by Peter & Vita Toon
Kingsway Bible Studies
Kingsway Publications, 1979
How to use the studies (New Testament)
Introduction to John
Study 1: The Incarnation 1:1–51
Study 2: New life in Christ 2:1–3:36
Study 3: True worship 4:1–54
Study 4: The authority of Jesus 5:1–47
Study 5: The bread of life 6:1–71
Study 6: Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles 7:1–52
Study 7: The light of the world 8:1–59
Study 8: The healing of the blind man 9:1–41
Study 9: The good shepherd 10:1–42
Study 10: The raising of Lazarus 11:1–57
HOW TO USE THE STUDIES
1. Ensure that the aim is first to understand the text and then to make it meaningful and relevant. (The questions at the end of each study are intended to bring out the relevance for today.)
2. Begin with a prayer for the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
3. Have various English versions of the Bible available. At least one translation – e.g. the Revised Version, Revised Standard Version or New International Version – and at least one paraphrase – e.g. the Living Bible or Good News Bible – should be on hand for the group to use.
4. Choose one person to lead the discussion, preferably a mature Christian.
5. Encourage everyone to participate in the reading or the discussion.
6. Try the following method of approach:
(i) Begin the study by reading the whole passage in translation.
(ii) Then read each section (as indicated in the notes) from a paraphrase.
(iii) Also read aloud the notes themselves after each section.
(iv) Discuss the meaning of the passage.
This activity will involve several members of the group as readers.
7. Spend about ten minutes on each question with as many members as possible making a contribution. At the end of each discussion the leader should summarize the main points that have arisen.
8. Matters of concern which arise in the reading of the Scripture or in answering the questions could be made topics for prayer.
9. A balance must be kept between ascertaining what the Bible teaches and what are the opinions of participants. So the leader should make sure that there is an understanding of the passage before questions are raised. On some occasions this will mean that only two of the questions can be answered.
INTRODUCTION TO THE GOSPEL OF JOHN
John wrote this gospel in order that his readers might believe “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this faith . . . might possess life by his name” (John 20:31 NEB). It is this purpose that governed the selection of material in the writing of the gospel. From the very beginning of his ministry Jesus is pointed out as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”. By the use of seven signs (John’s word for miracles) and such images as “bread of life”, “good shepherd” and “true vine”, John sought to convey his message concerning Jesus of Nazareth. He was none other than the Son of God who became man, the Word of God made flesh. In Jesus the heavenly and the earthly are intertwined in such a way that the glory of God is displayed in the works of Jesus. This glory is seen supremely in the cross, which is not a tragedy, but the moment when God is glorified, for it is the means by which God reconciles sinful man to himself.
The gospel is very different from the first three gospels and uses material either not available to their authors or deliberately not used by them. One important example of this is the raising of Lazarus recorded in John 11. Over the centuries readers have found one amazing quality in John’s gospel. It is sufficiently simple for the unlettered to read with profit and it is sufficiently deep in its meaning to keep the devoutest and most brilliant minds working at it all their lives.
Author and Date
It cannot be proved that John the apostle wrote it but this has been the view of many scholars over the centuries. An alternative is that it was written by another John who was a disciple of the apostle.
John died in Ephesus and it is probable that this gospel was produced there between A.D. 90 and 95.
The New Bible Commentary (IVP).
Bishop J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on John (J. Clarke).
R. V. G. Tasker, in the Tyndale Commentaries (IVP).
Leon Morris, in the New London Commentaries (Eerdmans).
William Hendriksen, in the Geneva Commentaries (Banner of Truth).
Study 1: The Incarnation
Many important facts are found in this chapter. We see the eternal purpose of God taking shape in space and time. The Son of God shares in the act of creation, becomes a human being and begins his public ministry in Galilee. He is recognized as the Saviour of the world by John the Baptist, who has witnessed the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the incarnate Son.
