring.
7-10: Jesus now identifies himself as the gate, and the religious leaders (whom the people have largely ignored) are the thieves and bandits. The thieves and bandits seem to be the equivalent of the stranger in verse 5.
11-18: The vignette abruptly moves away from the safety of the sheepfold out into the wild and dangerous countryside where the shepherd is willing to lay down his life for the sheep. Clearly, Jesus is referring to his own willingness to die for the sake of the people. The hired hand in this part of the metaphor is the equivalent of the stranger in verse 5 and the thief in verse 10 and the religious leaders who are opposing Jesus.
19-21: Jesus is benefiting at the moment from the division among the Jews; some think he is demon-possessed, while others are not so sure in the face of the miracle of the blind man’s healing.
22-31: Most of John’s gospel takes place in Jerusalem. The other gospels set the action primarily in Galilee, and basically have Jesus in Jerusalem on only one occasion (not counting the incidents in Luke when he is an infant and when he is twelve years old). We are told in verse 22 that he has returned to Jerusalem in the wintertime for the festival of the Dedication (known today as Chanukah). The Jews press him to declare whether or not he is the Messiah, but of course Jesus does not give them a straight answer. Still, it is pretty clear that he is claiming the authority of the Messiah even though he doesn’t say the word. When he says, “The Father and I are one,” they take it as blasphemy and for the second time start picking up rocks to heave at him.
32-39: This time Jesus tries to reason with them. At first he throws them off balance by asking for which of his miracles he deserves to be put to death. They, of course, aren’t going to kill him for his miracles (although they have been put off more than once by his penchant for healing on the Sabbath). They are going to kill him because, they say, it is blasphemous to put oneself on a level with God. He in turn quotes Psalm 82:6, perhaps wanting to demonstrate that his claim to be God’s Son is not his own claim but God’s. That tact only infuriates them more, and perhaps a rock or two flew in his direction at that point. Jesus somehow makes his escape.
40-42: Jesus momentarily relocates to Bethany beyond the Jordan where John had been baptizing (see 1:28). There, a safe distance from the authorities in Jerusalem, his fame and his following grow.
John 11 (day 1008) 4 October 2012
1-6: The incident mentioned in verse 2 about Mary anointing Jesus will be reported in chapter 12. We have met Mary and Martha before, however, but not in John’s gospel. They appeared in Luke 10:38-42 where Mary famously sat at Jesus’ feet while Martha slaved away in the kitchen. Lazarus was not mentioned in Luke, however. Now we learn that the two sisters live in Bethany (the one near Jerusalem, not the one beyond the Jordan) and that they have a brother, Lazarus, who has taken ill. Lazarus is a close friend of Jesus, so they send word to him. Jesus tarries, perhaps partly because he is not anxious to return to the vicinity of Jerusalem quite so soon.
7-16: A couple of days later Jesus announces that they are going back to Judea and the disciples are alarmed because of the opposition he has encountered there. Jesus tells them at first that Lazarus has fallen asleep, and although any idiot would have understood what he meant, he has to spell it out for them. Thomas, combining the information that Lazarus is dead with the memory of the threats already experienced in Judea, assumes that a battle of some sort is shaping up, and puts on a brave front. His bravado notwithstanding, though, it is the first evidence we have that any of the disciples are committed to Jesus enough to risk their lives for him.
17-27: To their consternation, as Jesus approaches Bethany they learn that some of the Jews have already arrived to console Martha and Mary. Martha comes out to meet Jesus. In their conversation we find the 4th of the 7 “I am” statements catalogued above (in the commentary on 8:12-20). Being in the middle it is perhaps to be considered as the most important of the 7. “I am the resurrection and the life,” might surely be considered the foundation declaration Jesus makes in John’s gospel. We have already seen the important role the concept of eternal life plays in his story of Jesus.
28-37: Martha returns home and sends Mary out to meet Jesus. From the story in Luke 10:38-42 we might well conclude that Jesus is especially fond of Mary, and that conclusion is supported by his reaction when she kneels before him. There are only two places in the Bible that record Jesus weeping; when he first sees Jerusalem in Luke’s gospel (Luke 19:41), and here at 11:35 (where the KJV simply has “Jesus wept,” a much more profound rendition of the original Greek text). The Jews, ever looking to either validate Jesus or prove him wrong, wonder that Jesus did not come and heal Lazarus before he died.
38-44: We can hardly imagine a more dramatic scene. Jesus, obviously overcome with emotion, goes with a crowd to the cave where the body of Lazarus has been laid. Martha, concerned that Jesus might try to go inside the cave, reminds him how long the body has been in there. Jesus offers a prayer, hinting that Lazarus has already been resuscitated, (I use the term resuscitated instead of resurrected because one who is resuscitated will die again, but one who is resurrected will not.) then calling Lazarus to come out. Lazarus appears at the door of the tomb, wrapped in burial shrouds, and Jesus orders them to remove the shrouds and set him free.
45-53: A report goes back to Jerusalem and a council meeting is held. The fear they express is that the press Jesus is getting will cause the Romans to interpret it as an uprising and all of them will suffer for it. Caiphas lays out the route they have to take; Jesus has to die.
54: Jesus and his disciples withdraw to Ephraim, a town about 5 miles northeast of Jerusalem.
55-57: In Jerusalem speculation is rampant about whether or not Jesus will show up for the Passover, their anticipation fueled by the news of the miracles he has performed and by public knowledge that the chief priests and Pharisees are going to arrest him if he comes.
John 12 (day 1009) 5 October 2012
1-8: You may want to compare this story with the one at Luke 7:36-49 where a similar event is reported. In Luke the incident takes place in the home of an unnamed Pharisee, the woman is not named and Jesus makes no mention of her ointment being a burial spice. There is another similar story in Mark 14 which is said to have taken place in Bethany, but at the home of Simon the leper, not Lazarus. Despite their differences the three stories are remarkably similar. Here we are again at the home of Lazarus, and once again Martha is doing the serving. Mary anoints Jesus with pure nard, an aromatic spice derived from the spikenard plant. The main point of the story in this case is the reaction of Judas Iscariot who wonders aloud why she couldn’t have just given Jesus the nard so they could sell it to help the poor, with Judas taking a liberal share. Jesus says that Mary purchased the nard for his burial, but it only makes us wonder why it wasn’t used to dispel the odor from the tomb of Lazarus.
9-11: People begin to show up in Bethany when the news gets out that Jesus is there, and the chief priests add Lazarus to their hit list.
12-19: When the news circulates that Jesus is about to enter Jerusalem a crowd of admirers gather to meet and greet him and hail him as the King of the Jews. All four gospels report this event, but in the others the disciples take on a more involved role and Jesus has prearranged for the donkey to be available. Here, however, the reception is entirely spontaneous and the donkey seems to be grabbed on the spur of the moment. The Pharisees are growing more and more alarmed at his growing popularity.
20-26: The appearance of some Greeks (probably meaning Greeks who have been converted to Judaism) prompts Jesus to announce that his time has come; an announcement that I am certain brought mixed reactions from the crowd. Verse 24 is said to be the central verse of the gospel, and in that position represents the primary message John wants to convey – a message of death and resurrection.
27-36: Keep in mind that Jesus has a crowd around him through this whole chapter. When he speaks of his troubled soul and submits to God’s will there is a sound which most of the people think is thunder, perhaps in the distance. Some of them, however, think an angel has spoken. Jesus has never said openly that he is the Messiah. The crowd, however, is becoming more and more intent on knowing if he is the Messiah, and ask “Who is this Son of Man?” even though Jesus has not mentioned the Son of Man! Jesus continues to avoid their inquiries, and instead of responding directly changes metaphors and tells them how important it is to follow the light. Before they can press him, he leaves and hides from them.
37-43: John now enters his own commentary on the events that have transpired to this point, quoting Isaiah 53:1 and paraphrasing Isaiah 6:10. John believes that there were leaders in Jerusalem who would have followed Jesus but for their fear of the Pharisees. The Pharisees apparently have the authority to exclude individuals from the synagogues; at least John seems to think they do.
44-50: John has Jesus giving an outline of his basic teaching about himself. These verses are spoken without context, probably because John intends them to be addressed to his readers. In a nutshell, Jesus says 1) believing in him is the same as believing in the one who sent him; 2) seeing him is the same as seeing the one who sent him; 3) he has come to give light to those who live in darkness; 4) he came to save, not to judge; 5) nevertheless, unbelievers will be judged on the basis of whether or not they believe in his word; 6) the word he speaks comes from the Father; and 7) the word the Father has told him to speak is the word of eternal life.