1. 1:1–18 Prologue
This is one of the great passages of the Bible and must be read carefully. The eternal Son of God is called the Word – in Greek, the Logos. To understand how the Son is the Logos we must recognize the Old Testament and Greek backgrounds to this term.
For the Hebrews the word of God was not simply a sound in the air; it was also a unit of energy. A word has sound and power – see Jeremiah 23:29; Psalm 33:6,9; Isaiah 55:11). So the wise word (wisdom) could be spoken of as though it were a person – see Proverbs 8:22–31. The Greek translation of the Old Testament used Logos for the word of God.
In Greek culture logos meant both a word spoken and the reason, or mind, which produces thoughts and words. Some philosophers taught that the basic principle in the universe which caused it to function normally and regularly was the Logos.
Thus to say that the Son of God is the Logos is to say that he is God’s unique communication to mankind; that in him is fully expressed the mind and will of God, and that through him the creation holds together. By using this term John hoped to convey this truth of God to both Jews educated in Greek culture and Gentiles who spoke Greek.
Another rich word is “glory” in verse 14. John intends us to think of the tabernacle in the wilderness of Sinai (Exodus 40:34ff.) and how the presence or glory of God in the form of a luminous cloud covered it. Through the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, the purity, holiness and greatness of God shines out to a needy world.
2. 1:19–34 John the Baptist
For details of John’s birth see Luke 1. John saw his work as described in Isaiah 40:3–5. He was as the herald announcing the arrival of the king. He recognized Jesus as the Messiah (a general term meaning the Saviour of the Jews and of the world) but called him “the Lamb of God” (verse 29). As God had provided a lamb for sacrifice in the place of Isaac (Genesis 22:8), so the Messiah as the Lamb is provided by God to be sacrificed in the place of others to take away their sin (Isaiah 53:7).
3. 1:35–42 The first disciples of Jesus
Here a distinction is drawn between a disciple of John and a disciple of Jesus. A disciple of Jesus recognizes him as the Saviour and Messiah. Literally Messiah means “the anointed one of God” and its Greek equivalent is Christos, from which comes Christ.
4. 1:43–51 Philip and Nathanael
Nathanael was from Cana in Galilee (John 21:2). He knew that from Galilee had come various leaders who claimed to be the Messiah and the (political) liberator of the Jews. This made him suspicious of yet another claimant from Galilee. However, in Jesus he found the true Messiah. “Son of Man” (verse 51) is another term for the Messiah and probably comes from Daniel 7:13–14, where a son of man is given a kingdom by God. Jesus preferred this title to others in his public ministry.
5. Questions for discussion
1. Is there a modern word or expression which can convey the idea of the Logos? If not, how can we best explain this word today?
2. In what ways is the glory of God revealed and displayed in Jesus Christ and how is this experienced today?
3. What is the relationship between receiving and believing in Jesus Christ and becoming a child of God (verses 10–13)?
4. That Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God seems an odd expression to modern ears. Is there a way of explaining it without making use of the Old Testament background of sacrificial lambs?
Study 2: New Life In Christ
In these chapters we are introduced to the first of the seven significant signs (miracles) of Jesus recorded by John. Then we read of a brief visit to Jerusalem. While in the holy city at the Passover festival Jesus had a profound conversation with Nicodemus, a well-known Jewish leader. Then, leaving Jerusalem, he passed through Judea where John was still preaching.
1. 2:1–12 The wedding at Cana
The turning of water into wine was not merely a demonstration of divine power. It was also an enacted parable, showing the glory of Jesus. The inadequacy of Judaism represented by the pots of water is compared with the new life of the kingdom of God, represented by the new wine in the pots. If the wine is also seen as a symbol of the blood of Christ then it can be said that the new life becomes possible for those who believe through the shedding of the blood of Jesus. It is possible that the symbolism here was meant by John to point to the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist).