John 13 (day 1010) 6 October 2012
1-11: John’s chronology can be confusing – perhaps you’ve noticed? But it would seem that we are now at the very night of the Passover. John, however, does not describe the meal nor relate the story of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Rather, he remembers that Jesus performed another provocative act during the meal. He washes the feet of his disciples, a deliberate act of servanthood which flies in the face of Simon Peter. Peter at first objects, but when Jesus explains that it is necessary in order for him to be included in Jesus’ plans, he comically demurs. Jesus has apparently washed the feet of Judas Iscariot as well, but alludes to the looming betrayal, and the statement in verse 1 that he loved them to the end would seem to include Judas, too.
12-20: Jesus teaches them that his act of washing their feet should serve as an example of how they are to relate to one another; as servants. He hints again that one of them will turn against him.
21-30: Now he states clearly that one of them will betray him. There is a curious exchange between Peter and the disciple “whom Jesus loved,” who asks Jesus who the betrayer will be. Jesus identifies Judas, but in a way that is not picked up by the others. He tells Judas to go do what he has to do, and Judas leaves. The other disciples have no idea what’s going on. The way John tells the story has given rise to speculation among some scholars that Jesus arranged for his own betrayal in much the same way that the other gospels indicate that he arranged for the donkey on which to enter the city.
Verse 23 is the first time we meet the disciple “whom Jesus loved.” He appears only a few times (20:2, 21:7, 21:20), always in company with Peter, and through the years scholars have tried to identify him with either James or John who were often with Peter in the synoptic gospels. However, the disciples James and John are not mentioned in John’s gospel, and after 2000 years of striving, the beloved disciple’s identity is still a secret. We can only surmise that John wanted it that way for reasons unknown.
31-35: They leave the place where the supper was held and Jesus speaks of his glorification and tells them he is going where they cannot come. He gives them a “new commandment,” that they love one another, and tells them that their love for one another will be the mark by which they are known to the world: Would that it were still the mark!
36-38: Peter is miffed that he of all people can’t go where Jesus is going. Jesus tells him he will deny him three times before the rooster crows, a prediction reported in all four gospels (Matthew 26:34, Mark 14:30 and Luke 22:34).
John 14 (day 1011) 7 October 2012
1-7: Jesus begins at this point to focus on preparing his disciples for the crucifixion. He wants them to understand that his leaving will not end their relationship, and the words he speaks in verses 1-3 are among the most quoted from the Bible. When Thomas, interpreting his words literally, asks about his mysterious destination Jesus reminds them that, spiritually speaking, he is their destination.
8-14: Philip says they’ll be satisfied if Jesus will only show them the Father. His reply forms a strong basis for the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, with the first two persons, Father and Son, presented as one. Yet, I am struck by Jesus’ gentleness at this juncture; he is not insisting that they understand or that they believe in that oneness. Instead he simply assures them that the connection he has with them is not going to be severed by events to come.
15-17: To the Father and Son, Jesus now adds the Spirit, who will serve as the link between Jesus and his followers.
18-24: He assures them again that their connection will not be severed by his leaving. Judas (son of James – see Luke 6:16) wants to know how he can stay in touch with them without being in the world, and his reply is that the connection between them is love; the kind of love that results in their wanting to be faithful to his words, his teaching.
25-31: Again he assures them that the Holy Spirit will be sent to them and all their questions will be answered in due course; but now the time is short and they must go.
John 15 (day 1012) 8 October 2012
1-11: “I am the vine” is the 7thand last of the “I am” statements (see also 6:35, 8:12, 10:9, 11:25, and 13:19-20). It is a fitting metaphor with which to leave his disciples, for it reminds them of the connection they, the branches, have with Christ, the vine. They must depend on him for the power to bear fruit. As long as that connection exists, they can ask whatever they wish and the nourishment they need will be provided.
12-17: As he is connected to them, so they must remain connected to one another through love.
18-25: On the other hand, their connection with one another heightens their separation from “the world.” “The world” occurs 64 times in John (only 16 times in Matthew, Mark and Luke combined), and is one of the primary concepts in his understanding of Jesus. In the first half of the gospel “the world” was, in general, a reference to Jesus’ mission field – “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (3:17). This sentiment is repeated almost verbatim at 12:47, but then the relationship between Jesus the world changes at 13:1 (“Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them until the end.”), and at 14:17 (“This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive”) the rift is complete. From that point on Jesus and “the world” are enemies, and the disciples become those he has recruited to be “in the world but not of the world” (see, for example, 17:15-16). In these verses he is warning them that they will be persecuted, and “the world” will be their enemy.