2. 2:13–25 The cleansing of the Temple
This cleansing occurred at the beginning of his ministry and a further one is recorded at the end (see Mark 11:15–19). The selling of animals and birds and the changing of Gentile money into Temple money took place in the outer court, the court of the Gentiles. Therefore a place reserved for Gentiles to offer prayer was being misused. The words of Jesus in verse 19 reveal that he saw no future part for the Temple in the purposes of God. By his own death and resurrection a new order would come into being in which the Temple would not be needed.
3. 3:1–21 Interview with Nicodemus
Entry into the kingdom of God is a spiritual experience and involves a birth from above, achieved by the Spirit of God. By his death and resurrection Jesus Christ was to make it possible for the Spirit to do his work in the hearts of sinners. Nicodemus did not understand the teaching of Jesus on this subject but, later, he did defend Jesus against false accusation (John 7:50–52).
Believing in Jesus as the Saviour of the world is the duty of all who hear the gospel; performing the new birth and giving the gift of eternal life is the act of God. By the work of the Spirit God’s own life, eternal life, is implanted in the human soul, and this occurs when a person turns from sin to trust in Jesus as the one who takes away the sin of the world.
Verses 16–21 are probably comments of the author, and not the words of Jesus. (The original has no quotation marks and so it is impossible to be certain either way.)
4. 3:22–36 John’s final witness to Jesus Christ
Before John was arrested by Herod (Mark 6:17–29), he made this full testimony concerning Jesus. A comparison is here intended between, on the one hand, the inspired and divinely commissioned John and, on the other, the Son of God who had the fullness of the Spirit. John is of the earth but the Son is from heaven.
5. Questions for discussion
1. What practical applications does the cleansing of the Temple by Jesus have for the use of church buildings today?
2. What is taught about the Spirit in 3:1–8, and what relevance does this have for evangelism?
3. What aspects of modern life would you consider to be the darkness which people love (3:19)?
4. What is really meant by believing in the Son (3:16, 18, 36)?
Study 3: True Worship
Jesus left Judea to return to Galilee, taking the shortest route through Samaria. Here he met the woman at Jacob’s well. In their conversation Jesus explained important truths, and to these he added others in conversation with the disciples. Arriving in Galilee, Jesus received a warm welcome and again at Cana performed a miracle (sign) which displayed his glory and revealed his compassion.
1. 4:1–42 The woman of Samaria
The Samaritans were regarded by Jews as a half-caste people. They were descended from the intermarriage of Jews and other races imported into Samaria after 722 B.C. (see 2 Kings 17:24–41).
In verses 23–24 there are several cardinal truths. The coming of the Messiah makes it possible for God to be worshipped in spirit (by those born from above – 3:3) and in truth (through the revelation of God in Jesus, the Word made flesh, who is truth). Such worshippers cannot be confined to one race, or one class, or one sex. The worship of the Temple was merely a shadow of the pure worship which the saving work of the Messiah makes possible.
Talking to his disciples Jesus taught that we all need two types of food. The body must be fed (but not over-fed!) and the soul must be nourished by the right food, which is obedience to God’s will (verse 34). Four months are necessary for the seed to grow and be ready for harvesting, but this rule of nature does not apply mechanically to the spiritual world. Jesus felt an urgent sense of mission – the disciples should now reap the results of the preaching of John the Baptist. And, as they reap this harvest of souls for God, they themselves will be blessed.
2. 4:43–54 The healing of the official’s son
The “nobleman” was probably employed at the court of Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee (see Luke 3:1). This incident has similarities with the healing of the centurion’s son (or servant) recorded in Luke 7:2–10 and Matthew 8:5–13.
This healing is connected by the author with the making of wine at Cana (see verses 46 and 54). Both miracles were performed in response to faith and trust, and both pointed to the fact that Jesus was the Word made flesh.
3. Questions for discussion
1. What are the major characteristics of worship offered to God in spirit and in truth?
2. To what extent are the divisions among Christian churches and denominations today similar to the divisions between Jews and Samaritans?