26-27: The Advocate (the Holy Spirit) was first mentioned at 14:16. Jesus tells them that the Advocate will team with them to testify on his behalf. In that way his witness in “the world” will not end with his crucifixion, resurrection and ascension.
John 16 (day 1013) 9 October 2012
1-4a: As we read these words we remember the martyrs who died for their faith during the early persecutions by the Jews and the later persecutions by the Romans.
4b-7: Even though he is leaving, Jesus is trying to comfort them by telling them that his leaving is actually a good thing for them for only then can the Advocate come to them (see also 14:26). He must send the Advocate to them; for some reason he cannot simply summon the Advocate to come.
8-11: One of the primary tasks of the Advocate, which is a reference to the Holy Spirit (14:26), is to “prove the world wrong” about three things; sin, righteousness and judgment, although the explanations he gives in verses 9, 10 and 11 are difficult to understand.
12-15: Another function of the Advocate, here referred to as the Spirit of Truth, is to complete the education of the disciples.
16-22: The disciples, as usual, have trouble understanding him. Jesus’ response is that they will suffer, but when their suffering is past they will have cause for joy because he will see them again. It is not clear whether he is referring to his post-resurrection appearances, the “second coming,” or their resurrection in the world to come.
23-24: When that occurs they will not have to ask him anything because the Holy Spirit will have taught them. He tells them God will give them whatever they ask in his name, an echo of a saying in the synoptic gospels (Matthew 21:12, Mark 11:24), but in the context of the previous paragraphs the saying seems here to be a reference to the knowledge the Spirit of Truth is to teach them – whatever question they ask in Jesus name, the answer will be given to them.
25-33: The “figures of speech” that Jesus has been using have been confusing, no doubt about that, but I’m not sure he is being any clearer here. He seems to be telling them that after he is gone they will have a sort of direct line to the Father without his having to intercede. The disciples do seem to think he has spoken clearly – unless verse 29 is intended as sarcasm – and now they understand that he came from God! Jesus tells them that they are about to be scattered, a reference (I think) to what they will do after his impending arrest in the garden.
John 17 (day 1014) 10 October 2012
1-5: This chapter is entirely unique to John. Before they head across the Kidron valley where he will be arrested, Jesus raises a prayer which is primarily on behalf of his disciples. In the opening paragraph, though, he asks the Father to glorify him. Once again the theme of eternal life is evident when he affirms that he has been given the authority to bestow it on his followers.
6-19: I imagine a chill went up their collective spines as they listened to Jesus pray. He tells the Father that he has taught them everything the Father has taught him, and that they now know the Father sent him. He is no longer in the world, having consented heart and soul to the fate that awaits him, and asks the Father to protect them. For his part, he has kept them safe – all but Judas – and asks the Father to protect them because they, too, are no longer of the world even though they are still in the world. As the Father has sent him, he now sends them, the closest thing to the Great Commission we’ll find in John’s gospel.
20-24: Now the prayer asking for their protection is extended to future disciples – you and me! – who will come to believe that the Father sent him through the testimony of each succeeding generation of believers.
25-26: Jesus passes on to them his knowledge and his love, so that they will be one in faith and in witness.
John 18 (day 1015) 11 October 2012
1-11: The scene in the garden beyond the Kidron valley, called Gethsemane elsewhere (Matthew 26:36, Mark 14:2), is described a bit differently than in the other gospels. Jesus does not go apart from the others to pray. When Judas arrives with a posse cobbled together from Jesus’ antagonists, Jesus readily presents himself. When he answers “I am he,” those words mean more than just, “that’s me;” they are a Messianic designation, and the force of the words literally bowl over his enemies. He asks them to take him and let the others go, upon which request Peter draws his sword and attacks, chopping off the ear of Malchus. Jesus steps between them, stopping the fight before it can erupt, and tells them that his arrest is his destiny.
12-14: Jesus is bound and taken to the house of Annas, father-in-law of the high priest Caiaphas (see 11:49) and his predecessor in that office (see Luke 3:2).
15-18: Peter and another disciple follow. The other disciple is unnamed and may not in fact be one of the twelve. Some have speculated that it may be Joseph of Arimathea, since he is a disciple and also apparently an acquaintance of Nicodemus (see 19:38-40), who is a member of the council (see 3:1, 7:50) and through him Joseph may be known to the high priest. Whoever the unnamed disciple is, he manages to get himself and Peter into the private courtyard. Peter makes his first denial.