3. Can it be said that the harvest of the gospel is ready in western nations today? Or has the seed yet to be sown?
4. What can we learn about our attitude to God from the example of the official (nobleman)?
Study 4: The Authority Of Jesus
This chapter describes a visit by Jesus to Jerusalem. He healed a sick man on the sabbath (seventh day of the week) and this led the religious authorities to persecute him for breaking the law of Moses (Exodus 20:8–11). In response Jesus explained at length his relationship with the Father and the reasons why they were rejecting him.
1. 5:1–18 The healing at the pool
Jesus healed on the sabbath and though it was an act of mercy the Jewish leaders believed it was a flagrant breaking of the commandment not to work on the sabbath. The claim of Jesus to be Lord of the sabbath (Mark 2:28) is here put into practice. By breaking the sacred law and by his verbal claims Jesus was, in Jewish eyes, acting independently of God; so he was claiming to be equal with God (verse 18). Jesus did not teach that God was the Father of everybody, which would have been quite acceptable to the Jews. Rather he taught that God was his Father in a unique way, and such a claim involved equality of Father and Son.
Verses 3b and 4 are omitted by modern translations. It is generally admitted that they represent a later addition to the text, providing a supernatural explanation of the moving of the water. The stirring of the water was probably by an intermittent spring.
2. 5:19–29 The authority of Jesus
Jesus claims that he is not acting independently of God because his relationship to God is that of a Father and Son relationship. It is a perfect, loving relationship in which the Son thinks and acts in harmony with the Father. The unity of Father and Son will be demonstrated when the Son judges the world and raises the dead at the end of the present age. To kill and make alive and to be a righteous judge are the prerogatives of God (Deuteronomy 32:39 and Genesis 18:25), and these are given to the Son. Therefore to accept the Son now, in this age, is to be sure of no condemnation at the judgement.
3. 5:30-47 Witnesses to Jesus
John the Baptist pointed to Jesus as the Messiah and acted as a witness to him. A greater witness to the identity of Jesus is the saving work (signs) which he does. To those who carefully read the Jewish Scriptures, especially the books of Moses, it is clear that Jesus is the Messiah, the promised Saviour. The problem with the Jewish leaders was that they did not believe what Moses had written – see especially Deuteronomy 18:18–19.
4. Questions for discussion
1. To what extent are Christians today to treat Sunday as the sabbath?
2. How do Christians share in the work of Jesus (verse 17)?
3. What will be the position of Christians at the final judgement (verses 24–29)?
4. What is the function of the Old Testament for Christians who now have the New Testament (verses 39, 45–47)?
Study 5: The Bread Of Life
The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem rejected Jesus because they believed that he disregarded the Law. Here the Galileans are portrayed as failing to see that Jesus alone can satisfy the deepest needs of men. They were enthusiastic to make him into a popular Messiah and miracle worker who would be a political liberator. Jesus rejected their approach and taught them that his saving, liberating work would be achieved through the breaking of his body and the shedding of his blood in death.
1. 6:1–15 The feeding of 5,000 men
For John this is the fourth sign. This miracle is recorded in all four gospels. The natural meaning of the passage is that by the power of God the food of one boy is multiplied so that it becomes more than sufficient to feed the crowd. The feeding has been understood as a sacramental meal, each person being given a minute piece of bread and fish, but this is unlikely. The reaction of the Galileans requires that a genuine miracle took place, for they wanted to make this “miracle worker” into their liberator and Messiah. For John the sign pointed to Jesus as the One supremely able to meet the total needs of mankind.
2. 6:16–21 Jesus walks on the water
This is the fifth sign. The story is also found in Matthew 14 and Mark 6. The miracle points to the kingship of Christ over nature and to the fact that as the Word made flesh he was able to defy or to transcend the limits of both gravity and space. This latter point connects with the next section where Jesus is the bread of life.