19-24: Annas interrogates Jesus, and when Jesus insists that he has done everything publicly (meaning he is not secretly plotting a coup), a guard strikes him and remonstrates with him for speaking so boldly to the high priest. Jesus answers him boldly as well. Annas apparently is convinced that he isn’t going to get much out of him and sends him on to Caiaphas.
25-27: Peter’s second and third denials take place outside in Annas’ courtyard.
28-32: Caiaphas sends Jesus directly to Pilate, who at first refuses to hear the case, but the Jews insist that Jesus is to die and only Pilate can give the death sentence. This is a bit curious, since on two occasions they have almost stoned Jesus (8:59, 10:31).
33-37: Pilate goes back into the praetorium and has Jesus brought in to stand before him, thus subjecting him to the ritual defilement the Jews had avoided in verse 28. He questions Jesus, who denies that he is the King of the Jews, and tells Pilate his kingdom is not of this world. I’m sure Pilate, thoroughly pagan as he is, doesn’t understand a word of it.
38-40: I’ve always thought that Pilate’s response, “What is truth?” is probably just his way of saying, “What’s really going on here?” He decides he doesn’t really care and takes Jesus back out to them, refusing to condemn him but giving them the option of letting him die in somebody else’s place. They pick a thief named Barabbas.
John 19 (day 1016) 12 October 2012
1-7: Pilate turns Jesus over to his soldiers, who go about the task of humiliating him. But Pilate seems determined not to kill Jesus, and tells the Jews a second time that he can find no charge to justify the death sentence. To this, the Jews begin chanting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate declares for the third time that he can find no case against Jesus, to which they reply that he claimed to be the Son of God. This is the first time that term is used since Jesus was on his way to raise Lazarus (11:27). It has not been to this point used as a complaint against him by the Jews.
8-12: Pilate is shaken by this new piece of information. He goes back in to interrogate Jesus, who is still being quite uncooperative, but nevertheless absolves Pilate of culpability in his death. Pilate again tries to release him, but the Jews threaten to complain to Caesar.
13-16: At this point Pilate seems to convene a public trial. He presents Jesus as their king, perhaps hoping to ridicule them into submission. They respond by claiming Caesar as their king, and thus getting this endorsement from them he gives Jesus back to the soldiers to have him crucified.
17-24: John specifically states that Jesus carries the cross by himself, though the other gospels all mention Simon of Cyrene (Matthew 27:32, etc.). All four mention the two thieves crucified with Jesus, and all four report the inscription placed above him, though only John tells us it was in three languages and that the chief priests appealed to Pilate to reword the sign and that Pilate shrugged them off. John reports the soldiers dividing his clothes, as do Matthew and Mark, but only John mentions the seamless tunic and the quote from Psalm 22:18.
25-27: John tells us that three women named Mary were there. Only Mark mentions women who are witnesses, but includes different names (Mark 15:40). John is the only one who records that Jesus provides for his mother by asking the disciple “whom he loved” to care for her.
28-30: Matthew, Mark and John each report the attempt to feed Jesus vinegar or sour wine. Only John, however, mentions that act as a response to Jesus crying out about his thirst, and only John reports the last words, “It is finished.” Matthew and Mark remember only that he cried out (Matthew 27:52, Mark 15:37). Luke reports the last words as “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
31-37: Only John reports the soldiers breaking the legs of the victims at the request of the Jews, and the piercing of Jesus’ side, quoting Psalm 24:20 and Zechariah 12:10.
38-42: All four gospels report that Joseph of Arimathea asks Pilate for permission to take the body of Jesus. Only John, however, has him joined in this endeavor by Nicodemus. They take the body to a tomb and lay it there. Only Matthew tells us the tomb belongs to Joseph (Matthew 27:60), and only Matthew and Mark mention that the tomb is sealed with a stone (Matthew 27:61, Mark 15:46). John’s account almost gives us the idea that Joseph and Nicodemus happen to spot this empty, never-used tomb, and decide to deposit the body there because they are running out of time.