3. 6:22–71 Jesus, the bread of life
There are two basic ways of understanding this profound teaching of Jesus. It can be understood as an explanation of what happens at the Lord’s Supper; John does not provide an account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper and so this may be his means of referring to it. Secondly, it can be seen as referring to that constant, spiritual feeding on Christ through the Holy Spirit which is the source and strength of the Christian life. This occurs at all times and, some would argue, especially at the Lord’s Supper.
Jesus teaches that true spiritual nourishment, which both brings and maintains eternal life in the hearts of men, comes to those who accept Jesus as the Word made flesh. Jesus gave himself in sacrificial death for the world so that through him God could forgive sins and give eternal life to believers. So the feeding of the crowd is an acted parable of how spiritual food is made available to the world through the broken (sacrificed) body of Christ.
Some of the disciples left Jesus at this stage. The idea of a Messiah giving his life in bloody sacrifice for the sins of the world was abhorrent to them. But Peter expressed the conviction of those who remained (verses 68–69).
4. Questions for discussion
1. What is implied in the statement of Jesus: “I am the bread of life . . .” (verse 35)?
2. Is the image of Jesus as the bread of life helpful today when most bread comes in the form of sliced loaves, and even whole loaves are cut, not broken?
3. How can we increase our spiritual feeding on Christ, both in daily living and at the Lord’s Supper?
4. Compare John 6:68–69 with Mark 8:29. What can we learn of Jesus from these two passages?
Study 6: Jesus At The Feast Of Tabernacles
Opposition to Jesus is growing and it is dangerous for him to appear in Judea. So he went to the Feast secretly and did not make a public appearance until half-way through the celebrations. His presence and words caused much comment by the crowds and united opposition to him, but his opponents were unable to arrest him at this time. In his controversy with the Jewish leaders Jesus gave further teaching about himself and his mission.
The Feast of Tabernacles was primarily a thanksgiving for harvest, but also commemorated the blessings received by the people of Israel in their wanderings in the wilderness before they entered Canaan.
1. 7:1–9 Jesus and his brothers
Jesus did not want to enter Jerusalem accompanied by a noisy crowd, for such action would force the hands of his opponents and bring his death at the wrong moment. His brothers (sons of Mary born after Jesus, or sons of Joseph by a previous marriage), wholly misunderstanding his mission, wanted him to perform miracles in Jerusalem and thereby advertise himself. He could not do this and here, as at other times, he was denied the joy of knowing that his kith and kin truly supported him.
2. 7:10–36 Jesus at the feast
Jesus had no official training as a rabbi but his intimate knowledge of God set him apart from other teachers. His presence and teaching had the effect of dividing people: they were either for him or against him. He presented such a challenge to the cherished views of both the priests and Pharisees (those who meticulously kept the letter of the law of Moses) that both groups, who were naturally opposed to each other, decided that he had to be silenced.
3. 7:37–52 The last day of the feast
The teaching on the Spirit in verses 37–39 has to be put alongside that given in 3:1–8 and, in order to get a total perspective, has to be seen along with the further teaching in chapters 14, 15 and 16. The gift of the Spirit to the disciples of Jesus came later (John 20:22; Acts 2:1–4).
Once more an attempt was made to arrest Jesus, but the very power of his presence and personality caused his would-be arresters to hesitate, and then to refuse to try. The conversation with Nicodemus recorded in chapter 3 appears to have had some effect (verses 50–52).
4. Questions for discussion
1. What are the best ways to help our loved ones who are not Christians to appreciate our faith and commitment (verses 6–8)?
2. What are the differences between judging by external standards and judging by true standards (verse 24)?
3. In days when water comes out of taps, how suitable today is the image of a spring of water to convey the gift of eternal life (verses 37–38)?
4. Is there a tendency even in Christian circles to condemn people before the explanation has been heard (verses 50–52)?
Study 7: The Light Of The World
Older manuscripts of the New Testament omit 8:1–11, the story of the woman caught in adultery. Thus in some versions of the Bible the story does not appear and in others it is put in brackets. It does, however, have all the marks of being a genuine incident. The presentation of Jesus here is entirely in character with the presentation of him elsewhere, e.g. in his attitude to the Samaritan woman in John 4 and the woman of Luke 7:43–50.
The teaching of Jesus recorded in the rest of the chapter and given in Jersualem provoked an intense reaction from those who refused to accept his words about his relationship both to Abraham and to God.
1. 8:1–11 The woman caught in adultery
Probably, the woman had sexual relations with a man in the period when she was betrothed to another. In Jewish law this constituted adultery (see Deuteronomy 22:23–24). The Pharisees were less interested in obeying the law of Moses here than finding a way of framing a charge against Jesus. But he was aware of their intentions and refused to say whether he approved of the original sanction of the law of Moses to which they referred, or of the action of the Roman authorities in preventing its being carried out.
The final words of verse 11 are not to be understood as meaning that the woman’s sin was insignificant and could be easily forgotten. There is a penalty for sin but he, in whom is grace and truth, will forgive her and pay that penalty himself.
2. 8:12–30 Jesus, light of the world
The feast appears to be over and the crowds have returned home. Debate follows from the claim of Jesus that he is the light of the world – the one who reveals God to the world. Already Jesus has claimed that his heavenly Father bears witness to him (5:37) and this witness is the best witness. He repeats this claim here. For the idea of two witnesses in Jewish law, see Deuteronomy 19:15.
In verses 21–24 Jesus contrasts his death with theirs. Unless they believe, they will die in their sins, but he will not remain dead when he dies, but will be raised and ascend to the Father. The unity of Father and Son is further emphasized in verses 25–30, and it is made clear that the one who dies on the cross (verse 28) is truly he who is one with the Father.
3. 8:31–47 Slavery and freedom
These words are addressed to those who want to believe in Jesus but who hesitate to commit themselves to him. To recognize that Jesus is the Messiah and to do nothing about it is in fact to be an enemy of Jesus. It is also to be a slave of sin and of the Evil One. True freedom is found in following and obeying Christ. The Jews could not see how they were in bondage to sin since they saw themselves as descendants of Abraham, the servant of God and father of the chosen people. The response of Jesus to this argument is that the true child of Abraham would accept and not reject his words.
4. 8:48–59 Jesus and Abraham
There are two difficult verses here, 56 and 58. The idea of Abraham seeing the age to come is probably based on Genesis 24:1 where the words “well advanced in years” occur; but this phrase may be translated as “he went into the days”. Rabbis took the latter translation and understood it to mean that Abraham was shown the age of the Messiah, the age to come. The theme of rejoicing is probably based on Genesis 17:17 where Abraham is said to rejoice at the disclosure of future blessing. In verse 58 Jesus claimed not only to be the Messiah to whom Abraham looked but also a person whose real and ultimate existence is in God in eternity.
5. Questions for discussion
1. What can we learn from Jesus concerning the right way to behave and speak in a permissive society (verses 1–10?
2. As our scientific understanding of light and our use of it is much increased since the time of Jesus, can we see a deeper meaning in his statement, “I am the light of the world,” than our forefathers?
3. What does it mean “to die in your sins” (verse 24)?
4. If Christian freedom is to be a slave of Christ, how can it be called freedom (verses 34–36)?
Study 8: The Healing Of The Blind Man
Jesus, the light of the world, gave sight to a blind man. This is the sixth sign. It is interesting to note that in our records there are more miracles of restoring sight to the blind than any other kind performed by Jesus. The Old Testament writers regarded the giving of sight to the blind as one activity of the Messiah – see Isaiah 29:18; 35:5; and 42:7. Jesus performed the miracle on the sabbath, and this involved the man and his family in a prolonged discussion with the Pharisees. When the latter had expelled the man from the synagogue Jesus sought him in order to meet his need.