John 20 (day 1017) 13 October 2012
1-10: Matthew tells us that Mary Magdalene was accompanied by “the other Mary” (Matthew 28:1), Mark mentions these two and includes Salome as well (Mark 16:1), and Luke has Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna and “the other women with them” (Luke 24:10), but John’s version of the Easter story has this very personal meeting between Jesus and Mary Magdalene alone. Curiously, John does not mention the stone sealing the tomb until the moment when Mary M. sees that it has been removed. Also unlike the other gospels, Mary runs and tells only Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved. We note that in her report to them she says, “we” do not know where they have laid him,” indicating that perhaps she was not completely alone after all. Peter and the other guy run to the tomb, the other disciple outrunning Peter and arriving first. They both go into the tomb and find the burial cloths, but do not connect the dots between what Jesus told them and what they are witnessing, and leave without realizing what has happened.
11-18: Mary M. is there alone again, but when she looks in the tomb she sees two angels. Their purpose is unexplained. They ask why she’s crying, but offer no information. She sees Jesus and, thinking he is the keeper of the garden, asks him where they have taken the body. He calls her name, and she immediately recognizes him. He tells her not to grab hold of him (contrast this with the scene in 20:27 where he tells Thomas to reach out and touch his wounds), and instructs her to tell his “brothers” that he is ascending to their God and Father. She goes to them – apparently they are all together by now – and gives them a report.
19-23: It is Sunday evening now, and the disciples are all together behind closed and locked doors. We are told at this point that they fear they will be persecuted now that Jesus is gone. Jesus is suddenly inexplicably there. He gives them the Holy Spirit (the Advocate he told them about only days before). In Luke’s narrative the Holy Spirit is given as a general outpouring described in Acts 2, but John’s understanding is that Jesus directly bestowed the Spirit upon them, although I doubt we can make too much of the differences here. As we continue through the New Testament we will discover that the Holy Spirit turns out to be very difficult to pin down as to method and agency.
24-25: Thomas was absent on the occasion, however, and refuses to believe that they have actually seen Jesus.
26-29: In spite of his doubt, though, Thomas hangs around and is still there a week later when Jesus appears again. (By the way, the fact that Jesus appears to them on two consecutive Sundays is one reason Christians gradually abandoned Saturday as their primary holy day and embraced Sunday as the standard weekly day of worship.) The doors are shut, says John, but I doubt we should interpret that as evidence that Jesus is passing through solid walls. I think it simply means that they are still in hiding a week later. Jesus makes a point of convincing Thomas, and then sends a clear message to those who would believe in succeeding generations: we are blessed!
30-31: In what may well be the original ending to John’s gospel, we are told the story we are reading is just a brief and incomplete sampling of all Jesus did.
John 21 (day 1018) 14 October 2012
1-3: Some time later seven of the disciples, notably Thomas, are found at the Sea of Tiberius (a.k.a. the Sea of Galilee). They fish all night, but catch nothing. Does this sound familiar? Luke tells the story of a miraculous catch (Luke 5:3-7) when Jesus was just beginning his ministry in Galilee. John does not tell that story, but when the disciple whom Jesus loved recognizes Jesus because of the catch, the implication is that the recognition is based on the memory of that earlier event. So, John must be aware of the story Luke tells even though he doesn’t use it. Peter puts on clothes to go swimming and dives in, a curious custom. The others come in the boat.
9-14: Jesus has a fire going and tells them to bring some of their fish. Peter complies (thus conferring on him the leadership of the future effort to “fish for people”), and the others stand around looking for a way to verify whether or not it is really Jesus, reminding us of the difficulty Mary Magdalene had identifying him outside the tomb on Easter Sunday. Jesus fees them bread and fish.
15-19: The three-fold exchange between Jesus and Peter is usually interpreted as Jesus’ way of absolving Peter of having denied him three times. He tells Peter that the time will come when his freedom will be taken away from him, a statement which John interprets as a prophecy of Peter’s future death as a martyr. Then Jesus says – to Peter alone, we note – “Follow me,” thus reinstating him as a disciple.
20-23: Peter is curious about the disciple whom Jesus loved. Remember that that disciple was present in the courtyard when Peter denied Jesus, so Peter is asking Jesus to “reinstate” him as well. Jesus replies that Peter doesn’t need to know if that disciple, too, will be martyred. John says others came to interpret the statement to mean that disciple would not die. (By the way, many scholars think the “disciple whom Jesus loved” is John’s way of referring to himself.)
24-25: That identification of John with “the disciple whom Jesus loved” seems to be authenticated in verse 24, and the case would be closed if John at this point had used 1st person singular instead of 3rd person. Verse 25 is a beautiful way to end the book, don’t you think?
We have completed the four gospels, now on to the Acts of the Apostles. Give yourself a treat.