1. 9:1–12 The healing of the blind man
There are several unique features here. The man is said to have been born blind; Jesus used spittle and clay and asked the man to wash in the pool of Siloam.
Jesus rejected the belief that the man’s blindness was caused by the sin of the man’s parents, or by his own sin at or before his birth. He refused to discuss a cause for the blindness. Rather he taught that it existed for the purpose of displaying God’s love and power.
It is difficult to be sure why Jesus used clay and spittle. The curative value of spittle was highly regarded in the ancient world; yet Jesus performed his miracles by divine power and did not need the special assistance of created elements. If clay is connected with the dust of Genesis 2:7 then Jesus could have been demonstrating that he is the creator and is here re-creating the eyes of the blind man.
2. 9:13–34 The healed man and the Pharisees
Because Jesus performed this miracle on the sabbath he encountered further bitter opposition from the Pharisees, the custodians of the letter of the law. They questioned the man and his parents and were not prepared to accept that Jesus had actually performed this great miracle. They did not accept the light because they remained in darkness. By being content with their own understanding of the law of Moses they closed their eyes to the light of truth which came by Jesus Christ.
3. 9:35–41 Spiritual blindness
He who was expelled by the Pharisees from the synagogues was received by Jesus into the messianic community of the kingdom of God. Verses 39–41 make it clear that this incident has been recorded in order first of all to be an acted parable of faith and unbelief, and secondly one of judgement. The light of Jesus revealed the hidden motives and secrets of people, and caused them to commit themselves and their sin to God, or run from him.
For the title of Son of Man as a title for the Messiah see the passage in Daniel 7:13ff.
4. Questions for discussion
1. To what extent can we say that suffering and illness are caused by sin (verse 2)?
2. What can we learn from the attitude and words of the man and his parents about how we should treat those who actively oppose the Gospel?
3. What relevance does the teaching of verses 39 and 41 have for today?
4. To what extent is it right to speak of the healing achieved through modern surgery on eyes as divine healing or the healing of Christ?
Study 9: The Good Shepherd
This chapter contains the last public address which Jesus gave. He used the picture of the shepherd not only to distinguish his own ministry from that of false teachers (shepherds) but also to emphasize that he gave his life voluntarily for mankind. As the shepherd Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Ezekiel 34:23.
It should be borne in mind that for the Jew there were two aspects to a good shepherd. There was his tender concern and care for the flock, and there was his autocratic rule of the flock. The good shepherd was also the good ruler.
1. 10:1–6 The parable
Although it is called a parable the Greek word also means a proverb, and the whole story reads more like an allegory. Sheep were usually kept in walled enclosures to give protection from wind and wild beasts. A door-keeper guarded the one entrance. The shepherd knew his sheep by name and they responded to that name. When out with his sheep he walked in front of them. Normally the sheep would not respond to a stranger.
2. 10:7–18 The application to Christ
Jesus is both the door and the shepherd. As the door he is the entrance to the salvation of God. As the shepherd he cares for those who believe on his name. In contrast to him as the door are thieves and robbers, and in contrast to him as the shepherd are the hireling shepherds. Just as a good shepherd is willing to give his life for the sheep, so Jesus will give his life as a sacrifice to cover the sins of the members of his flock. The sheep “not of this fold” probably refers to non-Jews, the Gentile believers.
3. 10:19–42 The rejection of Jesus
The scene changes to the Temple at the Feast of the Dedication. This feast, held in late November or early December, was to celebrate the cleansing of the Temple by Judas Maccabaeus in 165 B.C., three years after it had been defiled by the Greek king, Antiochus Epiphanes. Because of its late origin, this feast is not mentioned in the Old Testament. The manner of its celebration was similar to the Feast of Tabernacles. The prominent feature of illuminations inside the Temple gave it the name of Feast of Lights.
As the light of the world the presence of Jesus purges the old Israel, even as Judas Maccabaeus cleansed the Temple. From the old Israel a new community which accepts the Son of God is being created. As God, the Father, was the shepherd of the old Israel, so God, the Son, is the shepherd of the new Israel.
Since Jesus, the incarnate Son, knew it was not yet time for his death he retired from Jerusalem beyond the Jordan.
4. Questions for discussion
1. Since many people living in cities are not familiar with sheep and shepherds, are there other simple images available which can be used to communicate today those ideas which sheep and shepherds communicated in the time of Jesus?
2. What do we learn from verses 17–18 about the nature and meaning of the death of Christ?
3. What is the difference between the relation of Jesus to the Father and our relationship to the Father?
4. Does verse 28 imply that whatever kind of life the Christian lives he will always have the gift of eternal life?
Study 10: The Raising Of Lazarus
The raising of Lazarus is the seventh sign of the gospel. It is not mentioned in the other three gospels. This fact has led some to doubt the historicity of the story. However, it has all the marks of a genuine, historical event. It contains many factual details – people, places, and distances. But the reason why it is not told in the other gospels is not clear – we simply don’t know. As a whole it illustrated the great claim of Jesus in verses 25–26. Jesus raised Lazarus not only because of his sympathy for Martha and Mary, of whom he was extremely fond, and not only because of his love for Lazarus, which was great, but because he wanted before his passion and death to reveal himself as the resurrection and the life.
1. 11:1–16 The death of Lazarus
Lazarus is the same name as Eleazar. The two sisters are mentioned also in Luke 10:38ff. The explanation of Jesus for the death of Lazarus in verse 4 should be compared with that given for the blindness of the man in 9:3. For the idea of glory John 1:14 is important. The delay of Jesus in going to Lazarus may be compared with his delay in going to the Feast (John 7:3–10). He would not be coerced but would go in God’s good and right time.
2. 11:17–27 Jesus meets Martha
In Luke 10:38–42 Martha is the active sister. Here she went out to welcome Jesus, greeting him with a cry of faith. She understood the words of Jesus to her as referring to the resurrection at the end of the age, and her mistake gave Jesus the opportunity to make his great declaration – “I am the resurrection and the life. . . .” Her response was a full confession of faith.
3. 11:28–32 Jesus meets Mary
Though less matter-of-fact and more emotional than her sister, Mary had a similar faith to that of Martha (cf. verses 21 and 32). The rabbis refused to instruct women, but Jesus had taken a different view, and so to both Mary and Martha Jesus was the teacher.
4. 11:33–44 Lazarus lives
Jesus was probably deeply moved and grieved (verse 33) by the attitude of the mourners who did not understand who he was and that death could be the gateway to life. Verse 35 is the shortest in the Bible, and it shows the true humanity of Jesus. His humanity was real, not submerged into deity. It can be compared with Luke 19:41.
The tomb was a cave whose entrance was covered by a stone. In this connection verse 39 is important, for it emphasizes how truly dead Lazarus was. At the command of Jesus, the Son of God, Lazarus came to life. Whether he walked out of the tomb alone or was lifted out can only be answered if it be known whether the linen cloths around his body fastened his legs together or not. For unless his legs were bound separately he could not have walked.
5. 11:45–57 The plot against Jesus
The result of this miracle was division. Some believed, while others went off to inform the enemies of Jesus. A meeting of the Sanhedrin (the supreme council of the Jews) was called, and here Caiaphas made his plea for the necessary execution of Jesus. At the same time quite unwittingly he spoke as a prophet!
6. Questions for discussion
1. What are the strengths and weaknesses of Martha and Mary, and what can Christians learn from them?
2. What is the best way of explaining the great claim of Jesus in verse 25 today, when it seems that medical science is on the verge of perfecting means of resuscitation?
3. How could such good and religious men as the leaders of Judaism want to execute Jesus?
4. Is it the case that sometimes political leaders speak prophetically, as did Caiaphas?
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